Feds: Metro Detroit gang tied to murder, trafficking

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Five members of the Latin Counts street gang have pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy involving murder and drug trafficking, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade announced Monday.

The pleas were made in the last week at federal court in Ann Arbor by Devin Dantzler, 21, of Ecorse; Victor Vasquez, 26, of Detroit; Jonathan Estrada, 27, of Lincoln Park; Jesus Rodriguez, 25, of Lincoln Park; and Angel Rodriguez, 21, of Lincoln Park.

An indictment alleges they were among 11 defendants accused of assaults, murder, trafficking in drugs and stolen firearms, robbery as well as breaking and entering homes and businesses, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

The indictment asserts that the gang operates out of southwest Detroit, Lincoln Park and Ecorse and “uses violence to stake out its ‘turf’ and to intimidate both rival gang members and the citizens,” the release said.

Each of the five gang members faces 30 years in prison.

As part of their pleas, Dantzler and Vasquez took responsibility for the death of Mustafa Al-Yasiry at the Big Apple Market in southwest Detroit on April 18, 2014. According to the indictment, several Latin Counts assaulted Al-Yasiry, and Dantzler fatally shot him. Three other gang members have already pleaded guilty for their roles.

Meanwhile, Estrada and the two Rodriguez brothers took responsibility for their roles in the slaying of Terrence McClearen and a shooting in August 2013.

The pleas resulted from the Detroit One collaboration of local, state and federal law enforcement. The effort, which aims to reduce homicide and other violent crime, allowed investigators to combine separate probes of Latin Counts members, McQuade’s office said.

“By working together, the Detroit One partners are systematically dismantling the street gangs that cause violent crime in our neighborhoods,” McQuade said. “We want to take back our streets from violent gangs so that Detroit residents can enjoy the safe quality of life that we all deserve.”

Homeland Security Investigations Acting Special Agent in Charge Steve Francis said in a statement: “These guilty pleas demonstrate law enforcement’s resolve to stopping the escalating violence linked to gang activity. Removing criminal gang members from the streets will ensure that they are no longer in a position to wreak havoc in our neighborhoods and threaten the public’s safety.”

Since the collaboration launched in 2013, homicides have dropped 20 percent and non-fatal shootings are down 20 percent in the Detroit, officials said.

“Once again, the Detroit One Initiative and its ongoing dynamic law enforcement collaborations have proven highly effective in combating some of the most violent and heinous criminals in our community,” said David P. Gelios, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Detroit Division. “It is through these joint ventures and the Detroit One Initiative we are routinely and effectively ... leveraging resources to help keep our neighborhoods and communities safe from the threats gang violence poses to our citizens.”