The loosely knit gang of teenagers began its robbery spree last December, pointing handguns at taxi drivers and fast-food delivery workers, taking their hard-earned money, authorities said.
But on March 6, two of the teens allegedly took something money can’t replace: the life of 55-year-old taxi driver Mazen Abdallah.
Thursday, the gang members appeared in State Supreme Court, indicted on charges that could, if convictions are secured, bring about prison sentences adding up to 270 years.
Maurice “Quell” Howie, 17, of Hamburg Street, a South Park High School football star previously arrested in the slaying, and Sean Austin, 16, of Emslie Street, were each indicted on two counts of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the slaying.
Rokym Knox, 19, of Emslie; Dequan Bailey, 17, of Hewitt Avenue; and Devante Wells, 17, of Bickford Avenue, were all charged with multiple counts of robbery.
“It is principally alleged that this group of defendants, in varying combinations, robbed taxi drivers or pizza delivery drivers at gunpoint, culminating in the death of Mazen Abdallah,” Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said.
As it turns out, Austin, the youngest of the teenagers, was the most prolific of the robbers, according to investigators, who allege that the teens were involved in the following holdups:
• Dec. 2, Austin and Bailey robbed a cabdriver and a pizza delivery driver.
• Dec. 3, Austin, Bailey, Wells and Knox robbed a cabdriver.
• Feb. 1, Austin and Bailey robbed another fast-food delivery worker.
• Feb. 9, Austin and Howie robbed a taxi driver.
Then, in the early morning hours of March 6, after spending a night “hanging out” at a friend’s apartment, Austin and Howie called Airport Taxi requesting a ride to a Bailey-Kensington address.
Abdallah, who was just starting his work day at about 5:30 a.m., picked up the pair and soon found himself in a struggle for his life, according to police, who believe that he refused to turn over the cash he had.
“We think he resisted when they demanded his money,” an investigator said.
Howie then shot Abdallah twice in the back of the head, according to authorities. The teens then placed his body in the back seat of the 2006 white Lincoln Town Car, police say, and parked it in the 700 block of Norfolk Avenue, a short distance from Kensington Avenue.
A frantic search for Abdallah began when he failed to answer the two-way radio in his cab. His body was found by co-workers at about 7 a.m. A witness on Norfolk would later tell police of seeing two men walking away from the cab earlier that morning.
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said the arrests came about from a collaborative effort involving officers and detectives in the South and Northeast districts and the Homicide Squad.
“This crime spree was put to a halt due to excellent police work,” Derenda said,
The commissioner and Sedita also credited workers at the Erie County Crime Analysis Center for assisting investigators.
After Abdallah was killed, Chief of Detectives Dennis J. Richards said, investigators sought help from the crime analysts in looking for patterns involving other robberies of taxi drivers and fast-food deliverymen.
“Similar methods of operations emerged,” Richards said, “and that led investigators to this loosely knit gang who preyed on vulnerable people in the service industry.”
The teens were arraigned in front of State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia. Prosecuting the case is Assistant District Attorney Paul A. Parisi, a member of Sedita’s recently established Tactical Prosecution Unit.