Atlanta rapper Young Thug was denied bond Thursday following an hours-long hearing in his Fulton County racketeering case.
The rapper, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, pleaded not guilty during the hearing. But a Superior Court judge ruled he must stay in jail, siding with prosecutors who raised concerns about witness intimidation ahead of trial.
Judge Ural Glanville denied bond even though Williams’ attorneys promised to hire a team of off-duty law enforcement officers to monitor his activity 24 hours a day during home confinement. A number of witnesses testified in support of the hip-hop star as he watched remotely from a small room at the Cobb County Detention Center for nearly 10 hours.
Attorney Brian Steel said Williams offered to be placed on house arrest at any one of his four Atlanta-area homes before trial.
Steel said his client was also willing to wear an ankle monitor, undergo regular drug tests and surrender his cellphone and passport. All he would want, his attorney said, was access to an in-home recording studio.
Such an undertaking likely would have cost Williams more than $1 million a year, Steel said, but it would get him out of a Cobb County jail cell where he spends more than 22 hours a day in protective custody.
“That cell will break a person’s spirit,” Steel said.
For the second time, Prosecutor Don Geary raised concerns about the safety of the state’s witnesses.
“We have evidence and information of even more threats,” he said. “Our witnesses in this case are being threatened with violence, serious violence and death.”
Meanwhile, the judge also heard from a youth football coach who said he wouldn’t be able to run his team if it weren’t for Williams’ generosity in the southwest Atlanta community. The rap star regularly buys jerseys and clothes for the children while encouraging them to stay in school and out of trouble, said Jamil Mitchell.
“A lot of people look at him as a motivator,” Mitchell said. “We could bring hundreds of people in the community and they would all tell you the same thing.”
Kevin Liles, a longtime hip-hop executive who co-founded the 300 Entertainment record label and has worked closely with Williams for years, teared up while addressing the judge.
“I’m kind of emotional because of how good this guy is,” said Liles, who was willing to put up his own property as collateral in exchange for Williams’ release. “He’s like a son to me.”
Prosecutors allege Williams is the leader of Young Slime Life, which they say is a criminal street gang responsible for much of Atlanta’s violence in recent years.
“The leader, the top dog, the most dangerous man here is Jeffery Williams,” Geary said. “Because he doesn’t have to get his hands dirty. He has others do his business.”
Attorneys for the defendants contend YSL, or Young Stoner Life, is simply a record label, not a street gang as prosecutors allege.
Rapper Yak Gotti, whose real name is Deamonte Kendrick, was also denied bond. He faces a murder charge in the 2015 killing of Donovan Thomas, an alleged rival gang member.
Young Thug and fellow Atlanta rapper Gunna, whose real name is Sergio Kitchens, were among more than two dozen people charged in the 56-count indictment last month.
The musicians are accused of conspiring to violate Georgia’s criminal racketeering law, but the indictment outlines more serious crimes allegedly carried out by their associates, ranging from drug possession to murder.
Prior to Williams’ bond motion, prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to disqualify Steel from representing him in the case.
Prosecutor Elizabeth Rosenwasser argued that Steel represents or has represented several co-defendants in other proceedings. Such conflicts, she argued, should be addressed quickly since the state plans to offer plea deals to some of the 28 defendants if they agree to cooperate.
“If defendants in this indictment wish to cooperate, we are willing to offer deals,” Rosenwasser told the judge. “Our concern is that as a leader of the gang, maybe some of these individuals will be influenced.”
The judge ultimately denied the motion to disqualify Steel, but said he reserves the right to revisit any potential conflicts as the trial date nears. The trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 9, 2023.
In addition to racketeering and gang charges, the 30-year-old Williams faces seven counts stemming from his arrest and the subsequent search of his Buckhead home.
Warrants allege police found nearly 1,300 grams of marijuana, 31 bottles of Promethazine syrup and six guns, including a 9mm Glock equipped with an illegal “converter switch” that transforms the semi-automatic pistol into a “machine gun.”
Police also said they discovered 20 bottles of “YSL Slime Drink” containing THC. Steel said there were other people in the home and denies the drugs and guns belonged to his client.