Martin Mejias, better known by his street name, Chango, led one of the most infamous crews during New York’s deadliest times, the crack era. The Yellow Top Crew, famously named for the color of the tops of their vials of drugs, wreaked havoc on the streets of Manhattan throughout the ‘80s and ’90s.
Chango, drug kingpin and YTC (Yellow Top Crew) leader, would serve 15 years in prison for various crimes he and his crew committed. YTC would eventually be charged with 10 murders and 14 attempted murders, paying off law enforcement, drug trafficking, owning silencers and grenades.
Having seen so few of his compatriots survive that era, Chango looks to leave a more positive mark on the world. That mission started while he was in prison through several programs he organized and took part in from helping the blind, the deaf and starting a reading program.
Chango is finally learning how to be Martin Mejias. Although he admits it’s an everyday battle, things are looking up for the Manhattan native, as he is entertaining book and documentary opportunities. In a video that went viral, Chango was sitting down with notorious film producer Harvey Weinstein in a restaurant discussing a potential film when a woman came in berating Weinstein, bringing the meeting to an abrupt ending.
In this first part of a two-part interview, Chango talks openly to Zenger about the murders of Harlem street legend turned informant, Alpo, another known informant Tekashi 69, and much more.
Percy Crawford interviewed Chango for Zenger.
Zenger: How are you?
Chango: I’m hanging in there, brother. I’m fighting different fights, but I’m in the ring.
Zenger: I wanted to start with Alpo Martinez being killed in Harlem. For anyone who doesn’t know, Alpo was a legendary street guy turned informant. He was gunned down on Halloween night. A lot of people celebrated his death, but you didn’t. What are your thoughts on Alpo and his demise?
Chango: Alpo was five years older than me. I never met him. I used to see him all the time in the neighborhood. Pride kept me from meeting him. It be like that when you’re young and ignorant. When I got out, I made arrangements through a mutual friend, Ms. Tee, she is an author and YouTube personality. I sent him a shoutout so that I could break the ice and meet him so that I can pitch some ideas to him that I had. I thought I had a long time to do that, but I didn’t because he was murdered. As far as him being murdered, I think they killed the “King of Swag.”
As far as him cooperating, everybody has a mouse in them. You gotta be tested; if you’re not tested, nobody never knows if you would talk or not. But no human being could convince me that they wouldn’t have done the same thing. It was either him or the death penalty. It’s either what he knew or life in prison. At that point you gotta decide what’s important to you. Whether you want to be thought of as a super gangster while you do the rest of your life in prison or sit on death row, or could you live with being ostracized while being in the street and free and able to produce for you and your family. So, it’s a business deal at the end of the day that people have to sign off on when they choose to cooperate.
Zenger: Should he have stayed out of Harlem?
Chango: Why shouldn’t he come back to Harlem? You’re telling me that rapists, serial killers and every vagabond in the world could return back to where they are from, but not the guy who was smart enough to cooperate so that one day he can be released? That’ nonsense. People are following false doctrine, or abstract theories about things they don’t even know about. If you ain’t making that kind of money, then you will never be in that kind of trouble; if you killing all them people, you ain’t never going to be in that kind of trouble.
So, how can you give a fair opinion on something you have never done, experienced or never will? Most of the people that speak on Alpo wasn’t even born when he was out there doing his thing. They repeating scripts that gets them accepted or makes them relevant. How the hell could a car theft, a purse snatcher, a nickel or dimer, a rapist, a burglar — how could all those classes of criminals and crimes of people have an opinion about cooperating, when their crimes don’t call for that? How would they ever know what’s it’s like? But aren’t their crimes just as despicable?
Zenger: Why do you refer to Alpo as the “King of Swag?”
Chango: I gave him that name because it’s the truth. Going back in the days from Dapper Dan with the Gucci outfits, to getting the cars, that piping, the leather, to doing the willies on multiple bikes, all of that is swag. All of that is what rappers try to emulate nowadays that they get from the streets. All of that stuff is the things that rappers are seeing drug dealers with. Everything they emulate, they emulate it on wax.
You’re not killing nothing, you’re not ordering nothing, you’re not selling anything. You’re rapping about what other people do. I was in prison with Shyne. We’re talking about stuff, and I mention things that I thought he could relate to, but it’s street stuff. And he would ask me, “What does that mean?” How could you ask me what an 848 means if you rap about having an 848, which is a RICO charge.
Zenger: When you see the end result of Alpo and so many others who were in the streets who were eventually killed, does it make you appreciate life more that you’re still here?
Chango: I’m going to be honest; I hope it ain’t too much for you. Rest in peace to Alpo. I think a lot of younger people are just killing themselves when they kill. You’re not getting away with murder, bro. There is no statute of limitation. There’s not too many people that have been murdered in which the crime has not been solved. There is an abundant budget to prosecute you. They are never short on money, and they are never short on staff.
The police department, no matter the state, is the biggest gang in the world. They all wear the same colors, and they all do the same things. They are never going to stop looking for you. If you have a high-profile murder like a Young Dolph, like FBG Duck, or Alpo… they are still unearthing land for Jimmy Hoffa. You going to jail.
You kill Alpo, and now it’s reported that it was over a girl. How stupid could you be? My man, that girl not coming up there to visit you. That girl did what she wanted to do. What you want to go and kill that man for? Let’s see how you do this time now. No matter what your reason for it was, legally on the books, when you kill a federal informant, the minimum sentence is life. You’re going to be a dude kicking rocks in the yard for the rest of your life.
The female may get her 15 minutes of fame on social media when she figures out how to do it, but you are gone for the rest of your life. Most of us that sold drugs as young men, and meet women and helped them through college, what ends up happening is, we end up dead or in jail and they end up in college, in a better social group, a better field, and they go on to get married. You’re just that guy that came home on parole, and that used to be your girl.
As far as me feeling lucky or blessed to still be here, most of the time I do feel that way. But I’m a person that has unfortunately been suicidal and homicidal. A lot of times since I ain’t happy here, I be wondering what it’s like if they come for me, to tell you the truth. That’s a battle within. You do 15 joints [years] like I did, and you go to a psych, and they let you know that you suffer from PTSD and that you shouldn’t give too much life to those negative thoughts, but those thoughts come to you whether you like it or not.
The thought might come to you to kill the guy that just cut you off on the highway. There’s nothing wrong with the thought, it’s when you give life to the thought that you become that person, that criminal, that serial killer, that abuser. Most of the time, I just feel out of place. I go around people I know, and they make you feel like you should’ve never got out of prison. They rather you don’t come around for whatever reason. Maybe they see violence when you come around, maybe they can’t bend you to their opinion, maybe they can’t influence you.
A lot of things happen when you do time and then you come home, and then you come around people you used to know. When they stop visiting, stop writing and accepting your calls, you really don’t know those people anymore. When you come home, there is no welcoming committee, they just expect you to be all right because you came home.
It don’t work like that. You can’t just empty your mind of the things that you have done and the things that you see in prison. I think it’s a disservice when people expect you to just be normal. I ain’t normal no more. I probably was never normal, but I definitely ain’t as normal as I was sitting in a prison cell contemplating whether I was going to be sitting in there the rest of my life, considering I was doing 15 to life. You do 15 to life, you’re really doing life.
It’s up to them whether they release you after you do 15. They never have to, and no lawyer in the world can challenge them on that because that’s your sentence, a life sentence. I got busy doing all kinds of programs, working with the blind, the deaf, learning sign language, getting my GED, I started a book program in one facility, by getting lawyers and district attorneys to donate all of their books that they had at home. I was doing different things to try and better myself since I woke up from the spell that I was under, just money-money-money.
Zenger: Let me get your thoughts on another guy who cooperated with law enforcement, Tekashi 69.
Chango: I think Tekashi 69 was a king, and they tried to dethrone him, and it backfired on them. And that’s why they are in a cesspool, and he’s back where he was at. I think he does have a big-ass mouth. Yeah, he was involved in things he shouldn’t have been, but he was involved in it because the dudes that know better let him be there. That’s because they sold themselves out for money. They should’ve pleaded guilty.
How you go against a dude who you know is coming to court against you? You’re telling me you’re going to count on an appeal? There is a less than 5 percent success rate with appeals in the state, and in the FEDS [federal prison system] it’s even less. The feds have a 98 percent conviction rate, and you can cooperate against yourself and get less time.
There are a lot of tough guys that you see in the federal system, and you say, “Nah, he’s true, he went to trial, and did 60 years.” I know some. But then they come back down on what’s called Rule 35 in the federal system, which means they can be re-sentenced if they cooperate. Now, the newspapers will say that he got life, and everybody in the hood will say he went to trial and got life, and think the guy is the illest, but they don’t know that he put that Rule: 35 in order to get re-interviewed, and his 60 years gets taken away from him.
For instance, a person I know, his 60 years turned into six. There’s a lot of incentives in the federal system to cooperate. A lot of people don’t realize, you got these little kids in gangs, they put you in the federal system, in a basement, and you don’t even get access to your mail. It gets shown on a screen to you. If you’re outside on the streets committing crimes because of poverty, ain’t nobody coming to visit you.
Your mother and the people left behind won’t come visit you. You gotta ask yourself if you’re out here hustling to take care of them, can they afford to visit you in California, Oklahoma, Texas? They can’t pay for those flights, hotels, and food. It’s more than just making money. You gotta think about what happens after that or what could come with it.
I’ve been to prison with ‘made’ dudes from the Genovese crime family, dudes from the Gambino crime family. Everywhere I’ve been I know big people. I’m never going to be attracted to small things and little people. I know people who were loaded with money, but they can’t go home. You could only spend $55 a month in prison. The money becomes useless. You are doing life, and everybody is spending and using your money, or running your business down to the ground. They don’t never have to worry about you.
So, what you got at the end is nothing, bro. When you’re a drug dealer, you put things in other people’s names. What happens with that? It just disappears because it’s under someone else’s name. That’s the owner now while you’re in Pelican Bay [prison] somewhere.
Zenger: Is the prison system set up for inmates to be rehabilitated or is that not a real thing?
Chango: I think you already know the answer to that by the way you posed the question. No, it doesn’t exist unless it exists in your mind. If it exists in your mind, then you could cultivate it. But them cops don’t care what you do. They’re getting paid because of your presence at the prison.
So, as long as them cells are full, as long as they doing a count, they getting paid. I have posed the question to many of ’em about crime. What they think? They say they wouldn’t want crime to stop because it’s job security. Why would they want crime to stop when they’re into the business of correction? There is no correcting.
I’ve seen police rob, I have been in prison with police who have raped, I’ve been in prison where they steal your food that your family sends you, or at least half of it every month. They control the petty two chocolate chip cookies they give you once a month. Same thing with chicken. You get two chicken drums a month, and you don’t get no extra.
I don’t care how many pounds of weight you’re lifting. You come in that mess hall and you’re getting two drumsticks the size of my index finger. If you get an extra one, the guy that gives you the extra one is going to the box. They do that because they want to control the better food. Every other day of the month you get slop, and you can have as much as you want of that.
It’s corruption all the way through. I done met, worked with, shared time with corruption since the day of my arrest. And before that, if you read the news articles, we were paying the police off. My perspective is different. At the end of the day, people are just looking for the safest way to get extra money, even the police, even the district attorney.
Coming up in Part 2 of this interview: Chango details how he helped get the Central Park Five exonerated and ways he fights off daily homicidal and suicidal thoughts. In addition, Chango offers his take on Kyle Rittenhouse’s controversial acquittal in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Stan Chrapowicki
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