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Police Say Papa Dmitri's Pizza Was a Front for Weed-Selling Operation

A crappy pizza parlor/drug laundering operation run by three generations of the same family

A crappy pizza parlor/drug laundering operation run by three generations of the same family

According to police, Papa Dmitri's Pizza was barely ever open, and employees could be heard complaining about the lack of heat when they ate at their usual spot in the Nook next door, which was weird given the presence of several large pizza ovens.

According to online reviewers (a trusted source if there ever was one), the pizza sucked too.

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"I've defrosted better pizza on my engine block," wrote one reviewer on Yelp. "A cracker thin crust with greasy cheese. Overpriced and slow as heck."

"This was the most disappointing delivery I've placed since moving back to St. Paul in February," wrote another amateur food critic on GrubHub. "The pizza ingredients were not fresh, the sauce had no flavor. The sandwiches were almost burnt, and same, flavorless. We so badly wanted to love this small business, but sadly, did not."

Tipped off by "a concerned citizen," St. Paul police began monitoring the pizza place next to Cretin-Derham Hall in August. The week before Thanksgiving police witnessed Dmitri's serve five customers over the span of six days, yet a 10-month span of the business's bank records in 2013 revealed almost $190,000 in cash deposits.

If the pizza was bad and the restaurant didn't have any customers, where did all that money come from?

The St. Paul post office gave police a pretty big clue when it found that several packages sent to Papa Dmitri's and owner Ryan "Dmitri" Brooks's 82-year-old grandmother's house contained dozens of pounds of marijuana.

When police searched Dmitri's grandma's house, they found an unopened package full of weed, although the grandma, Joyce Elaine Merkley, said she never opened the packages and merely worked the restaurant seven days a week delivering pizzas.

At Dmitri's 61-year-old mom's house, police found several bags of weed and two loaded handguns. At his house they found a pound of weed, and in his car a receipt from Santa Barbara, California, showing he mailed a 21-pound package to St. Paul from there.

Dmitri's mother, Rosalyn Brooks, and grandmother Joyce Merkley have been charged with multiple felonies and issued a summons to appear in court. Ryan Brooks and Lena Kirk, 24, who he was living with, have also been charged and warrants have been issued for their arrest.

The charges include conspiracy to sell marijuana, cocaine possession, engaging in business of concealing criminal proceeds, and illegal possession of a handgun by a felon.

Ryan Brooks has a long criminal history, including at least four felony convictions. In 2006 he and his mom were caught in Nebraska driving a rental van full of more than 100 pounds of weed. He served 90 days in jail for that offense but his mom was never charged.

Send news tips to Ben Johnson.