Flagler arrests break up local ‘Bloods’ gang, officials say

October 29, 2008

PALM COAST — Drive-by shootings, home invasions, armed robberies and the death of a college student are just some of the crimes committed since 2004 by an organized gang in Flagler County, according to state and local investigators.

Today, 12 of the gang’s members are in jail with bail set at $1 million to $2 million each.

“We have cut the head off the snake,” Flagler County Sheriff Donald Fleming said Tuesday.

A sweeping investigation that included the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and State Prosecutor’s Office revealed that a Flagler faction of the United Blood Nation had strength and firepower rivaling gangs in large urban areas like Miami.

State Prosecutor William Shepherd on Tuesday characterized the Flagler gang as “one of the worst this state has faced.”

Investigators said Palm Coast resident Brandon Washington, 21, who has a lengthy criminal record in Flagler County, was the gang’s leader.

Washington was convicted in Flagler last week of robbery and false imprisonment after prosecutors said he took another man’s car, keys and money and ordered the man to be driven in another car to a home on Pope Lane to get more money. But once inside the home, the man called law enforcement and the abduction was thwarted. Washington, being held in the Flagler County Inmate Facility, faces up to 20 years in prison on those convictions when sentenced.

Investigators said Washington’s crew, which called itself the 9-Tek Grenades or Brick Mafia, is part of a larger subset of gangs called the East Coast Bloods.

The suspects, who range in age from 19 to 26, were well-organized in their criminal activities, according to investigators.

A hierarchy of soldiers, chiefs and ranked generals leads the group, officials said. Within the Brick Mafia, there is a bookkeeper, secretary and even a gang “bible” that lists rules, dress codes, hand signals and goals of the organization. The group also conducted weekly meetings to plan criminal activities, officials said.

Area middle school students often were recruited to join “the family,” investigators said. The students were welcomed after participating in initiation rituals that often involved the prospective gang member being beaten, or “jumped-in,” by other gang members.

Their motto, “Blood in — Blood out,” means one must suffer physical injury to join or leave the group, investigators said.

Women wishing to join the gang also had the option of being “sexed-in” by engaging in sexual activities with a high-ranking gang member, according to investigative documents. And some members may be “blessed-in” after committing a series of criminal acts, investigators said.

The arrests of Washington and his subordinates comes on the heels of new legislation that allows groups like the Brick Mafia to be charged for the organized activities of the group, rather than charging members individually for each alleged crime, Shepherd said.

He said the new law makes it possible for law enforcement agencies to return beleaguered neighborhoods to the “hard-working” citizens who live there. And because of it, what Flagler County has now is a “bunch of kids who are totally unorganized,” instead of a dangerous gang with the power to threaten residents throughout northeast Florida.

Shepherd wouldn’t elaborate Tuesday on how far the arms of the Brick Mafia extend into other Florida cities and counties. He would say only that the group was a “significant threat,” with activities and connections that “involve multiple circuits in Florida.”

Chantal O’Toole, the sister of a man whose death investigators now are linking to gang activity in Flagler County, said Tuesday she was glad officials were able to arrest and hold the men on such large bail amounts.

Officials said her brother, Rashawn Pugh, died nearly a year ago when he and several armed members of the Brick Mafia attempted to rob an area drug dealer in a home invasion. But the drug dealer returned fire and Pugh died on the doorstep of the Pheasant Drive home, investigators said.

O’Toole and others who were close to Pugh maintain he was not a member of Washington’s gang and was more likely an unwitting victim.

The following Palm Coast residents were arrested Tuesday and charged with racketeering: Tommy Banks, 22; Roberto Bravo, 26; Alex DeCosta, 20; Bianca Dorismond, 19; Michael D. Gilbert, 22; Paraskevas Hantzos, 22; Christopher Kee, 20; Terrance Leeks, 20; Ancil Oliver, 20; Joel Ortiz, 25; and Gerrell Smith, 21.

Washington also was charged with racketeering. Investigators are still seeking Andre McCarthy, 24.

Hantzos and DeCosta are being held on $1 million bail each. Bail for the others was set at $2 million each.

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