In January, police watched video footage that they said was so “senseless” and brutal it left veteran homicide officers stunned and angry: In the courtyard of a South Miami-Dade housing project a man is shot in the back of the head at point blank range, as a half dozen people watch and children play nearby.
“There were little kids walking around,’’ said Miami-Dade Police Lt. Hiram Rodriguez. “You can’t believe someone’s life was taken for what appears to be someone snatching a hat. It was senseless and out of control.”
The January shooting in the crime-wracked Arthur Mays Villas housing project spurred a year-long undercover investigation by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies that on Thursday resulted in the arrest of 31 men and women, most on drug sales and possession charges.
Just before dawn, more than 100 law enforcement officers flooded four locations at Arthur Mays in Goulds and took the group into custody. About half of them are believed to be members of a violent but little-known gang called the “Get Money Soldiers.”
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The gang is believed to be responsible for murders, robberies, drug sales and weapons violations, police said. Cops also collected an ounce of cocaine, more than 400 grams of marijuana, and nine grams of Mollies. They also confiscated a rifle and five handguns, two of which had been reported stolen.
Though no one arrested Thursday was charged with the January murder, police are certain they now have friends and associates of the suspect in custody, and they hope to squeeze them enough to find the murderer.
“We know who committed that crime; he’s on the run. And we know his accomplices,” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said, like most South Florida gangs, the “Get Money Soldiers” are a small, loosely knit group that mostly deals in the sale of marijuana, cocaine and today’s drug du jour, Molly. Though members haven’t been charged with the murders and other violent crimes of which they’re suspected, police hope further investigating will lead to more charges.
A YouTube video that police said was made of the gang shows a man standing in a living room with some type of semi-automatic rifle, then others coming forward and pointing guns at a camera as music plays in the background.
Rodriguez said the past four weeks have been unusually intense as task force members from Miami-Dade police, the U.S. Marshall, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration cobbled together plans for Thursday’s raids. He said the warrants leading to Thursday’s arrests were mainly secured by undercover cops making drug buys.
The unusual show of force by law enforcement before dawn Thursday was dubbed Operation Willie Wonka. Rodriguez said it got its name because locals in and around Arthur Mays — a small but particularly crime-wracked housing project — refer to it as “Chocolate City.”
The housing project, 144 brown townhouse units, sits in a four-square-block area bordered by Southwest 113th and 115th avenues and 214th and 216th streets. Crime has been so persistent there that police anti-gang squads have patrolled it for the past two years, and an expensive set of surveillance cameras were installed.
They proved ineffective, as cameras were sabotaged and wires leading to them were cut.
Though there were 31 arrests Thursday, police only released the names of 27 men and women. They are: Douglas Spates, 19; Shannon Mejia, 42; Priscilla Swanson, 48; Taja Sands, 21; Ronnie Robinson, 43; Geremy Anderson, 22; and Emmanuel Williams, 26.
Also arrested were Charlene Martin, 42; Marie Dean, 52; Connie Crawley, 46; Courtney Comer, 24; Cassandra Simmons, 41; Antorien Simmons, 23; Nathaniel Simmons, 22; Brandon Thompson, 28; Mark Cross, 34; Larry Dasher, 36; and Quentin Floyd, 21.
Others are Alfred Lee, 34; Alexis Brown, 30; Shantey Atwater, 31; Madrice Thomas, 27; Patrick Walker, 17; Melancile Guillaru, 21; Germaine Anderson, 22; Janahris Anderson, 24; and Emmanuel Hill, 29.