May 20, 2011
PENITAS MAN FOUND GUILTY OF 12 COUNTS INCLUDING THE ATTEMPTED CARJACKING OF AN OFF DUTY BORDER PATROL AGENT
(McALLEN, Texas) – Jose Antonio Armendariz, 27, last known to reside in Penitas, Texas, has been found guilty of all 12 counts charged against him in relation to the 2006 hostage taking of a local rancher, two 2006 carjackings and the 2009 attempted carjacking of an off duty Border Patrol (BP) agent, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.
Yesterday, at approximately 4:00 p.m., a federal jury returned its verdict after approximately three hours of deliberation finding Armendariz guilty of one count of attempted carjacking, two counts of carjacking, one count of conspiracy to commit carjacking, three counts of conspiracy to use or carry a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, three counts of using and carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, one count of conspiracy to commit hostage taking and one count of hostage taking.
Armendariz, aka “El Commandante,” was originally set to begin trial on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010. However, on the eve of trial, he elected to plead guilty instead to attempted carjacking. Later, he withdrew his plea and opted to go to trial.
During the eight-day trial, the jury heard testimony from multiple cooperators, federal agents, local law enforcement officers and the four victims of the offenses of which Armendariz was convicted. The evidence showed, among other things, that Armendariz masterminded the hostage taking of a local rancher in November 2006. In preparation for the commission of the hostage taking, Armendariz and four accomplices carjacked two vehicles during which Armendariz’s accomplices threatened the victims with a firearm. Shortly after the second carjacking, four of Armendariz’s accomplices took a local rancher at gunpoint and Armendariz negotiated the $200,000 ransom that was eventually paid by the rancher’s family.
The jury also heard testimony of Armendariz’s involvement in the 2009 attempted carjacking of an off duty BP agent. The evidence showed that Armendariz and at least seven accomplices planned to steal a vehicle at gunpoint that supposedly had a large amount of cash concealed within. According to the record of the case, on June 23, 2009, Claudia Elena Gomez Aguilar, 28, of Tamaulipas, Mexico, a card reader and Santisima Muerte worshipper, was contacted by a drug money courier who asked Gomez to pray for her as she traveled from Michigan to the Rio Grande Valley with a large sum of money. Instead, Gomez told De La Rosa and Juan Vite Martinez, 40, of Hidalgo, Mexico, about the trip and asked if they knew anyone willing to rob the courier and split the money with her. Martinez offered the name of “El Commandante.”
Armendariz was tasked with scouting US Highway 281 to look out for the vehicle. However, they identified and attempted to steal the wrong vehicle. This vehicle actually belonged to an off duty BP agent who was traveling with his young daughter. The agent and daughter were able to escape, but not before one of the assailants fired a shot that struck the agent’s vehicle. Both the agent and his daughter were unharmed.
In its verdict yesterday, the jury also found Armendariz used a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, that is, that a firearm was brandished in the 2006 carjackings and that a firearm was discharged during the 2009 attempted carjacking. With these findings, Armendariz now faces a maximum punishment of life imprisonment at his sentencing, which is set for July 26, 2011, as well as a fine of up to $250,000. Armendariz has been in federal custody since his January 2010 arrest where he will remain pending his sentencing hearing.
Nieves Rogelio Ramirez, 27, of Sullivan City, Texas; Jose Concepcion Hernandez, aka “El Mazapan,” 31, of Edinburg, Texas; along with Gomez and Martinez pleaded guilty last year to the attempted carjacking as well as the related firearm charge, while Maria Teresa De La Rosa, 28, of McAllen, Texas, pleaded guilty to one count of carjacking. Each remains in custody without bond pending sentencing. Also charged and convicted are Jose Wenceslado Mejia, 20, of Rio Grande City, Texas, and Dagoberto Navarro Pompa, 26, of Tamaulipas, Mexico. Mejia and Pompa have been sentenced to 150 and 180 months in prison, respectively, for their participation in the attempted carjacking.
This case, investigated by the FBI and the FBI Safe Street Task Force with the assistance of the Mission Police Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Leo J. Leo III and Casey N. MacDonald.
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