Feds sentence robbery crew members to decades in prison

ATLANTA -- Three members of a vicious outfit called the Cartier robbery crew were sentenced in federal court Thursday to decades in prison for crimes in Gwinnett that included two murders, drug trafficking, public shootouts and torture.

Federal authorities said the gang has ties to the Dominican Republic and that eight codefendants are awaiting sentencing. They had migrated to Georgia in 2008 and 2009 from Rhode Island, New York and North Carolina with a sole purpose: to commit robberies.

The case has shed new light on a shootout that rocked a quiet Duluth neighborhood in 2009.

Earlier this year, a jury convicted Jose Reyes, 39, Albert Espinal, 33, and Johann Brito, 32, all of Lawrenceville, on charges of conspiracy to commit armed robberies, armed robbery, drug trafficking and using a firearm.

U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said the crew's activity included significant drug trafficking, spread throughout other parts of the country. Espinal received the harshest sentence with 70 years. Brito was sentenced to 40 years and Reyes to 31. There is no parole in the federal system.

In the May 2009 shootout, Espinal, Brito and other members kicked down the door of a drug house in Duluth, tied up the home's caretaker and then tied up and shot three other drug customers who later delivered cocaine to the house.

Two out-of-state drug customers were confronted by Reyes, Espinal, Brito and others outside; neighbors reported hearing up to 20 shots fired. The customers fled in a Saturn.

A 34-year-old man from Jacksonsville, N.C. was later found dead in the car in the parking lot of Gwinnett Place Mall. His counterpart was arrested a short time later.

A month earlier, Espinal, Brito and two coconspirators broke into another drug house. They proceeded to tie up and torture a victim by cutting off a portion of his ear, pouring hot sauce in his eyes, dunking his head in a bathtub and pistol-whipping him in an attempt to learn the location of hidden drugs. Then they tried to ransom the victim in exchange for 20 kilograms of cocaine.

But that exchange never went through.

The robbers and the would-be 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.

Yates said two other defendants, Roberto Rosario and Jean Carlos Ramos, are fugitives.