Seward residents charged in New Year’s Eve kidnapping, robbery

Incident is ‘escalation of threat of violence’

On the last night of 2008, two men and a 17-year-old boy allegedly kidnapped 26-year-old Ali Ali and his girlfriend as they walked from a friend’s apartment to their car at 2910 E. Franklin Ave., Seward Towers East.

According to a criminal complaint filed in the state’s Fourth District Court, the men forced Ali into the trunk of his car and took him and his girlfriend, held in the backseat, on an hour-long ordeal that included threats to kill Ali and his girlfriend if the alleged kidnappers did not receive $600 from trips to an ATM and Ali’s friend’s Seward Towers apartment. (The suspects got only $300.)

Thankfully, no one was harmed. The suspects fled the vehicle when it stalled on I-94 and were arrested several hours later when police responded to a report of a fight at 910 29th Ave. S., where the alleged perpetrators lived. According to the complaint, they were fighting over the spoils of the crime.

Tommy Lee Wilkes (22) and Anthony Deshawn Wilkes (18) are each charged with two counts of first-degree aggravated robbery and kidnapping (all felonies) and were being held pending a court appearance on Jan. 29. Each could face up to 20 years or $35,000 in penalties for the robbery; 40 years or $50,000 for the kidnapping.

Records for juveniles are not public, so the name and status of the third alleged suspect were not available.

Repeat offenders

The defendants in the case are no strangers to the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) and their Seward neighbors, who have twice in the past two years met publicly to discuss what Seward Neighborhood Group (SNG) President Sheldon Mains called an escalating level of the threat of violence in crimes committed by members of the family living at 910 29th Ave. S.

Police and court records show only adult criminal histories for Tommy, Anthony and Michael Terrell Wilkes (who was arrested separately on New Year’s Eve for an alleged assault), all of whom lived at the 910 29th Ave. S. home owned by Tom Wilkes, Sr. and Bertha Mae Wilkes, according to Hennepin County property records. (The Bridge asked the homeowners for comment several days before press time but did not receive a reply.)

According to Mains and 3rd Precinct Crime Prevention Specialist Shun Tillman, however, trouble started with the three (and possibly more) young men as juveniles. Seward residents turned out in early 2007 to discuss a rash of burglaries the previous summer by juveniles who had broken into homes and stolen items after offering to rake leaves. Tillman confirmed that juvenile members of the family (again, names are not public) had been arrested for burglary of a dwelling.

“That was just the beginning trend,” said Tillman. “We thought it would escalate, and now, lo and behold, they have escalated.”

In his three years as an adult, Tommy Wilkes has racked up a criminal record of a dozen offenses, including aggravated robbery, auto theft and forged checks. The younger Wilkes’ rap sheets include fewer offenses; the Dec. 31 arrest was 18-year-old Anthony’s first as an adult.

A query of police responses to 910 29th Ave. S. shows 60 incidents since 1991. Incidents include reports (but not necessarily arrests or charges) of assault, threats, theft, recovered vehicles, child abuse and more. In many, it should be noted, household residents are listed as victims, not perpetrators. Many of the more recent incidents involve fights between — or assaults on and threats towards family members by — juveniles.

What’s being done?

Police reports also show an increasing frustration on the part of some elder members of the household. A police report from 2005, in which a 15-year-old was apprehended on suspicion of assault, states that the “victim says she cannot control [the arrested party] any longer and wants to press charges.” In many reports, it is household members who have called police; it was Tom Wilkes, Sr., who made the call that resulted in the New Year’s Eve arrest.

Tillman said that Tom Wilkes. Sr. “has been somewhat cooperative in trying to deal with some of the issues there. Could he do more?” Tillman asked. “Yes.”

Meanwhile, many Seward residents are fed up with the string of crimes. As many as 50 people attended the winter 2007 meeting, and a dozen braved the freezing cold this January for an SNG safety meeting, which focused on the Wilkes family. Mains summed up their concerns: “This family is a big problem in the neighborhood, and what can we do?,” he said. “Since I’ve been chair [of SNG], they’ve been a major crime concern in the area,” Mains said.

Tillman has urged residents to file “community impact statements” about how they’ve been affected by the crimes. Such statements are forwarded to prosecutors to hopefully bolster cases and sentencing against the alleged perpetrators.

In the long run, action could be taken against the property, as well. According to Tillman, the homeowners have received one letter in the past toward a “nuisance referral” — a tool used by the county to deal with “problem properties.” The three-strike process “is not a short process,” Tillman said, but it could, after three letters, result in the property being seized for a year.

While the New Year’s Eve incident has “definitely opened some eyes,” said Tillman, charges were not tied to the address and will probably not trigger another letter from the county.

While the likely incarceration of the three charged in the New Year’s Eve kidnapping might bring some amount of calm, it has not stopped police calls to the address. The latest was on Jan. 13, when, according to a police report, a juvenile made threats against other family members but fled on foot before police could arrive.

last revised: September 2, 2009