L.A. gang member hides in Illinois junior college


INA, Ill. -- Rend Lake College's press guide puffed with promise:

"Ricky Cummings brings his L.A. game to Ina."

"Safe to say," the player profile began, "very few RLC students have come to Ina by way of L.A."

Safe to say the next one who does will get more scrutiny.

As a basketball player, Mr. Cummings never lived up to the hype. He never played in a game.

He proved much better at another game he brought from Los Angeles, a game of double identity and cocaine trafficking, police say.

Police also say his actions could provide clues about how drug-running operations infiltrate rural America.

No one knew that Mr. Cummings was really 23-year-old Stevie Stevenson, described by police as a Los Angeles gang member who was wanted on charges of attempted murder, kidnapping and robbery.

His real life could not have been farther removed from the campus of Rend Lake College. The college, with an enrollment of about 3,200, is located just outside Ina, Il.

As Mr. Cummings, Mr. Stevenson was a well-liked, polite, hard-working and decent student. He lived in an apartment complex with other athletes, bused tables in the school cafeteria and set up social events.

"He's kind of a master of deception," said Los Angeles police Detective Larry Hedwall. "He's cool under pressure and a good talker."

His genial manner, and a recommendation about his basketball skills, convinced basketball coach Mitch Haskins to let him try to make the RLC Warriors as a walk-on. His skills, Mr. Haskins said, never matched the talk, and Mr. Cummings mostly tagged along.

Then around Thanksgiving, he cited death and illness in the family and said he needed to make some trips to California.

He also was spending a lot of time at an apartment in Carbondale. Postal inspectors there said he signed for numerous packages from California, all addressed to different people, none of whom were known to live at the address. The return addresses also were fictitious.

This fit the inspectors' profile of a possible drug trafficker and on March 5 they had a trained dog named Bubba sniff what was purportedly a box of Tide sent to the Carbondale address.

Inside it, police said, was a plastic bag containing nine ounces of cocaine. The box was addressed to Dana Crushane, and Mr. Stevenson signed for it as "Dana Crushane." He was arrested and later indicted on a charge of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Mr. Cummings' fingerprints proved to match those of Mr. Stevenson.

"A lot of people like to change their names," said Stephen Kunce, who heads the Southern Illinois enforcement group that arrested Mr. Stevenson.

Rend Lake College, a little more than 300 miles south of Chicago on Interstate 57, proved to be a good place to hide. As an open enrollment, two-year junior college, prospective students aren't required to provide transcripts. Mr. Stevenson apparently just presented a California identification card and started taking classes. He also manufactured an impressive high school career as Ricky Cummings of Carson High School in California.

Mr. Haskins said he earned at least a C in all of his classes. He also apparently passed his GED examination during the semester, again using the name Ricky Cummings.

"When people ask me how that could happen, I say you could walk onto any college campus, and there is no guarantee anybody is who they say they are," said Rend Lake College President Jonathan Astroth.

"He was a quote-unquote model citizen while he was here," Mr. Astroth said. "I don't know if he was hiding or making a clean start."

Mr. Haskins said Mr. Cummings told him that he "felt like he needed some place rural, away from the city. He said he wanted to concentrate on academics.

"He was very nice, polite, yes sir, no sir, thank you very much . . . he was just like John Doe going to school here. From my point of view I didn't need to know a lot about him because . . . the only people we request transcripts from are those who [receive] scholarships."

School officials refused to confirm an assistant coach's account that Mr. Cummings received financial aid, citing privacy laws.

Mr. Haskins said 76 percent of his players graduate from the college and that he has placed 85 students in four-year colleges over 10 years. He said he doesn't want the young man who wore No. 00 in the press guide to soil his program.

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