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Jumoke Johnson Jr., the reputed young gang kingpin who went to college but wound up back on the streets, is headed to federal prison.

On Monday a judge sentenced Johnson, 21, to 65 months prison in connection with the 2013 roundup of a crack cocaine ring that netted more than 30 other men. About half have been sentenced and face between one and 10 years in prison. Johnson pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to distribute more than 28 grams of cocaine.

The sentence seemed in many ways like the final stamp on a years-long saga that painted Johnson first as a gifted teenage gang leader, then as a reformed and eager student, and finally as one of Chattanooga's "worst" criminals.

During the sentencing hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Poole chose that third portrayal.

"I think he's the most dangerous person that you have sentenced in this courtroom," Poole told U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice.

"You realize that I have sentenced murderers in this courtroom?" Mattice asked.

"You're sentencing a murderer today," Poole said.

Johnson's family and friends, who packed the courtroom's three rows of benches, gasped.

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Jumoke Johnson

Jumoke Johnson's name has been famous, even infamous, since he was a teen.

In high school, police described him as a gang kingpin, a sort of shadowy thread linking shootings and drug deals throughout East Chattanooga. They said he ordered hits, participated in drive-by shootings and shot a man in the back of the head.

Yet he has never been charged in any homicide. Until Johnson pleaded guilty to the drug charge in September, he had been convicted of only two misdemeanors, his attorney said at the time.

Poole said Monday that there were no shootings in the city in the month after Johnson was arrested.

At the same time, his high school teachers said he was smarter than most of his peers, holding a weight and influence that garnered respect. Johnson told the Times Free Press in 2012 that he wanted to escape the life his father and grandfather lived as drug dealers. After his high school graduation, a wealthy benefactor offered to fund his education at Miles College in Fairfield, Ala.

But Johnson was kicked out after just one semester, and according to federal prosecutors, he returned to Chattanooga and became involved in the crack cocaine conspiracy that would eventually earn him a federal indictment.

Johnson's attorney, Hugh J. Moore Jr., argued that prosecutors had no evidence to tie him to the killings Poole mentioned.

"There's just as much evidence that he's responsible for there not being elephants in Hamilton County," Moore said.

In his address to Mattice, Poole mentioned a drive-by shooting that Johnson was arrested for when he was 16. But as he stood before the judge in a yellow jumpsuit, Johnson denied that he had anything to do with that incident. He also apologized to the court and his family for the drug charges, and said he accepted responsibility.

Mattice ordered Johnson to serve 65 months in prison with four years supervised release, and said he should serve his sentence at a correctional facility in Beckley, W. Va. He was also ordered to complete 500 hours of alcohol and drug treatment, and Mattice recommended that he complete a rehabilitation program for young men.

Mattice also offered Johnson parting advice. It was obvious that local authorities had been after Johnson for a long time, he said. Maybe he'd be better off outside Chattanooga.

"If you want to make a fresh start, to me, it's gonna be easier to make a fresh start somewhere else," Mattice said. "But that's going to be up to you."

Contact staff writer Claire Wiseman at cwiseman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow her on Twitter @clairelwiseman.

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