NEW ORLEANS - Nine local men and women are facing state racketeering charges for allegedly running a large drug ring in the Lower 9th Ward, according to an indictment handed up this week by an Orleans Parish grand jury.
The group allegedly dealt crack cocaine and marijuana, was behind numerous acts of violence, and used threats and intimidation to help their business flourish.
The defendants named in the indictment are: Corey “Da Chef” Expose, 32 ; Bruce “Bald Head” Carter, 32; Reginald “Pookie” Lafrance, 30; Walter “Lil Walt” Thomas,23 ; Theodore “Taz” Keys, 32; Ronald “Rylo” Expose, 30; Bilal Denley, 30; Tienekia Washington,34; and Nikkisha Warren, 30.
While the indictment cites them as a criminal gang, court filings detail a handful of particular crimes allegedly committed by the defendants. Several of the them were arrested in busts in February and June of last year.
Defendants were allegedly caught with crack cocaine and marijuana, while their counterparts supposedly tampered with evidence and tried to stall the police investigation.
Some of the suspects faced drug charges following those arrests, though those charges were dropped by prosecutors just prior to the racketeering indictment, according to court records.
Racketeering cases are used primarily to target large gangs or organized crime groups. They are rare in state court.
"The racketeering statute allows the prosecutors in court...to show the jury how drug trafficking, violence and other incidents relates to each other,” said Christopher Bowman, prosecutor and spokesman for District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. “The jury gets the whole story."
"The drawback of cases like this are they are a lot harder to prepare, they require more resources, time,” Bowman added.
Attorney Craig Mordock, who represents Keys, said Friday that the prosecutors initially charged Keys with having more than 28 grams of cocaine. Mordock claimed it was a weak case, and that prosecutors are now using the racketeering charge to ensnare Keys, link him to the others, and push him to cooperate.
“This is another overreach by the District Attorney’s office, attempting to try and get a conviction any way necessary, regardless of what the underlying facts of the case are,” Mordock said.
Bowman, citing office policy, declined to talk about specifics of the case.
Cannizzaro’s office prosecuted a similar case two years ago, the first of its kind in state court in recent history. That case netted convictions of 11 young men, linked together as the “D-Block,” a title they used because of their ties to the 2600 block of Dumaine Street in the 6th Ward. Those defendants had amassed a huge criminal history, with dozens of arrests. At the time, both police and prosecutors heralded the case and the use of the racketeering charge to ensnare the group.