Gang expert took youth to talks without knowing he's reputedly in a gang

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Date: Tuesday, April 13, 2010

ALBANY -- The city of Albany's paid gang-prevention specialist took a reputed South End gang member to at least 12 events to preach anti-violence, including a videotaped meeting with ex-Chief James W. Tuffey and top police deputies.

Ron "Cook" Barrett, who earns nearly $48,000 a year promoting gang "awareness" for the city's Department of Youth and Workforce Development, was admittedly unaware that 26-year-old Kolby Martin was a reputed member of the notorious Original Gangsta Killas street gang, court transcripts revealed.

Barrett testified he used Martin -- whom he says he knew since childhood -- as a gang prevention guest speaker at least a dozen times after Martin left state prison in 2007. He admitted keeping no formal records of the outreach by Martin, who is known as "Holly G," "Holla Day" and "Hollywood."

The arrangement between the men surfaced after Martin was charged in a sweeping racketeering indictment last October aimed at crippling the OGK gang, which has been linked to at least 14 shooting incidents since 2001.

Federal authorities claim Martin was at the scene of at least one of the shootings.

He faces decades behind bars in a racketeering indictment that alleges drug dealing and robbery.

Martin recently touted his connections with Barrett -- and Tuffey -- in a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe.

"I feel like law enforcement is not recognizing me for my positive work that I -- along with my gang prevention team -- conducted in the Albany communities," Martin wrote Sharpe in March.

Barrett, 44, voluntarily testified on behalf of Martin at a detention hearing in November. During the hearing, when Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos Moreno asked Barrett if he knew Martin was a gang member, Barrett replied, "No. As far as where he lived and watching him grow up, obviously I knew he was a 'downtown' kid."

When Moreno pressed Barrett on the alleged gang membership. Barrett answered, "That's not my job. No, my job is obviously (to) do awareness programs and to find out what's going on with the gangs themselves and to do a lot of informational sharing."

Barrett, who has worked for the city more than 10 years, said Martin contacted him after leaving prison in 2007 and volunteered for gang prevention work. Martin served time for drug dealing and violating parole.

"I told him that obviously, his experience being incarcerated is a message these kids need to hear," Barrett testified, "so he volunteered his time to, at different opportunities, come and talk to the youth. And I gave him the leeway to obviously talk to the kids about what his lifestyle was and how prison life was and how they should make positive changes in their behavior."

Barrett testified that Martin, at one point, sat down with Tuffey and two of his deputies after a spike of violence. The date was was not specified in the court transcript. Tuffey abruptly stepped down in September.

"We were thinking of ways outside the box that we could quell this and we took together some individuals from the streets that had credibility with the youth," Barrett told the court. "And we sat in my office and had a meeting about how they could hopefully go out there in the street and relay the message that this behavior isn't going to be tolerated and hopefully they could get the message from their own peers instead of law enforcement and from myself."

Barrett told Moreno, when asked, that he keeps no formal records. He said the meeting with Tuffey was videotaped.

Tuffey could not be reached Monday. Detective James Miller, the spokesman for Albany police, spoke with Barrett on Monday and said the gang prevention worker declined to comment, Miller relayed a statement from Barrett that he had been "under the impression (Martin) was turning his life around and wanted to help out."

Miller said neither police officials nor Barrett knew Martin was facing a federal probe or that Martin was "still involved in any gang activity."

But at no point during his testimony in November did Barrett display any knowledge that Martin had ever been in a gang. He indicated Martin was known as a rapper and had credibility because he served time in state prison.

At one point, Barrett mentioned a meeting during which Martin addressed some 50 youths in park in West Hill.

"I introduced them to Kolby and Kolby basically just talked to the youth about , you know, obviously settling disputes and being non-violent and all of the above," Barrett testified.

Martin's court-appointed attorney, Mitchell Kessler, maintained Monday that his client is not a gang member. He questioned whether police officials or Barrett would have met with his client had that been the case. He also noted that Martin went into West Hill -- rival turf for OGK -- to make speeches and was not harmed.

In the letter to Sharpe, Martin asked for a new attorney, to be transferred to the Albany County jail from the Columbia County jail and to have all the charges dropped.

It was denied by Sharpe, who noted it was improper for Martin to correspond with a federal judge. Martin is being detained without bail.

Robert Gavin can be reached at 434-2403 or rgavin@timesunion.com.