The government’s chief witness spent much of Monday under intense cross-examination as the federal trial of three Cuban immigrants charged in a major Las Vegas-area theft ring entered its second week.
Defense lawyer Thomas Pitaro grilled six-time felon Yordani Corona Del Toro about his claims not to know what his FBI handler did to get him probation in two state burglary cases.
Pitaro said FBI agent Shay Christensen even talked to the judge at Del Toro’s sentencing in one of the cases.
Del Toro, 23, who also is a Cuban immigrant, got probation despite plea deals allowing state prosecutors to seek life in prison for him as a habitual criminal after he fled the county for several months last year.
“You asked him to keep you out of prison, and lo and behold you, with six felony convictions, are out of prison,” Pitaro said, as he sparred repeatedly with the witness, who often claimed memory loss.
Del Toro, who spent three days on the witness stand, is completing a 120-day sentence at the Clark County Detention Center for taking off to Mexico and Cuba before he was to be sentenced in the second burglary case.
He testified Friday that he fled the country, leaving his newborn daughter behind, out of fear for his safety.
But Pitaro said Monday that while Del Toro was on the lam for several months, he never voiced concerns about any threats in text messages to Christensen or phone conversations with him.
“Isn’t it true that the only thing you told Mr. Christensen you were worried about was going to prison?” Pitaro asked.
Under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Brown, Del Toro testified that his mother received a threat against him from the wife of one of the defendants.
The woman told his mother he was “going to pay” for cooperating with FBI agents, Del Toro said.
He also testified that he had a conversation with Christensen after an April 12, 2013, Las Vegas Review-Journal story disclosing arrests in the theft case. He said he was concerned that his name might surface publicly.
Federal prosecutors credit Del Toro with working undercover to help agents break up the ring.
The three defendants — Julio De Armas Diaz, 54; Alexis Torres Simon, 46; and Alexander Del Valle Garcia, 42 — are standing trial on felony charges tied to the theft of drugs and high-quality merchandise from delivery vans and warehouses around the Las Vegas Valley.
Del Toro secretly recorded conversations with the defendants planning the robbery and kidnapping of a delivery van driver hauling pharmaceutical drugs.
De Armas Diaz and Simon were taken into custody April 8, 2013, as they were about to rob the driver at gunpoint, according to prosecutors. Del Valle Garcia was arrested several days later.
Members of the theft ring conducted surveillance of retailers to determine delivery patterns, prosecutors alleged. Once a delivery truck was identified, members followed it to a warehouse where the merchandise was stored. The goods were then loaded into waiting vehicles.
Christensen took the witness stand late Monday to explain how Del Toro began cooperating in the investigation.
The FBI agent is to resume his testimony today when the trial resumes in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey.
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135. Find him on Twitter @JGermanRJ.