DETROIT - Police busted an elaborate robbery and carjacking scheme that involved tailing "high rollers" from Detroit casinos, crashing into them on the freeway and stealing money and vehicles, according to authorities.
Kenneth Martez Gardner, Damon Kristopher Washington and Veronica Sharp have been arrested in connection with several carjackings between Sept. 22 and Sept. 29 in the area of the MGM Grand Casino in Detroit.
Similar carjackings reported on I-75
On Sept. 29, police said two victims left MGM Grand and were in a vehicle heading north on I-75 when their vehicle was struck by a car. The driver got out to examine the damage and noticed his passenger was being held at gunpoint by Gardner, officials said.
The passenger said he got out of the vehicle and asked the driver why he hit their car, and Gardner drew a pistol.
According to police, Gardner said, "Give me your phone, wallet and money." The men gave up their money and Gardner got into their 2017 Chrysler 300 and left the scene, according to authorities.
Police said the 2013 Nissan Sentra left behind by Gardner had been stolen in a Sept. 26 carjacking. In that incident, a woman was driving on I-75 when she was struck from behind. The driver who hit her drew a pistol and ordered her out of her Sentra before leaving the scene in the car, police said.
Carjacking suspects arrested
On Oct. 1, Michigan State Police found surveillance video showing a red Dodge Charger following one of the victims out of the casino. Police reviewed the license plate and found the Charger to be registered to Washington.
Officers followed the Charger around 9 p.m. Oct. 1 in the 18400 block of Fielding Street in Detroit. Early in the morning, the Charger had been seen pulling up to a work van in the parking lot of a senior living center at 4701 Chrysler Freeway in Detroit, police said.
During the robbery, Gardner had gotten out of the Charger and stole the van, police said.
Officials saw the Charger traveling to and around MGM Grand and Motor City casinos in Detroit. The stolen van arrived in the area around 2 a.m. Oct. 2 and drove slowly with the Charger in the areas around the casinos, according to authorities.
Officers saw the Charger and van follow a woman who left Motor City Casino driving a 2010 Ford Taurus. At one point while they were following the Taurus, the Charger and van pulled alongside one another, and words were exchanged between the drivers, police said. The van continued to follow the Taurus, according to officials.
Gardner eventually crashed the stolen van into the Taurus on the John C. Lodge freeway just sound of the Forest Avenue exit in Detroit, court documents say. When the driver of the Taurus pulled over on the shoulder, Gardner got out of the van and approached the victim, police said.
The Michigan State Police troopers following Gardner turned on their emergency lights and got out of their cars. Gardner was seen throwing a gun under the Taurus, troopers said.
Gardner was taken into custody, and a 9 mm Smith and Wesson semi-automatic pistol was found. The pistol had a laser sight attached to it and had been reported stolen on July 17, according to court records.
Troopers following the Charger conducted a traffic stop and arrested Washington, according to police.
During an interview, Gardner confessed to having the Smith and Wesson pistol in the van before approaching the Taurus, police said. He told officials he had received the pistol from Washington earlier in the evening when they met up at the Fielding Street address. He said Washington had the pistol on his lap when Gardner got into the Charger.
Police said Gardner admitted to bumping the Taurus so the driver would get out and he could rob her.
On Oct. 2, the victims from the Sept. 29 robbery selected Gardner out of a lineup of four similar-looking men as the person who had held them at gunpoint.
Washington admitted that he and Gardner would travel from one casino to another looking for robbery victims, police said.
Several weapons, ammunition found
Troopers learned that the Fielding Street address was Washington's home, and during a search, they found a Ruger 10/22 rifle, ammunition, three ammunition-feeding devices for guns, a wallet with his Michigan identification card and a cellphone.
Police also searched Gardner's home in the 15500 block of LaSalle Street and found eight rifle rounds and a shotgun shell.
When police searched the Charger, they found an unfired 9 mm pistol cartridge, which is the same type of ammo used in the pistol found under the Taurus. Officials also found several ID cards belonging to the Sept. 26 carjacking victim inside the Charger.
Washington was convicted of armed robbery on June 5, 2007, and sentenced to eight to 20 years in prison. He was also sentenced to two years in prison for a felony firearms violation.
He was convicted of felony assault with intent to rob on May 31, 2007, and sentenced to eight to 20 years in prison.
Gardner was convicted of felony fleeing a police officer on Jan. 26, 2006, and sentenced to two to 10 years in prison.
He was convicted of felony receiving and concealing stolen property on July 21, 2016 and sentenced to one to five years in prison.
Charges in carjacking case
Washington and Gardner were incident on Oct. 17 for conspiracy to commit carjacking for the Sept. 22 carjacking of a 2005 Toyota Sienna and the carjackings of the Sentra and Chrysler 300.
Washington pleaded guilty to carjacking a motor vehicle, use of a firearm during and in relation to a violent crime, possession of device-making equipment, aggravated identity theft and possession of 15 or more counterfeit unauthorized access devices.
Woman identified as accomplice
Police interviewed a co-conspirator on Feb. 12 who said Washington had met a woman at the MGM Grand Casino who was later identified as Sharp.
The co-conspirator said Sharp would spend time in the casino's high-limit gambling room and identify people with significant amounts of cash. Sharp would follow people with a lot of money into the garage and tell Washington which floor they had parked on, according to the co-conspirator.
Sharp would get into a car with Washington and follow the people out of the casino garage, according to court records. Washington would eventually speed past the victim and tell Gardner to crash into them, police learned.
The co-conspirator told police that Sharp helped Washington and Gardner select the victims in the Sienna and Chrysler 300 carjackings.
Washington paid Sharp around $1,500 for her assistance, police said.
Police said Sharp would also help Washington and Gardner when they robbed people without carjacking them. Sharp would keep some of the victim's purses, officials said.
The co-conspirator told police that Sharp lived on the last street on the right of Gratiot Avenue before Eight Mile Road and drove a green Mazda truck with Kentucky license plates.
Shortly after the interview, a Mazda Tribute with Kentucky plates was seen on Carlisle Street. Police obtained cellphone data that showed Sharp frequently contacted Washington and Gardner and revealed she had been in the location of the incidents listed above.
Sharp was taken into custody, and a warrant has been issued for charges.
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