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United States v. Bell

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 31, 2019

UNITED STATES, Plaintiff,
v.
DARRICK DERNARD BELL, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER (1) DENYING DEFENDANT NERO'S MOTION TO SEVER TRIALS (Dkt. 211); (2) GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PRUITT'S MOTION TO SEVER (Dkt. 234); AND (3) DENYING RANDOL'S MOTION FOR RELIEF FROM PREJUDICIAL JOINDER/MISJOINDER FOR SEVERANCE AND FOR SEPARATE TRIAL (Dkt. 277)

          MARK A. GOLDSMITH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This criminal case involves multiple defendants, all of whom have been charged with involvement in a complex drug and human trafficking conspiracy and related crimes. Defendants Harold Nero, Terry Pruitt, and Anthony Randol have filed motions to sever (Dkts. 211, 234, 277, respectively), arguing that they should each be tried separately from their eight co-defendants. The Government has filed responses in opposition (Dkts. 220, 259, 281, respectively), and Pruitt filed a reply brief (Dkt. 276). For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies Nero's and Randol's motions to sever and grants in part and denies in part Pruitt's motion to sever.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         A grand jury indicted Nero on nine charges, Pruitt on seven charges, and Randol on three charges stemming from their alleged role in a large human trafficking and drug distribution conspiracy at the Victory Inn Hotel on Michigan Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. See Superseding Indictment (Dkt. 98). Each of these defendants is charged with every co-defendant in at least one count.

         A. The Initial Investigation and Surveillance

         The federal investigation began in September 2016, when an emergency room human-trafficking and heroin-overdose victim (“Victim 1”) told federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security's Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) about a conspiracy that was forcing women into prostitution and selling drugs at the Victory Inn. Victim 1 stated that she had swallowed drugs to avoid detection on the orders of a pimp named “Tone, ” an alias used by co-defendant Darrick Bell. Bell is a convicted murderer and drug dealer. Nero allegedly worked as an enforcer and drug distributor for Bell.

         In subsequent interviews, Victim 1 confirmed that Bell is the leader of the conspiracy, that he uses drugs to coerce the human-trafficking victims, and that she was terrified of his physical assaults. Victim 1 said that the Victory Inn staff was part of the conspiracy and would direct sex dates to certain rooms.

         Another human-trafficking victim (“Victim 2”) described an extensive drug and human-trafficking operation headed by Bell, where she and other women had been held against their will for several weeks. Victim 2 stated that the conspiracy forced women to commit sex acts for money in exchange for a room at the Victory Inn and drugs to support their addictions. Victim 2 said that the Victory Inn staff was complicit in the criminal activity and that they only used a handful of rooms at the hotel for legitimate customers.

         On November 3, 2016, Detroit Police and Detroit EMS responded to a female drug overdose victim (“Victim 3”) in room 118 at the Victory Inn. While assessing Victim 3, Detroit Police talked to Pruitt at the door of room 118. On a Detroit Police bodycam video, Pruitt casually discusses the fact that he can procure prostitutes for customers.

         On November 4, 2016, Detroit Police spoke to a female victim (“Victim 4”) at a gas station near the Victory Inn. Victim 4 stated that she was a prostitute who lived at the Victory Inn, and that Bell frequently delivered drugs to the hotel. A few days later, HSI installed a nearby pole camera to conduct surveillance on the Victory Inn. On November 23, 2016, a confidential informant told police that multiple drug dealers were working out of the Victory Inn.

         In early December, HSI and Detroit Police began conducting surveillance at the Victory Inn. They observed dozens of apparent hand-to-hand drug deals and commercial sex dates in several different rooms. The police performed traffic stops on several customers who left after short stays. One customer admitted that she had just purchased $30 worth of crack cocaine from the Victory Inn, that she had been buying crack cocaine for the past several months from various individuals at the Victory Inn, and that “lots” of “girls” work as prostitutes to support their drug habits. Another customer, who had purchased crack cocaine at the Victory Inn, said that he had been buying crack cocaine for the past three months at the hotel, and that any prostitute on Michigan Avenue would tell you to get drugs “at the Victory Inn.”

         On December 26, 2016, Dearborn Police responded to a drug-overdose call for a woman at the Best Value Inn hotel in Dearborn, Michigan, which is a few blocks from the Victory Inn. The female victim (“Victim 7”) died at the scene. Victim 7's boyfriend stated that she had ingested drugs that they had purchased that day at the Victory Inn.

         On December 29, 2016, another confidential informant told police that multiple people are selling drugs and “pimping” girls at the Victory Inn.

         B. The January 2017 Search Warrant

         On January 12, 2017 at 6:00 a.m., HSI and local police executed a search warrant for twenty-five rooms at the Victory Inn. During the execution of the warrant, agents rescued fourteen lethargic female trafficking victims who were suffering from drug withdrawal in disheveled rooms. They arrested Randol after he tossed thirty-five grams of crack cocaine from a room window. Agents also recovered one loaded firearm, narcotics, paraphernalia, and dozens of cell phones. Most of the hotel rooms contained extensive evidence of recent drug use (e.g., used needles, used baggies, etc.). Agents also seized the Victory Inn's encrypted video surveillance data from the hotel's cameras, and records including thousands of handwritten room receipts.

         After rescuing the human-trafficking victims from the Victory Inn, agents were able to interview some of them who confirmed that Bell and the other co-defendants controlled, directed, and participated in the drug distribution and commercial sex at the Victory Inn. More than one victim stated that Nero abused them, would hit the girls to keep them “in check, ...


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