DETROIT (WXYZ) — It was a terrifying and violent crime spree that often targeted victims as they left Detroit casinos. One victim in particular, escaped a gunshot that barely missed.
It happened on the freeway, police say. Under the cover of night, the crew would carjack the victims after bumping into their cars after they left the casino.
"It was all based on greed," U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said. "So, when they had a common goal, which was to rob people of their money and split the proceeds, things went really well."
The trio was led by a career criminal, 33-year-old Kenneth Gardner. Also in the crew was 27-year-old Damon Washington.
They hatched the scheme after meeting behind bars. They also had help from casino-goer Veronica Sharp, who acted as a spotter at MGM Grand Detroit. Guests at MotorCity Casino were also targeted.
"A woman there would identify the high-rollers, or at least the people she perceived to be high rollers," Schneider added. "Then, she would point those people out to the other defendants."
After Sharp would identify the high-rollers to Gardner and Washington, the two would follow the victims from the casino out onto the highway. Police say the suspects would bump into their cars, and the victims would pull over thinking they got into an accident. That's when the suspects would rob and carjack them.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, they terrorized victims in a two-month span from August to October 2017. One victim in particular refused to give up at first.
"They started to struggle. The defendant then took a shot at the victim's head and missed it only by inches. He lost his money, phone and car, but fortunately did not lost his life," Schneider said.
Michigan State Police and the FBI joined in on the investigation, and eventually were able to bring down the suspect using high-tech surveillance.
All three were eventually found guilty in federal court. Both Sharp and Washington cooperated with federal prosecutors.
Washington was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Gardner got 37 years for charges of carjacking, gun possession and firing a weapon. Sharp got five years.
According to Schneider, the sentencing was so severe because the defendants don't look like good candidates for rehabilitation.
"Detroit casinos and other venues are safe, and people should continue to enjoy them without fear. However, don't make yourself an easy target, and always drive to a well-lit place or police station if someone bumps into you at night," Schneider said.
Prosecutors are sending a strong message with this case, that anyone who tries to terrorize and rob innocent people will face the harshest penalties under the law.