The Detroit-to-Warren heroin pipeline dismantled by a 99-count federal indictment unsealed Wednesday included violent felons connected with several murders in both cities.
Nearly all of the 21 people indicted as leaders, middlemen and street dealers had criminal records involving aggravated assault, drug offenses, burglaries, robberies and shootings. Others were recognized as suspects in several area robberies, including gun thefts, according to a search of county records.
The group, led by Valentino Thomas Sr., 41, of Detroit and Warren, included suppliers facing murder charges, middlemen, who were convicted of murders as recently as Monday and street dealers who committed crimes with men who were eventually murdered, according to records.
The investigation started in April 2012 and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives set up a storefront operation and used undercover agents posing as workers interested in buying illegal guns and drugs. ATF Agent in Charge Robin Shoemaker refused to give details on where the storefront was located and how they recruited drug dealers to the store.
"The defendants who came into the store were looking to sell guns and drugs," said Ohio's U.S. Northern District Attorney Steven Dettelbach. "Instead, they bought a one-way ticket to prison."
Warren leaders have long said the Detroit drug pipeline resulted in violence that erupted into gunfire and murder. Warren Police Chief Tim Bowers said he believes following several large indictments against drug trafficking rings and successful crime interdiction programs in Youngstown, drug dealers moved the violent front to Warren.
DEA Agent in Charge Bob Balzanno said dealers can make more money selling drugs in smaller communities, particularly ones whose police department lacks manpower.
The indictment alleges Thomas and Derrick Peete, 23, of Detroit, obtained drugs in Detroit and sold them to Anthony L. Ector, 29, of Warren, to distribute to 18 street dealers, including Thomas' son Valentino Thomas Jr., who sold the drugs in various locations including the Hair Depot, Big Lots, Walmart, across from Warren G. Harding High School and the Family Dollar.
Peete and Thomas Sr., and many of the street dealers, have violent criminal pasts with ties to murder and other violent crimes.
Thomas was indicted on three counts of distributing heroin. Echo is facing 21 counts of distributing heroin and Peete is facing two counts of heroin dealing.
Thomas, whose criminal records extends to 1992 and includes aggravated arson, aggravated robbery, drug trafficking and felonious assault, was interviewed by police following the fatal shooting of Thomas' brother, Stanley Thomas on Oct. 16, 2011 at Clancy's Bar.
Valentino Thomas, and his sister, Yolanda Holmes, who died in a fatal fire in March 2012, met with city officials three days later to try and keep Clancy's opened. It was eventually shuttered.
Investigators said after that shooting they suspected Detroit gangs were involved in the shooting.
Ector has relatively no criminal history in either places. He was arrested in 2011 for possessing marijuana and driving 30 miles per hour faster than the speed limit in Weathersfield. He gave police a Michigan identification card and said he was driving from the Go Go Lounge, reports said.
Peete, however, is currently facing aggravated murder charges for fatally shooting career criminal Marco Dukes, 32, and wounding felon Larry Smith, 29, during a mid-day November shootout near downtown Warren.
Peete and Dale Hatch, 25, also from Detroit and charged in the murder, have extensive criminal records in both Warren and Detroit.
The indictment says Peete, on Nov. 7, four days before the shooting, and Ector talked about Peete exchanging heroin for a $200 handgun with an extended clip. The indictment says Ector intended to bring the gun to Peete's home.
Peete's record in Detroit began in 2008 and he was arrested in Warren in July before becoming involved in the shootout case. When he was arrested he was free on bond on a felony drug possession charge filed in July in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.
Reports said officers pulled him over July 30 while driving on Youngstown Road S.E. and found a baggie with four grams of heroin tucked in his underwear and $5,900 cash in his pocket. Also in the car was James Cohen 23, who has an extensive criminal history was named as a street dealer in Wednesday's indictment, had $6,000 in his pocket.
Peete was convicted for several crimes in Detroit, including drug trafficking in 2008 and unlawful use of a motor vehicle in 2011. He was also convicted in Warren for aggravated drug trafficking in 2009.
Peete was charged in the 2009 drug case after he was arrested at home owned by Valentino Thomas, which was previously reported by WKBN.COM.
Cohen, 23, of Detroit and Warren, whom was caught riding in a car with Peete with money and drugs, is facing charges of distributing crack and being a felon with a gun.
Cohen, according to Third Judicial Circuit records, was found guilty Monday of second-degree homicide committed April 8, 2012 after a bench trial. He is scheduled to be sentenced May 3. Cohen is also facing a first-degree premeditated homicide charge from an Oct. 3, 2012 incident, according to records.
No information was immediately available about those murders.
In 2011, charges including felonious assault and armed robbery were dismissed against Cohen and he pleaded guilty in 2007 to carrying concealed weapons.
Another major player in the pipeline, according to the indictment, is Lewis Powell III, 33, of Warren, who is facing four counts of distributing heroin, 14 counts of being a felon in possession of firearms, possessing guns with obliterated serial numbers and possessing body armor as a felon.
Powell, too, has criminal histories in both Warren and Youngstown dating to his first conviction for stealing a car in 1994 in Detroit. Records show Powell has been arrested in Detroit for a home invasion, breaking and entering, robbery and possessing ecstacy. In Warren, he's been charged with improperly handling firearms, escape, felonious assault, assaulting a police officer and criminal damaging.
Another street dealer, Chance Wells, 22, of Warren, who was charged with distributing heroin, has ties to at least one Warren murder victim. Wells, according to a search of records, was arrested March 3, 2008, with murder victim Kristopher Kyser for breaking into a man's home in Champion Township and smashing him on the head with glass bottles.
The attacked caused the man to be hospitalized with a five-inch gash. Chase and Kyser were arrested by police after a foot chase through backyards in Champion.
Both were charged with felonies that were amended to misdemeanors. Kyser told police he was at the home making a drug deal.
Kyser was fatally shot in the hip at Café 422 during a fight in 2011.
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