Assistant U. S. Attorney Stephen Wong (619) 546-9464
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – June 3, 2019
SAN DIEGO – Justin Wayne Caldwell was sentenced in federal court today to 151 months prison in connection with the robberies of 11 San Diego area businesses in January and February 2017. U.S. District Judge Thomas J. Whelan also ordered Caldwell and his codefendant, Carlos Adolfo Soto, to pay $42,000 restitution to the victims.
Soto was sentenced to 140 months on May 27, 2019.
As described in his plea agreement, the spree of robberies involved 10 Metro PCS stores and a Subway Restaurant, all in San Diego County. The first robbery occurred on January 25, 2017 and the last on February 21, 2017. Soto admitted to committing eight of the eleven robberies, and to being part of a conspiracy that involved 11 robberies. In most of his robberies, Soto used a pellet gun that resembled a pistol during the robberies, pointing the weapon at store clerks and customers and demanding cellular phones and cash.
Soto was dubbed the “pinky bandit” for his distinctive pinky finger, which protruded out from the weapons he held during a string of eleven robberies. In a typical robbery, Soto entered the store holding a weapon such as a machete, tazer, or pellet gun that resembled a firearm. Soto pointed his weapon at store clerks and demanded cellular phones and cash. On one occasion, Soto threatened a store clerk with a machete, which he wielded during the robbery.
According to the government’s sentencing memorandum and admissions in his plea agreement, Caldwell typically waited outside the store in a car, serving as the getaway driver who helped Soto escape the crime scene. On at least one occasion, Caldwell also entered the store with a weapon. For example, on February 14, 2017, Soto and Caldwell pointed an object that resembled a handgun at a store clerk and forced the clerk into a storage area in the back of the store, where he was made to kneel down on his hands and feet, while they loaded a backpack with cellular phones. They then ordered the clerk to open the cash register.
Public filings describe how FBI agents and robbery detectives with the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego Sheriff’s Department collaborated to solve this case. In late January and early February of 2017, investigators noticed a series of robberies around San Diego County that fit a pattern. Ten of the 11 robberies involved Metro PCS cell phone stores and in each case the robbers used similar methods, weapons and disguises. Investigators identified the robbers after one of them registered a cell phone that had been stolen during an earlier robbery. Surveillance ultimately led investigators to the scene of the final robbery in the series. Soto was arrested after a foot chase, during which he dropped merchandise taken during the final robbery. Officers arrested Caldwell in his car, parked at the scene.
DEFENDANTS Case Number 17-CR-558-W
Carlos Adolfo Soto Age: 41 San Diego, CA
Justin Wayne Caldwell Age: 32 San Diego, CA
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Hobbs Act Robbery, 18 U.S.C. § 1951
Maximum penalty: Twenty years in prison, $250,000 fine, 3 years’ supervised release
Federal Bureau of Investigation
San Diego Police Department
San Diego Sherriff’s Department