GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin's daughter, Kai Franklin Graham, pleaded guilty in federal court Dec. 18 to playing a minor role in her ex-husband Tremayne Graham's crime ring -- and she agreed to cooperate in what a prosecutor describes as an "ongoing investigation" into his cocaine enterprise.
Mayor Franklin sat toward the front of the Greenville courtroom, her signature flower pinned to the lapel of her jacket, and watched as her eldest daughter pleaded guilty to a federal "information," which bypasses indictment and allows the defendant to enter an immediate plea. After the hearing the mayor smiled at her daughter, and the two left the courthouse, declining to comment.
Eight months earlier, Tremayne Graham was sentenced to life in prison in the same courtroom. Graham was charged with cocaine distribution and was described in documents and in open court as an associate of two multistate drug rings, the Black Mafia Family and Sin City Mafia. Graham lived with his then-wife in Atlanta but ran multikilo drug shipments to Greenville, which was why both he and Kai Franklin Graham were prosecuted there.
Five months after Tremayne Graham's arrest in April 2004, his co-defendant, Ulysses Hackett – and Hackett's 24-year-old girlfriend, Misty Carter – were gunned down in Carter's Highland Avenue townhouse. Investigators say Hackett was considering turning federal witness.
According to court testimony, Graham said he feared for his life and used that excuse to move temporarily into the mayor's house. A few weeks later, Graham cut off his ankle monitor and jumped bond on his cocaine charges. No arrests have been made in the deaths, although Graham is suspected of ordering the murders.
Kai Franklin Graham pleaded guilty to making "structured financial payments" to avoid federal detection – a move that helped throw investigators off of her then-husband's trail.
According to assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Moore, Kai Franklin Graham visited seven different Atlanta post offices in November 2004 – 15 days after her husband became a fugitive – and purchased $14,000 in postal money orders. Had she purchased more than $2,000 in money orders at any one of the post offices, the postal service would have been required to alert the feds that she was handling large sums of cash. The money was used to pay the mortgage on the Grahams' $630,000 Marietta home.
Moore told the court that the Nov. 12, 2004, trip to the post office wasn't the only time Kai Franklin Graham "assisted her husband in transactions such as these."
Moore added: "On a couple of occasions [after Tremayne Graham fled], she received drug money from her husband."
While her husband was a fugitive, Kai Franklin Graham divorced him, citing "abandonment." The divorce papers state that Kai Franklin Graham did not know where her husband was hiding and had no way of contacting him.
The divorce was finalized in May 2005, a month before Tremayne Graham was captured in California. In his absence, Franklin Graham also filed bankruptcy, claiming that her obligation to pay her husband's $300,000 bond had left her destitute. In bankruptcy papers, she claimed to have had no income.
However, one of Graham's co-defendants has testified that Graham was in constant contact with his wife while on the run, and even had a cell phone – known as the "Kai phone" – dedicated to his wife. Another co-defendant claims to have dropped off thousands of dollars to Franklin Graham on Graham's behalf to cover her expenses.
In exchange for her "truthful and forthright cooperation" – and her possible testimony in related court cases – Kai Franklin Graham will be sentenced to three years of probation, according to Moore, three months of which will be home confinement. If she doesn't fully cooperate, or if she fails to pass a polygraph test, she could be sentenced to the maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Moore also told the court that any self-incriminating information she might share with authorities should not be used against her, nor should she be prosecuted for possible charges in other jurisdictions.
One case in which her cooperation could come in handy is the federal prosecution of Tremayne Graham's alleged associate Ernest Watkins.
Watkins is currently awaiting trial in Greenville on charges that he, too, ran cocaine for the Black Mafia Family. What's more, Watkins has been described in court documents as the person who gave Tremayne Graham the weapon used to kill Hackett and Carter.
Another of Graham's alleged associates, Jamad Ali, is described by officials as the gunman in the murders-for-hire. An eyewitness claims to have seen Ali leaving Carter's townhouse shortly after the killings. He is currently being held on an unrelated federal case in Florida.
In addition to cocaine distribution, Watkins also faces charges of making false statements to investigators. According to the indictment filed against him earlier this year, Watkins allegedly misled a grand jury that was hearing evidence against Tremayne Graham.
According to past testimony and court documents, Watkins suffered retribution for making statements to the feds – despite the fact that the statements allegedly were misleading.
"The United States ... has evidence that Watkins' arms bear burn marks and scars as the result of his kidnaping [sic] and torture by drug dealing acquaintances of co-conspirator Tremayne Graham," one document filed in Greenville states.
At a pre-trial hearing for Watkins held the same day as Kai Franklin Graham's guilty plea, Moore said that he anticipated her plea would help push the case against Watkins forward.
"You're saying the train's leaving the station?" U.S. District Court Judge Henry Herlong asked.
"Yes," Moore answered.
CL Senior Writer Mara Shalhoup is currently on leave to work on a book about the Black Mafia Family, to be released by St. Martin's Press next year. To read her past coverage of Tremayne Graham and BMF, visit atlanta.creativeloafing.com/bmf.