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YOUNGSTOWN Judge sentences gang members



Published: Thu, January 31, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The two-year prison terms were recommended in a plea agreement.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Two members of an East Side gang will spend the next two years in prison.

Ashanti Bunch, 26, of Ayers Street, and Michael Cain, 23, of Lincoln Park Drive, were sentenced Wednesday by Judge Maureen A. Cronin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

They are members of the Ayers Street Playas, a gang that authorities say controlled drug activity in an East Side neighborhood known by drug dealers as "La La Land."

Both men pleaded no contest in November to one count of engaging in criminal gang activity, for which they were found guilty. They also pleaded guilty to one count of cocaine trafficking.

The two-year prison sentences were recommended by the county prosecutor's office as part of a plea agreement with Bunch, Cain and their lawyers.

No admission: By pleading no contest, the men avoided having to admit being gangsters, something they denied. A plea of no contest is neither an admission nor denial of the crime.

Though they denied being members of a gang, both men acknowledged at their plea hearings in November that based on evidence prosecutors had against them, a jury would convict them of being members of the Playas.

Defense attorneys have argued that Ohio's anti-gang law does not clearly define gang activity and that they intend to appeal its constitutionality to the 7th District Court of Appeals.

Marvin L. Rushton II, 33, of Williamson Avenue, entered an identical plea agreement in November and also was to have been in court Wednesday, but his sentencing was postponed at the request of his lawyer.

Bunch, Cain and Rushton were among 14 men indicted by a county grand jury in March 2001 on the gang and drug charges. Two were found guilty after a trial in October while several others have made plea agreements.

Criminal histories: Judge Cronin said most of the gang members have minimal criminal histories, but Bunch's record is extensive. She considered imposing more prison time because of that, but opted to follow the prosecutor's recommendation.

"The only thing you have going for you is that you've been shot fewer times than the number of kids you have," she said.

Bunch said he has seven children but could not remember how many times he's been shot. The judge said his record indicates he's been shot three times, including one accidentally self-inflicted wound with a sawed-off shotgun.

bjackson@vindy.com




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