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Gang chief sentenced; aided feds

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA) August 26, 2005 Author: BILL MONTGOMERY

The leader of a violent northwest Atlanta drug gang facing the possibility of life in prison was sentenced to 20 years behind bars Thursday.

Billy Durante Ladson, known as "Billy Diablo" while chief of the Diablo Boys gang, cooperated with a federal prosecution that broke up the gang and sent an Atlanta cop to prison.

Ladson was named in a 10-count 2003 federal indictment that linked the Bankhead Highway gang to crimes from narcotics trafficking to homicide. Ladson pleaded guilty this year to a federal racketeering count and use of a firearm in a carjacking.

Ladson's cooperation over more than two years "has been extraordinary, I'll agree with that, it led to the conviction of a bad police officer and the prosecution of a federal court clerk," Assistant U.S. Attorney Yonette Sam-Buchanan told U.S. District Court Judge Charles Pannell. "And he also provided substantial information about other offenses the government was unaware of."

David Alan Freeman, a one-time Officer of the Year named in the indictment as a key lieutenant of Ladson's in the Diablos, pleaded guilty to aiding in the abduction and beating of a rival gang member, a civil rights violation. He was sentenced Aug. 11 to nearly six years in prison.

Ladson testified in February in the prosecution of an ex-federal court data clerk acquitted in an alleged scheme to leak classified court data about drug investigations to the gang. Defense attorneys argued that Ladson and other witnesses were not believable.

Jeff Ertel, Ladson's public defender, urged a maximum 15-year sentence, contending that his client put himself "at great risk by providing information against a police officer."

"I would hope he wouldn't end up in Supermax [the Colorado maximum security prison] with Eric Rudolph," Pannell said before sentencing. "If he had gone to trial, I think he would have ended up with life in prison."

Asked if he had anything he wanted to say, Ladson rose and replied, "I won't make any excuses. . . . I got caught in a bad lifestyle, and I've come to realize my decisions have consequences."

With a wave to his father and weeping mother, Ladson was led away by marshals.