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As the opioid epidemic was spiking in Manatee County in 2015-16, a gang of local drug dealers was grabbing territory for their enterprise, protecting it with armed patrols and when needed, according to an indictment handed up last month, resorting even to murder.
Eleventh Street East in Bradenton was their turf, and dealing heroin and cocaine was their business, according to investigators.
Jordan “Big Man” Rodriguez, 24, the group’s leader according to the indictment, and six other men were charged in the indictment with racketeering, drug trafficking and the slaying of six people in 2016 and 2017. Jordan Rodriguez, Andrew “Nico” Thompson, 23, Alfonzo “Boo Boo” Churchwell, 31, Juan “Manco” Ortiz, 24, Raymy Escoto, 23, Phillip Uscanga, 24 and Jesse Rodriguez, 20, face up to life in prison if convicted.
The indictment was handed up by a federal grand jury on April 26, but not unsealed until Thursday after all seven men were in custody.
An eighth member of the criminal organization is also facing federal charges. Eugene “J.R.” “Jay” Washington Jr. was charged in a separate indictment with trafficking and/or distributing crack cocaine and heroin. If convicted, he faces up to 40 years in prison.
Crimes connected to this group go as far back as at least Feb. 27, 2015, according to the indictments.
The seven charged with racketeering conspired together to grow their drug trafficking business to build their stacks of cash and notoriety on the streets.
At the hub of this criminal organization’s business was the drug “trap house” they maintained in the 5800 block of 11th Street East, just two blocks from an address listed in court records as Jordan Rodriguez’s home. In the house, the group regularly met and ran their drug trafficking business and facilitated prostitution.
Three of the six murders connected to this group occurred on 11th Street East.
According to the indictment, Escoto and Uscanga would regularly patrol the street while evading law enforcement. To further these efforts, Jordan Rodriguez and Thompson would wear ski masks, carry assault rifles and shoot at rivals.
The group resorted to murder when needed to eliminate threats or what they perceived to be threats to their organization. They would kill as a means to get drugs, collect or avoid drug debts or in retaliation for attacks on the group, real or perceived.
Half the slayings they are charged with happened on New Year’s Day 2016.
Jordan Rodriguez, Ortiz, Escoto and Uscanga carried out the drive-by shooting that killed Julio Tellez and injured one other man, according to the indictment, in an intentional effort to kill rival gang members and their associates.
To avoid investigation, the group is also charged with intimidating witnesses to their crimes, getting rid of evidence including guns, drugs and vehicles, even resorting to arson at times to do so. Members of the group would lie to law enforcement and threatened or told witnesses what to tell law enforcement.
The group had instilled so much fear in the community that it was more than a year before investigators got their first tip in the murders of Demetrius Robinson and Florence Randall, also on Jan. 1, 2016. They were so brazen that they went as far as mocking detectives.
Roles of each member
The 36-page indictment that charged seven of the eight men with racketeering conspiracy, drug trafficking and 10 other counts details the role all eight men played in the criminal enterprise.
Jordan Rodriguez was the leader of the ring. His role in the criminal enterprise included murder, other acts of violence and intimidation or ordering members to kill, commit acts of violence and intimidate others.
The leader’s role also involved facilitating prostitution; maintaining drug houses; acquiring, possessing, distributing and otherwise dealing drugs and drug paraphernalia; possessing, distributing and disposing of guns and ammunition; obstructing law enforcement investigations; and concealing or destroying evidence.
Thompson’s role included robbery, intimidation, murder and other acts of violence. He would also deal with firearms, which included an AK-47 that he is charged with possessing, and obstructing law enforcement investigations. Churchwell ‘s role included murder and other acts of violence, obstruction and witness tampering.
Thompson and Churchwell were also both involved in all aspects of the group’s drug trafficking, including distributing and otherwise dealing drugs.
Ortiz’s role includes murder, intimidation, assault, battery, debt collection and other acts of violence. Escoto’s role included murder, arson, burglary, robbery, battery and other acts of violence and intimidation; distributing drugs and destroying evidence. Uscanga’s participation included murder, assault, arson and other acts of violence and intimidation; providing firearms and destroying evidence. Jesse Rodriguez’s participation included burglary, intimidation, assault, battery and other acts of violence and intimidation
Washington’s role is also detailed in the initial indictment. His role included drug trafficking, carrying out or ordering acts of violence and intimidation, maintaining drug houses and obstructing investigations by law enforcement.