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Press Release

Two Men Pleaded Guilty to Armed Robbery of Multiple Bay Area Businesses

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California

OAKLAND, Calif. – Shawan I. Spragans and Merl J. Simpson each pleaded guilty in federal court in Oakland today to robbery affecting interstate commerce (Hobbs Act robbery), conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, attempted Hobbs Act robbery, discharging a firearm in furtherance of Hobbs Act robbery, and being a felon in possession of firearms, announced United States Attorney Brian J. Stretch and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett.

In pleading guilty, Spragans, 41, of Oakland, and Simpson, 47, of Antioch, admitted to participating in a conspiracy to commit robberies in Northern District of California from around February 2016 until April 2016.  The pair specifically admitted to committing the armed robbery of a Walgreens pharmacy in Berkeley, Calif.; a bar-b-que restaurant on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, Calif.; an Ethiopia food restaurant on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, Calif.; and the attempted robbery of a bar on Dolores Street in San Francisco.  Spragans and Simpson also admitted that Spragans discharged a firearm during and in furtherance of the robbery of the Ethiopian restaurant.

Further, according to the plea agreements, Spragans, Simpson, and a co-conspirator agreed to rob all of these businesses at gunpoint.  On March 3, 3016, Spragans and a co-conspirator entered the Walgreens wearing masks, gloves, and dark-colored clothing, pointed a firearm at Walgreens employees and customers, and stole cash from the Walgreens.  Simpson drove the getaway vehicle.  On March 20, 2016, Spragans and a co-conspirator entered the bar-b-que restaurant wearing masks and dark clothing, and forced three employees at gunpoint to stand still while Spragans and his co-conspirator robbed the restaurant.  They fled the restaurant with the stolen cash, and Simpson drove them all away in the getaway vehicle.  On April 7, 2016, Spragans and a co-conspirator entered the Ethiopian food restaurant wearing masks and dark clothing.  They each pointed revolvers at two female employees and robbed them of the restaurant’s cash.  Spragans entered the kitchen and encountered another employee, who struggled with Spragans as the employee attempted to escape.  During that physical encounter, Spragans revolver was fired while pointed in the direction of the employee.  The bullet missed the employee.  Spragans and his co-conspirator then fled the restaurant with the stolen cash, and Simpson drove them all away in the getaway vehicle.  In addition, on April 21, 2016, Spragans and Simpson attempted to rob the bar on Dolores at gunpoint; however, they were encountered by police who were already in place conducting surveillance on the location.  The police apprehended and arrested Spragans and Simpson as they attempted to flee the area.  The police also arrested a co-conspirator who was waiting in the getaway car. 

Spragans and Simpson were arrested on April 21, 2016, by local law enforcement and initially remained in state custody.  Spragans and Simpson were indicted federally on June 30, 2016, and made their initial appearance in federal court on July 7, 2016.  They have since remained in federal custody.

Spragans’s and Simpson’s sentencing hearings are scheduled for April 5, 2017, before U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers.  The maximum statutory penalties are (1) life in prison for discharging a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii); (2) twenty years in prison for Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a); and (3) ten years in prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).  However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Gullotta is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Michelle Alter Eck and Trina Khadoo.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI and the Berkeley Police Department. 

Updated January 27, 2017

Violent Crime