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Indictment: Duo didn't act alone in robberies targeting Asian restaurants

Darnell Rice

Darnell Rice

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Felix Pierson

LAWRENCEVILLE — Two men tied to more than a dozen robberies targeting owners of local Asian restaurants are now facing racketeering charges — and may not have acted alone.

A Gwinnett County grand jury indicted this week Darnell Lanariss Rice and Felix Don Pierson, charging the former with 17 criminal counts and the latter with 15. Both men were indicted on two counts of violating the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, as well as various incarnations of robbery, armed robbery, burglary and aggravated assault.

Original reports held that Rice, 39, and Pierson, 40, were responsible for eight Gwinnett crimes and others in Cobb County, as well as orchestrating one attempt that ultimately got them detained in Orange County, Fla. New documents released this week, though, alleged that the duo had its hands in 12 robberies, a burglary and one attempted robbery in Gwinnett between May and September of last year.

Crimes also occurred in Douglas County.

“Over an extended period of time,” the indictment said, “the accused engaged in numerous acts of racketeering for the purpose of obtaining money in the form of business proceeds by placing under surveillance and targeting proprietors of Asian cuisine restaurants who were believed to be in possession of large sums of United States currency.”

Alleged victims — all females — included owners and other representatives from restaurants across the county, in Dacula, Duluth, Lawrenceville, Lilburn, Norcross and Snellville. A Gwinnett County police spokesman previously said Rice and Pierson would conduct in-depth surveillance of the women before choosing a night to wait for them to return home with the night’s haul.

They would then use physical force or a handgun to take the victim’s purse, police said. Tens of thousands of dollars are believed to have been stolen.

According to Wednesday’s indictments, Rice and Pierson, both from Stone Mountain, may not be the sole suspects in the sprawling case.

“A robbing crew consisting of the accused and others whose identities remain unknown to law enforcement and the grand jury,” the indictment said, “knowingly and willfully participated in the planning and execution of separate and distinct criminal offenses … The acts of racketeering engaged in by the accused were not isolated incidents, but formed a pattern of racketeering activity motivated by, and the effect of which was, (monetary) gain.”

After being arrested by undercover officers in Florida, Pierson and Rice were detained and eventually extradited. Online records show Pierson was booked into the Gwinnett County jail on Oct. 11. Rice joined him in Gwinnett on Dec. 6.