Melvina Lewis was so entrenched as a leader of the local Bloods gang, according to court documents and witness testimony, she was known by the nickname “Ma Dukes.” She pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court and received a sentence of more than 13 years.

But May 10, she filed a motion seeking to vacate her sentence for ineffective assistance of counsel, violation of her due process rights, denial of trial by jury and other reasons. It is not the first time she attempted to avoid jail time by a method other than arguing she was not involved.

She signed a plea agreement July 6, 2016, admitting to her involvement, but at her hearing on July 29, 2016, in which Lewis spoke to the court, U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood ordered Lewis into federal custody for the purpose of a psychological evaluation.

In the order, Wood wrote that Lewis’ “answers were disturbing in that the defendant stated that she believes she should be on medication for schizophrenia but is afraid to ask for the medicine from the jail officials. Defendant further stated that she sometimes hears voices and at times is unable to understand or comprehend things that are said to her.”

The responsible parties submitted the report to the court Sept. 29, 2016, and on Oct. 18, 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stan Baker recommended that Lewis was competent to stand trial — Wood adopted Baker’s report on Dec. 14, 2016.

According to Baker’s recommendation, “the psychological report noted that the ‘current condition considered to primarily affect this psychological evaluation was malingering,’” which the doctor defined as the “gross exaggeration or fabrication of psychological symptoms to avoid a legal consequence.”

Within six days of Wood adopting the recommendation, Lewis was scheduled for a second change of plea hearing, and subsequently pleaded guilty Jan. 10, 2017, to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine or 280 grams of crack, which resulted in the prison sentence of 13 years and nine months.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Gilluly said during Lewis’ sentencing hearing that several Bloods members told investigators she was “the brains of the operation” and that running the gang was “how this family paid their bills.”

In exchange for the plea, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia dropped charges including two counts of possession of crack with intent to distribute and one count of conspiracy to use, carry or possess firearms in the furtherance of crime.

In her lawsuit against the federal government, Lewis alleges her attorney, Jason Clark, provided ineffective assistance because he “gave the defendant ‘flawed advice’ to sign a jury waiver form and coerced her into entering a guilty plea bargain agreement for other dismissed charges.” She also states she was not allowed to make a preemptory challenge against the “unlawful delegated power” of the grand jurors.

Lewis also alleges the plea was “unlawfully induced and not made voluntarily with the understanding of the nature of the charge and the consequences of the plea.” She further argues the government of the United States was a third party in her prosecution, and because the United States did not incur any injury and “is not a real person,” the prosecution violated Article III of the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has until June 14 to respond to the motion.

In an unrelated case May 10 in federal court in Albany, Brunswick resident Jon Benton received a 15-year prison sentence for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia stated Benton and his co-conspirators were responsible for moving large amounts of meth, cocaine, crack, heroin and marijuana around Tifton and surrounding counties.

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