Years behind bars? You could say Yo Pesci’s got “plenty of them thangs.” Seven and a half, to be exact.
34-year-old Salem resident Ernest Johnson, known to his thousands of social media followers as “Yo Pesci” or “Mr. Live Mr. Drive,” received his sentence Monday at Moakley Courthouse. Johnson was packed off to 90 months in federal prison for possession of several firearms in connection to a “premiere” fentanyl pill trafficking conspiracy.
Leader of the drug ring Vincent “Fatz” Caruso, 27, was sentenced to 250 months over the summer. His mother, Laurie, 52, earned about nine years, and co-conspirator Nicole Benton will see two years behind bars.
Only Yo Pesci’s fate was left to be decided. His sentencing, originally meant for September 13, 2022, was rescheduled to Monday morning.
Like Benton, Johnson pleaded guilty to one count of possession of a firearm. Johnson’s attorney, Kevin L. Barron, aimed to convince Judge Leo T. Sorokin his client only had provable connection to “3 to 7” firearms. Under current law, an 8th gun would increase the sentence range to a 140-month minimum.
It was a hard sell for Barron, however, who had to convince Sorokin to overlook Yo Pesci’s multiple public videos holding, describing, and tossing said firearms in the air.
While I wouldn’t call Yo Pesci a social media sensation of any sort, he has a decent following. Even now as a convicted felon, he has 5,974 Instagram followers. His most popular video—where he completes a mighty impressive cartwheel on a kitchen floor—gained over two million views.
As soon as the defendant walked into the courtroom, it dawned on me why the gangster goes by “Yo Pesci.” Calling him 5-foot-4 would be generous. And thankfully during this appearance, he was fully clothed. In his air-punching video, for example, he wears…less.
Representing the feds was Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Mallard, who played several of Yo Pesci’s Internet videos for the court.
Mallard admitted that sure, the videos are funny. But they also drive traffic to the account, which could be used to lure potential patrons to the Caruso ring.
Mallard showed clip after flip, ending with some of the most incriminating. Johnson, with an “arsenal” of firearms, described in his very distinctive voice who and what the guns were for. In another video, Johnson describes a violent run-in with a patron during an alleged drug transaction. “Pistol whipping” was mentioned.
In response, the defense raised the idea of prop guns, alluding that one cannot prove a gun in any video is real, let alone one of the 10 guns seized at the Caruso residence.
Barron also commented on a string of text messages between Johnson and Caruso that were submitted as evidence. As opposed to major drug trafficking operations, it contains non-incriminating conversation and a late-night, multi-thousand calorie McDonald’s order.
Barron also mentioned the text messages have “attracted attention” in the press.
Then, Yo Pesci spoke.
“I’m sorry for humiliating you all over social media—especially to my mother and siblings. I apologize to the court for…something so immature and childish.”
Then, “I was trying to get in the entertainment business. I finally found my lane. This is something I was good at…I consider myself an urban community anchorman.”
Judge Sorokin commended Yo Pesci for accepting responsibility for his actions. Then, he addressed Yo Pesci’s future in entertainment.
“Not many people who appear before me have talent. I say that not because I’m an expert but because people who watch your videos say you have talent.” Sorokin suggested taking advantage of mental health and substance abuse counseling in prison so Yo Pesci could hone in on show business upon leaving the slammer.
Finally, Judge Sorokin contemplated his options aloud. He deemed 120 months a significant amount of time yet 60 months too little for the firearms in question. He provided Johnson’s “outside-the-guidelines” sentence: 90 months in federal prison. In other words, he went right down the middle.
Barron quickly brought up Yo Pesci’s CPAP machine, claiming the gangster wakes up over 100 times per night due to trouble breathing. He asked for Johnson to be treated in a medical facility, to which Sorokin answered he would recommend.
Within 84 minutes from my first sighting of Yo Pesci, he was placed into handcuffs and escorted out of the courtroom. He waved goodbye to his family and friends who were gathered together to see him off.
Johnson has the right to appeal his sentence within the next 14 days, but for the connections he had to Caruso’s trafficking ring, asking for less than the 90-month favor bestowed upon him would be ambitious to say the least.
Hopefully his cell at Club Fed will have plenty of room for cartwheels.