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03/01/2012

3 members of Atlanta robbery crew convicted

ATLANTA — Three Atlanta-area men have been convicted of armed robbery, drug trafficking and using a firearm in connection with their crimes following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the FBI and the Gwinnett County Police Department.

Jose Reyes, 39, Albert Espinal, 33, and Johann Brito, 32, all of Lawrenceville, Ga., were convicted of using home invasions and torture in attempts to rob rival drug dealers.

United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said of the verdict, "These three defendants belonged to the Cartier robbery crew that engaged in at least two shootouts in broad daylight – one at a busy intersection in Lawrenceville and another in a quiet subdivision in Duluth. The defendants and their robbery crew shot, stabbed, tortured, kidnapped and restrained their victims, whom they suspected to be drug dealers." Yates noted that the crew committed robberies in Georgia, New York and North Carolina. According to Yates, "These defendants not only targeted drug dealers, in at least two instances they mistakenly stabbed and tortured innocent victims. And, their willingness to break into homes, engage in high-speed chases with police and public shootouts endangered the lives of all our residents. The convictions of these defendants, as well as the guilty pleas for eight other related defendants, ensure that the public will be protected from these dangerous criminals."

"The violence associated with drug smuggling is a matter of critical concern to law enforcement," said Brock D. Nicholson, special agent in charge, HSI Atlanta. "These men waged an interstate crime wave that resulted in torture and abuse and risked the lives of countless innocent bystanders in their search for money tainted with the blood of their victims. As a society, we cannot stand for this behavior. As an agency, HSI stands against these criminals, working with partners like the FBI, the Gwinnett County Police and the U.S. Attorney to bring these perpetrators to justice." Nicholson oversees HSI activities in Georgia and the Carolinas.

According to information presented in court, members of the conspiracy came to Georgia in 2008 and 2009 from New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island for the purpose of committing robberies. Reyes, Espinal, Brito and other members of the conspiracy were either born in the Dominican Republic or have close ties to the Dominican Republic. Once in Georgia, they committed numerous armed robberies.

During the early morning hours of May 11, 2009, Espinal, Brito and other members of the conspiracy kicked down the door of a house used for conducting drug deals located in a subdivision in Duluth. Once inside, they tied up the caretaker of the house and then tied up and shot three other drug customers who later delivered cocaine to the house. After learning that a cocaine transaction was scheduled to take place at the house, defendants and others planned to rob the drug customers. At approximately 10 a.m., Reyes, Espinal, Brito and others confronted two drug customers outside of the house. Neighbors reported hearing up to 20 gun shots, and one of the drug customers later died from his gunshot wounds.

On April 7, 2009, also during early morning hours, Espinal, Brito and two co-conspirators broke into another drug house, and then tied up and tortured a victim by cutting off a portion of his ear, pouring hot sauce in his eyes, dunking his head in the bath tub and pistol-whipping him in an attempt to learn the location of secreted drugs. They then tried to ransom the victim in exchange for 20 kilograms of cocaine. The exchange never went through, however, because the robbers and the drug dealers got into a shootout later that morning at the intersection of Oakland Road and Cruse Road in Lawrenceville, during which one of the robbers was killed.

Two defendants, Roberto Rosario, known as Mello, and Jean Carlos Ramos, known as Gorillon, are still fugitives.

After a 13-day jury trial, the jury found Reyes, Espinal and Brito guilty on all counts. They could each receive a maximum sentence of life and a fine of up to $10,000,000.