May 2—Two more people were arrested for their involvement in a double homicide that occurred in rural Somerset County in 2017, officials with the Attorney Generals office said.
Marekus Benson and Deandre Callender are facing several charges for conspiring with two previously arrested defendants to kidnap and murder Damien Staniszewski and James Smith, whose bodies were discovered by a hunter on Sept. 29, 2017, in a wooded area around Ligonier Pike in Conemaugh Township, officials said.
According to court documents, Benson is facing charges of criminal homicide, aggravated assault, kidnapping, unlawful restraint and possessing, using, manufacturing, controlling, selling or transferring firearms. Documents show Callender is facing charges of criminal homicide, aggravated assault, kidnapping and unlawful restraint.
Charges for Benson and Callender come more than three years after state troopers charged Samson Washington and Devon Wyrick with homicide, kidnapping and multiple related charges in relation to the incident. Joshua Bergmann was also charged with kidnapping and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault.
According to criminal complaints filed last week, Benson, Callender, Washington and Wyrick are known members of the East Main Money Gang out of Columbus, Ohio. In 2014, they moved to Johnstown as drug dealers and operated a stash house along Boyd Avenue, officials said.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Drug deals were arranged with a burner phone used by Washington, Wyrick and Benson, according to the complaint.
Staniszewski and Smith, who lived in Portage, Cambria County, purchased drugs from the gang in 2017. On March 26, 2017, they burglarized the Boyd Avenue house, stealing a large amount of drugs, money and a gun, the complaint reads. The following day, the burglary was discovered by gang members who worked to identify who stole the items, officials said.
According to police, in their search, members of the gang held a woman at gunpoint and threatened to kill her multiple times. In their investigation, officers identified another woman who said she was with Staniszewski and Smith the day the burglary occurred and that they were in a large possession of drugs, according to the complaint.
The woman told Bergmann, her stepbrother, who then contacted Washington and Wyrick about the burglary, officials said. Bergmann then met with members of the gang, telling them he believed the two men committed the burglary and led them to where the victims lived, the complaint reads.
During an investigation of the incident, police received cell phone records that showed the burner phone and Callender's phone pinged off cell towers near the victims' home.
The day after Staniszewski and Smith robbed the gang's house, police said they called the burner phone. At that point, members of the gang knew the duo had robbed their house, so a fake drug deal was set up at the Galleria Mall in Johnstown. Washington and Wyrick met with the victims at the mall and drove them to the Boyd Avenue house.
That same day, Bergmann also went to the house to "clear his name" in the burglary, officials said. There, Bergmann told officers he saw Staniszewski and Smith stripped down to their boxers and on their knees in the back room of the basement with Washington, Wyrick and an unidentified man present.
Washington and Wyrick told Bergmann "they did not get all their stuff back from the victims," according to the complaint.
As Bergmann was leaving, Wyrick said, "Say goodbye. You will not see these guys," the complaint reads.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
According to the complaint, Washington, Wyrick and Benson left the house, and when they returned they changed clothes. Washington, in speaking with a witness, said the trio shot Staniszewski and Smith in the woods, the complaint reads. They then ran out of the woods and left the area, officials said.
An investigation began after a truck belonging to Staniszewski's grandparents was found off Somerset Pike, near where the bodies were later discovered. Several police agencies contacted the victims' families who said they had not had contact with either of them after March 27, 2017, officials said. A missing persons investigation was then initiated.
According to police, the burner phone pinged off cell towers near where the truck and bodies were found.
After their bodies were found in September 2017, officials determined Staniszewski and Smith might have suffered gunshot wounds and other injuries prior to their deaths. Their deaths were ruled a homicide by the Somerset County coroner.
According to the criminal complaint, an arrest warrant was issued for Benson. Callender is already in prison at SCI Coal Township on parole violations, officials said.
"Drug trafficking is a dangerous and violent enterprise," Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. "Two men were murdered so these East Main Money Gang members could continue to operate and profit while bringing poison into Pennsylvania communities."
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .
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