Detroit — A member of the notorious gang Young Boys Inc. has returned to drug dealing, reaping millions of dollars and building a cocaine empire involving his relatives, a grandmotherly drug mule and a soul food restaurant, according to court records.
Darryl Terrell is facing new criminal charges 35 years after federal prosecutors toppled Young Boys Inc., an innovative street gang that pioneered the use of underage drug peddlers to become one of the most powerful and deadly drug organizations in Detroit.
Federal court records and prosecutors allege Terrell applied a sophisticated business acumen to build a drug empire in Detroit that imported cocaine from Arizona and generated millions in profits.
The narcotics ring laundered drug profits through his family’s soul food restaurant, Café Sonshine, near the New Center area, prosecutors said.
“It looks like a café. It’s got a name on it that says Café Sonshine but it does not operate,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Chadwell said. “You can’t go to dinner there tonight. You can’t go to lunch there tomorrow, either. It’s a fake business that Mr. Terrell and his organization uses to take possession of drugs, to have meetings and that sort of thing.”
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation emerged publicly in October. That’s when a 63-year-old granny with a history of convictions for petty crime was arrested in Detroit.
On Oct. 14, Cheryl Cheatham, 63, took a red-eye flight from Las Vegas to Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Though it’s unclear what triggered the investigation, federal drug agents had identified Cheatham as a drug courier, court records show.
Cheatham, who lives in Phoenix, fetched two large suitcases from the Delta baggage claim and hailed a taxi for a Westin hotel in Southfield.
Agents followed her to the hotel. She didn’t stay long.
Cheatham soon climbed into a hotel shuttle after loading the two large suitcases and headed into Detroit.
Investigators stopped the hotel shuttle on Southfield Road, near Fenkell Avenue. Agents believe the shuttle was destined for Mansfield Street, a few blocks east of the traffic stop, where investigators knew there were a trio of stash houses — locations for hiding drugs and money.
After a trooper stopped the Lincoln Navigator, Michigan State Police K-9 Officer Otto took a whiff of the SUV and indicated drugs were inside the vehicle.
A trooper checked Cheatham’s luggage. Investigators found two bundles containing a total of 17 kilograms of cocaine worth $595,000.
The arrest of Cheryl Cheatham drew international headlines but left unanswered who had hired Cheatham to haul the cocaine.
Oh, Lover Boy
Flight records and cellphone data would help DEA agents identify the boss.
After the arrest, Cheatham asked agents to let her call her daughter.
Agents checked the number in her phone and were intrigued when they read the contact name.
The contact read “Lover Boy.”
A member of the notorious gang Young Boys Inc. has returned to drug dealing, reaping millions of dollars and building a cocaine empire intertwined with his family tree, a 63-year-old drug mule and a soul food restaurant, according to court records.
“They communicated more than 25 times on the day she was arrested,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Hutting said in court.
After analyzing data from “Lover Boy’s” phone, investigators claimed there was a convoy following Cheatham from the Westin hotel in Southfield to Detroit.
GPS data showed “Lover Boy’s” phone was pinging off towers along the route. The information also showed “Lover Boy’s” phone left the area of the traffic stop and traveled a few blocks east, near the stash houses on Mansfield.
“Then, immediately after,” Hutting said, “activity on the ‘Lover Boy’ phone ceased.”
Investigators managed to identify “Lover Boy.”
They say he is Darryl Terrell’s son Jerome Terrell, 27, of West Bloomfield, who also faces federal drug charges.
“So we have the defendant escorting the narcotics,” Hutting said.
Investigators spent four months focusing on Jerome Terrell, analyzing bank records and studying his family tree, according to court records. They also created a Cheryl Cheatham travelogue.
“This was not her first trip,” Hutting said.
Flight records showed Cheatham had flown at least 39 times in 18 months between her hometown and Metro Detroit, the prosecutor said.
Cheatham was carrying 17 kilos of cocaine when she was arrested. Multiply that figure by 39 trips and the total is more than 600 kilos, prosecutors said.
“That’s over $20 million in value that she’s been transporting on behalf of (Jerome Terrell),” Hutting said.
Jerome Terrell’s defense lawyer questioned the accuracy of cell tower data and the government’s math.
“I have no idea and neither does the government — and neither could the court and neither could anyone on earth except Ms. Cheatham — know on all those other trips if she came to go to the casino or if she came with 500 kilos,” attorney Steve Fishman said in court. “We don’t know that. And it’s, I think, kind of insane to try to say that every time she came here she had 17 kilos.”
The investigation expanded beyond Jerome Terrell and focused on relatives, particularly his father, who’s 60 and lives in West Bloomfield.
“His drug trafficking activities go all the way back to the 1980s with Young Boys Incorporated,” Chadwell, the federal prosecutor, said during a recent court hearing.
Just a business, albeit illegal
Darryl Terrell was a sharp-dressed captain of Young Boys Inc., a so-called “bossman” in a beaver-pelt Borsalino from Henry the Hatter and glass-heeled shoes who oversaw a team of drug dealers, former gang member Maurice Gibbs told The Detroit News.
“He’s sort of a quiet cat. He was into dressing, staying sharp, having a nice car and having plenty of women,” said Gibbs, 58. “The end of the day, that’s what it was all about for us.”
Gibbs said he and Terrell were among Young Boys Inc. members who were particularly business-savvy.
“The drug business, it’s a business. It’s just illegal,” said Gibbs, who owns a Detroit import/export company. “You can handle more pressure. You’ve got police breathing down your neck. You’re trying to stay alive from the cats on the street. You’ve got guys trying to rob you, trying to get next to you. The pressure’s intense. The bigger target you become, then you’ve got the feds on you. You’ve got all these obstacles to contend with in order to win and you have to tiptoe through these landmines. You’re lucky if you make it to the other side.”
Darryl Terrell was lucky.
He never got indicted when federal investigators toppled Young Boys Inc. 35 years ago.
“He, at one point, distanced himself from Young Boys Inc. because he believed that one of the young boys was cooperating with the federal government,” Chadwell said. “Not because he wanted to stop drug trafficking.”
He got lucky again in the 1990s after being indicted on drug charges. The trial ended with a hung jury.
In 1996, Darryl Terrell was charged, tried and convicted of federal cocaine charges and served 121/2 years.
He was released from prison in 2008. Three years later, he launched Café Sonshine, a soul food joint near Clairmount Avenue and Woodward. The restaurant specialized in fried chicken, slow-roasted turkey legs and pork chops – smothered or fried.
The red-roofed restaurant was purchased with $90,000 cash, prosecutors said.
The money “was earned through ... drug trafficking,” Chadwell said. “Mr. Terrell involves much of his family in the drug-trafficking trade. He has now involved his son, Jerome ... and the two of them together lead the organization.”
A return to crime, as alleged by the government, does not surprise Carl Taylor, a Michigan State University sociology professor who has researched Young Boys Inc. and other gangs.
“Some guys are married to the thuggery,” Taylor said. “Some like the flavor of being a gangster. With YBI, some got entangled as addicts, some got caught up with the infighting and killing each other. Some guys think they’re smarter than everybody else.”
Online reviews call Café Sonshine a hidden gem. Bank records portray the tiny diner as a cash machine.
More than $422,000 was deposited into the diner’s checking account between January 2015 and September 2016. The deposits were primarily cash and made through ATMs in Arizona and Michigan, prosecutors said.
The checking account paid for a significant amount of travel-related purchases, including $32,000 worth of airline tickets and $92,000 worth of hotel-related purchases.
Cheatham, the drug mule, got a piece, too.
She received $2,400 in June 2016 — four months before her arrest in Detroit.
“Surveillance footage from the bank shows Darryl Terrell depositing $8,500 in cash into the Café Sonshine account and then transferring $2,400 to Cheatham’s bank account,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Adriana Dydell wrote in a court filing.
Four months after Cheatham’s arrest, federal agents were ready to pounce again.
In February, DEA agents and other investigators raided 11 locations across Metro Detroit.
In all, investigators seized more than $1.3 million, $71,000 worth of jewelry — including a $38,000 Rolex Sky-Dweller watch — seven guns and 148 rounds of ammunition.
The searches are significant for what agents did not find, Darryl Terrell’s lawyer Otis Culpepper said.
“I say he hasn’t been dealing,” Culpepper said during a recent court hearing. “They raided 11 places and found not one drop of drugs.”
The lawyer appeared bothered by prosecutors linking Darryl Terrell to Young Boys Inc.
“There are a lot of us who are still being harangued by the term ‘Young Boys Incorporated,’” Culpepper said. “That thing happened 40 years ago. The last time Mr. Terrell had any trouble was 24 years ago.”
He also insisted Café Sonshine was a real restaurant, not a criminal tool.
“They have very good food there,” Culpepper said.
On May 31, Darryl Terrell and his son Jerome were indicted on federal drug and weapons charges. They are being held without bond pending trial Nov. 7 in federal court.
Cheatham, the drug mule, won’t be there.
On Aug. 28, Cheatham walked into federal court, her hair pulled tight into cloud-colored cornrows, and struck a plea deal with prosecutors.
Cheatham was caught with so much cocaine, she faces at least a decade behind bars when sentenced in November.
The criminal case against Darryl Terrell, meanwhile, disappointed his former Young Boys Inc. counterpart.
“I’m not surprised he ended up being somewhat of a successful businessman,” Gibbs said. “I’m disappointed that at his age, he’s having legal problems and his son is tied up in it. I hate to hear that. That’s disheartening. But I’m not surprised. (He’s) always been a businessman.”