A 44-year-old mother of five, who allegedly has been the gang leader of a string of armed home robberies targeting Indian-Americans and other Asians across the United States for years, was found guilty of a nine-count indictment by a federal jury last week for her role in leading several robbery crews.
A federal grand jury in Michigan convicted Chaka Castro on June 4 after a four-week trial. Castro from Houston, Texas has been likened by investigators to a modern-day Fagin, the grizzled vagabond who leads a band of street-wise pickpockets in Charles Dickens classic “Oliver Twist.”
The Justice Department, which announced the indictment of Castro said the federal jury found Castro guilty of a nine-count indictment for her role as the leader of several robbery crews that traveled all over the U.S. to conduct home invasions of families of Indian and Asian descent.
Castro was convicted of one count of (RICO) Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act conspiracy, four counts of assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering and four counts of use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, the Justice Department said.
Sentencing was scheduled for September before U.S. District Court Judge Laurie J. Michelson of the Eastern District of Michigan, who presided over the trial.
From 2011 to 2014 Castro and her robbery crews committed a string of home invasions in states, including Georgia, New York, Ohio, Michigan and Texas, according to evidence at trial.
Castro led the groups and would generate lists of robbery targets in various states around the county, specifically families of Asian and Indian ancestry, and then assign crews to carry out the armed robberies of these families within their homes, a Justice Department press release said.
Once Castro assigned a crew to a particular area, members of the group would travel to that location, conduct surveillance, and execute the robberies.
The crews disguised their appearance with clothing and bandanas so that victims of their robberies would have difficulty identifying them. They would openly carry and brandish firearms to gain control of the victims and then immediately corral the victims, including children, into one location in the home.
At least one robber would then restrain the victims with duct tape and threats of violence while a partner would ransack the home in search of cash, jewelry, and electronics to steal, the Justice Department said. The group organized their trips to involve multiple home invasion robberies over a series of days.
According to news reports, in April 2015 six people, who had roles in five home-invasion robberies targeting Indian-American families in Old Bridge, Edison and South Plainfield in New Jersey were indicted by a Middlesex County grand jury.
Then Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey said that the indictments charge all six people with conspiracy to commit bias intimidation, robbery and burglary for selecting the five families whose homes were ransacked at gunpoint between Oct. 20, 2014 and Nov. 29, 2014, mycentraljersey.com reported in 2015.
In that indictment Chaka Castro, also known as Catina Dennings, according to the report, was among the defendants who were identified by law enforcement.
In an investigative report about the national home invasion ring in New Jersey, NJ.com quoted authorities as telling the outlet in December 2014 that it was an operation by turns sophisticated and brutish, employing financial databases, demographic data, pinpoint targets, the element of surprise and, not least, violence and intimidation.
The report that pieced together information from multiple sources and several states, including from investigators and Castro’s former acquaintances, said Castro, who along with five other crews remained jailed in Texas, is a New York native of Colombian descent. She was described as “funny with a natural charisma that attracted people. Castro was also smart and fluent in Spanish and capable of holding a basic conversation in French.
A Georgia detective told the paper that Castro had a background in online research and access to financial databases, likely through an old employer. The detective believed that she was a loan officer at one point.
The Justice Department said last week the conviction of Castro was the result of a joint federal and state investigation led by the FBI with the assistance of federal agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Secret Service.