DOCUMENT: Celebrity, Crime

Snitch Gets Shaft

Unlike T.I., no sweetheart plea deal for bodyguard-turned-government informant who ensnared rap star in federal firearms prosecution

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Corey Williams Motion

Corey Williams Felony Information

T.I. Criminal Complaint

APRIL 7--How cushy was the felony plea deal struck by the rapper T.I. with Department of Justice prosecutors?

Remarkably so, considering how the confidential government informant who ensnared the hip-hop star was treated, The Smoking Gun has learned.

The informant, bodyguard Corey Williams, is currently imprisoned serving a one-year and one-day sentence for his role in securing machine guns and silencers for T.I. (real name: Clifford Harris). Last month, Harris received the same sentence as Williams, despite the fact that the chart-topping star had a previous felony conviction, was found in possession of a large weapons cache, and faced far stiffer charges than the snitch, who is pictured at right.

By comparison, Williams had a clean record prior to his October 2007 arrest, and he immediately agreed to cooperate with federal agents after being caught in a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) sting operation. At the direction of federal agents, Williams, 34, subsequently had monitored conversations with Harris and wore a wire on the rapper during a face-to-face meeting. Williams also agreed to testify at trial against Harris, whose fans and rap world peers do not look kindly on violators of the "Stop Snitching" code.

Williams's identity has been cloaked by federal investigators who only referred to him as "Confidential Witness," or "CW," in court filings. Additionally, a protective order barred Harris and his defense team from publicly disclosing the informant's name, so as to "guard against any improper contact."

By any measure, Harris's plea deal was an unprecedented slap on the wrist. Convicted of three felonies, the 28-year-old performer could have received about five years years in prison for obtaining the three machine guns and two 9mm silencers. Compounding matters, Harris was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, since his crowded rap sheet included a 1998 felony narcotics conviction. He had also once violated terms of a prior probation by unlawfully possessing firearms. And then there was the matter of the arsenal federal agents found in a closet and a walk-in safe in the rapper's College Park, Georgia home.

Though Harris copped to the assorted weapons charges last March, his sentencing was put off for a year so that he could perform 1000 hours of community service. David Nahmias, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, described the arrangement as a "unique and extensive program" that would allow Harris to speak with "at-risk kids" about mistakes he has made, while also educating them about the dangers of guns, gangs, and drugs. It was agreed that at the conclusion of Harris's Contrition Tour 2008-2009, the performer would be sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison.

In the year following his plea, Harris, at left, reportedly visited 58 schools, 12 Boys & Girls clubs, nine churches, and assorted other community groups (naturally, he was trailed at many of these appearances by an MTV camera crew filming his reality series "Road to Redemption," which concludes this evening with a post-sentencing episode dubbed "The Reckoning"). Harris also recorded dozens of public service announcements, including one that promoted Cleveland's In The Hood Foundation and concluded with the exhortation to "Keep it Pimpin!"

When Judge Charles Pannell Jr. sentenced Harris on March 27, he acknowledged the one-of-a-kind deal: "I congratulate you on the work you've done so far," he told Harris. "If you had failed, I would have simply sent you to prison. I would have probably hung Mr. Nahmias out the window of the 23rd floor." With good behavior, Harris is likely to spend less than 10 months in a Bureau of Prisons facility. He is expected to begin serving his sentence in about two months.

Harris's sweetheart deal, of course, will never be offered to another predicate felon with a weakness for Ingram and Heckler & Koch products.

***

One day before Harris entered his guilty plea in a crowded courtroom last March, Williams appeared before Judge Pannell to cop to a felony information charging him with purchasing firearms for Harris and other individuals. Williams was represented by defense lawyer Mildred Dunn, who negotiated her client's plea with prosecutors Todd Alley and Francey Hakes (who also handled the Harris case). There were no spectators in Pannell's courtroom that afternoon.

According to court records, Harris provided cash to Williams on several dates in September 2007, and the bodyguard bought the rapper a total of nine firearms from The Gun Store in Doraville, an Atlanta suburb. Since he had a clean record, Williams was able to purchase the guns after filling out an ATF Firearms Transaction Record form.

In October 2007, Williams went to a gun dealer and inquired about purchasing a machine gun without registering the weapon as required by federal law. In response, a store employee contacted ATF to report the inquiry by Williams. An agent instructed the worker to provide Williams with the phone number of a purported "person with machine guns for sale." That person, of course, was an undercover federal agent.

Within hours of receiving the undercover agent's contact information, Williams called to express interest in purchasing machine guns. He later met the undercover agent in a Kmart parking lot and was arrested after paying for the firearms and silencers. During subsequent debriefings, Williams implicated Harris and two of the rapper's close associates in the illegal straw gun purchases. [Some of the weapons bought by Williams for Harris are pictured above.]

On one occasion, Williams recalled, Harris gave him $1000 to purchase a Smith & Wesson revolver. According to the criminal complaint filed against the performer, an associate of his named "'Alphaomega' followed CW to The Gun Store. The CW purchased the revolver...and gave it to 'Alphaomega' to give to Harris." Cedric Zellars, a Harris crony/co-lyricist who uses the rap handle "Alfamega," could only serve as a weapons courier, and not a purchaser, because he is a felon. The 36-year-old Zellars, who has been described as Harris's protege, spent about eight years in federal prison following a 1995 conviction on--what else--felony weapons charges.

Williams also told federal agents that another Harris pal, identified as "C-Rod" in court papers, received $7000 in cash from the rapper and passed it on to him for the purchase of three rifles and four handguns. Cortez "C-Rod" Thomas has recorded with Harris and others under the name P$C, or Pimp Squad Click.

Neither Zellars nor Thomas have been changed in connection with the Harris case.

The 6' 3", 230-pound Williams began working as a Harris bodyguard in July 2007. At the time, he was the chief executive of The Bushido Group, a security firm operating from his apartment. While Bushido (which refers to Japanese samurai warriors) was little more than Williams's corporate alter ego, the firm appears on a January 2007 "interested vendors list" with regard to the letting of a $23.7 million Department of Homeland Security contract to staff an immigration detention facility in Puerto Rico.

That was clearly wishful thinking on the part of Williams, who also did nightclub promotions via Creative Times Entertainment, a Georgia firm he incorporated with a friend. In January 2003, Williams placed an online classified ad seeking "Beautiful Women for escort/massage service." The ad noted that Williams was seeking "ladies for our new agency," which "will cater to the upscale gentlemen of Atlanta." The ad promised that prospective "escorts, massage therapist, and exotic dancers" would not earn less than $600 an hour.

While it is unclear whether such an agency actually existed, Williams took license with the facts in another online posting. On a Friendster profile, the Sandersville, Georgia native claimed to be an "entrepreneur" who earned a Yale University graduate business degree in 1998. The school has no record of a Corey Williams ever attending as a graduate or undergraduate student. The Friendster profile also included this description of Williams: "I am a man who enjoys life. I am very loyal, honest, and giving, just don't try to take advantage of that."

Dunn declined to discuss her client's background, which apparently included time in the military (records show that he lived at Fort Jackson in South Carolina and Lackland Air Force Base in Texas). In fact, when TSG last week began making inquiries about Williams's criminal case, Dunn filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Atlanta to seal portions of the court file, including the court reporter's transcript of Williams's sentencing hearing. That motion was supported by federal prosecutors and granted by Judge Pannell on April 2. Both Dunn and U.S. Attorney David Nahmias, pictured at left, asked TSG to refrain from identifying Williams as the informant in the Harris case, citing security concerns that neither would describe in detail.

One document Dunn did not seek to have sealed was an August 2008 prosecution letter to the court recounting Williams's "substantial assistance" in an ATF probe in which the bodyguard "admitted that he was purchasing firearms on behalf of another person." Harris was the "ultimate buyer of the firearms," but went unnamed in the document in a bid to keep Williams's role in the high-profile case secret.

The ex-bodyguard is currently imprisoned in a minimum security federal lockup in Edgefield, South Carolina. His release, scheduled for late July, will come with none of the fanfare that Clifford Harris will surely encounter upon his departure from federal custody. Though the confidential informant and his famous quarry received identical punishments, that is where the similarity ends.