WARREN - The property where known drug dealer Marco Dukes was shot dead in a ''major gun battle,'' is a business address that has been used for Dream Team Promotions, the company owned by convicted felon LaShawn Ziegler and listed as a permit holder for the controversial Sunset Lounge.
The murder scene, 156 and 158 Elm Road, and nearby parking lot on Elm Court are owned by Warren businessman Robert Cregar, whom Ziegler describes as a ''business mentor.'' Cregar also owns the North Park Avenue building that housed Ziegler's crime-ridden and now closed Benji Brown's bar. Cregar, who also operates All American Big Bob's Bail Bonding, has previously bonded Dukes and Ziegler out of jail.
Ziegler insists that these and other connections between himself, Dukes' shooting and Sunset are coincidence, and he said he is no longer affiliated with the bar at the corner of Elm Road and East Market Street.
156 Elm Road: Marco Dukes Jr. was slain Nov. 11 at this house on Elm Road, listed as two apartments: 156 and 158 Elm Road. 156 Elm Road is a mailing address used for Dream Team Productions LLC. Dream Team Productions is owned by LaShawn Ziegler, who has a partnership agreement as co-owner of Sunset Lounge and who signed for many of the Sunset Lounge’s permits and utility bills. One of the permits is held by Dream Team Productions. The property is owned by Warren businessman Robert Cregar. Ziegler describes Cregar as a business mentor. Cregar, as owner of All American Big Bob’s Bail Bonding, bonded out Ziegler and Dukes in the past.
''I don't get that,'' Ziegler said. ''There's no connection there. No matter where you have a club or a bar, you're going to have problems sometimes. That's no reflection on the bar owner or the person operating it. It's just how things are sometimes.''
Dukes, who had several arrests for his involvement with drugs, was fatally shot 10:30 a.m. Nov. 11. The spectacular nature of the incident stimulated many residents, business owners and city officials to publicly brainstorm about how to fight increasing violence in the city. At least 50 shots were fired in what authorities call a ''major gun battle.'' The combatants ran down an adjacent alley in daylight. A nearby church locked in its worshippers during service. A passerby driving with her young daughter picked up Dukes' cousin, Larry Smith, who was wounded in the battle, and drove him to Trumbull Memorial Hospital.
Dale A. Hatch, aka ''Black,'' 25, of Detroit, and Derrick Peete, aka ''Rizzi,'' 22, of Webb Avenue S.W., Warren and Detroit, pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder and felonious assault, all with firearm specifications, and other charges in connection to the shooting. Both men are awaiting trial and being held in lieu of $2.5 million bond.
Reginald Baldwin of Detroit was arrested in the murder but later was released for lack of evidence.
In April, Ziegler listed 156 Elm as the mailing address for his business, Dream Team Promotions LLC. Trumbull County Auditor's Office records show Cregar owns the Elm Road building and a nearby parking lot. Dream Team, ''DBA (doing business as) Sunset Lounge,'' holds the food service operation license for Sunset.
Ziegler and Cregar said they have no idea how Dukes came to be at 156 Elm the morning he was killed. Cregar said he is familiar with Dukes from bailing him out of jail in the past.
''I have several properties,'' Cregar said. ''You can't always control what happens on your property, especially when you rent it out to other people. I was out of town at the time so I don't know anything about the shooting really. I know it's a shame he died like that.''
Soon after the Dukes shooting, Warren police issued a statement saying they have no evidence to support published reports that the murder was linked to a fight earlier at Sunset Lounge.
But Warren City Council had already embarked on a mission to convince state liquor control officials to deny renewing the Sunset Lounge's liquor license. Hicks said the city has concerns that Ziegler remains connected to the Sunset based on the findings of a state inspection of the Sunset on Aug. 2.
During the inspection, which was in response to a complaint of ''Hidden Ownership,'' state agents found a three-page partnership agreement, dated Feb. 2, 2012, between Ziegler and Anthony Dukes Sr. The agreement outlines how the Sunset is to be run, how profits are to be divided between the two of them and how their salaries are to be withdrawn.
The terms of Ziegler's probation (he pleaded guilty two years ago to nine felony counts in connection with automobile fraud and illegal drugs) include a stipulation that he never enter a liquor establishment.
Ziegler described Anthony Dukes Sr. as a friend and business partner. Marco Dukes' family members confirmed that Anthony Dukes Sr. is Marco's cousin and that they were close enough that Marco called him uncle.
Anthony Dukes did not return messages left at the Sunset Lounge and with Ziegler, who said he would deliver them to his partner.
City officials in April 2008 boarded up Ziegler's Benji Brown's, a North Park Avenue bar and later an after-hours club, labeling the site a nuisance. A lawsuit against city officials over the after-hours club is pending. Cregar owns that building.
Ziegler also owned 77 Soul, a Youngstown Road lounge that was the scene of many violent episodes that resulted in police action.
Ziegler said recently that his past experiences with controversial clubs didn't keep him from trying again and from enlisting the help of Cregar and Joe Sankey, both of whom he identified as business mentors.
''Joe (Sankey) hired me to help him establish the (Sunset) and get it off the ground and running,'' Ziegler said. ''Up to that point I didn't think there was anything wrong with me working at a club or a bar as long as I didn't have ownership in a liquor license. When I was told I couldn't do it anymore, I walked away. End of story.''
Sankey, who works as a bail bondsman for Cregar, owns the building that houses the Sunset Lounge.
''I've never had a problem with LaShawn,'' said Sankey. ''He saw this as an opportunity and so did I. I even went to his probation officer to try to work it out so he could work at the bar. We were told that wouldn't be possible. The thing is, he doesn't own any part of it. I do. I own the liquor license. I've always owned it, not him. I owned it when it was Blue Magoo's and I own it now. LaShawn doesn't own any part of that now and he never has.''
City Council members have publicly voiced concerns about Sunset Lounge, formerly Blue Magoo's Tap and Grill, and Ziegler's connection to it since it opened at 480 E. Market St. in May.
''I never denied my involvement with the club,'' Ziegler said. ''I tried working it out with the court so I could work there.''
And Ziegler insists the Dukes shooting has nothing to do with the club or its liquor license.
''It's just one more thing they'll use against the Sunset,'' he said.