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Oakland furniture business in Waterford was set up as front for pot operation, three guilty in case

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The Lake Orion man who owned a shuttered furniture business in Waterford that never sold a chair now faces prison time after the business was found to be a front for moving nearly 3,000 pounds of marijuana from Mexico, according to U.S. Homeland Security agents.

A recent conviction of the business owner and pleadings in the case have closed the book on the investigation that took undercover agents to Oakland Furniture on M-59, near Pontiac Lake Road, where they seized $2.1 million in drugs. Two additional suspects have begun prison sentences tied to the drug bust, as well.

Jesus Hernandez, 34, and two men who lived in Clarkston — Jorge Cruz-Diaz, 34, and Jesus Sanchez-Ramirez, 32 — have either been convicted or pleaded guilty to federal drug trafficking charges. Cruz-Diaz was sentenced Feb. 19 in federal court to 48 months in prison, and on March 20, Sanchez-Ramirez was sentenced to 33 months. Both men have been ordered to be deported after serving their prison terms.

Hernandez, the listed owner of the phony business, was convicted on March 18 after a four-day jury trial, and will be sentenced July 17. He faces 10 years to life in federal prison.

Hundreds of packages of marijuana sit on the floor of Oakland Furniture in Waterford after being unpacked from several wooden cabinets they were meticulously hidden in. (Photo provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigrations Customs Enforcement team)

The case broke back in Nov. 14, 2012, when U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found the marijuana in a delivery truck containing 114 pieces of wooden furniture as it was trying to cross the border in Laredo, Texas.

The commercial truck’s drivers had an invoice that stated the destination of the shipment was Oakland Furniture, which was registered with the state just three months prior, according to a federal affidavit.

Customs officers contacted Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, Homeland Security Investigations undercover agents, who drove the shipment to the business and let the drop proceed as planned.

he three men were arrested a few days later at the business while trying to unpack 2,796 pounds of marijuana hidden inside the furniture — after close surveillance by Homeland Security agents, said ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls.

“The investigation revealed that the front business had been established by the defendants exclusively to serve as a delivery and breakdown point for the approximately 1,568 bundles of marijuana,” Walls said. “This was the whole operation.”

It was unique that Hernandez set up the front business only to house the drugs, said Walls.

“Those are some great lengths to go through for a drug operation and that’s clearly not something we see every day,” he said, adding that the bust is one of the largest in recent years. “From all indications, there’s no evidence that they every did any legitimate business out of that location.”

Drugs, disappearance and the body in the chest

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An Indianapolis man has been formally charged in the death of Jazmine Trammell, whose body was found last month inside a wooden chest at a Lawrence apartment complex.

James Wade Jr., 60, lived at Maison Gardens Apartments where apartment staff found Trammell’s body next to a trash bin on March 23. The 24-year-old Indianapolis resident died of multiple stab wounds, according to the Marion County prosecutor’s office.

Wade’s family members later confirmed to detectives that the chest belonged to his mother and that she had given it to him, court documents said.

Detectives also found several blood stains on the carpet, on the walls, and on a coffee table inside Wade’s apartment in the 4200 block of Rue Biscay. A DNA test later revealed that the blood stains belonged to Trammell. Other pieces of evidence found include two broken kitchen knives, two bottles of bleach, a mop and a bucket, scrub brush, and two rugs, court documents said.

Motive remains unclear. Phone records showed that Trammell spoke with Wade on the phone hours before she was found dead. Trammell’s girlfriend told detectives that on the morning of March 23 Trammell said she was going to make a drug deal and would pick her up afterward, documents said. Trammell’s girlfriend never heard from her after the two spoke on the phone shortly before 9:30 a.m. that day.

Wade, who was arrested Tuesday, told police that Trammell was his drug dealer and he had known her for about a month. He said he had been allowing Trammell to cook crack cocaine in his apartment and she had been giving him prescription pills or cocaine in return, documents said.

Wade told detectives he was unaware of her whereabouts at the time she disappeared. At about 3 a.m. March 23, Wade and Trammell spoke on the phone and she asked him if she could use his apartment to cook cocaine, documents said. Wade told detectives he received another call from Trammell at about 9:20 a.m. telling him that she was on her way. He and his girlfriend then left the apartment to let Trammell cook, Wade said. When he went back home a few hours later, Wade said Trammell was already gone and left five hydrocodone pills and a crack rock on his coffee table, documents said.

Wade also told detectives that he had been with his girlfriend all night on March 22 and the next morning. But his girlfriend told detectives she did not see Wade until after noon on March 23. She said Wade called her sometime in the afternoon and asked her to rent a motel room for him, according to documents.

Apartment staff told police that Wade had been evicted from his apartment and was supposed to move out by March 31. He was gone by March 25, two days after Trammell was killed, documents said.

 

11 facing federal cocaine trafficking charges

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INDIANAPOLIS (April 9, 2014) – Eleven people face federal charges in connection with a drug trafficking operation in Indianapolis.

U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett made the announcement Wednesday in conjunction with Indiana State Police, the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

The federal indictments are part of a lengthy investigation into cocaine distribution called “Operation Family Ties.” The drug trafficking ring operated in Indianapolis’ Butler-Tarkington area, investigators said.

Eleven people were named as defendants:

  • Benigno Reyes-Contrerra (aka Jose Reyes), 27
  • Edgar Dominguez-Castillo, 25
  • Gerardo Baltierra, 29
  • Fellipe Maguellal, 22
  • Wade Havvard, 36
  • Antjuan Dyson, 36
  • Larry Eugene Coe, 39
  • Tuwanna Harney, 37
  • Timika Highbaugh, 39
  • Waimond Jackson, 53
  • Earnest McCain, 55

The 11 defendants are charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance. The federal indictment means they face mandatory minimum sentences and higher maximum prison sentences than they would have faced under state charges.

The investigation began in March 2010 after IMPD detectives learned of a cocaine trafficking operation in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood. The operation had been running for more than two years.

Federal prosecutors said Wade Havvard, Larry Coe and Marvin Golden—a man who had previously been indicted federally—moved a significant amount of cocaine through the neighborhood. According to the indictment, the men exchanged hundreds of phone calls and text messages consistent with drug trafficking. Investigators said the men stashed cocaine in houses around the Butler-Tarkington area and sold it to mid-level dealers who would then distribute it on the northwest side.

In January, police arrested more than 40 people and confiscated more than six kilograms of cocaine. Authorities also seized marijuana, nine guns, six vehicles and $198,000 in cash.

If convicted, some of the defendants face a minimum penalty of 10 years to life, federal prosecutors said. Others face 20 years to life and three face mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Missing Atlanta Dancer Found Dead; Murder Suspected

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The body of Angela Rabotte, 26, a popular Atlanta stripper who had been missing since last Friday, was discovered in Norcross, Georgia and one person of interest is in custody, reports the AJC.com.

Rabotte, who is known by the stage name Climax, was discovered by a survey crew in a heavily wooded around 10:30 a.m. Thursday morning.

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Angela Rabotte, an exotic dancer who went missing in Atlanta, was found dead in Lilburn, according to local reports.

Rabotte, 26, had been missing since last Saturday. Her body was found in a wooded area near Lilburn Industrial Way and Arcado Road, and it was discovered by surveyors working in the area, police told AJC.com.

She was last seen in the Steeplechase Apartments parking lot on Saturday. Officials said she dropped her daughter off with a friend before attending a party.

Police believe that foul play is suspected in her death. Detectives are now investigating the matter.

“Don’t know what I’m going to tell my daughter. That’s is what just kills me because she wakes up every morning talking about her mommy,” Rabotte’s ex-boyfriend Darrell Campbell told WSB-TV.

One of the last people to have seen her alive is in custody, but on different charges. Officials described him as a person of interest.

“Fair to call him a person of interest but he has been in custody far before we had this crime scene. He was actually in custody in the Gwinett County Jail without bond for about 48 hours now. His name is Charles Outlaw, he is one of the last people seen with her, but he is not charged in this crime by any means,” Gwinnet County Police Cpl. Jake Smith told the broadcaster.

Lilburn police Capt. Thom Bardugon did not say what led them to suspect it was foul play.

“We always treat it as such until we know otherwise,” Bardugon told the Gwinnett Daily Post. “The medical examiner will do the autopsy either today or tomorrow,” Bardugon said Thursday. “That will be the best chance to figure out the cause of death.”

Rap producer gets 75 years in slaying

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A man found guilty last month of the 2012 slaying of a local disc jockey was sentenced to 75 years in prison Friday.

Carlton Hart, 45, was convicted of murder and criminal confinement more than a year after Thomas “DJ” Keys, 22, was found dead in a recording studio on Nov. 15, 2012.

Hart owned the recording studio at 2230 E. 46th St. where Keys was killed. Another man, Marvin Finney, 26, was shot in the incident but survived.

Hart was the fourth man to be found guilty in the slaying.

Last October, two other men — Nathaniel Armstrong, 30, and James McDuffy, 22 — were convicted by a jury of murder and attempted murder. Armstrong was sentenced to 175 years in prison, and McDuffy was sentenced to 185 years.

In February, a Marion County jury found another man, Darin Jackson, guilty of conspiracy to commit criminal confinement. He was sentenced to 18 years.

Police suspect the men were seeking revenge for the slaying of a rapper, Brandon McMitchell, 19, who went by the name “Lil Bango.” McMitchell was shot to death four days before Keys in a different recording studio, police said.

Court records say Hart was McMitchell’s cousin.

Police said the suspects in Keys’ death believed Keys and Finney knew who killed McMitchell. They lured the pair to a recording studio, police suspect, tied them up and tried to get them to say who killed the rival rapper.

“Which one of you killed Bango?” one of the men, holding an assault rifle, asked, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Hart, known as “Sir Hart,” is a local rap producer who also faced a murder charge in a 2008 shooting. Charges were dropped because of a lack of evidence after he spent two years in jail.

Hart sued the city of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, claiming false arrest, wrongful incarceration and malicious prosecution.

A federal judge in January granted a judgment in favor of the defendants to dismiss the case, but Hart filed a notice of appeal in February.

Two more suspects, Dominique Hamler and Dontee Robinson, are scheduled for jury trial May 12.