The alleged leader of a gangland extortion ring that took control of the New York City fire restoration industry can be heard on recordings threatening to kill competitors and ordering an attack on a rival firm’s employee, federal prosecutors say in court pleadings.
In an Oct. 31 letter, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York urged a federal judge not to release Jatiek Smith from jail. The office said it has obtained audio recordings by wire tap where Smith can be heard threatening violence and videos recovered from his cellphone that show his underlings assaulting employees of rival emergency mitigation services firms.
“Even after his arrest, Smith has used his family members to contact some of the very victims who are expected to testify against him at trial,” the office says in the letter to US District Judge Jed S. Rakoff. “These victims are terrified, and with good reason: For two years, Smith has threatened them with violence and threatened their children with violence.”
A federal grand jury on June 23 indicted Smith and eight others on racketeering and conspiracy charges. The nine men — most of whom are purportedly members of the Bloods street gang — are accused of using threats of violence and actual assaults to force competing fire restoration contractors and public adjusters to pay protection money and accept only the jobs assigned through rotation system enforced by Smith’s company, First Response Cleaning Corp.
Judge Rakoff scheduled a Nov. 28 trial for Smith and three other defendants after Smith, Sequan Jackson, Damon Dore, and Rahmiek Lacewell insisted on a speedy trial. Smith told the judge in a July 29 letter that he was disregarding the advice of his attorneys and waiving his right to make pre-trial motions. The other defendants followed suit.
So far, Rakoff has refused to allow Smith to be freed from detention by posting bail. Smith has asked twice to be released so he can assist his attorney in preparing for trial.
In his latest request, made by his attorney on Oct. 26, he offered to put up his home on Staten Island as collateral and post a $750,000 bond. Smith’s assets also include a 2021 Mercedes-Benz and a 2018 Jaguar, according to New York sex offender records.
Federal prosecutors say Smith is a dangerous criminal who leads a violent extortion crew.
“He was a danger on the streets, where he was personally involved in violent attacks—but he was also a danger sitting in his own house, where he met with victims, sent threats, and ordered his underlings over the phone to carry out violence on his behalf,” the Oct. 31 letter signed by Assistant US Attorney Adam S. Hobson says.
The letter includes samples of the evidence that prosecutors say they have obtained from witness statements, wiretapped audio recordings, and cell phone text messages and videos.
In early 2021, Smith and his crew assaulted an employee of a rival restoration contractor that they accused of accepting more work than allowed under First Response’s rotation system, Hobson’s letter says.
“I got 13-year old kids out here looking to make a name for themselves. I’ll give them a gun, they can kill you or your family,” he allegedly said.
Prosecutors say a 30-minute cell phone recording from June 2020 captures comments that Smith made to one of his competitors: “I’ll kill one of your kids just to send a message, B. To send a message.”
Smith, who is 38, was the purported leader of a Bloods affiliate, the Tombstone Gangstas. He has a long criminal history that started in 2005, when he was 19.
Smith was convicted on felony sex charges that involved four victims with ages ranging from 13 to 16, according to sex offender records. Smith was sentenced to 18 months to 54 months in prison.
In 2011, Smith was convicted of first-degree gang assault, but that charge was dismissed after prosecutors learned that a key witness had lied to jurors. Smith pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to 10 months in jail.
In 2015, Smith was convicted on drug dealing and conspiracy charges and sentenced to four to six years in jail.
Smith’s attorney, Michael E. Vitaliano, said in the Oct. 26 bail request that Smith worked in an industry where violence is common. He presented the judge with a copy of an exchange of text messages involving First Response employees four years before Smith started working for the company. One of the firm’s employee had been assaulted while on the job. Carl Walsh, the owner of the company, disregards his concern and tells him “to keep his eye on the prize,” Vitaliano’s letter says.
“It is clear owners of First Response exploited young men to wage war in the streets for their profit,” Vitaliano wrote. “These owners have been complicit in violence for years before Mr. Smith began working at First Response.”
Vitaliano said the government’s own surreptitious recordings undercut its arguments that Smith is a danger to the public. In one recording, he urges others to approach the job as a “9-to-5” and refrain from violence. The attorney concedes that Smith has been a member of the Bloods for 25 years.
“Despite his history he has shown his willingness to make better choices,” Vitaliano wrote. “In these recordings he has echoed he does not want any problems with anyone, and he does not want to be back in jail.”
Judge Rakoff had not yet responded to the bail request as of Friday afternoon. Smith is being held at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn after being transferred from Puerto Rico, where he was arrested.
Rakoff has scheduled a May 1, 2023 trial for the other defendants in the case: Anthony McGee, Kaheen Small, Hasim Smith Manuel Pereira, and Octavio Peralta.