Fani Willis Accused of Conflict in ‘Young Thug’ Trial: Why Did Her Former Client, an Alleged Gangster Named ‘Mondo,’ Escape Charges?

A defense attorney for one of Young Thug’s co-defendants, rapper Shannon ‘SB’ Stillwell, raised the issue of the district attorney’s past representation of Fremondo ‘Mondo’ Crenshaw in court. The prosecution objected.

The rapper Fremondo 'Mondo' Crenshaw, accused of being a Young Slime Life, or YSL, gang member, was represented in 2019 by the future Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis. Twitter

The district attorney of Georgia’s Fulton County, Fani Willis, is fighting to keep her prosecution of President Trump alive in the face of the disclosure that she had an intimate relationship with her deputy, Nathan Wade. But the Trump case isn’t the only sweeping racketeering prosecution under way in which Ms. Willis is being accused by defense lawyers of a conflict of interest. 

In addition to her pursuit of Mr. Trump, Ms. Willis is prosecuting a chart-topping rapper, Young Thug, who’s on trial in Atlanta alongside five other defendants — Shannon “SB” Stillwell, Marquavius Huey, Rodalius Ryan, Quamarvious Nichols, and Deamonte “Yak Gotti” Kendrick — thanks to Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute, or RICO. 

An accused YSL gang member, Fremondo ‘Mondo’ Crenshaw, was arrested in August 2023 after guns and drugs were allegedly found in his possession. Fulton County Sheriff’s Office

This novel law, which Ms. Willis is also using against Mr. Trump and his 18 co-defendants in her election interference case, allows prosecutors to argue that Young Thug and his cohort are guilty of violent, gang-related activities — including murder, threats, and drug dealing — purely by association rather than by personally committing specific crimes.

Prosecutors allege that Young Thug, whose legal name is Jeffery Lamar Williams, is the leader of a notorious street gang called YSL, or Young Slime Life. (Mr. Williams’s attorneys argue that the only YSL he founded is a music label called “Young Stoner Life” and that Thug stands for “Truly Humble Under God.”) 

The Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, on November 21, 2023 at Atlanta.
The Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, on November 21 at Atlanta. Dennis Byron-pool/Getty Images

During the recent cross examination of an Atlanta police detective, Mark Belknap, the attorney for defendant Shannon Stillwell, Max Schardt, pointed out that Ms. Willis previously represented one of the alleged YSL gang co-founders as a defense attorney. This former client, Fremondo “Mondo” Crenshaw, was the only alleged YSL gang co-founder who was not charged in the 28-person indictment brought against Young Thug and others. 

The prosecution objected at the time to Mr. Schardt’s comment and he proceeded to drop the subject. According to courtroom audio, the judge did not react to the objection. It’s unclear if the issue will be brought up in court later.

(The Young Thug trial was put on hold in December after Stillwell, a rapper known as “SB”, was almost killed in a jailhouse stabbing that caused him to be hospitalized. Stillwell has been charged with murder in a gangland killing that’s part of the trail of bloodshed being targeted in Ms. Willis’s RICO prosecution.) 

Ms. Willis represented YSL Mondo in 2019, when he was accused of aggravated assault. This was during a time when Ms. Wilis, a career prosecutor, had briefly left the Fulton County District Attorney’s office prior to running for DA, and opened a private practice. 

Jeffery Williams, also known as ‘Young Thug,’ in a wolf sweater at his racketeering trial. Courtroom feed

Mr. Crenshaw told Rolling Stone a year ago that the Fani Willis he knew would never have pursued the novel prosecution of Young Thug 

“This is not her character, this is not who she is” he told Rolling Stone. “I done had auntie-to-nephew mother-to-son type of talks with her. I know this not her character. This is what made me start looking at [the YSL case] like I know it’s bigger than just her. It’s politics behind this shit. It’s other people that’s behind her pulling strings.”

Reached by Rolling Stone in January 2023, Ms. Willis confirmed that she represented YSL Mondo, adding, “Oh I think I can say I liked him. I hope he is well …  I want to see him do amazing things with his life.” 

In August, Mr. Trump seized on Ms. Willis’s attorney-client relationship with YSL Mondo to claim, with no substantiation, that she was in a romantic relationship with him.

The attorney for Young Thug’s co-defendant, rapper Shannon ‘SB’ Stillwell, raised the issue of Willis’s representation of Fremondo ‘Mondo’ Crenshaw. The prosecution objected. Fulton County Sheriff’s Office

“They say there’s a young woman — a young racist in Atlanta — they say she was after a certain gang and she ended up having an affair with the head of the gang or a gang member,” he told a campaign rally in New Hampshire. “And this is a person who wants to indict me … for a perfect phone call.”

Mr. Trump repeated the allegations in a campaign ad last August that denounced the three prosecutors pursuing him as President Biden’s “fraud squad.” Ms. Willis, the ad said, “got caught hiding a relationship with a gang member she was prosecuting.”

After the ad started airing on TV in the Atlanta market, Ms. Willis sent an email to her office calling the allegations “derogatory and false” and instructing her staff not to comment on them. “We have no personal feelings against those we investigate or prosecute and we should not express any,” she added. “This is business, it will never be personal.” 

As for the Young Thug trial, defense attorneys have yet to repeat their suggestion that Ms. Willis has put her relationship with YSL Mondo ahead of her judgment as a prosecutor. In addition to the disclosures about Ms. Willis,  the questioning of Mr. Belknap has led to many attention-grabbing moments.

He’s been investigating Young Slime Life for more than a decade and works for the Atlanta police department’s gang unit. He says YSL is much more than a lucrative music label, and prosecutors are hoping his testimony will bolster their claim that Young Thug was a founding member of the YSL gang, which allegedly evolved from the “Raised on Cleveland,” or ROC Crew, gang.

Young Thug co-defendant Shannon ‘SB’ Stillwell in court. He was seriously injured in a jailhouse stabbing in December. Courtroom feed

(The “Raised on Cleveland” gang, an affiliate of the Bloods, is named in reference to Cleveland Avenue, which traverses some poor neighborhoods in southwest Atlanta where Young Thug grew up in what’s now a housing project.)

It should be noted that while previous testimony from a self-proclaimed YSL gang co-founder, Trontavious “Tick” Stephens, claimed that “all” of the defendants in the courtroom — including Young Thug — were members of the gang YSL, “Tick” also testified that no one in the courtroom was a part of ROC Crew with him.

In a recent court session, Mr. Belknap was asked by prosecutors if he had heard of Jeffery Williams. After answering that he had known him, he said the “first year” he had heard about Mr. WIlliams was in 2010, adding that his understanding, at that time, was that Young Thug was a “member” of ROC Crew.

The court-designated gang expert also recently shared testimony about how he believes that just because a person is a professional rapper does not mean they can’t also be a part of a gang.

Trontavious Stephens, also known as ‘Tick’ or ‘Slug,’ testifies against Young Thug in exchange for avoiding a long prison sentence. Courtroom feed

“Is being a rapper and a gang member mutually exclusive?” prosecutor Simone Hylton asked Mr. Belnap.

“Not at all,” was his reply.

A significant part of the defense team’s strategy is to convince the jury that gang imagery used by Young Thug and his co-defendants is merely showmanship by a rap star and his friends, rather than an indication of actual gang involvement. In his cross-examination of Mr. Belknap, defense attorney Brian Steel took the opportunity — yet again — to hammer home the idea that Young Thug is one of many celebrities who merely references gang culture, rather than actually engage in gang activity. So far, he’s brought up the likes of rapper Snoop Dogg and tennis pro Serena Williams.

“The fact that I, I’m just using myself, have a YSL tattoo on my face and I sing about drive-by shootings and I am seen all the time doing a crip walk or doing a ‘B’ for the blood gang sign, I’ve done nothing wrong under the law in Georgia, right?” Mr. Steel asked Mr. Belknap.

Young Thug speaks to one of his attorneys during his trial. Courtroom feed

“That would be correct,” the detective responded.

Mr. Steel also took the time to question Mr. Belknap about Young Thug’s past social media activity, as the prosecution has been trying to connect the rapper’s old posts with the ROC Crew gang. In doing so, Mr. Belknap argued that Mr. Williams’s posts are more than just “him promoting his music” as Mr. Steel has argued.

“He also promoted his gang through the music and his music was promoted by his gang as well,” Mr. Belknap said.

But Mr. Steel has even argued that tweets mentioning “ROC” are references to music giant Jay Z‘s management company, Roc Nation, rather than ROC Crew. 

The art for ‘Super Slimey,’ a collaboration between Young Thug and Future, is said by prosecutors to reference gang warfare with its imagery of a hawk skull and a snake. The defense says the skull is that of an eagle, referring to Future’s Freebandz label. Via X

We’ve also seen Mr. Belknap argue that the artwork for ‘Super Slimey’ — a 2017 mixtape by rappers Future and Young Thug — is a symbolic reference to an Atlanta gang war.

“This particular image was of note to myself and other gang investigators particularly during this time period, their rival gang, ABG, has a hawk logo that they use,” Belknap said. “As you can see on the cover of this, there is a hawk skull with a snake — the symbol for YSL — climbing through the eyes of this skull of a hawk.”

Mr. Steel, on the other hand, tried to convince the jury that the bird skull on the mixtape was actually that of an eagle — the bird featured on imagery for Freebandz, Future’s record label. Mr. Belknap countered by saying that he saw response images from ABG suggesting the mixtape artwork was gang-related.

Mr. Belknap is one of many witnesses to be called to the stand for this sprawling case. The trial, which began in late November, is anticipated to last for at least half a year.

The New York Sun

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