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‘I used to love you, but it’s all over now’

by Jordan Green

Terrell Raynor’s business partner was in jail on financial fraud charges stemming from a loss by SunTrust Bank of more than $100,000. The arrest of Theophilus O. “Pella” Stokes, a 50-year-old lawyer, in early March 2007 sent shockwaves through Greensboro’s insular legal community.

Days later Beverly Hinson, a teller at Wachovia Bank who was the ex-wife of a controversial police lieutenant, was also arrested on fraud charges. Raynor had been involved in both schemes. Adding to his stress, business with two other associates was veering down a rocky course: A deal with a friend and former employee implicated in the local cocaine trade to promote a major hip-hop concert had foundered; and he had lost a house owned by his father to a creditor, who demanded repair work and further payments on a ballooning debt dating back to 1998 on pains of

violence.

So Raynor did what he had done almost a decade earlier when he was charged with fraud: He fled to Los Angeles, this time taking with him co-conspirator Derrick McDow. They didn’t make it west of the Mississippi River; both were arrested by police outside of the state capital of Jackson, and later returned to the custody of the Guilford County Jail in Greensboro. Nearly a month later, Raynor was indicted on 13 counts of obtaining property by false pretenses.

In his booking photo, the 38-year-old Raynor wears a melancholy look of resignation in the soft cast of his eyes and light purse of his lips. He looks dapper, with clean-shaven cheeks and a scraggly goatee, even with one side of his collar smashed beneath his jacket and the other jauntily protruding.

In early May, Raynor was contacted by the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration. Two days later, he accompanied his lawyer to a meeting with special agents of the DEA. He did what anyone with a string of felonies dating back 16 years, anyone who faced crushing debt and increasing hostility from his underworld associates might do: He agreed to wear a wire for the US government.

“Mr. Striblin considered Mr. Raynor to be a brother,” states an indignant motion for a reduced sentence filed last month on behalf of Gary Striblin. “Mr. Striblin worked for Messrs. Raynor and Nabil Hanhan in a legal enterprise. Mr. Raynor at most times in his adult life took advantage of his relationships by either cheating or misleading. However, his relationship with Mr. Striblin was always cautiously honest. This remained so until early 2007.”

Striblin, who is also 38, was employed as entertainment coordinator at Atlantis Café, a flashy, Mediterranean-themed nightclub near the off-ramp that spills westward traffic from Interstate 40 onto High Point Road, said Charles K. Blackmon, a lawyer who formerly represented Hanhan.

“The government urged and cajoled Mr. Raynor to move forward with the drug conspiracy against Mr. Striblin,” the motion states. “Agents gave Mr. Raynor money and instructions to have Mr. Striblin purchase marijuana, guns and cocaine.” Though he would later plead guilty to unlawful use of a cell phone to attempt to possess cocaine, Striblin contends that in spite of telling “Mr. Raynor they could make money legally, Mr. Raynor continued with his marching orders to ensnarl Mr. Striblin in a drug transaction.”

The DEA had launched an investigation “into the alleged drug trafficking activities of Terry Lee Bracken and numerous other individuals located in and around Greensboro” in 2004. Raynor would tell his DEA handlers that Bracken, together with Striblin, controlled a large portion of the cocaine trade in Greensboro. At least two other informants alleged that a third figure, Louis Girard Young, was a major dealer in Bracken’s cocaine organization. An informant identified as SOI-3 in an affidavit sworn by DEA Special Agent Otis Foster III suggested Young and Striblin played an enforcement role in the organization. “People come up missing,” the informant said. “People have wanted to talk but ended up not talking.”

Another confidential informant described how the Bracken organization established a foothold in the community: “Bracken, as captain, gives instructions and his associates carry out the orders of the organization. CS-2 stated that Bracken has created a group, which consists of younger black males, ranging in age 18-25, that controls the street drug trade in and around the public housing areas. This group of Bracken associates refer to themselves as ‘the Goodfellas.’ The group formerly used Club Atlantis [SIC] as a site to host hip-hop parties.”

Some of Striblin and Young’s propensity for violence was described in a trial brief filed by US Attorney Anna Mills Wagoner last November, outlining what the government expected to prove in trial, before both defendants cut plea deals.

One incident took place in December 2000 at a store owned by Striblin on High Point Road called Automasters. Angry at a transaction by store manager Marc Thomasson that resulted in a loss of income to the store, Striblin “asked Thomasson to come around to the back of the store, whereupon he began beating him about the head and face. Striblin ultimately pulled a pistol during the altercation, pointed it to the head of Thomasson and stated, ‘I ought to kill you right now.’ Striblin then handed the gun to Young and continued the beating, choking the manager to a state of near unconsciousness. Young ultimately intervened and stopped the beating.”

Another witness told the government he met Young when the two worked together in local clubs. In May 2002, Norman Douglas Hubbard recalled losing money in a card game at a house in Pleasant Garden and borrowing $1,500 from Young, and then immediately losing it back to his creditor. According to the government, “Young continued to increase the amount to be paid back by adding late fees and interest to the principal.” Hubbard told investigators he made $100 and $150 payments to Young every two to three weeks, and even worked on a vehicle belonging to Young’s grandfather to repay the debt.

Hubbard recalled that he increased his payment to Young to $240 per week out of $300 in weekly earnings. Hubbard said Young happened to see him lending $20 to a coworker at Atlantis Café one day. Young is said to have protested, “Well, you got money to lend, I think you need to give it to me.” Hubbard told his creditor he wouldn’t pay him anything. Young became angry, and “grabbed Hubbard from behind and hit him repeatedly in the ribs. Hubbard’s ribs were injured to a degree that he could not work without taking pain medication…. Later on, Young said that Hubbard had been ‘lippy,’ and so interest would be added to the loan.”

The government alleges Young approached Hubbard again in July 2002 and demanded payment, telling him he would take an “ass-whipping” if he didn’t hand over the money. When Hubbard told Young he had no money, the government alleges that the creditor “grabbed Hubbard by the collar and jerked him towards the back door of the club, where he then hit Hubbard in the mouth, knocking out one of his front teeth. Gary Striblin was present and interceded in the assault.”

“The debt was still in place in August 2002, when Young told Hubbard that he (Hubbard) needed to paint his (Young’s) parent’s house and that the debt would then be forgiven,” the trial brief states. “While the debt owed to Young at this time was between $400-500, Hubbard estimated that painting the home would normally net a painter between $4,000 and $5,000. Hubbard painted the house, which took him between 2 1⁄2 and 3 months, working part time. Hubbard stated that he was afraid of Young during the timeframe of the debt, that Young was ‘crazy,’ younger than he was, had a bad temper and was a weightlifter, capable of bench pressing 400 pounds.”

When Raynor was released from Central Prison in Raleigh in December 2005 after completing a five-year sentence for financial fraud, Young demanded payment on a loan made in 1998. The government’s trial brief stated that the debt had by then ballooned to $200,000, an amount Young theorized he could have earned if the original loan had been repaid on time. Raynor initially blew off Young’s demands, but “Striblin explained to Raynor that Young ‘had made a name for himself as an enforcer’ while Raynor was in prison and that Raynor needed to take Young seriously.”

Two payments totaling $35,000 in early 2006, in addition to earlier payments in 2000 before Raynor began his sentence resulted in Young having recouped much of his original investment of $50,000, the government found. Striblin, allegedly acting on Young’s behalf, persuaded Raynor to go to relatives to try to raise the money. Tyson Raynor, the debtor’s father, had purchased a fire-damaged house on Lincoln Street that he intended to repair it and break up into rental units. The government confirmed that Young agreed to accept the house – valued at $22,000 – as payment, and it was transferred to Katina Maynard, his girlfriend.

Apparently that wasn’t enough to settle the debt. Young and Striblin kept calling Raynor, according to the government, and pressuring him to repair the house. Raynor is said to have reframed the house, and still kept making cash payments to Young through Striblin.

In May 2006, the same month he suffered the indignity of seeing his father’s house deeded over to his tormenter’s girlfriend, Terrell Raynor displayed all the traits of an ex-con eager to make a good impression, achieve a measure of social standing and perhaps earn some money through legitimate means. He bought a nightclub called Zanza on Randleman Road. And a financial crimes investigator with the Greensboro Police Department would later note that the May 2006 issue of In the Spotlight magazine discussed a business relationship between Raynor and lawyer Stokes.

“On the front page of the magazine a photo of Raynor and Stokes is displayed and indicates them as business partners,” Detective PD Nix wrote in a March 2007 affidavit. “In the article, it states that in 1998 Raynor and Eli Davis (through Special Assignment Entertainment LLC) merged with Attorney Pella Stokes to work together in the music management field. The article advised that Raynor is currently CEO of RMG and Associates and vice president of operations for Tops Entertainment, where he is still partnered with Stokes.”

Stokes regularly advertised his law practice in the glossy magazine.

“Basically – how can I put it – the guy that bought the front cover, the guy Terrell came in and said, ‘I want to purchase the front cover,'” said Diego Gomez, who has since discontinued In the Spotlight and now publishes a subscription-based publication called In the Carolinas Lifestyles. “I said, ‘Great, I know Pella Stokes.’ Terrell gave us all the information and the writer took the quotes from it.

“We sell our front covers and do features like an advertorial,” Gomez continued. “Usually we sell our front covers at five thousand to eight thousand [dollars]. I don’t recall exactly how much he paid. It would be in that range. I don’t have any problem saying what the range is. It’s good advertising.”

Gomez recalled that Raynor would excitedly boast: “I got this big event coming up. I got this big event.”

And that July he did manage to pull off a notable event with a name act at a reputable venue. In the Spotlight published a feature article about a concert Raynor promoted featuring veteran R&B artist Bobby Womack at War Memorial Auditorium. Womack co-wrote “It’s All Over Now.” The song was covered by the Rolling Stones in 1964, and the English imitators scored a No. 1 hit with it in their home country.

The first verse, sung over slashing chords and a country-twang guitar, memorably declares, “Well, baby used to stay out all night long/ She made me cry, she done me wrong/ She hurt my eyes open, that’s no lie/ Table’s turnin’ now her turn to cry/ Because I used to love her, but it’s all over now….”

Striblin portrayed one of Raynor’s more recent musical endeavors as just another empty promise.

“In early 2007, Mr. Striblin sought to put on a musical hip-hop/rap show featuring prominent entertainers,” his motion for a reduced sentence states. “The cost to sponsor this musical event was over $250,000. Mr. Raynor learned of Mr. Striblin’s plans and told Mr. Striblin that he would finance the event. Mr. Striblin relied on Mr. Raynor’s promises. Mr. Striblin committed to radio advertising and a number of individuals promising to put the show on. Unbeknownst to Mr. Striblin, Mr. Raynor was engaging in a number of major cons,” namely a check-kiting scheme that carried multiple charges.

By May 30, Raynor had been working as an informant for the DEA for almost a month. His arrest, along with those of Stokes, Hinson and others in the check-kiting ring had received ample media play. And a series of articles in The Rhinoceros Times by true-crime novelist Jerry Bledsoe called “Cops In Black and White” had focused extensively on the Bracken organization, without naming Bracken or any of his associates.

That morning members of the DEA, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms staked out the parking lot of Builders Supply at West Market Street and Boeing Drive near Piedmont Triad International Airport. They had earlier met with Raynor, and now waited for Striblin to show up.

Just before 8 a.m. they observed Striblin dressed in a white short-sleeved jersey and dark pants standing next to a gray Dodge Intrepid talking with Raynor. At first the two men talked about Raynor’s “ability to obtain a large quantity of marijuana.”

Then the conversation turned to a topic that investigators thought reflected the Bracken organization’s propensity for violence. The two discussed some negative publicity received by the organization, and both attributed a large portion of it to the articles in The Rhinoceros Times. Striblin asked Raynor if he knew the identity of the newspaper’s editor, what he looked like, and what type of vehicle he drove.

Raynor answered affirmatively, and Striblin became agitated.

“I know some people who have been looking for him, they want to reach out and touch him real bad,” Striblin said. He later added, “He needs to be touched.”

The affidavit by Special Agent Foster notes that the articles were actually written by Bledsoe, not the newspaper’s editor, John Hammer. Federal documents do not make clear whether Striblin and Raynor distinguished between the two men, but Bledsoe has indicated in a recent account published in The Rhinoceros Times that he was the target of what appears to have been a contemplated hit.

Raynor tried to talk Striblin down.

“Who would do something like that?” he asked.

The hit could be carried out by hired assassins from New York City, who could then slip out of the state undetected, Striblin suggested, at which point “the whole thing would be buried.”

On June 19, the DEA placed a six-kilo package of cocaine equipped with a tracking device inside a Greensboro apartment, where audio- and video-monitoring equipment was installed. Late in that Thursday afternoon, Raynor had his body and car searched, and DEA Special Agent Bobby Kimbrough instructed him to go meet Striblin at Club Menage on High Point Road.

Since the closing of Atlantis Café, the nearby Club Menage has absorbed much of Greensboro nightlife’s hip-hop clientele, though a share of it has also gone to Jabs Ultra Bar and Remix VIP, two other nightclubs on the High Point Road/Lee Street corridor. A squat building set at the back of a long parking lot on High Point Road in the shadow of the high-rise Koury Convention Center, present-day Club Menage is set on the site of the storied Plantation Supper Club, where rock and roller Billy “Crash” Craddock entertained in the 1950s, and whose dance floor would later throb with the music of the urban cowboy craze and the beloved beach music genre. Now pulsating dance music and rap lyrics – emphasizing the cash fetish, the sexual objectification of women and Darwinian violence – keeps a steady flow of traffic moving in and out of the parking lot. In the early morning hours on the weekend, exuberant young adults typically pour into the street at closing time, forcing motorists on High Point Road to brake quickly.

Striblin was waiting at the nightclub. Raynor went inside to get him, and soon the two men were driving separate vehicles to the DEA-controlled apartment. According to Raynor, Striblin had told the informant to retrieve the cocaine and follow him to his mother’s house in Pleasant Garden. When Raynor went in the apartment, Striblin left and drove back towards Club Menage without taking possession the cocaine. The DEA operation was terminated.

The next day Raynor recalled Striblin telling him “that he felt it wasn’t right initially and that he was going along for the hell of it.”

Later that month the DEA recorded a phone call between Raynor and Young. Raynor told Young, whom he owed some windows, that because of some outstanding warrants he would be leaving Greensboro and did not anticipate returning.

“I am beginning to think everything is one big lie, you bought yourself more time, but time is running out,” Young said. “You better do what you told me you were going to do… you got problems… you not scared, you stringing me along. I don’t have time to play games.”

After Young’s protracted harangue, Raynor responded, “Whatever it is, it is.”

“I am going to give you what you think it is going to be,” Young threatened. “Don’t test me, don’t test me.'”

Federal authorities were not able to build a case against Terry Bracken for distribution of cocaine. Instead, the government accepted a guilty plea from him for distribution of marijuana and selling a firearm to a convicted felon. As evidence, the government presented a statement by Dickie Chavis Newman, a convicted marijuana dealer, that he had sold about 45 kilos of marijuana to Bracken in 2003 for $47,500. And on June 11, the DEA had a confidential informant under indictment purchase an Astra .380 semiautomatic pistol from Bracken. He could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for his admitted crimes.

For his part, Young pleaded guilty in December to receiving the proceeds of extortion. On Dec. 26, he received a late Christmas present when US District Court Judge James A. Beaty modified his sentence from home confinement to freedom on $5,000 bond allowing him to be employed and support his family.

Raynor and Stokes received a fresh round of indictments last month for multiple financial fraud charges.

Judge Beaty dropped the extortion charges against Striblin, who pleaded guilty in November to using a cell phone in an attempt to possess six kilos of cocaine, a crime for which he could be sentenced to up to four years. Based on the 2005 United States vs. Booker Supreme Court decision, Striblin argued in a Feb. 29 motion that the court reduce his sentence in consideration of Raynor’s criminal record of fraud. The motion argues that Striblin deserves probation in place of an active prison sentence.

“Mr. Striblin was neither a ranking member of the Bracken organization nor was he involved in the sale or distribution of drugs with Mr. Bracken,” the motion states. “Secondly, Mr. Striblin did not distribute drugs in the Middle District since 2000. In fact, those allegation[s] of the government’s indictment were abandoned and are expected to be dismissed.”

Of the informant, Striblin’s motion states, “The use and reliance on Mr. Raynor was wrong and misplaced…. As this matter proceeds, Mr. Raynor is sitting in the Guilford County Jail for yet more crimes of fraud and con.”

Among his arguments for leniency, the motion says this about a man recorded saying a newspaper editor needed to be “touched”: “Mr. Striblin understands the consequences of his criminal conduct and is doing everything in his power to make a life for his family. Moreover, he contributes to the welfare of others…. Any term of imprisonment would be counter effective by depriving the community of a caring and giving person.”

Striblin plans to call about seven witnesses at his sentencing hearing.

Among them is the Rev. Shelly R. Bass, pastor at Bridge Over Troubled Waters Ministry, who wrote on Striblin’s behalf: “He sponsored and donated all the supplies and equipment to have a Halloween festival for our children within our ministry. His reasons for the donations was, ‘I don’t want to see our children in the streets begging for candy, they can come to the house of the Lord and get what they desire….'”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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