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Police: They went on a spree

A grand jury has indicted 11 suspects — including nine alleged members of a San Diego criminal street gang — in a crime spree involving the armed robbery of a Laguna Beach jewelry store, in addition to alleged identity theft and street terrorism.

Law enforcement officials claim that, while retrieving a vehicle impounded by Laguna Beach Police after a pursuit of the armed robbery suspects, members of the gang stole mail from Laguna Beach mailboxes.

Most of the stolen property has not been recovered. The Aug. 25 armed robbery at Baca Jewelry store on Forest Avenue all but wiped out the contents of the store, resulting in a $1-million loss.

A 20-count indictment was issued Oct. 26 against the defendants, all residents of San Diego County, who face sentences ranging from three years to 35 years to life in state prison if convicted. The defendants are all scheduled for arraignment Dec. 4. Nine of the suspects are in custody, according to the district attorney’s office.

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This case was jointly investigated by the Laguna Beach and Tustin police departments and Orange County district attorney’s office with assistance from the Orange County and San Diego County Sheriff’s Departments, Chula Vista and Oceanside police departments, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The defendants are: Aida Arroyo, 27; Salvador Barajas, 29; Touradj Barman, 66; Michael Dennis Burgin, 30; Sylvia Elena Castaneda, 28; Jose Jesus Garcia, 35; Pedro Avina Hernandez, 29; Alonso Jose Lopez, 31; Daisy Oregon, 21; Arturo Carlos Perez, 21; and Adam Weick, 28.

About 7 p.m. Aug. 25, Lopez, Burgin and Hernandez are accused of entering Baca Jewelers as the store was closing. They are accused of dressing in black and attempting to hide their faces by wearing hoods and baseball caps. The defendants are accused of robbing a store employee at gunpoint and stealing more than $1 million in watches and jewelry before fleeing.

Police officers chased the trio from Laguna Beach to Aliso Viejo, where they abandoned their car in an Aliso Viejo parking garage and escaped. Police officers learned that the abandoned vehicle was owned by Castaneda. Castaneda is accused of attempting to impede the police investigation by reporting her car stolen in San Diego County, despite loaning it to Lopez, Burgin and Hernandez allegedly knowing that it would be used for a jewelry store burglary.

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Perez is accused of assisting Lopez, evading arrest and hiding in an Oceanside home by acting as a look-out to determine if police were watching the home and obtaining a calling card for Lopez to make phone calls without detection. Based on a law enforcement bulletin put out by Laguna Police, Tustin Police noticed similarities between that robbery and one on Aug. 4 in Tustin, and the agencies began jointly investigating their cases.

The Tustin robbery occurred about 5 p.m. Aug. 4. Police say Arroyo entered Tustin Village Jewelers under the pretense of selling a ring. The jewelry store has security gates and the defendant was buzzed in. While negotiating a price with the store owner, Arroyo is accused of asking to be let out of the store to make a phone call. When the owner buzzed the security gate to let Arroyo out, Burgin and Weick allegedly rushed in to the store wearing caps and bandannas. They allegedly brandished firearms and demanded that the victim unlock the jewelry cases to give them access to the diamonds.

One of the defendants is accused of holding a gun to the back of the victim’s head and threatening to shoot him if he did not open the safe. The defendants are accused of then duct-taping the victim and putting him in the bathroom. Burgin, Weick and Arroyo are accused of stealing more than $160,000 in jewelry and fleeing the scene.

On Sept. 8, Castaneda is accused of being driven with Oregon and Arroyo to Laguna Beach by Barajas to pick up her car. While Castaneda was meeting with police, the three other defendants are accused of stealing mail from the mail boxes.

Arroyo is also accused of being in possession of and fraudulently using credit cards, which had been stolen in San Diego County the day before.

Subsequent investigation into the robberies revealed that two secondhand jewelry stores in San Diego County, San Diego Jewelry and Loan and J&L; Jewelers, were selling some of the stolen jewelry. Garcia is accused of attempting to make identifying the stolen jewelry more difficult by grinding off identifying markings.

Barman is accused of purchasing the property, knowing it had been stolen.

All of the defendants, except for Barman and Garcia, are accused of being members or associates of a San Diego criminal street gang.

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The majority of the stolen property has not been recovered and there is an ongoing investigation to determine whether the defendants were involved in other jewelry store robberies in Orange and San Diego counties.

Anyone with information may contact Laguna Beach Police Det. Debra Kelso at (949) 497-0371, or Supervising Dist. Atty. Investigator Hector Pantoja at (714) 347-8844. Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Jim Mendelson of the Gang Unit is prosecuting this case.



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