PASSAIC, N.J. – An ex-con with a decade-long history of gun convictions and other offenses that include harboring a missing 15-year-old girl was one of two men charged federally on Friday with robbing a Passaic club and then leading police on a chase into Essex County.
Keontrae “Taz” Lawrence, 28, of South Orange and fellow Essex County resident Jimmy “Flip” Cooper, 32, of Irvington conspired with others to rob the club in the early morning hours of Sept. 6, 2015, Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick said.
Cooper “sent text messages to a conspirator’s phone coordinating the timing of the robbery and discussing how to smuggle the gun into the club,” Fitzpatrick said.
“Minutes later, Lawrence and a conspirator entered the [club] office…where an employee was alone,” he said. “They brandished a firearm, threatened to kill the employee, and emptied the contents of an open safe into two purses.
“Lawrence and the other robber ordered the employee to the ground and told him to count to 100 as they lowered the lights and fled the club in a getaway car.”
A high-speed police chase followed through Passaic, Newark, and East Orange, where the robbers abandoned the car and ran, Fitzpatrick said.
Lawrence was arrested a short while later and charged by the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office with robbery and firearms offenses, the acting U.S. attorney said.
He was out on bail in January 2016 when police in Milford, CT said they found him in a motel room with a 15-year-old girl who’d been reported missing. They said they found cocaine, crystal meth and “evidence of prostitution” in the room.
Cooper was arrested last November after federal authorities issued a federal complaint stemming from the robbery and chase.
Fitzpatrick credited special agents of the FBI and members of the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office with the investigation leading to an indictment returned Friday by a federal grand jury in Newark that charges both men with conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery and brandishing a firearm during a violent crime.
He also thanked the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office and Passaic and Newark police.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elaine K. Lou of Fitzpatrick’s General Crimes Unit was handling the case.