A prison sentence of 55 years was handed down for 26-year-old Terrence "T-Streets" Edwards, convicted for organizing a string cell phone store robberies in 2015.
His close family friend, Victoria Alexander, reacted with continued support for him.
"He's friends with my kids. He's friends with my little brother as well, and that's not the Terrence I know," said Alexander.
The District Attorney's Office says the charge on which Edwards was convicted, specifically for organizing repeated crimes, created the possibility of a stiffer penalty.
"Hopefully, the fact that the Harris County justice system is prepared to follow through will help keep things safe out there," said William Cowardin, Assistant Harris County District Attorney.
Edwards will serve at least half of the 55 year sentence before he's eligible for parole.
"T-Streets will be off the streets for decades," Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said. "These gang members placed innocent citizens in fear for their lives."
Hundreds of phones, especially iPhones and Samsung Galaxy devices, were taken during a half dozen robberies carried out in 2015, but the crime group was believed to have had a hand in scores of previous heists.
Cell store owner, Scott Aronstein, says the punishment fits the crime.
"I think it's the mental anguish of bringing a gun into the store, pointing it at their head, telling them they'll kill them if they don't give them the phones, that's the biggest amount of damage."
ORIGINAL STORY: 26 charged in string of Harris County cellphone store robberies
The robbers stuck guns in the faces of customers and employees and herded them into back rooms, according to the DA.
In one job under Edwards' direction, his robbery team shot at a witness and at a Houston Police officer while trying to escape.
Edwards, 26, is a documented member of the Fifth Ward Circle street gang, but those who robbed for him were members of various criminal organizations who had got together to make quick cash.
He provided participants with stolen cars and high-powered firearms.
The stolen high-end phones would later be resold to fencing operations that would send them on to Dubai and other countries.
"We resorted to this statute, with unusually harsh penalties, because this robbery kingpin posed such a continuing threat to public safety," Ogg said.