Waffle House robbers, felons, straw purchasers and many more charged with firearms-related crimes districtwide

By: U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas
| Published 10/15/2020

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HOUSTON, TX -- Nearly two dozen people have been charged with various violations related to firearms in all five Southern District of Texas (SDTX) divisions in the last two weeks alone, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.

As the nation recognizes Firearms Related Criminal Offenses Week, the SDTX has charged several people in 15 separate cases in the Houston, Laredo, McAllen, Brownsville and Corpus Christi Divisions. The charges include straw purchasing of firearms, felons in possession of firearms, carjacking, interference with interstate commerce by robbery or by threats of violence, brandishing a firearm and aiding and abetting brandishing a firearm.

“Bottom line, we have great law enforcement relationships throughout the SDTX,” said Patrick. “From the smallest city police department to the biggest federal agencies, officers, agents, deputies and troopers are all working together to get dangerous criminals off the streets. These cases are a small representation of the record-setting violent crime and gun cases prosecuted by my office over the past three years. Criminals who carry a gun, rob with a gun or run guns are going to see the inside of a federal courtroom.”

In the Houston Division this week, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against two Houston men for their roles in the violent robbery of two Waffle House restaurants, a Shipley Donuts and a local gas station. Fabian Bradley, 19, and Deonta Brown, 29, allegedly aided and abetted brandishing a firearm and interfered with interstate commerce by robbery at the Star Stop gas station on McKay Road Oct. 24, 2019. On the same date, Brown allegedly did same at the Waffle House on Wilson Road in Humble. Bradley faces the same charges in relation to the Oct. 21, 2o19, robbery of the Waffle House on Rankin Road and again at the Shipley Donuts on North Freeway Nov. 11, 2019.

Also indicted yesterday was Justin Mouton, 31, Houston. The charges allege he is a convicted felon and prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition per federal law. However, he allegedly possessed a Taurus, Magnum .357 pistol on Feb. 21.

Just last week, another grand jury charged Jordan Stewart, 28, Houston, with two counts each of interstate commerce by robbery and illegally brandishing a firearm. The charges allege he was involved in the Dec. 4, 2019, robbery of 1% Check Cashing on Briar Forest Road in SDTX while brandishing a firearm. He allegedly did the same on Dec. 21, 2018, and June 13, 2019, when he interfered with interstate commerce by robbing Senor Check Cashing and A-1 Check Cashing on Beechnut Drive, respectively.

“The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) continues to work with our partners to focus our efforts on violent criminals who are using firearms to commit crimes,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Fred Milanowski. “This focus is critical, now more than ever, as violent crimes involving firearms are increasing in many areas throughout the United States.”

In Laredo, a 39-year-old felon is set to appear in federal court on allegations of carjacking and being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. Joaquin Joel Montemayor is expected to make his appearance in Laredo in the near future.

According to the indictment, Montemayor allegedly carjacked a vehicle that had traveled in interstate commerce on Aug. 11, 2018. He allegedly took that vehicle by force, violence and intimidation with the intent to cause death and serious bodily harm. At that time, Montemayor allegedly had possession of a pistol and four rounds of ammunition.

Also today, the fifth defendant charged with multiple counts of false statements and smuggling firearms from the United States is set to make his initial appearance in Laredo federal court. Authorities arrested Leopoldo Martinez, 23, yesterday. He will appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher dos Santos at 1:30 p.m. Also charged and previously in custody are Irving Navarro, 32, Javier Chapa, 22, Cynthia Navarro, 27, and Heriberto Castillo, 23.

The indictment charges all individuals with making false statements during the purchase of firearms and smuggling goods outside of the United States. The indictment alleges that from July 17, 2019, to Aug. 22, 2020, they made false statements in connection with the purchase of 26 guns from four different federal firearms licensees in Laredo.

The Laredo grand jury also charged more defendants last week with conspiracy to straw purchase firearms and straw purchasing of firearms. Authorities arrested Jose Sanchez Jr., 37, Laredo, yesterday. He will make his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Dos Santos today. The indictment remains sealed as to those charged but not as yet in custody.

The Laredo grand jury also returned an indictment against Juan Antonio Cepeda, 47, Laredo, and Abraham Canela, 19, Houston, for attempting to illegally export firearms and ammunition to Mexico. Cepeda is also charged with possession of ammunition as a felon. They are both expected to appear for their arraignments before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Dos Santos tomorrow at 3 p.m.

On Sept. 14, Cepeda and Canela allegedly appeared to be traveling together as they rode in tandem along Interstate Highway 35 near Laredo, according to the charges. Authorities took them into custody, at which time they allegedly discovered 14 firearms - primarily semi-automatic rifles - and over 20,000 rounds of ammunition of various calibers in Cepeda’s vehicle.

“Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) possesses the broadest investigative authorities of any U.S. government agency in the areas of smuggling and illegal exports, including the illegal export of munitions, small arms and weapon sanctions violations,” announced Special Agents in Charge Shane Folden and Mark Dawson of the San Antonio and Houston Division, respectively. “HSI leverages its expansive authorities to combat transnational criminal organizations involved in weapons smuggling which often fuels the violence committed by cartels.”

The Rio Grande Valley also saw the return of indictments charging seven people on firearms-related offenses. Earlier this week, a grand jury sitting in Brownsville charged three Cameron County residents for being felons in possession of firearms. Clifford Wayne Moody, 44, Harlingen; and Damian De Los Reyes, 28, and Juan Carlos Sanchez, 26, both of Brownsville, are all convicted felons, according to the charges. They now face federal firearms charges for allegedly possessing a Howa 6.5 Creedmor Rifle, a Kimber .45 and Beretta .40 caliber pistols as well as a Springfield 9 mm pistol and a Ruger AR multi caliber rifle, respectively.

In another case indicted this week, a 26-year-old Brownsville man wearing a Hello Kitty bandana is charged with the robbery of two local Stripes convenience stores. Ruben Arredondo was allegedly a felon in possession of a firearm, interfered with commerce by robbery and brandished a firearm during a crime of violence. On Jan. 17, he allegedly entered the Stripes Convenience Store on Boca Chica after which he pointed a black gun with pink colored grips at the employee and demanded beer. The charges allege a store employee heard Arredondo rack the slide making him think there was a chambered round in the weapon.

Soon after, the indictment alleges Arredondo went to another Stripes on East University Boulevard and again brandished the black and pink weapon at the store employee, demanding beer. After allegedly taking the beer and some cigarettes, Arredondo then got into a station wagon and sped away, according to the charges.

In another Brownsville case, a Harlingen man has just made his appearance in federal court on allegations he shot a bank teller in the head during a violent bank robbery earlier this year. Muhamed Pathe Bah, 27, is charged with bank robbery with a dangerous weapon and use of a firearm during a crime of violence. On June 26, Bah allegedly entered a Texas Regional Bank on Sunshine Strip in Harlingen and made his way to a bank teller. The indictment alleges he pulled a pistol from his bag and shot the teller in the head, after which he took money from the bank and fled the area.

In McAllen, two alleged felons are charged in relation to an attempted burglary that occurred Sept. 16. Eugene Brimzey, 28, Baytown, and Luther Remon Jones, 27, Houston, had allegedly fled the area. The charges allege authorities eventually stopped them near El Campo, at which time they found two firearms. They have made their appearances and are in custody pending further criminal proceedings. They are charged with being felons in possession of firearms.

“Criminal organizations and their affiliates are habitually engaged in extensive violence, intimidation and drug distribution, which poses an immediate, dangerous and serious threat to the safety of our communities,” said FBI Special Agents in Charge Perrye K. Turner and Christopher Combs of the Houston and San Antonio offices, respectively. “We are committed to partnering with our local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to dismantle these criminal organizations and prosecute the most dangerous violent offenders.”

Charges have also been filed against Corpus Christi felons. Two indictments name Vernal Williams, 33, and Daniel Pulido, 28, for being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. They are expected to appear for their arraignment before a U.S. magistrate judge in Corpus Christi in the near future.

According to William’s indictment, on April 30, he knowingly possessed a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and four rounds of ammunition. Williams was previously convicted of numerous felonies, including injury to an elderly individual and delivery of a controlled substance.

Similarly, Pulido has multiple drug-related felony convictions - possession and manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance - and is prohibited per federal law of possessing firearms or ammunition. However, on June 25, Pulido knowingly possessed .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol and 14 rounds of ammunition.

Those charged with Hobbs Act robbery could be sentenced to a maximum of 2o years in federal prison. Related firearms charges carry additional sentences of seven years or more and must be served consecutively to any underlying charges.

Those convicted of being felons in possession of firearms and making false statements face penalties up to 10 years in prison, while carjacking carries a 15-year maximum sentence.

These cases are not all-inclusive of all similar cases in the SDTX but are being announced as part of Firearms Related Criminal Offenses Week and Project Guardian. They are an example of the coordination between law enforcement which combines personnel and resources from numerous federal, state and local agencies to proactively fight and reduce violent crime and offenses involving firearms across the SDTX. The focus is on robberies, felons/aliens in possession of firearms and straw purchasers to protect local communities from violent offenders and those illegally in possession of guns.

ATF, HSI and/or FBI conducted the aforementioned investigations. Several other federal, state and local agencies also routinely provide substantial cooperation and assistance in these violent crime and firearms initiatives. Those recognized for their efforts leading to these charges include Harris County Sheriff’s Office, police departments in Houston, Humble, Laredo and Brownsville; Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Enforcement Removal Operations; Customs and Border Protection - Office of Field Operations, Cameron County Sheriff’s Office and Texas Department of Public Safety.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

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