A federal jury Tuesday found Sterling Rivers, 26, of Lebanon, guilty of engaging in a conspiracy to distribute large amounts of crack cocaine and cocaine during his involvement in a street gang called the Unknown Vice Lords.
According to David Rivera, acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, another trial is scheduled for Nov. 19 because the jury couldn’t reach a decision on one count related to possession of a firearm during a drug crime.
Rivers, also known as “little Real,” was indicted with 16 other individuals in September 2011 following a nearly two-year investigation into a national street gang, the Vice Lords, operating in Wilson and Putnam counties and other areas. Rivers fled following his indictment and was arrested in October 2011 as a fugitive in Texas.
"We hope that [the verdict] sends a message to some of the younger people that are thinking about getting in gangs," said Lebanon police Chief Scott Bowen.
He said the case, which was one of the first of its kind for Wilson County, was far-reaching, with involvement including Crossville, Cookeville, Sparta, Nashville and Memphis. But Lebanon played a central role in the case, with 11 of the 17 people originally indicted from Lebanon. Additionally, Lebanon's Lt. Koy Lafferty was recently honored nationally for his service as co-case agent on the investigation.
According to Rivera, Tuesday's decision is a testament to the various agencies' collaboration.
“This verdict is just another example of the U.S. attorney’s office and our law enforcement partners’ tireless commitment to combating criminal street gangs in the Middle Tennessee area,” said Rivera. “This and other recent convictions of gang members should send a clear and convincing message that violent gang activity in this district will be met with the necessary resources required to eliminate such activity and to hold those accountable who choose to inflict violence upon our communities.”
The verdict followed a two-week trial, during which Rivers represented himself. Proof at trial established Rivers was engaged in organizing the Vice Lords gang throughout the state and was involved in an array of violent crime, including the robbery of another drug dealer and the shooting of another individual. Rivers is the last defendant to be tried in this case and faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Fifteen co-defendants pleaded guilty, and Monique “Money” Smith was tried and convicted in October 2012 and was sentenced to life, plus five years in prison.
The FBI, Lebanon Police Department, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Highway Patrol investigated the case. Assistant U.S. attorneys Braden H. Boucek and Brent Hannafan prosecuted the case.