Ex-soldier, arsonist back in federal court

Dyson stands accused of starting his own snitch-for-hire business

Standing rigidly at attention before a federal judge, Sandeo Dyson ticked off the names of four soldiers he had served alongside who had died in combat during the past two years.

Dyson spent most of those two years in prison charged with torching an Atlanta strip club and arranging a commando-style raid of a cocaine stash house that would turn soldiers into drug dealers.

“Their military careers ended honorably,” Dyson told U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes about his fallen brothers at his sentencing a year ago. “Ma’am, mine did not.”

Dyson had been booted out of the U.S. Army after disclosures that he was involved in some of the more unusual crimes in Atlanta history. Before setting the strip club ablaze, he’d tried infesting it with rats and roaches. He prepared to take down the stash house as if mounting an assault on a high-value military target.

Shortly after Carnes sentenced him to five years in prison, Dyson started up his own snitch-for-hire business, a new federal indictment alleges. It charges that Dyson began gathering information from fellow inmates about crimes committed in Georgia and North Carolina and sold it to other inmates for $5,000 to $10,000 each, the indictment said.

Dyson told the inmates their newfound knowledge would be worth the investment, the indictment said. They could share the information with federal prosecutors, helping them make new cases and, in exchange, could get time taken off their sentences.

Federal agents say Dyson, 47, got four inmates to pay for information “packages” by getting their relatives or friends to deposit money into bank accounts controlled by other inmates’ relatives or friends. These individuals then transferred the money to Dyson and unidentified associates, the indictment said.

As part of the scheme, the inmates would lie to prosecutors about where they got their information, the indictment said.

“By selling information and instructing witnesses to lie about the source of the information, this defendant attempted to pervert that system to a profit center,” U.S. Attorney Sally Yates said this week. “But justice is not for sale.”

At his initial court appearance last month, Dyson pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and false statements. This week, his attorney, Barry Lombardo, declined to comment.

Dyson, who became fluent in a number of languages, served four years in the Marine Corps and almost 14 years in the Army. He was stationed in Japan, endured jungle survival training in the Philippines and was deployed to Bosnia.

By 2006, his skills were so highly regarded that he was stationed at Camp Merrill in Dahlonega where, as a senior line medic, he helped prepare Army Rangers for combat. It was also during this time that Dyson’s marriage failed and he suffered financial setbacks.

For extra income, Dyson began moonlighting, working security for the Platinum 21 strip club on Piedmont Road. The manager, Boyd Smith, is a former Marine who served with Dyson in Japan.

Within months, however, the luxurious Club Onyx opened its doors around the corner on Cheshire Bridge Road, and Platinum 21’s business tanked.

Facing pressure, Smith decided Club Onyx had to be shut down and recruited Dyson to do it, according to testimony. First, Dyson thought about stuffing the club with asbestos but then decided against it. Instead, he dumped rats in the club and littered it with roaches in hope of getting health officials to close it. But that didn’t work.

Before dawn on Jan. 2, 2007, Dyson broke into Club Onyx and started a fire that shut the club down for six months, causing $1.8 million in damage and lost sales. Dyson later testified that Platinum 21 management stiffed him for the job, paying him $4,700 after they’d promised $10,000.

Federal agents ultimately confronted Howard “Bit” Thrower, Platinum 21’s corporate manager, about the arson. Thrower, a longtime federal informant, acknowledged his role and then fingered Dyson and Smith. Thrower also told agents he’d previously talked to Dyson about committing an armed raid on a drug stash house in North Georgia.

Thrower then began working with undercover agents to set up a raid on a fake stash house. He told Dyson the house contained 25 kilograms of cocaine. Dyson was all in on the scheme and recruited four of his soldier colleagues to join in, with each expecting a $15,000 pay day after selling the drugs.

Shortly before the attack, however, Dyson transferred to Fort Carson, Colo., in anticipation of being deployed to Afghanistan.

But that did not stop the raid. On Jan. 24, 2008, four soldiers from the Ranger training school in Dahlonega arrived at a pre-arranged staging area in Sandy Springs armed with an assault rifle, semi-automatic pistols and 15 magazines of ammunition. The soldiers were met by federal agents and police and arrested.

One of the soldiers, Carlos Lopez, immediately turned on Dyson. He telephoned Dyson in Colorado and said the drug raid had been a complete success, according to testimony.

Dyson was ecstatic and said he was going to rent a car and drive to Georgia to get his share, federal prosecutors said. But agents arrested him before he left and charged him with both the arson and the conspiracy to raid the stash house. Dyson soon did what Thrower and Lopez had done to him. He agreed to cooperate with authorities; he testified at trial against his former Marine buddy Smith, who was convicted for the Club Onyx arson.

In exchange, prosecutors only charged Dyson with the arson and did not charge him for his role setting up the raid, which could have brought a minimum mandatory 10-year prison term.

At his sentencing, Dyson apologized for the damage his actions had caused to the reputation of the U.S. military and to all those who volunteered to serve. “At some point, I changed my paradigm and priorities,” he said. “I lost sight of who I was and what I stood for.”

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