By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
Densinger's new property also went up in flames. It, too, was ruled arson, aided by an accelerant. Total damage: $100,000.
Several more of the Gustafsons' properties burned, including 2527 James Ave. N., 1418 Newton Ave. N., and 738 31st Ave. N. Total damage for six arsons: $745,000.
Gustafson says his renters are to blame for the blaze at 2517 James, and for another at a house on Aldrich.
"They were tenants from hell and they were renting the places and what they actually were was crackheads," he says. "Some of the crackhead people that they ripped off went back and started both of my houses on fire, on Aldrich and on James down there. You know what I mean?"
MEANWHILE, LITTLE JOE ran around town intimidating people. In March 2005, 30-year-old Little Joe went on a drunken rampage with a claw hammer.
He pulled into the back parking lot of Standup Franks in north Minneapolis, according to police records, wearing his red "Gustafson's Bail Bonds" jacket, gold rings gleaming from seven of his fingers. He jumped from the car, screaming at a man named Ravindra Persaud.
Little Joe pulled out a hammer and smashed in the windows of Persaud's van.
Persaud threatened to call the police.
"I'm going to kill you," Little Joe said, swinging his hammer at Persaud.
Persaud jumped back. Little Joe swung again.
"You motherfuckers don't know who you're messing with," Little Joe raged. "I'm Joey Gustafson!"
Then he drove off, gunning for Persaud, who had to leap aside to avoid being hit.
Little Joe continued his rampage at the Star Bar in Columbia Heights later that night, where he smashed in the windows of five cars. For this, Little Joe was convicted of felony property damage and sentenced to 17 months in jail and five years of probation. But charges were never pressed for the incident at Standup Franks because, according to a police report, Persaud wouldn't cooperate.
Despite his temper, Little Joe managed to surround himself with friends—or, more accurately, people who thought they were his friends.
The people who bought houses from the Gustafsons before they burned down—Marie Alexander, Joshua Ramos, Michael Densinger—were more like groupies. They called themselves the BDP: the Beat-Down Posse.
"People go to Joe that can't go to the cops," says a former member of the BDP who requested anonymity for fear of being attacked by his former cohorts. "They go to Joe for protection, or to even the score. That's what the feds can't understand—how he stays in business."
About 15 people were part of the BDP, each with a specialty. Troy Neuberger was Little Joe's bodyguard and in charge of all the finances. Neuberger lived with Michael Densinger, whose criminal records include forgery and theft, in the bail bond house—Big Joe rented it out rather than work there. The BDP used the bond house as a shooting gallery.
The BDP stole product and cash from drug dealers. One night, they were having a party in a house on 32nd and Grand when a dealer stopped by. The BDP took his money and drugs. They beat him and left him in a bathtub, in a pool of his own blood. The kid was beaten so badly that a few BDP wondered if he'd died.
Afterward, Little Joe started threatening the witnesses, one former BDP says. Little Joe would show up in the middle of the night and threaten to kill anyone who talked—and their families.
Big Joe once bailed out a man named Hector Fonseco on a $12,000 bond. When Fonseco skipped town and went back to Mexico, Big Joe lost money. That became an excuse to rob Mexican families, and to bust down the doors of drug dealers, a former BDP member says.
"He used the excuse of looking for that dude, Hector Fonseco—he used that to the hilt. He used that forever," says the source. "He used that as an excuse to kick people's doors in, to beat people up, to take people's money."
Big Joe says it was no excuse—they were simply looking for Hector. They went to drug houses, he says, because those were the kind of leads they got.
"We can go legally kick in the door, and look for Hector. And that's what we did. We weren't there to take anything from anybody—all we had to do is take Hector."
LITTLE JOE IS inside a Hennepin County Jail cell now, on charges of domestic strangulation—his wife called the cops a few weeks back. Big Joe says the charge is bogus: "She's already recanting her story, you know what I mean?"
Meanwhile, a secret grand jury is hearing witness after witness tell tales of the Gustafsons' legacy of brutality. Father and son are likely to face charges that, if upheld, could lock them both up for the rest of their lives.
Big Joe is unrepentant. He says he has done nothing wrong and has nothing to fear.
"I think they're kind of prejudiced against me because I'm an ex-Hell's Angel. And my brother was convicted of a cop killing in St. Paul. I really do believe a lot of this shit's personal, or political. You know?