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Teen could get sweetheart deal for graduating high school

An alleged teen gangbanger dubbed “the Peyton Manning of criminal conduct” by a former prosecutor could get a sweetheart deal in court — all because he managed to graduate from high school, The Post has learned.

Courtney Yeates, 18, a reputed member of the Folk Nation street gang, has at least nine busts and four open cases in Queens and Brooklyn — including a felony robbery conviction for which he is awaiting sentencing.

The troubled teen is now back at Riker’s Island on a $150,000 bond after yet another arrest last week, for possession of a loaded handgun.

But one judge is contemplating giving him “Youthful Offender” status — which would reduce his prison time and wipe his record clean, sources with knowledge of the case told The Post.

Yeates is currently awaiting sentencing on two Queens cases after pleading guilty to both on Nov. 18 — a felony robbery case from July 19 and a grand larceny/auto case from July 9, according to court records.

He also has two open cases in which he is charged with possession of a loaded gun — one a Brooklyn bust from May 2019 and his most recent arrest in Queens on Feb. 18.

The judge in his Queens cases, Youth Court Judge Lenora Gerald, is now considering the YO status — citing the teen’s high school graduation as a sign that he can redeem himself, the sources said.

Gerald is seeking to consolidate his cases with the Brooklyn one, sources said. The judge in that case, Youth Court Judge Craig Walker, would have to agree to the move.

But the news isn’t sitting well with some in the Big Apple criminal justice system.

“At his age, and with his record, and this many open cases, he’s the Peyton Manning of criminal conduct,” former Bronx prosecutor Michael Discioarro told The Post. “He’ll be running the show in no time. He’s a top draft pick.”

“What I don’t understand is, with his record, why him?” continued Discioarro, who is now a defense attorney. “I have clients with much less that haven’t gotten this kind of break.”

The state Youthful Offender statute provides judges with the option of giving defendants 19 or younger a break, reducing their potential prison time, and sealing their criminal records.

The law is intended to allow young defendants a chance to turn their lives around — although typically in non-violent or misdemeanor cases.

“In general, courts and legislatures do tend to leave a little wiggle room for judicial interpretation, and of course prosecutors always hate that,” said Jeffrey Butts, head of the Research Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“Anytime you’re dealing with someone who is young you need to allow for the possibility that, even at 22, not everyone is a fully functional adult and sometimes they make rash decisions.”

Courtney Yeates
Courtney Yeates, 18, has at least nine busts and four open cases in Queens and Brooklyn.

Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration, said it was “misguided” to speculate on whether Yeates will be given the status.

“While this defendant does have pending cases, each is decided on its own merits, based on the evidence, facts, and circumstances before the court,” Chalfen said.

But some contend that Yeates, who has been charged with gun possession at least four times, is already a career criminal who poses a danger to the community.

“Getting caught with more than one gun means you carry a gun every day like you carry a cellphone,” one former prosecutor said. “This comes down to who you think should be punished. Two guns, three guns. This is madness.”

“Two gun cases is not a mistake,” he said. “It’s a lifestyle.”

“The number one solution to reduce the shootings that continue to skyrocket across the city is to put offenders in jail,” said Paul DiGiacomo, president of the Detectives Endowment Association. “Judges need to understand just how dangerous the streets have become.”

“After all, it’s their responsibility to keep the public safe,” he said. “Putting people in jail may not be in line with certain politics, but the bottom line is judges need to start worrying about the victim of these violent crimes.”

Queens Defenders, which represents Yeates on his pending court cases, did not respond to calls seeking comment this week.


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