Indictment: Jewelry Store Robberies Lead to Wider Crime Ring

to-catch-a-thief.jpg
Alonso Jose Lopez, a 31-year-old resident of Vista in San Diego County, got Navel Gazing mentions here and here, but he'd no doubt prefer those over the his latest mention: in an Orange County grand jury indictment unsealed today that identifies him as one of nine San Diego criminal street gang members who are among 11 people charged in a recent crime spree in Tustin, Laguna Beach and San Diego County.
Lopez, who is in custody in lieu of $1 million bail, faces one felony count each of second degree robbery, second degree commercial burglary and street terrorism, as well as sentencing enhancements for criminal street gang activity, vicarious use of a firearm by a gang member and a prior strike conviction for kidnapping in 1998, reads the indictment.

He is accused of being part of the "San Diego Hispanic criminal street gang" that allegedly planned and committed robberies of jewelry stores in Tustin, Laguna Beach and San Diego County. The majority of property stolen in those heists has not been recovered.

Lopez got the Navel Gazing nods for his unusual capture--which helped unravel a larger criminal conspiracy, if the charges against the defendants prove true in court.

The enterprise's alleged reign dates back at least to Aug. 4, when at around 5 p.m. Aida Arroyo, 27, is accused of entering Tustin Village Jewelers under the pretense of selling a ring. After being buzzed in through the security gates and negotiating a price with the store owner, Arroyo allegedly asked to be let out of the store to make a phone call. When the owner buzzed the gate to let Arroyo out, two armed men wearing caps and bandanas stormed in and demanded to be shown the store's diamonds.

One gunman held a gun to the back of the owner's head as the safe was opened. The owner was later duct-taped and left in the restroom as Arroyo and the two men--later identified as Michael Denis Burgin, 30, and Adam Weick, 28--allegedly fled with $160,000 worth of jewelry.

At about 7 p.m. on Aug. 25, three men dressed in black and wearing caps and hoods to obscure their faces walked into Baca's Jewelry Store in Laguna Beach just as it was closing. Holding a gun on an employee, the trio stole more than $1 million in watches and jewelry before fleeing, according to the indictment, which has upped the take $400,000 since the original police report.

That's not all that has changed since the original report. As reported here, witnesses supposedly got a good look at one of the men, later identified as Lopez, and the white Ford Fusion he sped away in. The car turned out to be registered to a San Diego County woman who told police she'd loaned the vehicle to her daughter. The younger woman in turn told police she in turn had loaned the car to an acquaintance, Lopez.

The same car was stopped by authorities in Oceanside, but the driver bolted into nearby farmland. With the help of a police dog, officers eventually found a man near a shed. Later identified as Lopez, he was brought back to Laguna Beach, where he was identified as having taken part in the Baca's heist and, according to police, he possessed some of the stolen jewelry. He also had a criminal record and, according to the San Diego County district attorney, belonged to a gang down there.

Here's the new account, according to the court transcripts unsealed today: Laguna Beach police picked up the white Fusion and chased it to Aliso Viejo, where the three men who had been inside abandoned it in a parking garage before fleeing on foot. Laguna Beach police learned that the abandoned vehicle was owned by Sylvia Elena Castaneda, 28, who had reported her car stolen in San Diego County despite having loaned it to the gunmen knowing that it would be used for a jewelry store burglary. Arturo Carlos Perez, 21, then allegedly helped Lopez evade arrest and hide in an Oceanside home by acting as a look-out to determine if police were surveiling the home and obtaining a calling card for Lopez to make phone calls without detection.

Laguna Beach and Tustin's police department, noticing a similarity in their respective jewelry store robberies, began jointly investigating the cases. This led them to Lopez's alleged partners in the Baca's heist, Pedro Avina Hernandez, 29, and Michael Dennis Burgin, 30, both of San Diego and, like Lopez, gang bangers. With Lopez, they would go on to plead not guilty to first-degree robbery, second-degree burglary, street terrorism and gang enhancements for being in a criminal street gang and using a firearm.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 8, Castaneda is accused of being driven with Arroyo and 21-year-old Daisy Oregon and to Laguna Beach by 29-year-old Salvador Barajas to pick up her car, which had been impounded by Laguna Beach police. While Castaneda was meeting with department personnel, according to the indictment, the other three allegedly stole mail from local mail boxes. Arroyo is also accused of being in possession of and fraudulently using credit cards that had been stolen in San Diego County the day before.

Further investigation discovered some of the jewelry stolen in Orange County wound up at  San Diego Jewelry and Loan and J&L Jewelers, second hand jewelry stores in San Diego County where 35-year-old Jose Jesus Garcia is accused of trying to make identifying the stolen jewelry more difficult by grinding off identifying markings and Touradj Barman, 66, allegedly purchased property knowing it had been stolen.

The 11 defendants named in the 20-count indictment could get sentences ranging from three years up to 35 years to life in state prison if convicted. Here's how they break down:

- Arroyo is charged with one felony count each of second degree vehicle burglary, second degree robbery, identity theft, forging an access cardholder's signature, receiving stolen property, acquiring access card account information, two felony counts of second degree commercial burglary, three felony counts of street terrorism, and sentencing enhancements for criminal street gang activity and vicarious use of a firearm by a gang member.

-Burgin faces one felony count each of second degree robbery, second degree commercial burglary and street terrorism, with sentencing enhancements for criminal street gang activity and vicarious use of a firearm by a gang member and two prior strike convictions for first degree burglaries in 1999 and 2002.

-Weick is being held on one felony count each of second degree robbery, second degree commercial burglary, and street terrorism, with sentencing enhancements for criminal street gang activity and vicarious use of a firearm by a gang member, plus one prior strike for kidnapping in 2005.

-Barajas faces one felony count each of receiving stolen property and street terrorism, with a sentencing enhancement for criminal street gang activity.

-Castaneda faces two felony counts of street terrorism, one felony count each of second degree robbery and accessory after the fact and sentencing enhancements for criminal street gang activity and vicarious use of a firearm by a gang member.

-Hernandez is up on one felony count each of second degree robbery, second degree commercial burglary, and street terrorism, with sentencing enhancements for criminal street gang activity and vicarious use of a firearm by a gang member.

-Oregon faces one felony count each of receiving stolen property and street terrorism, with a sentencing enhancement for criminal street gang activity and one prior strike for robbery in 2005.

-Perez is charged with one felony count each of accessory after the fact and street terrorism, with a sentencing enhancement for criminal street gang activity.

-Barman and Garcia are charged with one felony count each of receiving stolen property. They are also the only defendants in the case no longer in custody, having made their bails, and the only ones not linked to a San Diego Hispanic criminal street gang.

The investigation--which now involves Tustin and Laguna Beach police departments, the Orange County District Attorney's Office, the Orange County and San Diego County sheriff's departments, the Chula Vista and Oceanside police departments and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security--trudges on because the majority of stolen property has not been recovered and the defendants (and others) may have been involved in other robberies in Orange and San Diego counties. Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Tustin Police Detective James Monsoor at (714) 573-3192, Laguna Beach Police Detective Debra Kelso at (949) 497-0371, or Supervising District Attorney Investigator Hector Pantoja at (714) 347-8844.
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Fashion

Loading...