State prison officials were told more than a year before a Wake County prosecutor’s father was kidnapped that the North Carolina inmate accused of orchestrating the scheme from behind bars had tried to get a cellmate to help him harm the assistant district attorney.
On the second day of a trial that has provided a glimpse of gang life inside and outside prison walls, Larry Dunston, a security specialist with the state Department of Public Safety, acknowledged that prison officials looked into the claims in March 2013.
Kelvin Melton, 51, reported to be a high-ranking member of the Bloods gang, is on trial in federal court in Raleigh on charges that he conspired with at least a half dozen people in April 2014 to kidnap Frank Janssen, the father of Colleen Janssen, an assistant Wake County district attorney.
In addition to pulling back a curtain on how gangs operate, the case has raised questions about how Melton got access to a cellphone and money to pay gang members while incarcerated at Polk Correctional Institute in Butner. The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.
Melton, now in federal custody, was serving a life sentence in state prison because of the case prosecuted by Colleen Janssen in 2012. He was on trial for attempted murder and convicted of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and inflict serious injury, a verdict that led to him being classified as a violent habitual felon.
Roger Bethea, who was housed with Melton briefly, recounted for the eight men and eight women in the jury box on Wednesday the concerns that led him to write a letter to prison officials.
Melton, known as a “GF” or “godfather” among his gang, wanted to kidnap the prosecutor who tried his case and have gang members outside prison with whom he had sway scare her and harm her.
Bethea told jurors he refused to go along with the scheme because it was his belief that women and children – “innocents,” as he called them – were off limits in gang warfare.
Dunston testified Wednesday, the day after Frank Janssen described the abduction that left him physically and emotionally scarred, that state prison officials had investigated Bethea’s claims.
Investigators found the person that Melton had asked Bethea to contact, Dunston said. The man was paralyzed and wounded from a gunfight and no longer considered a threat, Dunston said, adding that state officials shared the allegations with the Wake County District Attorney’s Office.
Bethea, who was moved to Central Prison after his letter, was stabbed several times there before being transported to an out-of-state prison.
The defense team representing Melton told jurors in opening statements to weigh very carefully testimony from witnesses who were either incarcerated seeking reduced sentences or charged, awaiting trials.
Later Wednesday, another inmate took the stand for prosecutors and described in detail the hierarchy of the gang that Melton is said to lead. Clifton Roberts, a 31-year-old who is accused in the kidnapping, was living in Atlanta in April 2014.
Because of a murder he committed in January 2014, Roberts said, he became the highest ranking member of Melton’s gang who was not incarcerated. Roberts described for federal prosecutor Leslie Cooley how people get into the gang – “fight three people for 31 seconds.” He told her that there was a “godfather” at the top of the hierarchy, and Melton, also known as “Dizzy” and “Old Man,” had that role. The next in command is a “low GF,” followed by members with five stars, four stars, three stars and two stars and then foot soldiers.
To rise in the ranks, Roberts said, members “have to put in work” or “go out and commit a crime.” As the highest ranking member not incarcerated, Roberts said it was his responsibility in the first four months of 2014 to make sure things ran smoothly, that gang members were going to school – “because going to school furthering their education was mandatory.”
Every Friday, Roberts said, the gang members met at 6 p.m.
Those with rank were required to pay $10. Those who had not attained rank owed $5 each,
That money then was wired, either through Western Union or to a Green Dot account, where a credit or debit card can be pre-loaded and used at thousands of stores.
Roberts testified that Melton, a man he had never met, called in to the meetings or texted him most every day.
At the Friday meetings, Roberts often put Melton on speaker phone so everyone could hear his instructions.
Prosecutors have contended in court documents that Melton offered his co-conspirators $10,000 each to help carry out the plot that led to the abduction of Frank Janssen from his Wake Forest home on April 5, 2014.
Investigators contend that Melton sent more than 120 texts from the contraband phone as he guided two women and two men from Georgia to the Heritage golf community in Wake County, where the Janssens lived. He was on speaker phone with them as they drove north, giving them instructions. He even told them to stop at a Walmart and buy khakis and dark shirts to put on before getting to the Janssen home.