RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A North Carolina inmate described as a high-ranking member of the Bloods street gang faces a federal kidnapping charge after authorities say he used a mobile phone to help orchestrate the abduction of a prosecutor’s father.
An arrest warrant was issued Friday for Kelvin Melton, who is serving a life sentence for ordering the shooting of a Raleigh man in 2011.
Melton is accused in the Saturday kidnapping of Frank Arthur Janssen of Wake Forest. Janssen, 63, was rescued Wednesday by the FBI at an Atlanta apartment.
Five others have also been arrested and charged.
The case highlights the problem of inmates getting access to smuggled smartphones that can allow them to make calls, exchange email, browse the Internet and maintain Facebook profiles. They can also direct criminal conspiracies, authorities say.
Melton, 49, had a mobile phone in his cell at Polk Correctional Institution in Butner, exchanging at least 123 calls and text messages with the alleged kidnappers in the past week, according to the FBI. Authorities closed in on the suspects by tracking their mobile phones and listening to their calls.
Melton also made about 100 calls to his daughters, according to the FBI.
Melton is being held on “maximum control” status after racking up several infractions over the past year, including being cited for possessing a weapon and twice for having a mobile phone.
In 2013, 747 mobile phones were confiscated from inmates in North Carolina’s prisons. So far this year, 166 have been seized.
Officials at the state Department of Public Safety concede many are brought in by prison employees bribed by inmates or their relatives. They are now investigating how Melton got the phone.
The North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys called Friday for improved protections for prosecutors and their families, as well as increased punishment for people caught smuggling mobile phones into prisons. They also want the state prison system to invest in electronic devices that can jam cellular signals.
According to testimony from his 2012 trial, Melton is a high-ranking member of the Bloods street gang from New York City who ordered a 19-year-old subordinate to travel to Raleigh and kill his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend.
Court records show Melton has a long record of felony convictions in New York, the first being a 1979 robbery committed when he was 14. He pleaded guilty of manslaughter and robbery in 1998 and served more than 13 years in New York prisons before being released in August 2011.
Melton was arrested in the shooting in Raleigh the following month. It is not clear from the court record why Melton came to the South, but he was still supposed to be serving parole in New York through 2015.
The admitted triggerman, Jamil Herring Gressett, testified that he had joined the Bloods a few years earlier and that Melton was the boss of their subset within the gang. Gressett said he followed Melton’s orders to shoot the North Carolina man for fear he or his loved ones would be killed if he didn’t. The victim survived a gunshot wound.
Melton was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and being a habitual felon, resulting in a life sentence.
The prosecutor in the case was Wake County Assistant District Attorney Colleen Janssen, 33.
Frank Janssen was kidnapped Saturday from his Wake Forest home and driven to Atlanta, the FBI said.
On Monday, his wife, Christie, started receiving text messages. One of them said that if law enforcement was contacted Janssen would be sent home “in 6 boxes.”
The messages made specific demands for the benefit of Melton, according to the FBI. Those demands were not spelled out in the court filings.
On Wednesday, Janssen’s wife received a text photograph of him tied up in a chair along with a message: “Tomorrow we call you again an if you can not tell me where my things are at tomorrow i will start torchering.”
The FBI said a call was placed by Melton from the prison to a phone associated with the kidnappers in Atlanta. Quotes in court filings suggest the two male callers were discussing how to kill Janssen and dispose of his body.
“We want to make sure it’s in a secluded area and the ground is soft so we can go 3 feet deep,” a male voice said, according to the documents.
Following the call, authorities tried to enter Melton’s cell and he smashed the phone. A few hours later, they located Janssen in Atlanta.
When making the arrests, authorities also recovered a .45-caliber handgun, picks and a shovel, according to the FBI.
Charged with kidnapping were: Jenna Paulin Martin, 21; Tiana Maynard, 30; Jevante “Flame” Price, 20; Michael “Hot” Montreal Gooden, 21; and Clifton James Roberts, 29.
Officials said they were all from the Atlanta metro area.
Police booking records from Cobb County in suburban Atlanta show Price has had a string of seven arrests over the last three years, most for relatively minor offenses.
The five people are due back in court for a bond hearing Tuesday, when they will each have a lawyer appointed by the judge.
Associated Press writer Kate Brumback reported from Atlanta. Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report.
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