The Black Mafia Family, known as BMF, was a notorious drug trafficking and money laundering empire founded by brothers Demetrius “Big Meech” Flenory and Terry “Southwest T” Flenory in Detroit. Their criminal enterprise actually reached its peak in the early 2000s, accumulating vast wealth and influence. However, it all came crashing down in 2005 as the federal authorities managed to dismantle them.
Though in the shadows of this notorious criminal organization, one figure stood out — Tonesa “Toni” Welch, who is often referred to as the “First Lady” of BMF. Her story is one of transformation as well as redemption, which was made public with the biography titled ‘First Lady of BMF: The Tonesa Welch Story.’ Join us as we delve into the life and adventures of Tonesa Welch and explore where she stands today.
Who is Tonesa Welch?
Born on August 11, 1971, Tonesa “Toni” Welch grew up in Detroit, Michigan, with her mom, Carol, stepdad, and three older brothers. She reportedly learned business skills from her mom but couldn’t even get a job at a factory after high school. However, her life took a different turn when she became infatuated with the glamorous lifestyle of drug dealers’ wives and mistresses. This allure eventually led her to the world of BMF.
Tonesa joined BMF when she was just 19 years old and working in an insurance company, immersing herself in a life of wealth and power. She subsequently met Terry Flenory in the late 1980s or early 1990s when he visited her workplace to book some airline tickets, only for them to become close friends, supporting each other through ups and downs. In fact, Tonesa even took out loans to support Terry’s successful businesses, including a drug operation he ran with his brother Demetrius, which made him undeniably wealthy. She was drawn to the allure of street life, including money, cars, and fashion.
It was in 1995 that Tonesa and Terry shared their first kiss, and in 1998, they officially began dating while she was in the process of divorcing her incarcerated ex-husband, Harold Mills. Their romance then blossomed, and by the early 2000s, they’d moved to Los Angeles, where they enjoyed a lavish lifestyle funded by the proceeds from Terry’s drug business. She also assisted Terry in money laundering for their illicit earnings.
“I tell people all the time it’s like a habit … it’s an addiction,” Tonesa said in an interview with HipHopDX. “I had to have it. I had to have this money, I had to do this, I had to. It was crazy. It’s like I was on a high. You were on a high just doing something, making moves and getting away with it. It’s the whole power of it all, the way people looked at you. Then, once you come down, you’re like, ‘What was I doing?’”
The BMF empire crumbled thanks to the FBI’s Operation Motor City Mafia bust in 2005, leading to a series of drug and racketeering indictments, which included the arrest of Demetrius and Terry. Tonesa was also arrested, convicted, and sentenced to five years in prison for money laundering. The once-extravagant life she had known wasn’t there anymore, and she found herself facing the harsh reality of incarceration.
Where is Tonesa Welch Now?
Tonesa Welch’s journey took a dramatic turn during her time in prison. Her experience behind bars was admittedly a very humbling one. It forced her to detox from the lifestyle she had embraced for years. It was during this period that she had a profound realization that her life needed to change. Since her first job inside the prison was that of a prison chapel, it made her feel more connected to the spiritual being.
Therefore, upon her release in 2012, Tonesa abandoned her former life of crime and embraced a new mission. She founded the Silent Heart Foundation as a nonprofit organization that advocates for incarcerated women with children and supports at-risk teens. Her clear passion for women’s rights and rehabilitation led her to mentor and assist female ex-convicts in rebuilding their lives too. She helped them with their resumes, educated them about the law, and provided them with clothing and guidance.
Yet, Tonesa’s transformation didn’t stop there. She ultimately became an entertainer as well as an executive producer, leveraging her background as the former partner of Terry Flenory, who has since also been released, to participate in various television shows and documentaries. Since his freedom from prison, Terry has been serving his remaining years at home and participating in youth mentorship.
In 2020, Tonesa left a significant mark by both featuring in and executive producing ‘The True Story of Tonesa Welch’ as part of BET+’s critically acclaimed docu-series, ‘American Gangster: Trap Queens.’ Through this platform, she shared details of her remarkable life and revealed how she reclaimed herself after her time in prison. The following year, in 2021, alongside Jennifer Williams from ‘Basketball Wives,’ she took on the role of executive producer for the reality series ‘Notorious Queens,’ which aired on the ALLBLK channel.
Tonesa had actually received The Spirit of Detroit Award from the Detroit City Council by this point (in 2018), followed by an Award of Recognition for ‘Turn Your Pain into Power’ in 2022. Her commitment to advocacy and support remains evident as she serves as a brand ambassador for ConCreates and holds a permanent position on the Advisory Board of the American Association of Women Against Domestic Violence. Her personal journey is one of triumph over adversity since she herself is a survivor who has conquered the challenges of her past.
Today, from what we can tell, Tonesa “Toni” Welch resides in Woodland, California, where she continues to build her entertainment empire while also contributing to prison reform initiatives. She is a devoted mother of three sons as well — Corey, Marlon, and Jason, but the latter unfortunately passed away earlier this year. She has come far from her days of crime, and as she ventures into the world of entertainment, Tonesa’s star continues to rise.