Federal jury convicts 3 Cuban immigrants in Las Vegas-area theft ring

A federal jury Monday convicted three Cuban immigrants of all charges tied to a major Las Vegas-area theft ring.

The three defendants — Alexis Torres Simon, 46; Julio De Armas Diaz, 54; and Alexander Del Valle Garcia, 42 — were found guilty of stealing drugs and expensive merchandise from delivery vans and warehouses around the valley, as well as planning the robbery of a van driver.

The charges included conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, attempted interference with commerce by robbery and conspiracy to commit theft from interstate shipment.

U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey set Aug. 18 sentencing dates for all three defendants, who are in federal custody.

The 12-member jury deliberated less than three hours since it got the case late Friday.

Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden hailed the verdict Monday.

“Not only were these defendants committing thefts and planning a violent robbery, but they were selling stolen controlled substances causing additional harm to the community,” Bogden said.

Defense lawyers, who said they would appeal the convictions, contended during the two-week trial that the case hinged on the word of a six-time felon motivated to set up the defendants.

But prosecutors argued that secretly recorded conversations showed that two of the defendants had their own “big mouths” to blame for their legal troubles.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel Schiess and Christina Brown singled out the undercover work of the six-time felon, Yordani Corona Del Toro, who helped the FBI break up the theft ring.

Del Toro, 23, also a Cuban immigrant, secretly recorded Simon and De Armas Diaz planning the robbery and kidnapping of the delivery van driver, who was hauling pharmaceutical drugs, the prosecutors told the jury.

Simon and De Armas Diaz were taken into custody April 8, 2013, as they were about to carry out the robbery scheme, according to trial testimony. Del Valle Garcia was arrested several days later.

The recorded planning session, or as Schiess called it the “big mouth evidence,” occurred the day before the robbery was to go down, when Simon and De Armas Diaz were driving Del Toro around town on a dry run.

“It was clear as can be,” Schiess told the jury in his closing argument. “Is there any doubt what they were doing?”

Defense lawyers throughout the trial attacked the credibility of Del Toro and the thoroughness of his FBI handler, agent Shay Christensen.

They argued Del Toro lied during the investigation and set up their clients to escape punishment for felony convictions in two burglary cases in state court.

Del Toro got probation in both cases, despite plea deals allowing state prosecutors to seek life in prison for him as a habitual criminal after he left the country for several months last year.

He testified that he fled to Mexico and then Cuba, leaving his newborn daughter behind, out of fear for his safety. The wife of one of the defendants sent his mother a threat, indicating he would pay for cooperating with FBI agents, Del Toro said.

At the end of the month, Del Toro will complete a four-month stint at the Clark County Detention Center for fleeing the country.

Agents assigned to the FBI’s organized crime squad linked the three defendants to the Oct. 15, 2012, warehouse theft of $573,756 in Coach merchandise, mostly purses, in southeast Las Vegas.

Members of the theft ring also broke into unattended delivery vans to steal drugs and other goods, prosecutors said.

One theft was said to have occurred Nov. 14, 2012, from a delivery van in the parking lot of a Smith’s grocery store on North Rainbow Boulevard. Another happened March 13, 2013, in the parking lot of a Walgreen’s store on West Desert Inn Road.

This was the first criminal trial for Dorsey since she took the bench last summer. It also was Christensen’s first trial as an FBI agent, as well as the first time former federal prosecutor Kathleen Bliss appeared in trial as a defense lawyer. She represented Del Valle Garcia.

All three defendants listened to testimony against them during the trial with the help of Spanish-speaking interpreters.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Find him on Twitter @JGermanRJ.