An Atlanta judge on Thursday (June 2) refused to release Young Thug from jail while he awaits trial in a sweeping RICO case because of fears of witness intimidation, despite impassioned testimony from music executive Kevin Liles and promises to keep the rapper under strict house arrest.
At a hearing in Fulton County Superior Court, Judge Ural Glanville denied bond to Young Thug (real name Jeffery Williams), a week after doing the same with Gunna. Like in Gunna‘s case, the judge was seemingly swayed by warnings that Young Thug might intimidate witnesses if released.
“I realize that Mr. Williams is presumed innocent,” Judge Glanville said. “However, in this particular circumstance there have been significant [claims] about Mr. Williams being a danger to the community.”
Young Thug’s attorney, Brian Steel, assured Judge Glanville that the rapper would personally pay for an “incredibly expensive” house arrest plan to allay those fears, including bugging all of his communications and providing around-the-clock monitoring by dozens of off-duty police officers.
But prosecutor Don Geary told Judge Glanville that Young Thug should not be allowed to “buy” his way out of jail, and that state’s witnesses were already being “threatened with serious violence and death.” Geary said other alleged gang members had admitted to prosecutors that they feared Young Thug and retaliation.
“They have stated uniformly that Mr. Williams is dangerous, they are afraid of him, that if they cross him he will kill them and their family,” Geary told Judge Glanville. “And they were very clear about that.”
The order means that Young Thug will be in jail until trial, which is currently scheduled for January 9, 2023.
Thursday’s hearing came three weeks after prosecutors unveiled an 88-page indictment against Young Thug, Gunna and 26 others, claiming that the rapper’s “YSL” was not a record label called “Young Stoner Life” but really a violent street gang called “Young Slime Life” that had wrought “havoc” on Atlanta for the past decade. The charges included allegations of murder, carjacking, armed robbery, drug dealing and illegal firearm possession.
The case is built around Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law based on the more famous federal RICO statute that’s been used to target the mafia, drug cartels and other forms of organized crime. Such laws make it easier for prosecutors to sweep up many members of an alleged criminal conspiracy based on many smaller acts that aren’t directly related.
In a trial-like proceeding that lasted for hours, Steel called multiple witnesses to testify as to why Young Thug deserved release ahead of trial. That included a private security professional who designed the house-arrest plan, as well as several residents of Young Thug’s Cleveland Avenue neighborhood in Atlanta, who spoke at length about the rapper’s good acts in the community.
Most notably, Steel took testimony from Liles, the founder and CEO of 300 Entertainment, the Warner Music Group unit that signed Young Thug and owns the rapper’s YSL Records imprint. At times holding back tears, Liles vowed to support the rapper “personally and professionally” because he was certain of his innocence.
“I truly believe, this whole thing, it’s not him,” Liles said. “That’s not the Jeffery I know. The Jeffery I know would give me the clothes off his back.” When warned by Steel that Liles could be subjected to financial penalties if Young Thug violated his bond and asked if he still wanted to back him, Liles was unequivocal: “He’s like a son to me. Yes, without hesitation.”
Liles also sharply criticized the DA’s use of Young Thug’s rap lyrics as evidence in the case – a controversial practice that’s become widespread in criminal cases against hip-hop artists. “We don’t argue about movies or other genres of music. We don’t bring those things to court. But our music, we’ve been on trial and we’re constantly on trial over what we are and who we are.”
In a surprise twist, pre-taped video testimony in favor of Young Thug was also submitted to the court from superstar Machine Gun Kelly, as well as from Lyor Cohen, another music exec and the co-founder of 300 Entertainment along with Liles.
But when prosecutors took over, they argued that good deeds were not enough to secure release on extremely serious charges – especially when relayed by people like Liles who were “financially dependent” on Young Thug. Geary recounted, at length, the various allegations against Young Thug, and called him the “leader, the top dog, the most dangerous guy” of the 28 indicted.
“I implore you not to grant him a bond. He is dangerous,” Geary said. “I normally don’t do this, but I don’t hesitate in this case. Respectfully judge, I believe if you give him a bond, we’re going to have more witnesses in danger or missing. I believe he’s that dangerous, judge.”
Like with Gunna, those warnings were seemingly enough to sway Judge Glanville. In denying bond, he said was particularly persuaded by the alleged statements from other gang members that they feared for their families, as well as a 2015 text message, offered by prosecutors, in which Thug allegedly told YSL members: “Anybody goes into a courtroom and tells the god honest truth they’ll be f—ing killed.”
“This threat is still being talked about, so that is of concern to the court as regards to the threats to persons in the community,” the judge wrote.
With the decision against Young Thug, all of the prominent musical artists involved in the RICO case have now been refused pre-trial release. Earlier at the same hearing on Thursday, Judge Glanville also denied bond to Yak Gotti, another YSL rapper named in the indictment, on similar grounds. Just as in the hearings against Gunna and Young Thug, prosecutors quoted from his music to help convince the judge to deny bond.
Like Liles, Yak Gotti’s attorney Jay Abt decried the practice, saying it was “sending a message to the music industry in Atlanta that’s going to have a massive chilling effect.”
“The message that the DA’s office is sending to our community and our country is that you better not come to Atlanta and make rap videos, because we’re going to use them against you in court,” Abt added.