Writers Korie Wilkins (Oakland Press) and David Ashenfelter (Detroit Free Press) recently did articles on the downfall of drug kingpin Quasand Lewis, (pictured above). Here are excerpts from their articles.
BLACK DRUG CARTEL:
For a time, Quasand Lewis (pictured above) was one of metro Detroit's premiere marijuana dealers.
Federal authorities said his ring shipped more than 33 tons of pot from Arizona to Detroit in 1994-2005, enabling him to amass cars, jewelry, houses and apartment buildings -- two of which were put in the name of his cousin and former pro basketball star Robert (Tractor) Traylor, who was charged in the case Monday.
Lewis' crew also was violent. Authorities said the ring plotted kidnappings and fatal shootings, primarily in a feud with a rival marijuana lord.
Known as "Operation Falling Star," the authorities recently busted Lewis' international cartel that raked in $178 million a year in the Detroit area. This is the latest example of how authorities are attempting to stop drug dealers by following the money trail.
"Profit is the bottom line to drug traffickers," said Robert Corso, special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Agency. "If we can follow the money, we can follow the violators."
A federal indictment and criminal complaint unsealed Monday charged 33 people with crimes such as money laundering and conspiring to distribute marijuana. Many members of the cartel, who hail from states such as Michigan, Arizona and Ohio, were rounded up Monday by law enforcement officers. Also seized was cash, drugs and property such as homes and flashy cars, authorities said.
"The impact here is huge," said Novi Police Chief Doug Shaeffer. "It's absolutely huge."
Authorities say the cartel, which has been in operation since at least 1994, was led by Detroiter Quasand Daniell Lewis, 35, (pictured above). He alone will face the most serious charge, running a continuing criminal enterprise, which could land him in prison for the rest of his life if convicted.
Lewis was arrested in Cleveland on Monday as he was boarding a flight, said U.S. Attorney Stephen Murphy. Others were arrested in places such as Florida, California and even the Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio.
On Monday, more than 40 firearms were confiscated, $300,000 in cash was seized, $500,000 in jewelry and other assets were taken, 600 pounds of marijuana was confiscated and 11 vehicles - including three limousines - were impounded.
During the course of the investigation, more than $15 million in cash was also taken, as were more than 25 tons of marijuana.
The cartel supplied 40 to 50 percent of drugs sold in the Detroit area, authorities say, and used specially altered vehicles to transport drugs and money across state lines. Members are also responsible for a host of other crimes, authorities say, such as attempted murder and kidnapping.
More than 20 search warrants were served in the Detroit area, including ones at homes in Farmington Hills, Troy and West Bloomfield Township. And authorities say they are not arresting low-level drug dealers. They are arresting the upper echelon players.
Authorities say the bust would not have occurred were it not for massive amounts of cooperation from local, state and federal officials. Many officials are acknowledging that the bust is one of the largest ever in Michigan and likely one of the largest in the country.
"This indictment ... is a showcase demonstration of cooperation," Murphy said.
The investigation into the cartel began in Novi, when a distraught woman in a hotel asked police to look into a room there. She told officers there might be a dead body in the room at the Studio Plus, an extended-stay hotel near Eight Mile and Haggerty roads in Novi in March 2004.
Police didn't find a body, but they did find several duffle bags stuffed with $3.4 million cash. Evidence in the room led to a search warrant for an address in Northville, where police found more money - about $1.4 million.
According to the indictment, investigators used cell phones found in the room to track down and identify members of the cartel.
"We realized very early on that this was not a local operation," Shaeffer said.
His department quickly called in state and federal authorities and the 16-month investigation was launched. And Murphy said this might not be the end of the probe. While he declined to comment further, he said during a Tuesday press conference in Detroit that there could be more developments.
"Our efforts are not in the least being terminated," Murphy said.
Quasand Lewis was sentenced by a federal judge to 18 years in prison and ordered to forfeit $9.5 million worth of cash, jewelry, firearms and his interests in real estate, in accordance with a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.
To date, more than 30 people have been charged in the case. All but four fugitives have pleaded guilty and are facing sentences ranging from 2 1/2 to 19 years in prison.
Lewis put cars and property in the names of several people, including former NBA star Traylor, 29, of West Bloomfield. Traylor was charged Monday in federal court with aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false personal tax return. The charge said he claimed a $205,668 loss in 2004 on apartment buildings that actually were owned by Lewis.
Recently, police arrested Lewis' alleged enforcer, 30-year-old Lamont Paris of Detroit, who has been linked to three shootings -- one of them fatal -- in 2003-05.
Sources: Korie Wilkins @ The Oakland Press and David Ashenfetter @ The Detroit Free Press
IN RELATED NEWS:
Federal agents say Giovanni Ruanova (pictured above) and his stripper girlfriend are in love... with drugs and money. The couple discovered common ground as alleged co-workers in a drug organization worth millions of dollars. The DEA believes Ruanova keeps his sidekick around as a cover-up for much bigger things.
In May of 2004 Detroit cops received their biggest break in one of the nation's largest marijuana distribution rings. The DEA says they got word that the Quasand Lewis Drug Organization was delivering 4,000 pounds of marijuana into a warehouse full of anxious dealers.
Investigators claim they didn't realize how big the bust would be until they barged in the place and arrested almost 24 people. The arrests included some high-ranking traffickers who police were hoping to catch for years.
But there was one major problem that police needed to fix. The money from the drug transaction was missing... Nearly $1.8 million dollars. Marshals say the money was on its way to Tucson, Arizona where a high ranking Mexican cartel was waiting at the border.
As far as the DEA was concerned, Ruanova was just using Sanchez as a cover-up on his trips to distribute drugs.
Cops say Annette Sanchez (pictured above) works as a stripper and as Ruanova's sidekick in his drug operations.
Authorities believe the masterminds behind the nearly two million dollar sale were Ruanova and his girlfriend Annette Sanchez. The couple were on their way to Oklahoma before police finally caught up to them and forced them off the road. For several intense minutes investigators searched up and down the car with no sign of the money. It seemed as though Giovanni and Annette were going to get away clean until a police officer pushed a hidden button in the back of the vehicle.
Authorities opened a hidden compartment in the car revealing a black suitcase. They eagerly pulled down it's zipper to expose the money waiting for them in neat little packages.
According to police, Ruanova and Sanchez immediately began to deny knowing about the money. They say the couple claimed they were riding along on their vacation from Chicago to Arizona and had no idea that the money was in the truck.
Cops obtained this undercover photo of Ruanova spending time with his girlfriend Sanchez.
As far as the DEA knew, Ruanova was just using Sanchez as a cover-up on his trips to distribute the drugs. They say his girlfriend was only in it for the money. Police arrested the couple and took them to jail that same day. Shortly thereafter, they were released pending the investigation.
For the next year, investigators kept a close eye on the suspects studying their moves carefully. Finally on July 18, 2005 police racked up enough charges to indict the couple. But when Sanchez and Ruanova heard that their picture was on the DEA website, cops say they fled the area.
Police believe Ruanova and his girlfriend Sanchez may have gone off as far as Mexico to hide.