Monday, May 21, 2018
Public safety

Gang with ties to Pinellas, Hillsborough counties accused of nine murders

In September 2010, investigators say, the gang members drove alongside a duplex in Bradenton and fired round after round through a bedroom window. The man inside, who was 18, died in front of his girlfriend and 1-year-old daughter.

The next month, three of the gang members kidnapped a 16-year-old boy and used him to lure one of their enemies to his death. To keep the teen from talking, they executed him.

In summer 2013, two of the gang members appeared at a Bradenton youth football practice attended by hundreds of people and approached a man holding his 5-year-old child. When the first bullet hit him, he put his kid down and fled. More rounds followed. He died at a place known as the 13th Avenue Dream Center.

Those brazen attacks were among a total of nine murders over the past seven years that authorities attribute to the crew, an unprecedented streak of calculated violence for organized crime in this region.

Federal and local officials announced the indictment of six gang members Thursday afternoon at a news conference in Manatee County, where the group was based.

At least two of the men charged, and at least one among the nine homicide victims, have connections to Pinellas or Hillsborough counties.

Dating back to 2004, Corey Deonta Harris, 23, has been arrested in Pinellas seven times. A registered sex offender, he listed St. Petersburg as his home in January. Federal prosecutors have charged him in connection with the Dream Center murder, with drug distribution and under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Jerry W. Green, 27, listed Gibsonton as his home after leaving prison in 2012. Along with racketeering and drug distribution, he has been charged in connection with five murders and armed robbery.

In addition, St. Petersburg police on Thursday night confirmed they are investigating the death of Joshua R. Smith, 24, a Palmetto man tied to the group who was found shot to death a few blocks from Lake Maggiore in April.

The investigation into the gang, which is ongoing, was led by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Both Harris and Green, along with the other four men charged — Nathaniel Harris, 23; Napoleon Harris, 29; Charlie L. Green, 27; and Deonte Jamal Martin, 24 — could face life imprisonment or execution if convicted.

With three already in custody, the others were arrested Thursday.

"In my time personally, I can't remember that many homicides attributed to a group of people like that," said Bruce Bartlett, a retired chief assistant state attorney who prosecuted cases in Pinellas and Pasco counties for 35 years. "That's something you would expect to see out of one of our larger metro areas like Chicago or New York."

Investigators' description of Demetrious Cunningham's murder, perhaps better than any other, illustrates the gang's ruthlessness.

Cunningham, who had family in Tampa, had a long and violent criminal past that included four drug-related arrests. Investigators say he was the intended target in the drive-by shooting death of Joseph Evans, the man killed in front of his girlfriend and daughter.

Determined to fulfill the contract on Cunningham's life, the gang members kidnapped 16-year-old Calvin Barnes, who convinced their mark to meet at an apartment.

Just 45 minutes after Cunningham's death, authorities found Barnes' body less than 4 miles away.

The killings, investigators say, were committed largely to protect the group's robust drug operation.

The men hired someone to sell "several pounds of marijuana daily" from a home they operated in Manatee County.

They distributed hefty amounts of other drugs as well: heroin, ecstasy, oxycodone, 280 grams of crack cocaine and five kilograms of cocaine.

They traveled as far away as Texas to buy their product and consigned it to people recently released from prison and desperate for income.

They made Internet videos and songs boasting of their operations.

They advertised with business cards.

Times staff writer Patty Ryan contributed to this report, which includes information from the Bradenton Herald. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at [email protected]

     
 
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