Three men from Phoenix committed a string of violent home-invasion robberies in the Valley two years ago for the benefit of a street gang, but the alleged mastermind from Fresno was not part of the gang, a jury announced Wednesday in Fresno County Superior Court.
The finding will add time to the three Phoenix men's prison sentences.
Daniel Rivas, 31, Robert Palofox, 24, Alejandro Rodriguez-Leon, 26, and Victor Centeno, 20, were convicted last week of 54 felony counts of conspiracy to commit robbery in concert, false imprisonment, auto theft and assault.
Earlier this week, jurors heard testimony from a gang expert to help them determine whether the four defendants committed the crimes to promote the Sureño street gang.
After a few hours of deliberations, the jury on Wednesday found the gang allegation for Palofox, Rodriguez-Leon and Centeno was true, but said Rivas, who lives in Fresno, was not a member or an associate of a gang.
After the panel's announcement, Rivas' attorney, Curtis Sok, said he was pleased with the outcome because his client had no knowledge that the other three defendants were part of a gang.
The three Phoenix defendants face the possibility of life in prison when they are sentenced by Judge Wayne Ellison on Aug. 9. Rivas faces up to 17 years in prison, Sok said.
During the six-week trial, prosecutor Chris Walsh told jurors that the four defendants were part of a crew who targeted affluent homeowners in Fresno and Merced counties.
Rivas, a local gardener, scouted Fresno and Merced counties, looking for homes that contained cash, gold, jewelry and valuables, Walsh said. He then told his brother-in-law, Estevan Landeros, who recruited a crew in Phoenix to hit the homes, Walsh told jurors.
The robberies took place in Clovis, Atwater, Kerman and Selma between Feb. 24 and March 16, 2010. During the robberies, some in the crew stood as lookouts while the others burst into the homes with guns drawn. They then tied up some of the victims and held others, including children, at gunpoint, Walsh said.
Landeros and five other defendants will be tried later this year.
The Fresno County District Attorney's Office had jurisdiction over the home-invasion robberies, even though two took place in the Merced County town of Atwater, because the crew's operation was based out of Rivas' home, authorities said.
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