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Former Dahlonega soldier pleads guilty to arson
One of five stationed at Camp Merrill who faced federal charges
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ATLANTA — An Army medic who worked security for an Atlanta strip club while stationed at Dahlonega’s Camp Frank D. Merrill pleaded guilty Thursday to torching a competing club for $5,000.

Sandeo Pablo Dyson, 44, will not be charged in a separate case involving four other Dahlonega soldiers, including three Army Rangers, accused of plotting to rob drug dealers at gunpoint, though he is believed to have played a role in that scheme, a prosecutor said in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert McBurney didn’t rule out the possibility of Dyson testifying against the soldiers, three of whom remain in federal custody on charges of conspiracy to possess more than 5 kilograms of cocaine.

Judge Julie Carnes did not immediately set a sentencing date for Dyson, who faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison after pleading guilty to arson in the January 2007 after-hours burning of Club Onyx on Cheshire Bridge Road in Atlanta.

According to authorities, in the course of the arson investigation Dyson told an informant that four other soldiers from Camp Merrill would be willing to rob a Mexican "stash house" for a cut of the cocaine.

The federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives set up an undercover sting in which an agent met with the soldiers and laid out a fictitious plan to steal 25 kilograms of cocaine from a stash house in the metro Atlanta area.

The soldiers were arrested when they showed up at a prearranged location with loaded guns.

Army Rangers Carlos Lopez, 30, David Ray White, 28 and Randy Spivy, 32, and Army medic Stefan Andre Champagne, 28, were charged in January on the federal drug conspiracy charges. Spivy has since been freed on bond.

Their cases remain pending.

Dyson, who was transferred from Camp Merrill to Fort Carson, Colo., prior to his arrest, appeared in court wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and leg shackles. Compact and muscular with a shaved head, the defendant answered "yes, ma’am" to the judge’s standard questions about his rights and his guilty plea.

McBurney told the judge that the arson stemmed from a "subtle but significant change" in the adult entertainment industry along the Cheshire Bridge-Piedmont Road corridor where strip clubs proliferate.

In late 2006, Dyson was working as director of security for Platinum 21, a club that catered largely to black clientele, when a nearby club known as Masters that catered mostly to whites changed its marketing strategy in an effort to draw more black patrons, McBurney said. Masters changed its name to Club Onyx and subsequently became a direct competitor, taking business and some performers away from Platinum 21, McBurney said. By late 2006, managers of Platinum 21 hatched a plan to burn Club Onyx, "so Platinum 21 could re-establish itself as the dominant African-American adult entertainment establishment," McBurney said.

Several of the other soldiers now facing pending federal charges also worked security for Platinum 21, though none were implicated in the arson.