For years, a close-knit crew of young men on the North Side ran a wildly sucess­ful, and highly il­le­gal, small busi­ness. The Big Money Ad­dicts tore across town in stolen cars and raked in up tp $28,000 a day dis­pens­ing heroin to ad­dicts, for­ever chang­ing t

Milwaukee Magazine - - Content - By Matt Hrodey

Greed and a reck­less spirit led a gang of four to en­gi­neer a new style of drug deal­ing, one that will carry on long af­ter they’ve been sen­tenced to prison.

The plan was metic­u­lous, if un­re­mark­able in the wider field of un­der­cover nar­cotics in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Two plain­clothes Mil­wau­kee Po­lice De­part­ment of­fi­cers would ride down in an un­der­cover car with an in­for­mant who, while wear­ing a record­ing de­vice, would pur­chase a gram of heroin, a “G,” from mem­bers of Big Money Ad­dicts, a four-mem­ber gang that rolled around town in stolen cars with darkly tinted win­dows, car­ry­ing Uzi-like hand­guns with ex­tended mag­a­zines (“ex­ten­dos”) in their laps. The cops would search the in­for­mant be­fore and af­ter the buy (to fore­stall any chance of the per­son plant­ing ev­i­dence) and mon­i­tor the hand-to-hand sale the best they could, while two de­tec­tives in an­other unmarked car fol­lowed be­hind.

Speed­ing down the highway, the in­for­mant put the plan into ac­tion by di­al­ing the BMA hot­line, a num­ber it dis­trib­uted on busi­ness cards ad­ver­tis­ing “24 hour” tow­ing and auto ser­vices, and placed the phone on speak­er­phone. In May of 2015, this was for many ad­dicts in Mil­wau­kee the eas­i­est way to buy heroin – eas­ier in some ways than hail­ing an Uber or go­ing through the drive-thru at McDon­ald’s.

A man an­swered the phone. “Where you at?” he said. It sounded like Rashawn Smith, BMA’s hand­some old­est mem­ber, a thin, per­son­able man with fine fea­tures. He was the clos­est thing the loosely struc­tured gang, which op­er­ated as the four mus­ke­teers – all for one and one for all – had to a leader.

“Shit, I’m mo­bile,” said the in­for­mant. “Where do you want me to go?”

“Get off on …”


“Get off on Keefe.”

Keefe Av­enue was home turf for then24-year-old Rashawn, who had first started sell­ing drugs there as a teenager, and as of May 2015, the roads sur­round­ing the street’s In­ter­state 43 exit re­mained a ver­i­ta­ble round­about of drug deal­ing and pros­ti­tu­tion. As the un­der­cover car drew closer, the in­for­mant made an­other call to the BMA hot­line and or­dered a “G,” and Rashawn said to meet on 11th Street, just south of Keefe, in what turned out to be a quiet back­wa­ter.

The af­ter­noon had been muggy and driz­zly, and the un­der­cover car rolled down a long, tree-lined hill past a num­ber of stark du­plexes and va­cant lots that stood out like miss­ing teeth. The un­der­cover car pulled to the side and waited, and a blue Volkswagen sedan rolled up with murky, tinted win­dows, the hall­mark of the BMA, known within MPD as part of the “Tint Crew” net­work.

The driver, a woman wear­ing a pink and pur­ple track jacket, honked, and the in­for­mant got out and talked to Rashawn, who was wear­ing a white “wife beater” tank top and sit­ting on the pas­sen­ger side. He said to fol­low them, and the sedan con­tin­ued a short dis­tance to a brown and tan house with a re­in­forced screen door, where an older man was wait­ing out on the side­walk. The cops parked in front of the sedan, leav­ing the rear to the de­tec­tives.

The older man walked up to the Volkswagen and leaned over to chat with Rashawn, or “Ra Ra,” who had a ban­dage on the back of his shoul­der and a sil­ver hand­gun draped across his lap, turned as if for a left-handed shooter. Be­hind him in the shad­ows of the back seat was Kyawn Lewis, 22, some­times called “Ra Ra’s lit­tle brother” be­cause Lewis was a cou­ple years younger (the two share a birth­day on July 30) and the older gang­ster’s in­evitable side­kick. Lewis was wear­ing a hooded sweat­shirt and stylish jeans with a multi-col­ored pat­tern.

The in­for­mant am­bled up to the klatch that had formed – know­ing the calm could break at any mo­ment, and BMA could start shooting – and handed Rashawn $140 in cash, which he laid on his lap next to the gun. Kyawn and Rashawn set to weigh­ing out just shy of a gram of heroin us­ing a small dig­i­tal scale dis­guised as a CD case, and at one point, Rashawn sent the faux jewel case back to Kyawn for more off-white pow­der. (He was no­to­ri­ous for short­ing cus­tomers.) BMA sold so much heroin that its mem­bers of­ten ne­glected to pack­age, or in­di­vid­u­ally wrap, por­tions for sale in plas­tic or tin foil, in­stead dump­ing the drug di­rectly into users’ hands. Rashawn and Kyawn wanted to do that now, but the in­for­mant asked for a wrap­per or some­thing, and the older man from the house pulled a piece of plas­tic off a cig­a­rette pack.

The in­for­mant tried to chat up Rashawn. “Where you been?” he said, and Rashawn an­swered vaguely that he was go­ing through some things. He didn’t want to talk about the ban­dage, which was re­lated to a shooting.

BMA went on their way, the cops theirs. Mi­nus the pack­ag­ing, the heroin weighed a bit short, 0.82 grams, enough for a user to get high sev­eral times, de­pend­ing on pu­rity, and, for most peo­ple, prob­a­bly enough to over­dose.

Right then, in the spring of 2015, BMA was at the heart of the sprawl­ing “Tint Crew” in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Mil­wau­kee po­lice, which even­tu­ally led to the ar­rest of 15 loosely con­nected gang­sters. While BMA, by its own de­sign, had a closed membership of four, it had ei­ther di­rectly in­spired or evolved along­side a num­ber of sim­i­lar drug deal­ers, such as Breion Wood­son – a copy­cat who was sen­tenced to 19 years in prison on co­caine and gun charges – with more con­vic­tions to come. Be­gin­ning in early 2015, MPD or­ga­nized a spe­cial task force to bust armed drug deal­ers who, like BMA, tinted their win­dows and ex­ploited the de­part­ment’s ban on high-speed chases (in most cir­cum­stances), still in force from Chief Ed Flynn’s en­act­ment in 2010 af­ter flee­ing ve­hi­cles struck and killed a total of four pedes­tri­ans. The no-chase pol­icy al­lowed BMA and other loosely af­fil­i­ated gang­sters to op­er­ate with a cer­tain im­punity

and speed away from at­tempts to pull them over – or, to fol­low Rashawn’s play­book, af­ter wait­ing for the cop to stop and get out. He and Kyawn and David Har­ris (“Fifty”) and Er­rion Green-Brown would drive off in this man­ner, surg­ing with adren­a­line and feel­ing in­vin­ci­ble.

This an­tag­o­nized MPD and other area po­lice de­part­ments to no end, and a hand­ful of vet­eran of­fi­cers signed on to re­spond, with the un­der­stand­ing that they’d still be re­spon­si­ble for their reg­u­lar du­ties. The deep­est well of knowl­edge on the Tint guys and BMA in par­tic­u­lar rested with Dean Newport, an Ir­ish cop with 20 years on the force who tended to keep a short goa­tee and had a long his­tory on Mil­wau­kee streets. He’d been fol­low­ing Rashawn since well be­fore 2015, and when some­one close to the gang wound up in court, he’d of­ten be there to tes­tify or help the pros­e­cu­tor. The cases fre­quently fell to As­sis­tant District At­tor­ney Laura Criv­ello, who, in mak­ing ar­gu­ments, sum­mons an ev­ery­day per­son’s dis­gust and im­pa­tience with drug deal­ing and crime.

While the in­ves­ti­ga­tion grew deep and wide, Criv­ello ze­roed in on BMA and used rarely re­lied-upon state-level rack­e­teer­ing charges (which re­fer, tech­ni­cally, to a “racket,” or dis­hon­est busi­ness that cre­ates its own de­mand) to en­tan­gle the four in a pros­e­cu­to­rial web au­thor­i­ties feel will be nearly im­pos­si­ble to wrig­gle out of. The gang, the clique – the terms don’t ap­ply as neatly as they used to – was busi­nesslike, a ma­chine for vacuuming up money from lo­cal drug users about as quickly as pos­si­ble us­ing spe­cially out­fit­ted stolen cars and SUVs they hoped would make them im­pos­si­ble to track and iden­tify. When the crew grad­u­ated from dis­pens­ing heroin to car­ry­ing out shoot­ings and am­bushes in re­sponse to per­ceived beefs, the rack­e­teer­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion kicked into high gear, and the ham­mer came down. The com­plex case is sched­uled to cli­max this fall and win­ter with jury tri­als and sen­tenc­ings, and many cops are slated to tes­tify, in­clud­ing up to 4 per­cent of MPD’s ranks.

BMA could be the poster gang for the smaller, nim­bler out­fits that now pre­dom­i­nate across the broader Mid­west, where the “buy lo­cal” ethos seems to have seeped even into drug deal­ing and gun run­ning. Once-pow­er­ful Chicago-area or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Vice Lords and Gang­ster Dis­ci­ples, which for­merly held great in­flu­ence in Mil­wau­kee, no longer hold the same sway. “In some places, the old gangs are com­pletely gone,” says John Hage­dorn, a pro­fes­sor of crim­i­nol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Chicago who ran a gang di­ver­sion pro­gram in Mil­wau­kee in the 1980s. “And in oth­ers, they’re iso­lated in small neigh­bor­hoods.” As with BMA, “gang” as­so­ci­a­tions are more in­for­mal and could be driven by friend­ship, ge­og­ra­phy, in­ter­ac­tions over so­cial me­dia or even sim­i­lar in­ter­ests in mu­sic. “It seems like quite of­ten in Mil­wau­kee th­ese crews change up based on where they’re re­sid­ing,” said Criv­ello, the pros­e­cu­tor, at Breion Wood­son’s sen­tenc­ing.

Hage­dorn re­leased a land­mark re­port on the Mil­wau­kee drug trade in 1998 that used anony­mous, cen­sus-like sur­veys of deal­ers in two sam­ple neigh­bor­hoods on the North and South Sides, both of which were bustling with drug sales. In each, he learned that about 10 per­cent of the young black or His­panic men, ages 18-29, re­ceived some de­gree of in­come from the drug busi­ness, whether as street run­ners, more wealthy deal­ers or look­outs. Just like le­git­i­mate small busi­nesses, many drug out­fits em­ployed only a hand­ful of peo­ple and fre­quently went out of busi­ness – the av­er­age dealer didn’t make that much money, and many worked ad­di­tional part-time or full-time jobs to make ends meet. Some sold co­caine or heroin for a few days at the be­gin­ning of each month, when pub­lic as­sis­tance dol­lars flowed into peo­ple’s ac­counts and rev­enue was greater. Crime paid, though in most cases not very well.

Still, for Rashawn and his mus­ke­teers, BMA grew to hold a cer­tain per­ma­nency.

Rashawn had a spe­cial BMA tat­too of a sy­ringe in­ject­ing into a stack of cash on the in­side of his left arm, and Kyawn had some­thing sim­i­lar on the in­side of his wrist. David Har­ris’ tat­too de­picted cash rolled up in­side a sy­ringe, as if the money it­self were the drug, and Er­rion Green-Brown had tat­toos but not one ded­i­cated to BMA.

They all be­came no­to­ri­ous, break­ing the num­ber one rule of drug deal­ing:

Don’t be­come no­to­ri­ous. For most deal­ers, anonymity is the one re­li­able pro­tec­tion against law en­force­ment. At any given time in Mil­wau­kee, there are hun­dreds of deal­ers op­er­at­ing in and out of the shad­ows, be­hind well-main­tained homes or out of worn-out cars. Deal­ers who stand out of­ten get busted, and those who sell di­rectly to users, as BMA did, make pros­e­cu­tion eas­ier as they don’t em­ploy run­ners or mid-level in­ter­me­di­aries to mask their iden­ti­ties from drug pur­chasers and pos­si­ble in­for­mants. Hav­ing es­tab­lished it­self as a 24-hour de­liv­ery ser­vice for heroin, BMA had no time for for­mal­i­ties, only money. Rashawn had a long his­tory of us­ing the mus­ke­teer’s creed – all for one and one for all – to pull to­gether groups of bored and pli­able young men. When he was 17 and a stu­dent at the Maa­sai In­sti­tute, a then-new char­ter high school on the North Side, he told fel­low stu­dents, and bud­dies, Do­minique and Em­mett that he was go­ing to beat some­one up af­ter class, as he needed some “quick money.” The school was housed in an old red brick Catholic school on North 39th Street that con­tained a half-dozen class­rooms, and there was a wide park­ing lot that served as a black­top play­ground.

The three boys walked next to it as they were leav­ing school on Feb. 18, 2008, and it had been blow­ing steadily, and snow­ing in­ter­mit­tently, all day.

Sec­onds ear­lier, a man named Kevin had walked out of the for­mer con­vent ad­join­ing the Maa­sai In­sti­tute, a shorter red brick build­ing where a con­crete statue of Mary stood watch. The nuns had been re­placed by men and women with HIV, as the build­ing was now op­er­ated by the AIDS Re­source Cen­ter of Wis­con­sin as tran­si­tional hous­ing, and Kevin had set out to catch a bus at the in­ter­sec­tion of Hamp­ton Av­enue and Hop­kins Street, about a block away, which re­quired go­ing past the front doors of the high school next door.

As he walked, a voice called out from a group of three young men, stand­ing near some bushes: “Fag­got!”

To Rashawn, Kevin was just a warm body, the first he’d seen since walk­ing out of school, and he chased af­ter him and punched him in the head, knock­ing him onto the ground. The boys piled in, jab­bing and kick­ing the downed fig­ure. “Give me your wal­let!” one of them yelled, but Kevin held tight to the pocket con­tain­ing it.

In the chaos that fol­lowed, he hooked an arm around Rashawn’s leg. “Let go!” Rashawn said, and Kevin screamed for help.

The three would-be rob­bers ran off, and Kevin limped back to the nun­nery, where some of the other res­i­dents banded to­gether to walk with him to the bus stop. When they got there, Kevin looked out across the busy in­ter­sec­tion and saw the high school boys loi­ter­ing out­side a gas sta­tion as if not know­ing what to do next. One of the other res­i­dents flagged down a po­lice car, and of­fi­cers col­lared all three of the boys. When they ques­tioned Rashawn, he ex­plained that he’d been bored. The ul­ti­mate plan was to split the money three ways, to work as a team.

Sen­tenced as an adult, Rashawn re­ceived a six months stint at the lo­cal House of Cor­rec­tion, with work-re­lease time to go to school. By this junc­ture, he was al­ready sell­ing small “nickel bags” of mar­i­juana on the side, but he wouldn’t progress to deal­ing heroin un­til age 19, by his own ac­count, with his first turf be­ing in the vicin­ity of Fourth Street and Keefe Av­enue, as tough an area as any. He com­pleted high school but ap­pears to have fo­cused on drug deal­ing in the years af­ter and palled around with Kyawn, with whom he formed BMA in the sum­mer of 2014, along with David and Er­rion, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors.

Kyawn had looked for a job af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school but had a hard time find­ing one and, like Rashawn, started sell­ing heroin. Kyawn’s first sig­nif­i­cant bust came in 2011, when he was caught with about three-quar­ters of a gram of the drug prepack­aged, while rid­ing in a friend’s car with no tail­lights – a les­son to look af­ter what­ever ve­hi­cle you’re us­ing to trans­port an il­le­gal sub­stance.

His mom, La­to­ria Hull, wrote a let­ter to the court plead­ing that her son be sent to a drug treat­ment cen­ter so he could see first­hand the ef­fects sub­stances have on the peo­ple who use them, peo­ple like his cus­tomers. She ex­plains that Kyawn was an ath­lete who “had dreams of be­com­ing a pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball player, be­ing a coach or a ref­eree,” and if that didn’t work out, “He also had a backup plan, be­ing a foren­sic sci­en­tist or a lawyer.”

She’d wanted him to go out of state for col­lege, to avoid bad in­flu­ences in Mil­wau­kee, in­stead of look­ing for a job here. Very re­cently, he’d ap­plied to the Job Corps skills-train­ing pro­gram in Mil­wau­kee and been ac­cepted to San­ford-Brown Col­lege, part of the na­tional chain of now-closed for-profit col­leges, to study busi­ness man­age­ment.

News of MPD’s new pur­suit pol­icy, in­sti­tuted in 2010, fil­tered into BMA’s cir­cles grad­u­ally. The four had heard a ru­mor that the cops wouldn’t chase you if you fled, and some­one came up with the idea of test­ing the the­ory.

It worked, and the knowl­edge set in mo­tion a new modus operandi, the “rov­ing drug house” as the Jour­nal Sen­tinel would later call it. The four thought they could op­er­ate in near-se­crecy, given how they’d trans­formed

their ve­hi­cles into black boxes that re­vealed lit­tle to no in­for­ma­tion: BMA ex­clu­sively drove stolen cars equipped with stolen (or faked) plates and heav­ily tinted win­dows they got done at an auto shop on North Av­enue called God­fa­ther Elec­tron­ics and Wheels, where a faded ex­te­rior sign says “Ware­house Elec­tron­ics.” The tall, cream-col­ored build­ing next to the North Side YMCA ser­vices a steady pro­ces­sion of cars, in­stalling car stereos, se­cu­rity alarms and ex­pen­sive wheel rims.

Each stolen car cost a small amount of cash, some­thing like $500, and came from one of a va­ri­ety of sources. One group of pro­fes­sional car thieves would call Rashawn to ad­ver­tise its in­ven­tory, or he would call to check in with them. Once BMA re­ceived a car, it would fix the brakes, check the flu­ids, and per­form what­ever main­te­nance nec­es­sary to make sure noth­ing could ei­ther prompt a traf­fic stop or mal­func­tion while flee­ing po­lice.

The mem­bers of BMA worked hard. Rashawn’s phone would light up more than 100 times a day with peo­ple want­ing to buy heroin (about ev­ery 14 min­utes, not count­ing sleep), and he would de­liver to about 50 of those call­ers. He some­times slept in the car he was us­ing and of­ten didn’t bother to di­lute the heroin he sold with Dormin, an over-the-counter sleep aid. Ac­cord­ing to GPS track­ing by po­lice, he some­times drove up to 400 miles a day, ap­prox­i­mately the one-way dis­tance to Cincin­nati. In May 2014, two Mil­wau­kee po­lice of­fi­cers on pa­trol hap­pened across a group of young men stand­ing around a dusty, green Chrysler 300M car parked a few inches too far from the curb on North 30th Street. As the squad rolled by, the men made sud­den, furtive move­ments of the type po­lice are trained to no­tice, as if drop­ping ob­jects at their feet and un­der the car, where the cops soon found a small col­lec­tion of bag­gies con­tain­ing crack co­caine, Oxy­con­tin pills and mar­i­juana, and a small, loaded hand­gun un­der the front pas­sen­ger seat, sim­i­lar to a Satur­day night spe­cial.

One of the men was David Har­ris, who at first played it cool and sat down on the Chrysler’s hood with his back to the po­lice. Be­fore of­fi­cers took him to jail on mi­nor charges, they searched his pock­ets and found $450 in cash and three cell phones.

Most im­por­tantly, this mini-bust hap­pened out­side 3132 N. 30th St., an ad­dress that would prove piv­otal to un­rav­el­ling BMA. A dumpy brown and gray sin­gle-fam­ily home next to a large va­cant lot, it was the clos­est thing the gang ever had to a cen­tral stash house for money and drugs. Rashawn had pre­vi­ously lived in a house, now de­mol­ished, a block north, and the gen­eral area was a hot one circa 2014. That year, po­lice in­ves­ti­gated 10 homi­cides within an eight-block ra­dius of the stash house.

The gang didn’t own the house on 30th St., nor were they on the lease (that was a woman who seemed to stay out of their hair), so as­so­ci­at­ing it with Har­ris was valu­able intel. How­ever, it’s un­clear how quickly MPD made the con­nec­tion and pegged it to a key part of the ris­ing “Tint Crew.”

In mid-June, the boys of BMA threw a rau­cous party at the stash house, where they flashed guns and rev­eled in their sta­tus as neigh­bor­hood cow­boys, ap­par­ently not wor­ried that un­in­vited guests had turned up and spilled out onto the yard. No­body in the neigh­bor­hood called po­lice, ac­cord­ing to call records – they showed up on their own, find­ing a scene of about 25 partiers in the front yard, in­clud­ing a man who was wav­ing an air­soft gun around and com­plain­ing about four guys in­side the house bran­dish­ing real guns. The scene be­hind the house was more in­ter­est­ing, where cops found a dis­carded din­ner plate piled with co­caine and stuffed in a bag, along with a plas­tic SpongeBob con­tainer (la­beled “Joy Ride”) that con­tained chunks of heroin in a bag­gie.

The BMA mem­bers had beaten a hasty re­treat and were nowhere to be found, al­though MPD tech­ni­cians found fin­ger­prints from Kyawn and David on the co­caine plate. Dean Newport, the po­lice of­fi­cer, also turned up at the house that day, ac­cord­ing to later tes­ti­mony, and gath­ered in­for­ma­tion that has been used in the rack­e­teer­ing case. Pros­e­cu­tors didn’t charge BMA with pos­ses­sion of the above heroin un­til much later, when law en­force­ment was more in­tent on keep­ing them be­hind bars.

For now, the four were largely left to their own de­vices, but the stash house bust had created a se­ri­ous prob­lem. Their sup­plier, a man named Robert Spencer who of­ten sold them large quan­ti­ties of heroin on con­sign­ment (mean­ing they paid him af­ter sell­ing it to users), thought they were ly­ing about the po­lice tak­ing the heroin and wanted the full $8,000 due to him and not the $3,000 Rashawn had pro­vided. Nor­mally $8,000 was no sweat, as BMA could gen­er­ate up to $28,000 a day, split evenly within the group, but Rashawn just didn’t think they owed the ex­tra $5,000.

In Septem­ber, Spencer came across the up­start gang­ster on the North Side, in an open street, and the then-35-year-old hard­ened ex-con emp­tied Rashawn’s pock­ets, pointed a gun at his side and said, “Come with me. You’re go­ing to die.”

A lo­cal rap­per known as Tay Gutta (real name Tavion Mil­ams) was there with Spencer, and af­ter a strug­gle, Spencer’s gun went off and hit Mil­ams by ac­ci­dent, killing him. Rashawn got away, and Spencer was later sen­tenced to 28 years in prison, hav­ing never got­ten his $5,000.

The win­ter of 2014 passed in rel­a­tive quiet for BMA. By now, both Rashawn and Kyawn had fa­thered young chil­dren with their girl­friends: Rashawn’s daugh­ter had been born the pre­vi­ous sum­mer, and Kyawn’s lit­tle boy was go­ing on three years old. In Fe­bru­ary of 2015, MPD be­gan to make a more con­certed ef­fort to

Crim­i­nol­o­gist John Hage­dorn ar­gues that drug deal­ing can be seen in part as an en­tre­pre­neur­ial re­ac­tion to a lack of other op­por­tu­ni­ties.

in­ves­ti­gate the gang, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, and BMA un­der­went its own shift. Come spring, the gang be­gan to branch out into se­ri­ous acts of vi­o­lence, start­ing with David’s plan to go af­ter a man named Trevon Har­ris, who he claimed had been in­volved in shooting up a house and graz­ing the scalp of David’s lit­tle sis­ter. Driv­ing a stolen sil­ver Nis­san, Rashawn hap­pened upon Trevon, who was driv­ing a white car, on busy Teu­to­nia Av­enue, and the BMA leader called in the hit squad, which amounted to David in a hot Subaru SUV with Kyawn rid­ing shot­gun. The two BMA ve­hi­cles con­verged on Trevon at an­other in­ter­sec­tion on the North Side, clos­ing in on him like pin­cers, and David popped open the driver’s door and un­loaded with a black hand­gun, shooting him three times.

From what BMA knew, Trevon was prob­a­bly dead. Af­ter re­group­ing at a spot down the road, David and Rashawn took the SUV to a quiet res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood, doused it with gas from a gas can and sparked it off.

Mean­while, blood was pour­ing out of Trevon – but he was very much alive, as the other per­son rid­ing in the car with him rushed them to St. Joseph’s Hospi­tal. Trevon was ul­ti­mately par­a­lyzed from the neck down and gave a state­ment to de­tec­tives but could only iden­tify Rashawn, who he said had used the stolen Nis­san to box him in. The case pro­gressed slowly.

At the be­gin­ning of May, BMA pooled their money, $21,000, and bought 300 grams of heroin in three sand­wich bags from a sup­plier, enough to keep them in busi­ness for awhile, re­cent mis­ad­ven­tures be damned. Rashawn spent money else­where as well, at Bouchard’s cloth­ing and shoe shore on North Martin Luther King Drive, where some­one shot at him while he was shop­ping, he later told po­lice.

Rashawn and Kyawn made no ef­fort to steer the gang away from vi­o­lence and back onto undis­tracted mon­ey­mak­ing. Kyawn had his own score to set­tle, from a dis­pute dat­ing back sev­eral years.

In 2011, he and a friend stole two 42-inch TVs from a house near Wash­ing­ton Park, and the MPD de­tec­tive who lived across the street caught the whole-break-in on tape. The cop then dropped his video cam­era and chased the men down the back al­ley, where they aban­doned the TVs.

Po­lice used fin­ger­prints from the flatscreens to iden­tify Kyawn Lewis, then

19. The owner’s son, Dionte Paige (who knew Kyawn) sec­onded the con­fir­ma­tion via the de­tec­tive’s video. Kyawn was sen­tencecd to a year in the House of Cor­rec­tion, plus a long pe­riod of pro­ba­tion that fi­nally ended in early 2015.

By the time Dionte and Kyawn en­coun­tered each other at the now-shut­tered Mango’s night club on the North Side, in mid-May, they had al­ready crossed paths sev­eral times. But some­thing was dif­fer­ent on this oc­ca­sion, and when Paige left the club to pick up a young woman in his car, he was in­volved in a hit-and-run ac­ci­dent at 12th and Wal­nut streets, in a poorly un­der­stood set of cir­cum­stances. Af­ter­ward, he took his car to the red-striped Lo­cust Quik Mart at Lo­cust Street and Teu­to­nia Av­enue, and as he went in­side to buy some snacks, he no­ticed a gold Ford Mal­ibu pull up out­side with three guys in it.

He called the woman on her cell phone and told her to lock the doors.

The Lo­cust Quik Mart is small and filled with brightly col­ored drinks in cool­ers and rows of boxes of chips, and there’s only one way in or out. Paige car­ried some food to the front counter and was stand­ing over by the cool­ers when Kyawn walked in, trailed by an­other man, be­lieved by po­lice to be David. Kyawn got up in Paige’s face, shoved him and said, “Watch it bro” while grab­bing at his pants pocket as if to check for a gun.

Paige swung at Kyawn and missed and ran out of the store, where, ac­cord­ing to po­lice, Rashawn stood up from the front pas­sen­ger side of the Mal­ibu and opened fire on Paige, only clip­ping him on the hip, de­spite shooting at a range of about three

feet. On the sur­veil­lance video, Kyawn is seen stum­bling as he runs out the door af­ter the in­tended vic­tim, who dives into his car, but the BMA car speeds off first. In court, Newport de­scribed the op­er­a­tion as “a cal­cu­lated fo­cal move­ment to­gether like an am­bush … Ev­ery­body had a role in this.”

Paige co­op­er­ated with po­lice at first, and there was se­cu­rity cam­era footage iden­ti­fy­ing Kyawn as he came run­ning out of the store, but a lit­tle un­der two weeks went by be­fore po­lice ar­rested him and Rashawn. In the mean­time, po­lice or­ches­trated mul­ti­ple “con­trolled buys” with the BMA men, in­clud­ing the one de­scribed at the be­gin­ning of this ar­ti­cle – drug pur­chases us­ing in­for­mants wired with record­ing de­vices. MPD wanted a big, durable drug case, and this was a re­lied-upon way to ex­pand it.

With the rack­e­teer­ing case more or less com­plete, of­fi­cers moved to ar­rest Rashawn and Kyawn on May 27, D-Day for BMA, us­ing the at­tempted homi­cide charges from the Dionte Paige shooting. They found Rashawn at his apart­ment on the far North Side, along with more guns and drugs.

Kyawn didn’t go will­ingly – he tried to jump out of a sec­ond-story win­dow at the apart­ment build­ing where he was stay­ing on the North­west Side and got stuck. The open­ing was too nar­row.

In the apart­ment, po­lice found his girl­friend and young son sit­ting on an air mat­tress, plus some heroin on a dresser, a di­a­mond-en­crusted watch, jew­elry store re­ceipts to­tal­ing $1,500, $3,620 in cash, a pair of di­a­mond-stud­ded Cartier brand sun­glasses, and a yellow folder, la­beled “BMA,” that held “two sheets of an at­tempt at rap mu­sic.” Both Rashawn and Kyawn’s living sit­u­a­tions had sur­pris­ingly lit­tle to show for the large amounts of cash their hands touched, be­yond the oc­ca­sional jew­elry or now-deleted Instagram pho­tos of Kyawn fan­ning out money while par­ty­ing. He or his girl­friend had also saved hard copies of sim­i­lar pic­tures of him fan­ning out cash, which seemed to be as much the point as spend­ing it on worldly pos­ses­sions.

While Rashawn was in jail, Newport in­ter­viewed him in short bursts across three days, get­ting as much out of him as pos­si­ble. Later, Paige stopped co­op­er­at­ing in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and the at­tempted homi­cide case was dis­missed. Nei­ther Rashawn nor Kyawn went free, how­ever, be­cause of pos­ses­sion charges left over from the long-ago raid of the 30th Street stash house. For what­ever rea­son, pros­e­cu­tors took awhile in fil­ing it, and a large jail bond set by the court cov­ered the gap un­til the rack­e­teer­ing case of­fi­cially hit the court sys­tem in De­cem­ber 2015. Po­lice also used the pos­ses­sion case to lock up David and the rack­e­teer­ing one to jail Er­rion.

In early 2016, some­thing un­ex­pected hap­pened: Trevon Har­ris died, and the Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner’s Of­fice ruled it the months-late re­sult of the shooting. Trevon had had a phrenic nerve stim­u­la­tor in­stalled, a ma­chine some­times used to aid quadriplegics in breath­ing, and it had mal­func­tioned, killing him. The Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner’s of­fice had found a bul­let still lodged in the lower part of his skull.

In a mood to co­op­er­ate, Rashawn gave a full state­ment to MPD on the Trevon shooting and how it went down, con­tra­dict­ing only Trevon’s in­sis­tence that Rashawn had boxed him in. Kyawn also tes­ti­fied against David, who went to trial for the shooting, but with a trail of ev­i­dence that led right through the two for­mer ac­com­plices’ cred­i­bil­ity, he was ac­quit­ted.

As of sum­mer 2017, all four BMA mem­bers were still in jail in Mil­wau­kee, and the rack­e­teer­ing case had ex­tracted guilty pleas from Rashawn and Kyawn, both now co­op­er­at­ing with pros­e­cu­tors. Co-de­fen­dants David and Er­rion Green-Brown have jury tri­als slated for Fe­bru­ary, as of press time, and pros­e­cu­tors have nearly bul­let­proofed (whether lit­er­ally or fig­u­ra­tively) the wit­ness list filed in Har­ris’ case, which re­lies heav­ily on po­lice of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing about 60 from Mil­wau­kee and a dozen from other agen­cies.

All four men are still in their mid-20s and fac­ing long prison sen­tences, af­ter which they’ll likely reemerge as some­thing closer to mid­dle-aged men. “Gang mem­bers are kids when they start off,” says John Hage­dorn, the crim­i­nol­o­gist, who ar­gues that drug deal­ing can be seen in part as an en­tre­pre­neur­ial re­ac­tion to a lack of other op­por­tu­ni­ties, and one that’s be­come more chaotic in the void left by the old gangs. “We’re in a re­ally in­tense pe­riod of change.”

Sources on all sides of the BMA case de­clined mul­ti­ple re­quests to com­ment for this story – which was pri­mar­ily re­ported through po­lice and court records – al­though MPD spokesman Ti­mothy Gauerke de­fended the de­part­ment’s pur­suit pol­icy as “sim­i­lar to that of other po­lice de­part­ments in sim­i­lar sized cities.” Shortly af­ter his com­ments, the Mil­wau­kee Fire and Po­lice Com­mis­sion or­dered the de­part­ment to al­ter the pol­icy, al­ready a 17-page doc­u­ment, to al­low chases of “high value” tar­gets rang­ing from drug deal­ers to re­peat high-speed of­fend­ers. Thir­teen out of 15 Com­mon Coun­cil mem­bers had protested the pur­suit pol­icy, which they blamed for a rise in hi­tand-run deaths – the same prob­lem Flynn had orig­i­nally hoped to solve.

In April, David Har­ris was re­leased from jail, fol­low­ing his ac­quit­tal in the Trevon Har­ris case, but he soon landed back be­hind bars af­ter test­ing pos­i­tive for the opi­ate oxy­codone. Dur­ing a court hear­ing that touched on the failed drug test, he charged his pub­lic de­fender, Mil­wau­kee lawyer Richard Hart, as he was be­ing buzzed into the locked part of the court­room, and sent him fly­ing side­ways. Newport stormed up be­hind and tack­led Har­ris in the aisle as about a dozen peo­ple looked on from the gallery. “Pub­lic pre­tender!” Har­ris yelled at Hart. “Punk ass de­fender bitch!”

Har­ris now faces new bail-jump­ing charges but con­tends the whole sit­u­a­tion was “blown out of pro­por­tion,” and he wasn’t try­ing to flee. He was just pissed at his lawyer, who shortly there­after with­drew from the case.

If David’s trial goes for­ward, it will be mon­u­men­tal, and both Rashawn and

Kyawn have promised to tes­tify against him and drive two more nails into BMA’s cof­fin. The group’s trust may be bro­ken, but its way of op­er­at­ing has pushed drug deal­ing fur­ther out into the street, into the pub­lic square and out of the shad­ows. Matt Hrodey is a se­nior editor at Mil­wau­kee Mag­a­zine. Write to him at

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