EDINBURG — Another defendant in the La Plaza robbery from last summer pleaded guilty for his role in the chaotic event that led to the arrest of a total of seven Mexican nationals.
During his arraignment hearing Monday, Alberto Rafael Barrera, 33, pleaded guilty to five counts of aggravated robbery in connection with the July 28, 2018 incident at the La Plaza Mall in McAllen.
Barrera, a Mexican citizen from Mexico City, stood before state District Judge Israel Ramon and pleaded guilty to five counts of aggravated robbery in connection with the attempted robbery of a jewelry store inside the mall, which led to what was initially believed at the time to be an active shooter situation.
It was determined later that afternoon that no shots had been fired; instead, Barrera along with Raul Alberto Rangel Rivera, Abner Zepeda Posos, Brayan Oliver Melchor, Javier Leobardo Olvera Ramirez, Jorge Angel Mejia and Miguel Quintanilla Cardenas have been accused of donning face masks, storming into Deutsch & Deutsch — a jewelry store specializing in luxury watches — and threatening the store’s security guard with a weapon before smashing glass cases with hammers.
McAllen police stated in multiple news releases following the incident that the attempted robbery had “no use of firearms.” Mejia did, however, have “a black in color gun” in his possession, according to a police report, which goes on to state that Mejia used it to “intimidate” Deustch & Deutsch’s security guard while the others grabbed jewelry.
The seven Mexican nationals are in the country illegally, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.
Posos and Melchor each have prior convictions for similar robberies, pleading no contest to second-degree robbery in Los Angeles County district court following a 2015 armed jewelry store robbery.
They, along with eight other individuals, managed to steal 300 designer watches worth more than $4 million before being apprehended by police, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Posos and Melchor were sentenced to three years in state prison and were released in December 2017.
The offense reports released by the McAllen Municipal Court also reveal the group likely had a getaway car waiting outside the day of the attempted robbery.
A responding officer wrote in his report that he “observed a lot of people running (from the mall) and vehicles driving away” except for a maroon minivan with no front license plates parked by the food court entrance with blinking hazard lights. The officer told the driver “to get out of the way,” the report read.
Police discovered the minivan the following day at an apartment complex two blocks east of La Plaza Mall in the 1900 block of South Eighth Street.
Dust masks, like those worn by the suspects, were found inside the car, in addition to a luggage bag and backpack; police seized the car for evidence processing.
Before Barrera’s hearing Monday morning, one of his co-defendant’s, Zepeda Posos, 25, had his case reset to late August after both the state and the attorney representing Zepeda asked for more time as Zepeda was leaning toward agreeing to plead guilty to the aforementioned aggravated robbery charges.
He will be back before the court Aug. 26, court records show.
Similarly, Rangel Rivera, who was in court Monday for his status hearing, had his hearing rescheduled to Aug. 9, court records show.
Olvera Ramirez, Mejia and Quintanilla Cardenas all pleaded guilty to similar charges in June and July, respectively, and are expected to be sentenced later this month
Melchor and Quintanilla are scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 8, while Mejia and Olvera Ramirez are scheduled for sentencing on Aug. 12 and 14, respectively, court records show.
Barrera, who will remain in state custody, is scheduled for sentencing on Sept. 12.
For Barrera and the co-defendants who have similarly pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery charges, first degree felonies, they could receive between five years and life in prison for their roles in the La Plaza event.