LAFAYETTE, Ga. — A jury convicted two men Wednesday night of recruiting members to a local gang.
Travis Amos Wellborn faced seven counts of violation of the Georgia Street Gang Terrorism Prevention Act. Thomas Clifton Gaines faced five counts of the street gang act, as well as a charge of affray for participating in a fight. Assistant District Attorney Deanna Reisman argued this week that the two men are northwest Georgia regional leaders of the Ghostface Gangsters.
The jury deliberated for about 3 1/2 hours Wednesday night. Gaines and Wellborn are scheduled to be sentenced June 26.
Multiple defense attorneys and prosecutors in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit said they could not recall a case in which the defendants' main charge was participation in a street gang. In a local test case for the criminal statute, the defense attorneys begged for proof of a notorious criminal enterprise.
"Where's the beef?" Tom Weldon, who represents Wellborn, asked the jury during closing arguments.
"There's not any guns involved," said Stephen Blevins, who represents Gaines. "There's not any knives. Nobody was hurt."
"No murder," said Weldon. "No robbery, theft. No dealing drugs. No evidence of them dealing drugs and bringing money back to the Ghostface Gang. None of that."
Reisman said she didn't need to prove Gaines and Wellborn ever oversaw a shipment of drugs out of Atlanta or directly hurt someone — or threatened to. She just needed to prove the men strengthened the gang. She said Wellborn did this by recruiting four men to join the gang.
Wellborn also faced charges for his participation in two initiation "beat-ins" in the yard at his father's house on West Reed Road in LaFayette. During a preliminary hearing, Reisman said, Wellborn testified that he served as the "referee" of the three-on-one brawls. Wellborn also faced a charge for telling an observer to punch a Ghostface member 13 times in the chest at one of the initiations, punishments for that member breaking a gang rule.
Gaines, meanwhile, faced charges for participating in beat-ins. His participation led to punishments on multiple fronts. He was fighting, which was a crime. And the fights themselves were a form of recruitment, a different charge.
Much of the prosecution's argument centered on the reputation of the Ghostface Gangsters more than the short beat-ins themselves. The all-white gang began in the Cobb County Jail in 2000, according to a federal indictment on a pending racketeering case. It spread through the prison system, a security threat group coordinator with the the Georgia Department of Community Supervision testified Monday.
Local drug investigators say they began seeing members of the Ghostface Gangsters involved in the methamphetamine trade around 2015. Members of the gang have also been linked to area shootings.
Department of Community Supervision Officer Ryan Matthews, who oversees the cases of all validated gang members on probation or parole in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, said Wednesday during his testimony there are 60 Ghostface Gangsters in Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade and Walker counties. This does not include people in jail or prison.
"They're about drugs," Reisman said. "They're about power. They're about control. They're about intimidation. They'll shoot up houses. They'll steal cars. They'll pull up on someone."
Matthews said the investigation began Oct. 3, when he visited the home of Casey Lee Gamble as part of a routine compliance check. At his request, he said Gamble unlocked his cellphone.
"The first thing that pulled up was one of the videos," he testified. " I knew exactly what it was."
Matthews and members of the drug task force then reviewed other videos and photos, identifying local members who attended gang meetings and flashed gang signs. They arrested 16 people in early November, though prosecutors have not filed gang charges against five of them. (They later charged an additional three people with gang charges, bringing the total number to 14.)
Of those, nine have pleaded guilty, including Gamble. He received a five-year prison sentence, according to disposition paperwork.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.
Expert speakers, music and family fun featured during Heartwood group's spring council at Coker Creek Village this weekend