This time around, Sir Dyno's deal was with the government -- and not the devil.
David Rocha, also known as the gangsta rapper "Sir Dyno," who faced life in prison for his alleged connection to the Northern California prison gang Nuestra Familia, pled guilty last month to drug possession. Rocha was originally charged with conspiracy under federal racketeering statutes for rapping on a CD titled G.U.N.: Generations of United Norteños -- Till Eternity, which gang members later said was actually a recruiting tool for the prison gang. "I was getting nervous having to go to trial with those people," the 32-year-old said last week from his home in Tracy. "I just wanted to get it over with, so I took the deal."
As it turns out, the deal is a pretty sweet one for Dyno. According to the plea agreement, he only admitted to acquiring four grams of meth -- about the same volume as four packets of sugar-free sweetener -- sometime in late 1998 from Robert "Huerito" Gratton, the Nuestra Familia captain who hired him for the G.U.N. project. The rapper is also cleared from testifying at the gang's trial next year, or further explaining his relationship with Gratton, who has since turned informant and has a new identity under the federal Witness Relocation Program. The rapper now faces anything from probation to sixteen months behind bars when he is sentenced in February.
"We're very pleased this is over," said V. Roy Lefcourt, the rapper's attorney. "Considering the seriousness of the charges, short of a complete dismissal, this is as good as it gets." Lead prosecutor US Attorney Steve Gruel declined comment for this article, noting that the case is still pending.
The hefty reduction in charges surprised some police officers who busted Sir Dyno and Gratton, and are still left with the task of monitoring ongoing norteño gang warfare in Northern California. After learning about the deal, Modesto gang unit officer Tim Helton wondered with a hint of sarcasm why the unrepentant rapper admitted any amount of guilt. "If this guy was really innocent as he said all along, he shouldn't have pleaded guilty," Helton said. "He should've taken it to the box. ... But the proof is in the pudding. There's no doubt in my mind this guy is still a gangster. We'll see where he ends up in a few years."
Dyno had maintained that he was unaware of the CD's intent, and took the job only to boost his fledgling musical career. In the spring of 1997, he first met Gratton, who'd recently been paroled from Pelican Bay State Prison. The prison gang captain later told FBI agents that he was ordered by his bosses to start North Star Records, and use the label to both bolster pride among norteños -- Hispanic gang members born in California north of Fresno -- and to launder the gang's drug money. After hiring Sir Dyno, who was then broke and sleeping on friends' couches, G.U.N. earned an estimated $50,000 to $80,000. The CD delivered Sir Dyno a small amount of fame and launched his prolific career, but also brought Gratton the unwanted police attention that eventually led to his arrest.
Sir Dyno's plea agreement follows a string of deals between defendants and federal prosecutors in the effort dubbed Operation Black Widow, which is shaping up to be the most expensive and lengthy investigation into a prison gang in US history. At a cost beyond $5 million and spanning the course of four years, the FBI and 25 additional law-enforcement agencies from the South Bay to the Oregon border have indicted at least 22 alleged Nuestra Familia members and associates since 2001. So far, fifteen have already pled guilty, and with only seven remaining for trial, Judge Charles Breyer recently pushed the trial date back to September 2004.
Meanwhile, Operation Black Widow continues to turn up new leads, including some closer to Oakland. When the original indictments came down in spring 2001, the three highest-ranking generals overseeing the estimated 800-member prison gang were transferred from Pelican Bay to Alameda County's Santa Rita Jail to await arraignment in San Francisco. Now awaiting trial, and firmly planted inside Santa Rita for the past two and a half years, the three generalissimos allegedly have used their time inside the jail's D Pod to turn out new recruits.
According to an FBI affidavit, federal agents interviewed a gang informant outside the jail this past August. "[Source] said the incarcerated Black Widow defendants continue schooling norteño gang members while incarcerated at Alameda County Jail," the affidavit reads. "Source said norteños are being schooled inside C Pod and E Pod, and the defendants are housed in D Pod." Under the bylaws of the Nuestra Familia Constitution, new recruits are schooled on Mexican-American history, learn to make prison weapons and write microscopic notes, and eventually take the gang's famous oath, "Blood in, blood out."
On the outside, and miles away from a jail cell, Sir Dyno continues his rap career, working from the small studio inside his home. After his indictment, he was barred from traveling outside California to promote any of his CDs, including his latest, Engrave These Words on My Stone. A far cry from the bloodlust he championed on G.U.N. , the content on Engrave centers around an aging gangsta's regrets -- most prominently, the regret of leaving his family for prison after being forced to own up to the crimes of his youth. Still awaiting his fate, Sir Dyno hopes the sentencing judge considers the family-committed lifestyle he's chosen today.
"I believe in karma," he said. "I can't see a judge giving me sixteen months. But even if he did, it's better than doing life."
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