|More on the Chaldean Deportation|
- Tuesday, July 4 2017, 13:27:57 (UTC)|
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Ex-Chaldean crime boss Akrawi faces deportation as part of ICE raids in Detroit
John Wisely , Detroit Free Press 10:47 p.m. ET July 3, 2017
A daughter of an Iraqi immigrant detained recalls when ICE agents showed up at her home in Sterling Heights on June 11 to arrest him. Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press
Louis Akrawi is one of more than 1,400 Chaldeans nationwide facing deportation to Iraq.
(Photo: Michigan Department of Corrections)
Akrawi was accused of running a huge drug ring in the 1980s and 90s.
He was never convicted of a drug crime but did 20 years for second-degree murder.
Experts say he and other Chaldeans face genocide in Iraq at the hands of armed militias.
Akrawi served 20 years after being convicted of second-degree.
As the reputed leader of a Chaldean crime ring that rampaged metro Detroit in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Louis Akrawi was well known to local law enforcement.
Police said Akrawi headed an ethnic crime syndicate that moved $200 million a year worth of cocaine through the region. His downfall came in 1993 when he ordered a failed hit on a rival that left a bystander dead. He served 20 years in prison after being convicted of second-degree murder.
Now, Akrawi, 69, is an aging ex-con and he has caught the eyes of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, who want to deport him to his native Iraq. Akrawi fled to the U.S. as a young man after taking part in an attempted coup against Saddam Hussein.
Akrawi is among more than 100 metro Detroit Chaldeans, Iraqi Christians, rounded up recently for deportation under a new deal between the Trump administration and the government of Iraq. He's currently being detained while a judge considers whether to halt the deportations permanently.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith granted more than 1,444 Iraqi immigrants another two weeks to make a legal case against their deportation.
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"The substantial allegations made here are the detainees face extreme, grave consequences: death, persecution and torture," Goldsmith wrote in his seven-page order. "Such harm far outweighs any government interest the government may have in proceeding with the removals immediately."
But Akrawi's family isn't convinced he'll be allowed to stay.
"Right now, I think it's 5-10% chance that he stays," said his son, Victor Akrawi. "I wouldn't be surprised if they send him and they don't send everyone else."
Akrawi said his father has no family or friends in Iraq that he knows of, but he's starting to prepare in case he ends up there.
"There is a life there, but it's dangerous. It's ridiculously dangerous," Akrawi said.
Others are even more pessimistic.
"We know that he's going to get killed there," said Louis Akrawi's nephew, Tahrir Kalasho. "He was considered an enemy of the state. I'd hate to see his head in a basket."
Experts say returning Christians to Iraq is the equivalent of a death sentence because they are subject to persecution and death. Last year, then-Secretary of State John Kerry said that ISIS was carrying out genocide against Christians and other minorities in Iraq.
"When they are sent home, they will be looked at being foreigners, traitors, collaborators," said Joseph Kassab, who runs the Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute, a Farmington Hills nonprofit group. "They go with a target on them. The people who will get them are the armed militias who follow Sharia law."
Kassab, who has testified as an expert witness in cases involving other Chaldeans facing deportation, said Akrawi may appear to be an unsympathetic figure because of his criminal past. Most people with criminal records facing deportation were convicted of minor offenses, for which they long ago made amends.
Kassab said many local Chaldeans are angry with the Trump administration's efforts to deport Chaldeans to such a dangerous place. Kassab and many other Chaldeans supported Trump during his campaign last year because he spoke of his commitment to protecting Christians in Iraq.
"Our people are in shock," Kassab said. "These are somber days for Iraqi-Americans."
In the late 1980s and 1990s, Chaldeans in metro Detroit took over vast swaths of the local drug trade, supplanting other gangs like Young Boys Inc. and the Chambers Brothers, which had been dismantled by police and federal agents.
Among the gangs that filled the vacuum was one headed by Akrawi.
"He was kind of the puppet master," said Chuck Pappas, a former Troy Police officer who served on a task force that investigated the gang. "He had all these punk kids doing his stuff for him. He was moving the chess pieces without touching the product."
Akrawi ran a restaurant on 8 Mile named with his initials L.A. Ribs and Chicken, but he'd been through the violence of the times. Akrawi had survived attempts on his life before and he carries scars on his back, leg, stomach and chest.
The gang was known for violence including bombings, shootings and contract killings, some of them directed at police officers, including Pappas.
In 1993, gunmen sprayed automatic weapon fire at the Fiesta Market on Seven Mile, an attack police said Akrawi ordered in retaliation against a rival in the drug business, who had tried to kill Akrawi the day before.
The rival wasn't killed in the attack, but a market customer, Michael Cogborn, 34, of Detroit was killed as he waited in line at a cash register to buy milk.
Akrawi was charged with first-degree murder for ordering the hit.
"An innocent man is dead, but I don't have anything to do with it," Akrawi told the Free Press during his trial. "They don't have anyone to blame, so they're blaming me."
A jury later convicted him of second-degree murder and a judge sentenced him to 15-25 years in prison. He served 20 years before being released on parole in February 2016.
Scott Burnstein, a local author who has interviewed Akrawi extensively for a book he is researching on the Chaldean community, said that since his release, Akrawi has been living quietly in Bloomfield Township with his sister.
Burnstein said it's a far cry from the violence of the Seven Mile and Woodward area of the 1980s and 1990s, and of Baghdad of the 1960s, where Akrawi took part in a failed coup aimed at overthrowing Saddam Hussein. His involvement in that effort forced him to emigrate for fear for his life.
A few weeks ago, Akrawi was called to report to his probation officer, Burnstein said.
"They called him on a Friday and said we need you to sign something," Burnstein said. "He said 'I've got a feeling I'm not coming back.' "
Akrawi reported to his probation officer and was detained on the spot, Burnstein said.
"He wasn't going to run from it," Burnstein said. "He has an iron will."
Contact John Wisely: 248-858-2262 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jwisely.
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