By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Chaka Raysor drove a $30,000 1994 Nissan Pathfinder, and May-May had a Jeep. Investigators suspected Chaka of using drug money to pay down a refinance mortgage at 382A Quincy Street and buy his mother a $90,000 home on Putnam Avenue. A local woman once big in the numbers business was looked at for investing Raysor crew drug money in properties in Alabama, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. But nothing came of it.
Given that the government never found much material wealth or evidence of large-scale money laundering, how little or much the crew made is anyone's guess. But it had been enough to kill for.
In April 1996, after authorities flipped a couple of high-ranking members of the crew, a confidential informant was used to make four buys for a total of nine ounces of crack, approximately $7,600 worth. Twice Chaka was caught on film inside his video store, selling crack. Raysor and several others were indicted that May 29.
Investigators began rounding up the crew. But when they pulled up to the video store to get Chaka, he was across the street at a bodega buying a soda. He ran out the back of the store and disappeared for the next decade.
On June 1, ATF agents traveled to Norfolk and arrested Raw, who was trying to kick-start the crew's Virginia operation. AFT agent Jim Figliuolo told Stanley things could go easier for him if he told them where Chaka was.
"I'll never give up Chaka," Stanley sneered.
Chaka Raysor petered out over the months and years. Eventually, cops looked for him only sporadically. But Louie Savarese, for one, never gave up the search. As he says, the streets of Brooklyn talk; they just don't testify. Until his retirement in 2006, the detective tracked down a steady stream of what he thought were solid tips about Chaka's whereabouts.
In 1998, he recalls, cops raided a girlfriend's home and found what they believed were his clothes in the washing machine, but no Chaka.
Other tips linked Chaka to having a stake in a fish restaurant, a comedy club, and, yes, a bakery. Savarese says they sat on those locations a few times without luck. Another informant told him that Chaka was still into drugs and often made his deals in the parking lot of a Pathmark on Fulton Street; surveillance led nowhere. One time they heard he was recovering at his mother's after appendix surgery. But a lieutenant in that precinct wouldn't OK the raid until he physically saw the arrest warrant. By the time they obtained a copy, Chaka had supposedly slipped away.
As Brooklyn North homicide detectives retired, Savarese brought their replacements up to speed on Chaka Raysor. One informant told them that Chaka had buried a large amount of money in his Quincy Street backyard before digging up and depositing it in an Antigua bank. Another tipster said Raysor was connected to the hip-hop industry and had attended award shows in Las Vegas and Miami. None of the tips panned out.
And there were plenty, because he was a celebrity of sorts. America's Most Wanted featured Raysor no less than 13 times, naming him one of their "Dirty Dozen" and making him the seven of diamonds on AMW's deck of playing cards. Each AMW airing sparked a new slew of clues. AMW says hundreds of tips came in over the years from 39 states, the Virgin Islands, and Canada.
The federal agent says that Raysor may have returned to Brooklyn in recent years, when the search efforts flagged, but that there's no way he was there the entire period. "If he was in Brooklyn the whole time, we were the stupidest cops in all the world, and he was a super-sleuth," the agent says. "That wasn't the case."
Years after retiring from the ATF, Jim Figliuolo faithfully played the lottery with the dream of hitting the jackpot, then going on America's Most Wanted to offer a $1 million reward for Raysor's capture.
Before Savarese retired, part of his annual December 25 ritual was to fill in for the younger guys on the squad. Then he would sit on the homes of Chaka's mother and girlfriends, hoping to nab him making a Christmas Day visit.
"We were on him-there's no two ways about it," Savarese says. "It's just that it wasn't his time yet. That's the way I think about it."
After he retired, Savarese assumed that if Raysor was ever caught, he wouldn't go quietly. But that's exactly what he did.
On August 7, 2006, Chaka Raysor walked quietly into the 79th Precinct station house in Brooklyn around 10 at night and said he wanted to turn himself in. Savarese recalls that it took some convincingsome of it by Chaka himselfbefore the cops there realized just how big a fish had reeled himself in.
Right after his arraignment a few days later, a reporter yelled: "Hey, Chaka, what happened? How come you're giving up now?"
Raysor calmly replied, "Because it's the right thing to do. I'm tired of living that lifestyle. I need my life back. And I miss my family, my children."
Expanding on those themes was a slick, 23-page mitigation report that Raysor's defense team compiled through interviews with Chaka and 20 family members and friends. Judge Vitaliano noted in court that he read it "cover-to-cover" before pronouncing sentencing.