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Thursday, 18 June 2009

Ernest Conley, former leader of the Jungle Junkies, was sentenced to 14 years in prison

19:29 |

Ernest Conley, former leader of the Jungle Junkies, was sentenced to 14 years in prison Wednesday in a case that exposed the city's tangled gang network and the violence it fuels.Ernest Conley, who joined the Jungle Junkies eights years ago as a 14-year-old middle school student, faced up to life in prison for his role at the helm of West Hill's most notorious gang. His sentencing marks the culmination of a DEA- and FBI-led investigation that broke open three years ago when 28 gang members, all of them already in or headed for federal prison, were rounded up on a drug and racketeering indictment built largely from telephone wiretaps and a trove of street-level intelligence.The predominantly young defendants, about half of whom have survived gunshot wounds, including Conley, were tied to dozens of shootings, murder cases and bloody turf wars. Behind the violence was a labyrinth of drug dealing across inner-city neighborhoods.Conley, 22, provided federal authorities a blueprint of Albany's splintered gang operations. In more than a dozen debriefings, Conley retraced the Jungle Junkies ongoing war with Arbor Hill's Yard Boys and the South End's Original Gangster Killers (OGK), a gang of largely older members whose reputation for violence and gunplay rivals the Jungle Junkies, according to a person familiar with the debriefings.Conley was the only sworn member of the Jungle Junkies to cooperate in the investigation. He put authorities off balance when they had to cut a deal with a gang leader they initially set out to imprison for up to life.Conley turned out to be their most important witness, but prosecutors would yield no more than recommending a 15-year prison term for his cooperation.''It affected me in more ways that I could imagine,'' Conley told the judge Wednesday, reading a prepared statement he wrote in jail while awaiting sentencing. ''I've lost all support from my community and my so-called friends. ... I didn't come from the best family but I knew wrong from right.''Conley apologized to his family, the community and court for the terror and drug dealing that came at the hands of his former gang.Conely did not offer his criminal upbringing as an excuse for his conduct. But his attorney, Kevin A. Luibrand, and the judge, both acknowledged Conley's challenge of growing up with a mother and father with criminal histories.Conley's older brother, Antwon, wrote a letter from state prison to U.S. District Judge Gary L. Sharpe, blaming himself for ''misleading'' his brother into a life of crime. He asked Sharpe to ''have mercy.''''I lead Ernest down that exact path,'' Antwon Conley wrote. ''The road is becoming another statistic, a cancer to our community.''Conley, who is soft-spoken and articulate, sports a tattoo on his right hand in honor of a fallen gang member, Ourson Robinson, known as Pac Man, who was one of at least six Jungle Junkies slain in gang-related violence in Albany. Robinson was 15 when he was shot to death in 2003.

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