Black Mafia Family kingpins push for prison release amid COVID-19

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Terry Flenory, one of the Black Mafia Family cocaine kingpins from southwest Detroit who headed one of the country’s most powerful cocaine empires that reaped $270 million in profits, is leaving federal prison Tuesday and his brother is trying to join him, citing COVID-19 health concerns.

Terry and Demetrius “Big Meech” Flenory would join a growing list of prominent felons being released in an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19 within the nation’s prison system, illustrating the extreme break given to some convicted criminals.

Black Mafia Family drug kingpin Demetrius "Big Meech" on the cover of The JUICE Magazine, which he co-owned.

Terry Flenory, 50, who oversaw the national drug ring’s Los Angeles hub, is scheduled to be released from a Kentucky federal prison on home confinement Tuesday and could soon be joined by his 51-year-old brother, a legend within the drug and rap world who oversaw operations in Atlanta.

The brothers were sentenced to 30 years in federal prison in 2008 for heading a national drug ring with ties to Mexican cartels and selling kilos of cocaine during a 15-year crime spree. But both have sought release from prison during a COVID-19 outbreak that, according to federal prison data, has killed at least 40 inmates and infected more than 2,300 prisoners and staffers.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents toppled the cocaine empire in 2005 by arresting the brothers along with more than 100 co-conspirators. Investigators seized $21 million worth of assets, including cash, jewelry, 13 homes in Metro Detroit, Georgia and Los Angeles, and three dozen vehicles, including a Lincoln limousine.

Terry Flenory

Terry Flenory’s pending release comes amid continuing interest in the Black Mafia Family and support from rappers, including LL Cool J. Rapper 50 Cent is producing a cable series about the Black Mafia Family for the Starz channel

Demetrius Flenory is a violent, fame-hungry drug baron who reveled in a lifestyle of "money, cars, houses, clothes, jewelry and ho's," according to a court filing. 

"During his time in prison, Flenory continues to promote himself, and, through others his legacy as a highly successful professional drug dealer," Assistant U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison wrote in a Friday court filing. "Nothing in that promotion remotely suggests that Flenory has changed."

The brothers rose from humble origins in southwest Detroit. During his high school years, Demetrius Flenory started selling $50 rocks of crack cocaine on the Downriver streets of Ecorse. 

Starting in 1990, their drug ring started distributing thousands of kilograms of cocaine across a sprawling empire that grew to cities in 11 states, including Detroit, Atlanta, Miami, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Birmingham, Alabama. The Atlanta hub alone distributed 2,500 kilos each month.

The drug ring might have lacked the innovation of other large-scale organizations like Young Boys Inc., which pioneered the use of underage drug peddlers, or the synonymous ties to Detroit, but made up for it in scope.

"They didn't earn their stripes in Detroit," said Carl Taylor, a Michigan State University sociology professor who has researched Young Boys Inc. and other gangs. "They were one of world's best kept secrets in terms of gangs."

That elusiveness fueled longevity. The Black Mafia Family's empire ran from 1990 until 2005.

"I think you are a very lucky man that it took the government that long to finally put it together," Detroit U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn told Terry Flenory before sending him to prison.

The Black Mafia Family drug ring hauled money and cocaine in custom-built stretch limousines.

The Black Mafia Family transported drugs and money across the country in cars, including a custom-built limousine with secret compartments and after-market devices that expelled drug-tainted air from inside in an attempt to foil drug-sniffing dogs.

The system was imperfect. When investigators searched the Black Mafia Family's stretch Lincoln Navigator limousine, they found $580,250 hidden in the secret compartments.

Cash seized during the Black Mafia Family investigation

Still, the drug ring collected millions of dollars in profits. The Flenory brothers and co-conspirators invested the money in jewelry, real estate — including a $3 million, gated, Mediterranean mansion in Los Angeles — and cars both classic and exotic, including a 1970 Chevrolet Camaro and a 2005 Maserati.

The gang generated so much money, the Flenory brothers needed to wash the cash.

They laundered ill-gotten gains by buying jewelry from Manhattan jeweler Jacob Arabov, the so-called "King of Bling." They were such frequent customers that Terry Flenory had a $1 million line of credit with the jeweler and paid $300,000 for a pinky ring.

Jacob Arabov was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.

During a July 2005 traffic stop in Illinois, troopers seized 22 pieces of jewelry from Terry Flenory and others worth more than $4.9 million. That included watches made by Rolex, Audemars Piguet and a 100-carat, white gold Piaget timepiece featuring 310 diamonds.

Demetrius Flenory also laundered money through his rap label and promotions business, BMF Entertainment, and co-owned JUICE Magazine. BMF Entertainment takes credit for helping launch the career of the rapper Jeezy.

"BMF Entertainment was nothing more than a front for and promotion of Flenory’s drug trafficking activities," Ison, the prosecutor, wrote.

Demetrius Flenory's involvement in the hip hop industry has led to prolonged support among rappers, including LL Cool J, who advocated for a pardon in 2017.

The brothers spent three years in jail before pleading guilty and being sentenced in 2008. 

Earlier this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified and as federal prison officials started releasing inmates to stem the spread of the virus, Terry Flenory was approved for release on home confinement. He has more than six years remaining on his sentence and is scheduled Tuesday to leave a Kentucky prison.

"Terry Flenory is a really good guy and anyone who knows him would agree with that," his former defense lawyer Steve Fishman said. "He has served a lot of time, and I am very happy to hear he’s coming home.”

It is unclear where Terry Flenory will live once he is released from prison. He had lived in California until his arrest.

His pending release led Demetrius Flenory to seek compassionate release from a federal prison in Oregon on April 22. His lawyer argues Flenory's age and underlying health conditions, including hypertension and heart problems, leave him susceptible to COVID-19.

Flenory is not scheduled to be released from prison until October 2031.

Calling Flenory "ubiquitous in hip hop culture," defense lawyer Wade Fink said compassionate release will help Flenory "continue to effect positive change for black youth and others all over the country — an effort he began while incarcerated by starting programs, including charity drives for financially struggling children in Detroit."

Federal prosecutors are fighting the request, which was considered Monday by U.S. District Judge David Lawson. He took the request under advisement and will rule later.

Demetrius Flenory is no Robin Hood, prosecutors said. He was accused of killing two men during a fight outside Chaos nightclub in Atlanta in November 2003, according to prosecutors. One of the victims was a bodyguard for hip hop star Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs.

The homicide charges are no longer pending, Fink said. He faulted prosecutors for painting Demetrius Flenory as an Al Capone-like crime figure.

"The government assumes that a human being like Flenory is without the capacity to evolve and that a thirty-year federal prison sentence is not capable of changing an individual’s mindset, not to mention his age of 51 and the changed world he is entering," Fink wrote.

Twitter: @robertsnellnews