Scheme to rob bogus drug stash house nets a long sentence

A Philadelphia man received a 15-year prison sentence today for planning to rob a cocaine stash house that didn’t exist.

Ralph Dennis, 35, had been a suspect in a number of armed robberies in the Philadelphia area, according to federal court documents in Camden. In June 2012, law enforcement officers hatched a plan to capture Dennis in the act. Officers instructed a confidential source to approach Dennis with a wildly improbable story. The source told Dennis he had a friend who was a disgruntled drug courier, and the drug courier was looking to recruit a “crew” to rob a narcotics stash house, according to an ATF affidavit.

Dennis took the bait. The source told Dennis the job would be easy. They’d steal multiple kilograms of cocaine with little resistance. The profits would be enormous.

A few days later at a parking lot in Pennsauken, the source introduced Dennis and an associate to the drug courier, who was actually an undercover cop. As hidden microphones recorded their conversation, the drug courier explained that it was his job to transport large quantities of cocaine for a Mexican-based drug-trafficking organization. He said he picked up the coke once a month from a stash house where two men guarded 15 to 20 kilos of the drug. The drug courier claimed he had been disrespected by his bosses. He had asked for a small loan and was rebuffed, according to the affidavit. That was motive enough.

The drug courier, however, said that if his bosses suspected he was involved in a robbery he would be killed, according to the affidavit. The associate had a solution: He would kill anyone who was in the stash house during the robbery. Dennis allegedly concurred, saying, “So you might as well put them two down so you don’t have to worry.”

The drug courier offered a lucrative split to his newly recruited crew. He’d keep three kilograms for himself as ringleader, but if the robbery yielded more than 15 kilos of cocaine, it would all be divided evenly. Dennis and his associate agreed, according to the court papers.

The three men met again in the Pennsauken parking lot the following week. As they huddled in the drug courier’s silver Chevy Impala, the drug courier instructed Dennis how to sell his share of the stolen cocaine, warning that unless the original packing materials were removed, it might be recognized by someone friendly to the drug gang, according to the court documents. Said Dennis: “I thought about that, too. I was thinkin’ ‘bout splittin’ them jawns and we gonna have to re-wrap them.”

Dennis’ associate said they should make the robbery look like a law enforcement raid, according to the affadavit. “I’m screamin’ ATF, DEA … You know what I’m sayin? I’m not sayin’ I’m a stick-up kid. No. DEA, FBI, CIA, whatever… [t]hats gonna shake em’ up.”

Three days later, they met at the Cherry Hill Mall to discuss logistics, how they’d enter the stash house, how they’d dress to appear to be law enforcement, what firearms and flak jackets would be needed, and the number of plastic zip ties they would need to bind the two men guarding the cocaine, according to court records.

On July 16, they met for the last time at the mall, this time with the addition of Terrance “Fat Cat” Hardee, 37, whom Dennis brought along to tie up the drug guards. The drug courier told the three men to follow him to an address in Maple Shade where the drug courier said the cocaine was stored, according to the affidavit.

The men went over their scheme and for the last time discussed how they’d split up the cocaine. Minutes later, special agents from the ATF swooped in to arrest them.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Dennis was carrying a handgun. Dennis and Hardee also had brought gloves and zip ties.

There was never any cocaine, there was never a stash house.

Dennis and Hardee were convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit robbery and another count of conspiracy to possess more than five kilos of cocaine with intent to distribute. Hardee is awaiting sentencing.