Durban - The leader of the so-called “Gumtree Gang” has been sentenced to 40 years for kidnapping and robbing people who advertised items for sale online.
Ronnie Devraj was arrested in February last year and charged with multiple counts of kidnapping and robbery with aggravating circumstances and hijacking. Some of the charges were later dropped.
On Tuesday the Durban Magistrate’s Court convicted Devraj and handed him a 10-year and two 15-year sentences for three counts of kidnapping and three counts of robbing two men and one woman in separate incidents.
The 45-year-old married father from Chatsworth led a gang who targeted people advertising cars for sale on the online classified site Gumtree.
Between February and April 2012, they made contact and arranged to meet the unwitting Durban sellers under the guise of being interested buyers.
Devraj would sit behind the seller who would be in the front passenger seat while Devraj’s “mechanic” – an accomplice – test drove the vehicle.
While on the road, Devraj would pull out a gun, holding it to the seller’s head. After stealing cellphones and other valuables, they would take their victims to ATMs to withdraw money before tying them up and abandoning them and making off with the vehicle.
Handing down sentence, regional magistrate Delia Turner said Devraj was a menace and a danger to society who had preyed on innocent people.
“This was very well orchestrated and premeditated.”
The sentences will not run concurrently, so Devraj is facing 40 years.
Turner said she also took into consideration Devraj’s previous murder conviction.
He had been sentenced to 20 years in jail, but was paroled in January 2012, after serving half of his sentence.
One of the Gumtree victims had testified that he was bound with a cable tie and Devraj had cocked his gun and held it to the back of the victim’s head. His accomplice had come to the victim’s rescue, threatening Devraj that he would turn on him if he shot the man. “He was on the brink of another murder. He had no respect for human life,” said Turner.
State prosecutor Sharon Moodley said some of the victims were so traumatised they had to be counselled. She said the sentence sent out a message that such acts would not be tolerated.
One of the gang’s victims, Tyrone Pierrot, told the Daily News on Wednesday that the sentence sent a strong message and it was good news to hear that justice had been served.
Pierrot was robbed in his friend’s flat. The friend had advertised items for sale and asked Pierrot to meet the buyer, who called himself Calvin, when his sister could not do so.
Pierrot, who runs a pre-owned cars sales website and often has to meet potential clients in person after they express interest online, said he was still anxious and could never be too careful. “I make sure I meet at a dealership or a public place because you never know who will turn up.”
He also warned against meeting potential buyers or sellers alone, saying this made one an easy target.
Devraj’s attorney, Chris Gounden, said his client had instructed him to appeal against the guilty verdict and sentence.
Devraj claims not to have been involved in the crimes he was convicted of, nor know why he was linked to them.
“My client says an identity parade was held after he had made numerous appearances in court and he was the only bald man in the line-up,” said Gounden.
Devraj also claims to have been assaulted by the police when he was arrested a year after the crimes and forced to plead guilty.
Gounden said the appeal would be lodged as soon as the funds had been raised.