By James Whitlow

Though it appears in the first sentence of Dashawn Romeer Anthony’s plea agreement, the word “non-cooperation” is easy to miss. But it is an important distinction moving forward in federal racketeering case against accused members of Danville’s MILLA Bloods.

Non-cooperation agreements are not defined in the law, but Anthony’s agreement and accompanying statement of facts explicitly state that prosecutors will not call him as a witness in the trial against the accused MILLAs, and he will not be eligible for a lessened sentence through assisting the government at trial. Because the plea deal was accepted, a judge must sentence him to 35 years to life in prison, provided he does not break the agreement, according to the documents.

“I understand and acknowledge that I am not cooperating in this case and, as such, I understand and acknowledge that I am not eligible for any reduction in my sentence,” the agreement states.

Anthony — the lead defendant in the federal case against suspected members and associates of Danville’s MILLA Bloods — pleaded guilty to racketeering charges that included murder and attempted murder Tuesday.

His plea agreement stands apart from codefendants Tanasia Lashae Coleman and Demetrius Allen Staten, who are eligible for reductions in their sentences if they provide “substantial assistance” to prosecutors. Both pleaded guilty and are facing maximum sentences of life in prison on the racketeering charges.

Substantial assistance, Jo Potuto, the Richard H. Larson professor of constitutional law at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said, is tricky to define. It varies across prosecutors’ offices and cases. John Stinneford, Professor of law at the University of Florida, said that simply providing information to prosecutors does not always cut it. Testimony is the surest way to get years lopped off a sentence.

“Basically it means you are helping them bring prosecutions against other people,” Stinneford said. “Typically the government is not going to give you substantial assistance unless you agree to testify.”

Stinneford said that, based on the language of the pleas, prosecutors are likely expecting cooperation from some defendants charged in the case.

“That does sound like they are anticipating at least the possibility that these people will cooperate against other defendants and provide information and testimony,” Stinneford said. “It does not tell us for sure they will actually do so, or the government will recommend they get some set benefit at the end of the day.”

Suspected members of Danville gangs with national ties were indicted in June on federal racketeering charges connected to homicides, attempted homicides and other crimes. Some of the 18 original defendants — purportedly members of the MILLA Bloods and Rollin 60s Crips — were eligible for the death penalty until the U.S. attorney general directed prosecutors to not seek it on Nov. 1. After that, the number of indicted grew to 20.

A common prosecutorial strategy, he continued, is to delay sentencing for cooperators. Some may sign on to testify against other defendants, he said, but plenty try to renege on their cooperation agreements with the government.

“Typically when you have a cooperating witness like that… they hold off on sentencing until cooperation is done because that is basically the hammer the government is holding over the witness,” Stinneford said. “It is easy to agree to cooperate when a trial is months off in the future… closer to the trial date, it is much harder to take the stand and face your friend and implicate your friend in criminal conduct”

Anthony elected to not cooperate, knowing prosecutors are seeking the maximum sentence of life imprisonment, according to the agreement. Although he is not eligible for a sentence reduction on the basis of cooperation, his sentencing level can be reduced for pleading guilty to the charges, according to federal sentencing code.

The government also can motion for a reduction in his sentencing level for saving the government the time of preparing for trial. Neither reduction would be as substantial as if he were to cooperate with prosecutors and testify against other codefendants in the case.

The reasons for not cooperating are numerous. They depend on what the prosecutor already has as well as what the defendant is willing to do, Potuto said. For instance, the prosecutor may already have enough evidence to make a case, she said, or a defendant might not want to assist in the prosecution of his friends or family.

“Maybe some of the defendants are my brothers or my kids,” Potuto said as an example. “I might plead out, but I’m not going to help you as the prosecutor put away people I like.”

Anthony’s attorney, Christopher Leibig, would not comment for this story.