The rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine was sentenced to two years in prison Wednesday for his entanglement with a violent street gang that fueled his rise to fame, but was spared a much harsher possible sentence because of his extraordinary decision to become a star witness for prosecutors.
The 23-year-old performer, whose real name is Daniel Hernandez, could have been sentenced to decades in prison for crimes that included orchestrating a shooting in which an innocent bystander was wounded. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges accusing him of joining the gang known as Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods.
He has already served 13 months and will be released in late 2020.
After his arrest, he shed the outlaw reputation he’d curated online and testified against his gang mates earlier this year, causing some to label him a “snitch”. The testimony helped get the convictions of two high-ranking Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods members.
“Your cooperation was impressive. It was game changing. It was complete and it was brave,” said the US district Judge Paul Engelmayer as he announced the sentence, which is far lower than federal guidelines for the crimes, in a Manhattan courtroom.
But the judge said the amount of time the rapper has spent in prison was not enough for the violence of his crimes.
Prior to his sentencing Wednesday, Tekashi 6ix9ine expressed regret for joining the gang, apologizing to his family, his fans and the victims in the case.
“I’m not a victim. I put myself in this position from day one,” Tekashi 6ix9ine said.
He then read from a lengthy letter, saying, “I made a lot of bad choices in life, but that does not make me a bad person.”
He expressed similar remorse for his actions in a letter he wrote last week to Engelmayer, discussing the relief he felt when he was arrested and his plan to make amends by warning others not to follow in his path.
“I’m happy that the public was able to witness me dealing with the consequences of my actions because I feel like it sheds a light on what can come from gang affiliation,” he wrote.
In a pre-sentencing letter to the judge, prosecutors said his “cooperation was extraordinary” and was “both incredibly significant and extremely useful”, enabling them to charge additional individuals. His 1 February guilty plea prompted nearly all of the other defendants to begin plea negotiations, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors have described Nine Trey as one of the most violent outgrowths of United Bloods Nation, with members throughout the country. Tekashi 6ix9ine relocated his family before his cooperation became publicly known and was moved to a different prison facility and unit with no gang members, the government said.
In September testimony, Tekashi 6ix9ine told jurors his role in Nine Trey was to “just keep making hits and be the financial support for the gang ... so they could buy guns and stuff like that”. Asked what he got in return, he responded: “My career. I got the street credibility. The videos, the music, the protection – all of the above.”
Last year, he had a multiplatinum hit song, Fefe, with Nicki Minaj, which peaked at No 3 on the pop charts, and Stoopid, featuring imprisoned rapper Bobby Shmurda.