Feds reveal behind-the-scenes details about manhunt for Detroit rapper 42 Dugg

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Troubled Detroit rapper 42 Dugg claimed he was a sovereign citizen immune to federal laws, said he was worth $11 million, and had help hiding from federal agents during a multistate manhunt, prosecutors said.

Federal records, recorded jailhouse phone calls and courtroom testimony during 42 Dugg’s failed attempt to get bond Thursday provided an insider’s view of the weeks-long hunt that involved a secret spy gadget, piles of cash, drugs and a rapper on the run.

Dion Hayes, aka 42 Dugg

The rapper, real name Dion Hayes, was the target of a prolonged federal search after failing to report last month to a federal prison camp in West Virginia to serve a six-month sentence for illegally possessing a firearm. Hayes, 27, was arrested Wednesday after flying to Willow Run Airport aboard a private jet from Memphis, where he attended an NBA playoff game between the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agents were monitoring his movements after obtaining a search warrant allowing them to track the location of his cellphone. They caught him at approximately 4:45 a.m. Wednesday even though his name was left off the flight’s passenger manifest and found the rapper with enough money and jewels to bankroll a flight from justice, prosecutors said.

“When he was arrested he had $25,000 in cash and more than $100,000 in jewelry,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Lanning said.

The arrest represents worsening legal problems for an entertainer whose career has soared during the pandemic despite a series of arrests and criminal charges. Instead of six months in a prison camp, he faces up to five years in federal prison if convicted of failing to surrender last month. 

Hayes's rap sheet dates to 2010 when he was convicted of carjacking and felony firearms possession.

Dion Hayes, aka 42 Dugg

He was released from prison five years ago and started a dramatic rise within the rap industry. 

Hayes, a protégé of the rapper Yo Gotti, collaborated on the Lil Baby tracks "We Paid" and "Grace." His mixtape "Free Dem Boyz" debuted in May 2021 at No. 8 on the Billboard 200, selling 32,000 units, and he released the mixtape "Last Ones Left" last month.

His recent legal problems can be traced to November 2019. That's when ATF agents received a tip that Hayes fired a weapon inside Stoddard's Range and Guns in Atlanta.

Investigators reviewed video surveillance and documents from the gun range and learned Hayes and two others visited the range Nov. 8.

The surveillance video showed Hayes possessing, loading and firing a 9 mm Glock pistol, according to a criminal complaint.

Dion Hayes, left, fires a pistol inside the Atlanta gun range, prosecutors said.

He was arrested in March 2020 and charged with felony firearm possession.

While free on bond in the Georgia gun case, Hayes settled in suburban Atlanta and bought a $1.4 million 6,500-square-foot home, according to public records.

He was sentenced in November to three years of probation and ordered to pay a $90,000 fine for illegally possessing a firearm. But after repeatedly testing positive for opiates and getting arrested in Las Vegas for obstructing law enforcement, the judge sentenced Hayes to six months in a federal prison camp.

Hayes failed to report to the camp in Welch, West Virginia, on April 12. Hayes appealed and mistakenly believed he would not have to report to prison while that case was pending, his lawyer Steve Scharg told The Detroit News.

On April 29, prosecutors say he filed paperwork in federal court in Georgia claiming he was not subject to federal laws as a sovereign citizen.

Dion Hayes, aka 42 Dugg, paid $1425000 for this home in suburban Atlanta in December 2020, property records show.

"In effect, communicating he would not be reporting to any Bureau of Prisons facility," Lanning told Executive U.S. Magistrate Judge David Grand on Thursday.

Despite the claims of wealth and cash investigators found, Hayes was represented Thursday by a free, court-appointed lawyer, Casey Swanson.

Swanson disputed that Hayes sent the letter.

"Mr. Hayes did not flee," she said. "He did not intentionally avoid a sentence in this case."

After the letter was filed with the court, Hayes managed to elude deputy U.S. Marshals and ATF agents despite maintaining a constant presence for his 2.1 million followers on Instagram and more than 335,000 on Twitter.

"He's on social media," his lawyer said. "He's not hiding. He's going around in public."

ATF agents could not find Hayes in Atlanta.

"We didn't know where Mr. Hayes was since April 28," ATF Special Agent Brett Brandon said in court Thursday.

Federal agents obtained court permission to ping Hayes's phone to reveal its location on April 28 but ATF agents did not start seeing results until Monday.

Investigators conducted surveillance at about seven addresses in Metro Detroit but never saw Hayes, the agent testified.

Earlier this week, agents sent a signal to his phone and discovered he was in Memphis and tracked his return to Willow Run Airport west of Detroit early Wednesday.

Rapper Dion Hayes, aka 42 Dugg, flew into Willow Run Airport early Wednesday morning and was arrested by federal agents.

Investigators had airport security detain Hayes until they arrived. Agents soon discovered the private jet did not have an assigned flight number.

Agents asked airport security to confirm Hayes was aboard the flight. They checked the manifest but Hayes was not listed among the passengers.

But once passengers exited the plane, security identified Hayes, placed his phone on a table until ATF agents could review the device and had the rapper wait in the lobby.

They found his bodyguard in the parking lot.

"He had two extended magazine Glock firearms with 30-round capacity magazines," Lanning said. 

Next, agents tried to retrieve the rapper's phone.

"So, ATF goes to the desk where airport police placed Mr. Hayes's phone. It was not there," Lanning said. "They speak to airport police who identify the pilot palming the phone and putting it in his pocket."

ATF agents approached the pilot and retrieved the phone.

The chronology illustrates that Hayes is a serious flight risk, the prosecutor said.

"He’s claimed more than $11 million worth of assets. He has access to a private plane with a pilot willing to fly an unnumbered flight where Mr. Hayes is not included on the flight’s manifest,” Lanning said. “That’s not an accident. That’s not a happenstance.”

Investigators listened to Hayes's phone calls after he was arrested. They learned he had spent about eight days in Detroit and was avoiding Atlanta due to an unspecified "beef," the agent testified.

During at least one conversation, the discussion focused on concern Hayes would experience withdrawal symptoms. He had tested positive as recently as November for various forms of morphine and codeine, the prosecutor said.

The hearing ended with Hayes being held in custody while awaiting transfer to Georgia to face the new criminal charge for failing to surrender. Then, the prison camp.

But federal agents are not finished with Hayes.

During the court hearing Thursday, the ATF agent was questioned about whether investigators had contacted the rapper's family to determine his whereabouts.

"We would have reached out to his family, and I don't want to get into it further on the record, but there's other criminal matters pending that we are investigating," Brandon said.

Twitter: @robertsnellnews