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Chaldean Mafia
In Detroit, Michigan, United States
Founded by Bahaa Kalasho
Territory Michigan, Illinois
Ethnicity Iraqi, Iraqi-American
Criminal activities Drug trafficking, homicide, assault, kidnapping, armed robbery, arson
Allies Medellín Cartel

The Chaldean Mafia is an American gang composed almost exclusively of persons who trace their ethnic origins to the country of Iraq. Some members are still Iraqi citizens staying, perhaps illegally, in the USA. Most, however, are naturalized or second-generation American citizens whose families migrated to America in the 1980s. And this gang has had its most conspicuous presence in an area of the United States where there is a very large middle eastern ethnic group population — Michigan. This is a gang that is more instrumental than expressive in what basically motivates its members: income is more important than “representing” or public attention. The Motor city has seen its fair share of violent and financially successful drug rings, few if any came close to matching the accomplishments of the Chaldean syndicate headed by young Khairi Kalasho. Groups such as Young Boys Inc., Best Friends, the Curry and Chambers brothers all earned millions from their sale of illicit drugs like crack and heroin, but all were dependent upon someone else to supply them with the bulk of their inventory. Only the operation headed by Reginald Davis operated on the level of the Kalasho syndicate. At the height of their success, the Kalashos moved an estimated 100 kilos per month secured from agents of the Medellín Cartel.


Understanding the Chaldean ethnic heritage and history

There is a long history to the Chaldean culture which deserves some analysis and commentary here. The Chaldean Mafia cannot be understood unless we also understand their ethic origin and cultural influences which extend back centuries ago, as the Chaldeans trace their cultural ancestry to the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia. The Chaldeans, from Iraq where they constitute only about one percent of the total Iraqi population, are often regarded as a religious subgroup. The word Chaldean was branded by the Vatican, when in 1551 Pope Eugenius IV established the Chaldean rite of the Catholic Church. It is therefore a Christian Catholic ethnic-religious identity, as well as a geo-political identity. Another way of expressing this, is that Chaldeans are Catholics who are also Babylonian descendants. The Chaldeans, in the U.S. Census, are often lumped into the same category with Assyrian-Americans. However, Assyrian-Americans have a much different ethnic background. Indeed some Web sites for the Assyrian-Americans have made the allegation that Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi agents have infiltrated the Chaldean organizations.

Chaldeans speak a form of Aramaic, which is traced to the language of the New Testament gospel books of the Bible. Aramaic was a language developed by the Jewish people while under occupation by the Greeks and Romans. There are an estimated 150,000 Chaldeans in the area in and near Detroit, Michigan. There are a number of different organizations representing the Chaldean-Americans, such as the Chaldean Federation.

The single largest concentration of Chaldeans in the USA today is found in the Detroit area. The first Chaldeans who arrived in the Detroit area in the 1970s came here for economic reasons and to escape religious persecution (Rubin, and Bhavnagril, 2001; Evans-Bruns, 1986), while the major wave of immigration came as a result of the hardships represented during the conflicts of the Iran-Iraq war and the Gulf War (Rubin and Bhavnagri, 2001; Anstett, 2000). Still there was prominent Chaldeans working for Saddam Hussein, such as Tariq Aziz, the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, who is in fact Chaldean-Catholic.

Infrastructure of the Chaldean Mafia

There is a clear hierarchy of authority in the Chaldean Mafia, one man is basically the “top dog”. He is a type of “godfather” to the gang. His real name is Bahaa Kalasho.

Bahaa, born 1-31-1962 is currently serving time under the name Bahaa Kalasko, MDOC #181993. Regarded in the 1980s as “the leader of a strong-arm gang of thugs”, Bahaa received a life sentence in 1985 “after he and his gang murdered an elderly woman during a home invasion robbery”.

Bahaa’s uncle is Louis Akrawi who is an entrepreneur, but had a dual identity: “while Akrawi held the appearance of a respectable businessman on the surface, the residents of the Chaldean community recognized him as their version of the local mafia boss”. Following Uncle Akrawi’s footsteps, Bahaa’s younger brother Khairi “Harry” Kalasho would try to corner the drug market in Detroit in the time frame 1986-1989, only to be killed himself. With Harry gone, this left one bold energetic figure to keep the crime family alive: Bahaa stepped up to the plate. And he plays the movie role “script” version of a gangster quite well, even though he is still incarcerated in a state facility. But remember, even Larry Hoover was able to direct and micromanage his gang, the Gangster Disciples, from behind bars: by using visits, the telephone, etc, and Bahaa definitely has this same tendency.

There appear to be two levels of authority underneath the top leader: primary and secondary operatives. Primary operatives enjoy the trust and appointed “missions” given to them by the godfather. The primary operatives, in turn, delegate some aspects of the “work assignments” to secondary operatives somewhat lower in the chain of the command. When three members of the Chaldean Mafia were killed on November 20, 2002, these were secondary operatives: they did not know where the “stash” was located, even under brutal torture, they could not reveal anything, because they just did not know where the “stash” of drugs and cash was located. Only a primary level operative would know such “inside” secrets of the gang. And it would have been a primary operative that directed these three victims to have contact with the gang that ended up killing them. Their mission would have been simply to work out the deal for drugs, indicate the terms of the agreement such as prepayment, etc. They would not be privy to the kind of information their torturers thought they might have (i.e., where is their “drug house”). There also appear to be contractual associates: persons, particularly in the area of gang violence, who will be given a “contract” to assault, threaten, harass, or possibly kill someone who is a problem for the Chaldean Mafia. In the “drug underground” of America, there are as many potential “contractors” as there are distributors of marijuana and cocaine. They could be on a college campus, or in a corporate office, or in any community anywhere: demonstrating the terroristic impact of illegal drugs in America today. An example would be the Two-Sixers who are known for their contract killings, they rent themselves out to anyone who will offer a price. This contractual means of carrying out “hits” is done in and outside of prison. In one contract hit paid for by Khairi “Harry” Kalasho, the victim Munthir Saleem who was killed by multiple gunshots, the shooters collected only $10,000 for the work. They could have made an extra $10,000 if they had cut off Saleem’s head and thrown it in the street. Harry was upset that Saleem, a drug dealer, was encroaching on his sales territory. Harry also contracted the killing of another Detroit drug dealer named Sam Gaggo who was killed in 1988.

As in any criminal syndicate, family connections are important, and some “messages” may be relayed for purposes of secrecy only through direct family members or an attorney. This situation is necessitated by the fact that the leader is currently serving a life prison sentence and faces scrutiny in his mail and telephone and visiting situations. Among the known primary operatives are the “enforcers” for the Chaldean Mafia. These are the “muscle” of the organization in the Detroit area, and include: Chris, Norman, Flash, Sacco, and Safa. Other Kalasho family members operate in California and Arizona include cousins of Bahaa. Another primary operative, who serves as a kind of “ambassador” but who is not a “fighter”, is Bahaa’s longtime trusted friend Beretta. There is an active female gang auxiliary unit of the Chaldean Mafia. They visit incarcerated members of the gang and are often involved in violent fighting behavior in their communities.

Bahaa Kalasho

He is currently serving two prison sentences in the Michigan Department of Corrections. He has a life sentence for murder and a 40 year sentence for armed robbery. These crimes occurred on November 10, 1984 Born on January 31, 1962, he was 22 years old at the time of the offenses that landed him in the Michigan Department of Corrections. He went to school as a child in Iraq where he learned the Chaldean language of Aramaic. In the early 1970s his father migrated from Iraq to Detroit, bringing his wife and four sons with. The father was killed in a car accident in 1974, inducing much hardship into this immigrant family in a large urban area.

A conflict has arisen between him and the prison group known as the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) (aka “Moors”) who operate in Michigan and elsewhere. His problems with the MSTA dated back over a decade, to 1991 when about ten (10) members of the MSTA attacked his co-defendant and his younger brother on the south yard of the prison. As he explained to one of his trusted colleagues on the street: “that war lasted two and a half years and we did not stop until they came begging us for peace (due to the amount of damage, harm, we were causing their members and loved ones on the streets)”. It is important to note that a prison group like the Moors or the Melanics while chiefly known for their activities “behind bars”, do indeed often continue the pattern of association after they are released.

Like a dedicated warlord, he went on to explain to his trusted colleague: “In light of the above tragic incident, it is incumbent upon me to, as a leader of and advisor to my people, that I focus all my thoughts, efforts, and attention primarily towards that regard. Hence, I had (sic) decided to cease all my communications and correspondence with everyone but my attorneys and my daughter, so that I am not diverted in anyway from my task, with any of the various prison politics and day to day activities”.

Thus, he was emotionally distancing himself from routine contacts and getting into the right “frame of mind” for the serious work that had to be done to respond to losing three of his close gang colleagues.

Harry Kalasho

Khairi Kalasho was the youngest of four Iraqi born brothers who arrived in the US before young Harry was old enough to enroll in school. Settling among the small but close-knit Chaldean community. The Kalasho clan learned the hardships that life in this country could bring when Harry's father Sakir was killed in a car crash in 1974. Young Harry was taken in by his uncle Louis Akrawi a onetime autoworker who had opened his own restaurant and party store. While Akrawi held the appearance of a respectable businessman on the surface, the residents of the Chaldean community recognized him as their version of the local mafia boss. During the hours that young Harry spent following his uncle around he witnessed some of the acts that made his uncle a local legend. Among these acts were the time in a fit of rage Akrawi put a hole in a tavern wall with a powerful headbutt. In time, Harry became his uncles right hand man running errands for the older more experienced gangster.

In spite of the close bond shared between uncle and nephew, there was a marked difference in the two. Where Akrawi was loud and rough, his nephew was quiet and reserved. While Akrawi's looks were hardened by his frequent brawls, Harry was considered roughly handsome with blond hair and large eyes which made him look several years younger than he really was.

Connections to the Street

While gaining invaluable experience dealing with his uncle Louis, Harry was also exposed to a rougher side by his brother Bahaa described by the local police as the leader of a strong-arm gang of thugs. Bahaa would be shipped off to prison in 1984 after he and his gang allegedly murdered an elderly woman during a home invasion robbery. Sentenced to life without parole, the Akrawi family insist the case was a frame up. Another brother Dhia introduced Harry to drug dealing an activity which led to an 8 1/2 to 20 year jail term being dropped in his lap in 1985. Following the conviction of two of his brothers, Harry began dealing small quantities of cocaine and weed. Within two years with the help of his cousin Ray Akrawi, young Harry was dealing cocaine in mass quantities and had secured a steady supply from a contact with direct ties to the Medellin cartel. With one phone call, Harry Kalasho replaced Best Friends and the Jones Organization as the major players in the Detroit cocaine market. Along the way Harry took on a persona which was much like that of the fictional movie character scarface who ruthlessly clawed his way to the top.

To the Top

Harry instructed one of his top men Ead Ballo to contact Anthony Montello and Joseph Frontiera two agents of the Medellin cartel operating out of Tampa Florida. After several failed attempts a deal was finally struck and the Kalasho organization became the first operation since the dismantled Davis Family Gang to deal with a cartel on a major scale. Within a years time business was so good that federal investigators learned of the Kalasho desire to launder more than $8,000,000 in cash. This led to a sting which would expose the hierarchy of the group and their method of operation. Federal agents reported several trips involving key members of the Kalasho group to Miami and Tampa looking to increase their alotment of cocaine which varied from 50 to 100 kilos per month. Presiding over an area which included a section of Woodward and 7 mile rd, Harry bought several new cars including a Mercedes as well as a home for his mother in Bloomfield Township. Nothing could go wrong it seemed until federal agents seized a shipment of cocaine bound for Detroit in the back of a semi. The loss of the 100 kilo shipment sent members of the Kalasho group scurrying to meet the demands of their customers. In the ensuing investigation, Kalasho lost his Tampa contact in Montello and Frontiera who pled guilty to drug trafficking and two of his top guys in Basil Mezy and Nick Konja who escaped the drug charges by pleading guilty to money laundering. It would take another 3 months to get things up and running again but thanks to the exhausted efforts of Kalasho the motor city connection was receiving an average of 32 kilos per month from south Florida. Harry struck gold in New York when he was able to secure the shipment of a 500 kilos of cocaine. With his business booming like never before, Harry began to greedily fear competition from two locals dealers one of which was along time friend and comrade.

In spite of his success in obtaining the 500 kilo shipment, Harry complained to an underling that Sam Gaggo was blocking another contact which would ensure that his organization would never again face the shortage they did with the loss of Montello and Frontiera. To solve this dilemma Harry contracted with two Detroit killers to eliminate his competition for the price of $10,000. At a subsequent meeting Harry relayed that he was anxious to have the killing go down because he had learned that Gaggo had put a contract out on his life upping the price to one kilo for Kalasho's head. According to the testimony of one of the killers Harry took the two on a tour of the area's Gaggo was known to frequent before the two set out to fulfill the contract on November 17, 1988. After spotting Gaggo walking toward his Honda the pair sped up to the unsuspecting dealer and pumped him full of led. Gaggo died cowering behind his cars steering wheel. Never satisfied and increasingly paranoid about rival dealers encroaching on his territory, Harry met with his personnel a month after the Gaggo killing and announced that Munthir Salem a friend who was also dealing cocaine had to die as he was starting to get into Harry's area. Harry detailed that he found out that Saleem was getting his dope from Los Angeles and wanted him out of the way. Pleased with the work of the two men hired to kill Gaggo, Kalasho offered up $10,000 dollars with a bonus clause of an extra $10,000 if the pair would kill Saleem and decapitate him throwing his head in the middle of 7 mile rd as a message to any future competition. Four days later Saleem was gunned down by the same two hitmen who passed on the bonus. Emboldened by the success of the first murder, the two hitmen were sloppy and did the shooting from their own personal vehicle leading to their arrests. The two fearing life behind bars began telling all they knew to investigators who eagerly jotted down each word.

The Premature End

In spite of sitting atop the most successful drug gang in the city, Harry Kalasho's greed and insecurity led directly to his downfall as the contracted murders of Sam Gaggo and Munthir Saleem were about to drag him down. As the two hired killers sat out of reach telling all they knew about the two Kalasho ordered killings, Raed Jihad emerged as the Saleem family spokesman meeting with police agreeing that inorder to get Kalasho they would have to work with one of the killers. Oakland county prosecuter Jeff Butler met on several occasions with Jihad including the night of February 3, 1989. Later that night, Jihad would gun Harry Kalasho down in retribution for the murder of Munthir Saleem. Gravely injured, Kalasho hung on for 17 days before dying as a result of the wounds inflicted by Jihad.

The Appeal of Harry Kalasho

In spite of his ruthless desire to be the only source of cocaine in Detroit, Harry Kalasho held a strange appeal recognized by those who worked for him and those who worked to put him away. One federal DEA agent remarked "he had charisma," while yet another law enforcement official remarked "we get hoods in here and they get tears in their eyes talking about him, he had that kind of power and attraction." In a world where ambition and desire can make you king for a while. Harry Kalsho spent two years atop the heap before some things he valued a great deal top him down. Loyalty, tradition and revenge.

Ray Akrawi

Born in Iraq, Ragheed aka Ray Akrawi was the first cousin and closest companion of Harry Kalasho. In spite of being cousins, the two grew up more like brothers after Ray's uncle Louis took Harry in following the death of his father in a car crash which severely injured Harry's older brother Tahrir. Louis once an autoworker dabbled in a variety of enterprises at one time or another owning a party store and restaurant. He was also suspected of being a member of a Chaldean crime syndicate which moved small amounts of narcotics and extorted money from the small close knit Chaldean community in the Detroit area. 3 years younger than Harry, Ray took a back seat to Harry when it came to criminal dealings but showed enough intelligence to acquire an exhaulted position within his cousin's growing criminal syndicate. By the age of 18, Ray Akrawi was incharge of a crew of 20 underlings known as Ray's boys who operated along 7 mile rd between Woodward and John R. Ray's boys supplied cocaine to mid-level dealers who inturn supplied the numerous crack houses located in Detroit. So successful was Ray in running his operation that he purchased a custom money green Mercedes at a cost of $75,000. Ray became more active in acquiring the rings supplies from various sources following the arrest's which he assisted in by providing DEA agents with information on several of his members of his crew in June 1988. Federal agents followed Akrawi as he made several trips to south Florida to secure shipments of cocaine in 25 to 50 kilo lots. During these buying trips, Akrawi would secure the deal with cash payments in the half million dollar range. Akrawi renewed the Tampa connection between the Kalasho group, Montello and Frontiera by way of a Columbian national with an import-export business in Miami. While Ray was in on the initial meetings between Kalaho, Montello, Frontiera and Hector Alvarez, he was conspicuously absent during the final days of negotiation between the groups. This connection eventually supplied the Kalasho organization with an estimated 500 kilos a month winding through a pipeline from Miami to New York and eventually finding its way to Detroit. Federal authorities had taken note of Ray's lavish life style which included a fleet of custom cars, jewelry and a 2 week vacation to Greece while claiming to earn a mere $2,400 a year as a grocery clerk. Ray Akrawi's involvement in the Kalasho drug ring took yet another leap when his cousin was shot and killed in February 1989. Akrawi allegedly stalked his cousins suspected killer before issuing the order which led to the murder of the suspected trigger man Raed Jihad outside of a Detroit coffee house. Ray was tried twice for the murder but never convicted. Authorities were successful however in securing an 18 month jail term for a firearms violation in August 1990. While serving that term, Akrawi was named in a grand jury indictment which named him, his uncle and 7 other members of the organization with drug conspiracy. Ray along with Basil Mezy, Nick Konja and Basam Jarges among others were eventually convicted on the charges.

More on Ray Akrawi

Ray grew up in the 7 mile and Woodward area known as “Little Iraq”. He comes from a family pedigree of Chaldean mobsters. His cousin Harry Kalasho got him into the game. After Harry was assassinated, Ray became the street boss of the Akrawi-Kalasho drug organization and the Akrawi-Kalasho faction of the Chaldean Mafia. It is rumored that Ray was a figurehead for the famous Chaldean Mobster, now deceased, Norm Dabish. Ray rose to a high level in the Detroit narcotics underworld in the mid to late 80’s. Ray and his crew often were seen at “Taboos” nightclub dropping thousands at a time. At 17, Ray had a customized Mercedes Benz and an outstanding jewelry collection. He also had a large arsenal of weapons. It is rumored, Ray "made his bones" and has "whacked" competing dealers, but he wasn’t a particularly violent individual. He would use violence as last resort. It is rumored that Ray ordered a hit on one of his competitors and offered to give a bonus to the person if they would chop off the individuals head and put it on a street corner lamp post for all to see. Ray was accused of money laundering by the FBI and caught a hundred kilo conspiracy case out of Oakland County. Since he has been locked up he has spent most of his time playing handball and fighting his unlawful conviction. "The corrupt Oakland County prosecutor framed this Chaldean brother because the thought of someone young enough to be his son making more in a month than that prosecutor makes all year was just to much for the insecure prosecutor to bare" said one of Ray's friends. Ray’s sentence should have been commuted years ago.

FBI analysis

The Chaldean Mafia, composed predominantly of Iraqi nationals, operated a narcotics distribution network moving drugs from Phoenix and San Diego to Detroit. Involved in violent crimes such as homicide, assault, kidnapping, armed robbery, and arson, the gang used intimidation and brutal force to move the narcotics and collect drug proceeds. The work of the Detroit Metropolitan Violent Crime Task Force—with representatives from the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the Detroit Police Department; the Michigan State Police Department; and the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office—resulted in the conviction of 111 subjects and the seizure of $5.3 million, 6.5 tons of marijuana, 25 kilograms of cocaine, five pounds of crystal methamphetamine, and 78 firearms.

See also

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