By Russ McQuaid
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (March 8, 2015) –Whitney Blackwell considers herself lucky to be locked inside the Marion County Jail waiting for her initial hearing Monday morning on a drug trafficking charge after she ripped off a Detroit cocaine dealer.
“I’m scared to death of him and I’m scared to get out of jail because I think he’s going to hurt me some more.”
Blackwell was talking about John Thomas, the man federal agents and Indianapolis Metro Police say was behind a kidnapping scheme that held two east side teenagers captive for most of a day and on the road from Indianapolis to Detroit to Dayton, Ohio.
“What we saw was basically someone who got caught up in a web of controversy and challenges and ripped off a guy who was obviously a major player,” said IMPD Chief Rick Hite, “and it shows how desperate it can be to get out of the game.”
Blackwell admitted stealing $42,000 from Thomas, who told the FBI it was more, about $120,000 plus a kilogram of cocaine and 4,000 hits of Oxycontin.
Kathleen Blackwell told IMPD her daughter claimed she stole $250,000 and planned to bury it in her backyard.
“Whitney was hoping to keep the money and had little concern for her kidnapped brother and sister’s safety,” the elder Blackwell told police.
Aaron Blackwell, 16, was rescued in Detroit. Emma Blackwell, 13, was dropped off by her kidnappers with $200, in central Ohio and told to catch a cab ride back to Indianapolis.
Investigators believe Thomas sent as many as nine people to Indianapolis in late February to track down his ex-girlfriend, whom he met dancing in a Detroit strip club, and her son. The mission to find Blackwell failed and police said Thomas decided to kidnap her teenage siblings instead.
While Thomas was launching his recovery operation, Blackwell is alleged to have sold his cocaine in Indianapolis and bought two cars with the stolen cash.
Investigators theorize perhaps she was intent on setting up her own drug dealing network.
“Once you’re out you stay out,” said Hite. “You don’t get back in the game. You don’t set up your own operation and you certainly don’t put your family at risk.”
Blackwell said that she believed Thomas had $6 million stashed in a home in Detroit and he would never miss the relatively small sum she admitted stealing.
Thomas and five associates face federal kidnapping charges in the U.S. Southern District of Indiana though they were all arrested in Michigan.
“They’re so dangerous I’d rather be in jail than be out there where he can find me,” said Blackwell, “because he has police officers who work for him in Kentucky, so why would I not think that one of the police officers who’s up here would want to get on his payroll. See what I’m saying? And just because he’s in jail doesn’t mean it’s going to stop. He has his whole work team out here. If y’all didn’t get Rome, and y’all didn’t get Pea, and y’all didn’t get Sonny, they’re all going to come back for me.”
“It says they are more connected than you guys think because they are,” Blackwell warned. “The only thing I did was to sign my son up for school and the next day he knew I signed up my son for school and the night of my son’s birthday he kicks in the door thinking that’s where I’m at and doesn’t find me so he takes them.”
Hite lauded the cooperation between IMPD, the FBI, U.S. Marshals and Detroit police that led to the filing of state and local charges in Indianapolis.
“We were glad to take this on because we wanted it here, because we wanted to send a message: you don’t come to Indianapolis harming our kids, harming our community, and not pay a price for that.”
“You come here you’re going to pay for it. There are repercussions and consequences for violating the law in Indianapolis.”
Hite said IMPD and the Indiana State Police delayed issuing an Amber Alert for several hours on March 2 after Aaron and Emma Blackwell were taken to avoid tipping off the kidnappers in Detroit, a strategy with which the teens’ older sister agreed.
“I knew for sure when (the kidnappers) seen the Amber Alert on TV they was going to kill my brother and sister,” said Whitney.
According to the federal criminal complaint, the suspects in Detroit” discussed the fact that the kidnapping…had been in the news.” One of the kidnappers “became concerned that they would get in trouble for it…” and a decision was made to leave Aaron at a gas station. It was during a subsequent police pursuit that the teen was freed and three suspects were arrested.
While Blackwell faces an initial drug charge, her half-brother, Stanley Pernell, also faces charges of conspiracy to deal cocaine and burglary in connection with his attempt to raise ransom money to free his younger brother and sister.
Pernell says Blackwell told him to search her car and a home where she lived on Indianapolis’ west side for cash for the ransom and her bond on a traffic warrant charge.
“I actually went to go look for the money, yes,” Pernell said. “She told me to go into a house and look for the money. She said I knew where it was at. I didn’t know where it was at. When I seen her with some money it was in a Crown Royal bag and it was only about $5,000.”
Detectives later found $75 in the glove compartment of Blackwell’s car and $18,000 in a box of trash and throughout several locations in a home they watched Pernell burglarize in the 1500 block of South Goodlet Avenue.
“Actually when I went into the house,” said Pernell. “I entered through the window she told me to go through since the door wasn’t locked and then I looked for the money in shoeboxes that would be a common place. None in there. I checked the vents. It wasn’t in there.”
Blackwell said police may not have found all the stolen money that she stashed in a friend’s house.
“They said they found more but I don’t know whose money that was because my money was hidden upstairs in the bed.”
Pernell said the kidnappers wanted him to drive the money south of Indianapolis for a ransom exchange.
The route would have taken him through Lexington, Ky., where investigators believe the actual hand-off would have occurred.
“I was under the impression that in 24 hours $43,000 had to be in Miami, Florida,” said Pernell.
Blackwell’s escapades landed her in jail and her half-brother, too. Terrified for her younger relatives, she got her own son placed under a death threat, and resulted in smashing a Detroit drug ring and landing six people in federal custody. Yet she says the theft of Thomas’ money failed to make even a dent in his operation.
“He told me in front of the police,” Blackwell said, “he was not worried about that money. He made it back and spent it by now.”