By Elisha Fieldstadt, NBC News
A paralegal in the New Jersey U. S. Attorney’s Office is accused of using government equipment to try to identify and expose snitches for her Bloods gang member son, according to federal prosecutors.
Tawanna Hilliard, 44, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of obtaining information from government and protected computers, conspiracy to tamper with a witness, tampering with a witness, conspiracy to obstruct justice, conspiracy to harass a witness and harassment of a witness, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
Her son, Tyquan Hilliard, who is a member of the 5-9 Brims set of the Bloods gang and serving ten years in prison for robbery in New York, faces the same charges, according to an indictment filed in Brooklyn federal court.
Tawanna Hilliard, who lives in Brooklyn, was working in the federal office in Newark when she “used her DOJ-issued equipment to conduct computer searches to determine whether certain individuals were cooperating with law enforcement” in 2016, according to court documents.
She was trying to help a high-ranking 5-9 Brims member, identified in court documents as Brim-1, find out if two other gang members had provided information to law enforcement.
Brim-1 suspected the two other gang members were federal defendants and had snitched, but Tawanna ended up finding neither of them had active federal cases, which she “described as a ‘red flag,'” court documents said.
Tyquan Hilliard, who at the time was serving six years for possession of a loaded firearm, was in a dispute with Brim-1 and “expressed irritation” that his mother had tried to help Brim-1 out, the documents said.
She then logged into a DOJ search engine from work to find information about Brim-1, including his address, and shared it with her son. Tawanna and Tyquan discussed ways to harm Brim-1, but no evidence shows they ever did, according to prosecutors.
In 2018, Tawanna was intent on identifying and outing two other snitches. Tyquan and two others, identified in court filings as John Doe and Jane Doe, had been arrested for allegedly robbing a New York cellphone store.
Both John Doe and Jane Doe were interviewed by police, at which point John Doe identified Tyquan as “a prominent member of the 5-9 Brims,” court documents said.
Tyquan and Tawanna obtained videotapes of both interviews, and Tawanna posted John Doe’s recorded statement on YouTube, titling it “NYC Brim Gang Member Snitching Pt. 1.” Jane Doe’s recorded interview was also posted to YouTube, with the title “NYC Brim Gang Member Snitching.”
Both John Doe and Jane Doe started getting threats after the videos were posted, prosecutors said.
“No Snitching” is the 5-9 Brims “first rule” and multiple witnesses told investigators that people in the gang who cooperate with law enforcement “must be punished with physical attacks or even death,” court documents said.
Tawanna Hilliard faces up to 20 years in prison on the obstruction charge alone, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. She was released on $75,000 bail on the condition that she has no contact with gang members, including her son. Her electronic communications will be monitored at all times.
Tyquan Hilliard will be arraigned at a later date.
Tawanna Hilliard’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey declined to comment.