'Exactly what I needed': From life of crime to life of faith, man looks to help those in dark places

Published: Sunday, Feb. 10 2013 7:05 p.m. MST

His mother was living in Utah, and he came out for a short visit at her home in West Valley City in August 2008. That's when he met Farani, Williamson and Malaga and said he quickly realized Utah was not what he expected — and he saw an opportunity to expand his business.

He briefly returned to California but soon decided to move to Utah for good. He didn't have a car, so he stole one to make the trip. He was arrested after an officer scanned the license plate scan in a Wal-Mart parking lot. The pending charges kept him in Utah and he started selling drugs in West Valley City and in downtown Salt Lake City. He was soon facing two separate felony cases and spent 65 days in jail between September and November 2008.

When he got out, he started to make some changes and got a job. He met a girl and accepted an invitation to go to church with her. He decided to study massage therapy. The change of heart, however, was short-lived.

"I got back into (selling drugs) in January," Brown said, noting that he thinks what happened in February was a higher power trying to point him in another direction. "This was quick, you can see the intervention here. … I was not meant to be selling drugs." 

Brown learned that Farani, Williamson and Malaga wanted to get in on the business. He had decided he needed a gun for security purposes, and they set up an exchange: his drugs for their gun.

"Little did I know they were setting me up," Brown recalled.

They duct-taped his hands. Brown said he set about to come up with the $2,000 that Farani was demanding. He estimated that he made about 100 phone calls to at least 20 different people, with Cater — whom he had never seen before — holding the phone to his ear and dialing the numbers.

One man paid Brown $175 he was owed. Brown then got in touch with his friend JoJo Brandstatt and asked him to find someone whom they could rob for drugs and money. He told Brandstatt they would take the money and go to California.

"He was a really good kid," Brown said of Brandstatt. "He was a hard worker. It was a bad business, but he still had good personality traits."

Brown said he was told that if he and Brandstatt could come up with the money, they would let him go. Brandstatt told him he knew about a place where they could go and the group went to pick him up around 6 p.m.

Things got worse, however, because of the simple fact that the 18-year-old was wearing a red shirt.

"They noticed the color he was wearing and it was problems from the beginning," Brown said, noting that the color indicated affiliation with either the Blood or Norteño gangs. "That brings tension and confrontation to the car."

Brandstatt's mother has said her son wore the color to "fit in," but she insisted her son was not a gang member.

Brown urged everyone to calm down and assured them that he and Brandstatt could come up with the money. Things devolved quickly, though, when Brandstatt struggled to guide them to the house he had in mind to rob.

"When we get there, the group sees an old lady sitting in the front window of the house," Brown recalled. "They thought they were being set up and that's when Sano says, 'Let's do a Norte quick.'"

Brown knew that was a threat on Brandstatt's life, but he didn't take it seriously. He said the conversation was all over the place and he was clueless as to what they would do.

"I was figuring they were bluffing," he said. "I didn't know if they really had it in them to kill somebody, especially the way they were talking about it."

They drove to a field, but it was busy. They then went to West Ridge Golf Course, 5055 S. Westridge Blvd. (5950 West). Brandstatt was ordered out of the car with Malaga, Farani and Cater. Brown stayed behind with Williamson.

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere