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South Side drug dealer for 'DS44' gang gets five years in prison

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette logo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4/14/2021 By Torsten Ove / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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A Pittsburgh man who went to prison for accidentally killing his cousin and then started dealing heroin as part of a South Side gang, enlisting his own mother and other relatives as runners and money collectors, was sentenced Wednesday to five years in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV imposed that term on Ronald Williams, 28, of South Side Slopes.

Williams was a mid-level dealer for the Darccide/Smash 44 gang that dealt fentanyl and heroin in Pittsburgh's southern neighborhoods and engaged in a long-running and violent feud with a rival drug gang based in Beltzhoover.

FBI taps on cell phones revealed that Williams was in regular contact with ringleader Christopher Highsmith, who is awaiting sentencing, and numerous other ring members in dealing drugs across the region. Agents and prosecutors said that among the conspirators were Williams' girlfriend, Amber Rogers; his mother, Theresa Somerville; his brother, St. John Williams IV; and his sister, Ronika Somerville.

All pleaded guilty.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Bloch said Williams, whose criminal history dates to his early teens, was responsible "on some level for sort of ensnaring some of his family members into his criminal activity."

Williams admitted to Judge Stickman that he had been a "menace" to his community with his drug-dealing but said he wanted to "put this all behind me and start over. I'm ready to be punished for what I did. I just want to get it all over with."

His lawyer, David Chontos, said his client had grown up in traumatic circumstances. His father was murdered in 1994, his mom was a "mom in name only," Mr. Chontos said, and Williams himself had been shot and also "shot someone fooling around with a gun" in 2012, for which he went to prison.

Mr. Chontos asked for a 60-month sentence, at the low end of the sentencing guideline range, and requested that he be housed in a prison near Charlotte, where Amber Rogers lives with their child.

He also asked that Williams be allowed to participate in prison carpentry and barber training programs and get help for drug addiction behind bars.

Judge Stickman agreed to make those recommendations but also told Williams that he directly contributed to the ravages of heroin and fentanyl in the Pittsburgh region. The judge noted that Williams has spent much of his adult life behind bars and has been in trouble with the law since age 12.

In 2012, Williams was showing his cousin, Kevin Buchanan Jr., a .40-caliber rifle when it went off and killed him. Mr. Buchanan was 19. Williams went to state prison for involuntary manslaughter. When he got out in 2017, he "almost immediately" began dealing drugs, Judge Stickman said.

"There is frankly no excuse" for that, the judge told him.

He said he hopes Williams takes advantage of the skills programs offered in prison and changes his life around when he gets out.

Federal agents dismantled the DS44 gang in 2019 with the indictment of 37 members. The organization originated in the St. Clair Village public housing development, which has since been demolished. DS44 had been openly feuding with another heroin gang called Zhoove, led by Lance Gardenhire and supplied from New Jersey. Federal authorities took down that ring, too, in 2015; Gardenhire is serving 20 years in federal prison.

Authorities said DS44 distributed heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and crack.

The first member to plead guilty had been Amber Rogers, Williams' girlfriend. Judge Stickman sentenced her to probation and she relocated to Charlotte. Theresa Somerville, Williams' mother, received time served, as did his sister, Ronika pleaded. His brother St. John was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

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