US woman who ran robbery ring targeting families of Asian descent gets 37 years in prison

The leader, Chaka LeChar Castro of Houston, believed that Asians did not trust financial institutions and were therefore more apt to keep money and gold at home.
The leader, Chaka LeChar Castro of Houston, believed that Asians did not trust financial institutions and were therefore more apt to keep money and gold at home.PHOTO: NYTIMES

DETROIT (NYTIMES) - There was a method to the robberies: One crew member, usually a woman, would knock on the door. Then others, donning bandannas and brandishing firearms, would storm the home when someone answered and corral its occupants.

While one robber restrained the victims with duct tape and threats of violence, prosecutors said, another would ransack the home in search of valuables.

On Monday, a US District Court judge in Detroit sentenced the leader of the Castro Enterprise, a group of robbery crews that terrorised Asian homeowners in several states across the country for three years, to 37 years in prison.

The leader, Chaka LeChar Castro, 44, of Houston, believed that Asians did not trust financial institutions and were therefore more apt to keep money and gold at home, according to evidence presented at trial.

She recruited new members, researched potential victims, deployed her robbery crews to specific home addresses and earned a percentage from each of the lootings, according to court documents.

Under Castro's direction, the Castro Enterprise, which the authorities said consisted of more than 10 people, robbed at least 22 families in Georgia, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Texas from 2011-14, according to court documents.

Castro was arrested in Texas in December 2014.

Castro, who was indicted by a federal grand jury on April 1, 2015, was convicted in June after a five-week trial of one count of racketeer influenced and corrupt organisations conspiracy, four counts of assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering and four counts of use of a firearm during a crime of violence, according to the US Department of Justice.

The time between Castro's arrest and her trial was extended because of a battle over suppressed evidence, said Mr Peter Carr, a department spokesman.

A lawyer for Castro did not respond to multiple requests for comment this week.

According to prosecutors, Castro orchestrated the enterprise's trips so that multiple home invasions could happen in a series of days. The stolen goods were then transported to Texas, according to the indictment.

The crews usually consisted of three to four enterprise members, according to the indictment.


Each member had a designated role. One member, whose trial is scheduled for February 2020, was in charge of the crew on the road. After receiving a list of potential target home addresses from Castro, he would decide which ones to rob, delegate tasks to the other members and coordinate the movement of the stolen property.

Another member, who pleaded guilty in 2017 and is to be sentenced in March 2020, was responsible for renting a vehicle and sometimes a hotel room. He was the only one in the enterprise to have a valid driver's licence, according to court documents.

There were a couple of women in the enterprise who would knock on the doors and then act as lookouts while two or three others raided the home.

Ms Bharti Patel, a victim of the enterprise, said her house in Beachwood, Ohio, was "totally ransacked" in May 2011, with drawers emptied out on the floor and family heirlooms gone, according to a statement that she submitted to the court. Valuables worth several hundred thousands of dollars were stolen from her, according to court records.

"I did not feel safe in my own home, felt that I was preyed upon and had the need to always look over my shoulder, which still continues," Ms Patel said. "Mentally, I know that one needs to forget and move on, but that feeling of being violated of your privacy and safety never ceases."

In October 2014, Castro sent a crew to commit a series of robberies in New York and New Jersey, the authorities said. In the span of nine days, at least four Indian-American families in New Jersey were robbed, according to the charging documents, though those robberies weren't included in the indictment.

The robberies sent a wave of fear through the Indian-American community in Middlesex County. The spike in home invasions coincided with the week-long Hindu festival of Diwali, a time when families often have gold jewellery on hand as part of the celebration.