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Billy D. Ladson is a gangster. The leader of a violent drug gang that has operated for nearly a decade along the Bankhead Highway corridor in northwest Atlanta, Ladson told a federal jury this week that he has kidnapped and robbed his competitors, killed at least one informant and participated in the attempted slaying of another. Ladson, founder of the Diablo Boys, built a network that bought and sold cocaine in Atlanta’s public housing projects and in “The Bluff,” the northwest Atlanta neighborhood where he grew up. That network, he told the jury, eventually included an Atlanta police officer and a federal court data clerk. Ladson made those statements this week as a federal prosecution witness against Demetrius Freeman, the clerk whose alleged tips allowed the gang leader to elude law enforcement, and Freeman’s brother, Barry Adams. Freeman and Adams are on trial in U.S. District Court on charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. They have been accused of leaking confidential information to Ladson about the two-year federal investigation of the Diablo Boys — including the identities of witnesses, the names of suspected gang members who were under investigation and details about ongoing wiretaps and vehicle traces. Freeman’s job scanning documents into court computers gave him routine access to sealed documents, including those associated with the Diablo Boys investigation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Yonette M. Sam-Buchanan told the jury earlier this week. P. Bruce Kirwan is representing Freeman. Ladson’s testimony on Wednesday and Thursday indicated his gang also had penetrated the Atlanta Police Department. On Thursday, Ladson identified Atlanta police officer David Freeman as a fellow gang member. David Freeman is not related to Demetrius Freeman, according to Sam-Buchanan. Sam-Buchanan and an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told the jury this week that the information passed to Ladson allowed him to avoid arrest for more than three months in 2002 after he and several of his associates gunned down, but failed to kill, a suspected police informant. Ladson eventually was arrested on Sept. 9, 2002, on a carjacking complaint. He and 15 other suspected gang members, including the police officer, have since been charged with racketeering, drug trafficking, carjacking, witness tampering and manslaughter. Facing the possibility of the death penalty in connection with racketeering charges that include two drug-related homicides, Ladson began cooperating with federal authorities in March 2003. His testimony against Adams and the court clerk is part of that agreement, he told the jury. U.S. District Judge Charles A. Pannell Jr. is presiding over the trial, which began Monday. U.S. v. Freeman, No. 1:03CV329 (N.D. Feb. 2, 2004). FRIENDS IN THE RIGHT PLACES Ladson, 27, testified that he never paid Adams or his brother for the information leaked to him. All three men share a connection to Harper Archer High School in northwest Atlanta, where all were at one time students. Ladson and Adams later founded a hip-hop record label, Diablo Records, according to Adams’ attorney, Stephen B. Murrin. That interlocking web of family and friends is what Ladson said bonded him to his sources. “It was basically because of the relationship we had,” Ladson told the jury. “It was more looking out for each other. It wasn’t a business deal. It was friendship.” Ladson’s testimony outlined the breadth of the leaked information, most of it filed under seal and secured in a safe in the federal courthouse downtown. His testimony also outlined the scope of information that he received for more than eight years from police officer David Freeman, a Ladson co-defendant in a separate federal case. Ladson described the officer as “affiliated closely” with the Diablo Boys. THE INFORMATION PIPELINE But it was Ladson’s pipeline into the federal clerk’s office that was at the heart of his testimony this week. He told the jury that he first began receiving information about the investigation into his criminal activities from Adams in 2002. Adams, he said, called him to arrange a meeting at Adams’ mother’s home. At that meeting, Adams gave Ladson a copy of a warrant for Ladson’s arrest. Ladson said Adams showed him the copy-a sealed document that charged Ladson with carjacking-and told the gang leader he had received it from his brother. Ladson said he told Adams at the time that he wanted to meet and talk with Adams’ brother “to find out more about the document and what it meant.” Ladson said he subsequently met Adams’ brother, but knew him at the time only as “Bro.” At that first meeting with Demetrius Freeman, Ladson said that Freeman told him, “It would probably be good if I turned myself in before the indictment came out.” Ladson ignored that advice. Then Adams contacted him again, this time to warn him to stop driving his sport utility vehicle because federal agents had planted a tracking device on it. Ladson said Adams told him he had received the information from his brother. As federal agents attempted to locate Ladson and arrest him, Adams continued to call the gang leader with new information, Ladson told the jury. He said Adams warned him that federal agents were tracking calls on one of his cell phones, provided him with a copy of sealed grand jury indictments involving the Diablo Boys, and warned him when federal agents were en route to arrest him.

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