A St. Paul man ran a marijuana trafficking business out of an old Hamline Avenue pizza and ice cream parlor with the help of his girlfriend, mother and grandmother, according to charges filed Friday in Ramsey County District Court.
Authorities discovered marijuana, cocaine, three handguns and hollow-point bullets in the suspects' St. Paul homes. Although authorities locally and out of state had intercepted more than 144 pounds of marijuana associated with the suspects from 2006 to 2013, exposing the fraudulent pizza parlor took a call last year from a concerned citizen.
"On August 19, 2014, a concerned citizen made a report with the St. Paul Police Department that Papa Dimitri's Classic Pizza and Ice Cream located at 466 Hamline Avenue South … is rarely open and does not seem to do much actual business," said the criminal complaint. "The concerned citizen reported that employees have complained about the heat not working, which the concerned citizen thought odd since the pizza ovens should have provided plenty of heat.
"The concerned citizen said that the employees ate at another nearby restaurant, the Nook, which was also odd because they work in a restaurant … and it appeared that there were more children being baby-sat at the restaurant than actual customers."
Police staked out the pizza parlor in November, owned by Ryan D. Brooks Sr., which led to Friday's charges against Brooks and his family.
The pizza parlor, which was transferred to Brooks in 2010, received $190,000 in cash deposits in its bank account between Jan. 1, 2013 and Oct. 31, 2014, according to the charges.
An officer who worked at the Ramsey County Workhouse told investigators that while Brooks was incarcerated there in 2008 and 2009, he allegedly admitted to using the pizza parlor to launder drug money.
"Brooks said he utilized pizza boxes and bags to deliver marijuana under the guise of making pizza deliveries," the charges said, referring to the officer's statements to investigators.
Brooks, 32, is charged with first-degree possession of cocaine, fifth-degree conspiracy to sell marijuana, concealing criminal proceeds and possession of a firearm by an ineligible person.
His girlfriend, Lena S. Kirk, 24, faces charges of possession of cocaine, conspiracy to sell marijuana and possession of a firearm by an ineligible person.
Brooks' mother, Rosalyn M. Brooks, 61, is charged with concealing criminal proceeds. His grandmother, Joyce E. Merkley, 82, is charged with conspiracy to sell marijuana and possession of marijuana.
According to the complaint: Police surveillance last November showed that Rosalyn Brooks opened the pizza parlor in the late afternoon. In six days the parlor had five customers and four pizza deliveries.
That same month, police learned from a U.S. postal inspector that between August 2012 and October 2013, three deliveries to Merkley's home and one delivery to the pizza parlor had been intercepted containing more than 37 pounds of marijuana.
On Nov. 19, the postal inspector told police that a 5-pound package of marijuana addressed to Merkley had been intercepted. Authorities searched Merkley's home the next day.
"The package was found unopened behind Merkley as she sat in a living room chair," the charges said. "Merkley initially denied knowing anything about the package she had received, but she eventually admitted she had received three or four packages from Brooks that contained marijuana. She said she never opened the packages, but she suspected what was inside."
In 2006, Ryan Brooks and his mother were arrested in Nebraska in a rental car with 107 pounds of marijuana, the complaint said. The two were returning to St. Paul from Las Vegas. Rosalyn Brooks was never charged in the case. Her son served 90 days.