weather icon Clear

Defense questions witness credibility in theft ring case

Defense lawyers launched an opening-day offensive on Tuesday against the government’s chief witness in the federal trial of three Cuban immigrants charged with stealing drugs and high-quality merchandise from delivery vans and warehouses around the Las Vegas Valley.

The witness, Yordani Corona Del Toro, a 23-year-old felon and “gang-banger,” struck a deal with federal prosecutors in the case to escape a sentence of life in prison in Nevada as a habitual criminal, the defense lawyers said in their opening statements.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Brown told the jury that Del Toro spent six months working undercover with FBI agents and Las Vegas police to break up the theft ring in 2013.

During that time, the informant secretly recorded conversations with the defendants and helped them plan the robbery and kidnapping of a delivery van driver under the watchful eyes of FBI agents, Brown said.

Two of the defendants — Julio De Armas Diaz, 54, and Alexis Torres Simon, 46 — were taken into custody April 8, 2013, as they were about to rob the delivery van driver of pharmaceutical drugs at gunpoint, according to prosecutors. The arrests occurred in the parking lot of Hoggard Elementary School, 950 N. Tonopah Drive, near Washington Avenue, which was about 500 yards from the home of the driver.

The third defendant, Alexander Del Valle Garcia, 42, was arrested several days later.

Defense attorney Osvaldo Fumo, who represents Simon, described Del Toro as a “master thief” who got a big break from the government for throwing the defendants “under the bus.”

Fumo and defense lawyers Kathleen Bliss and Brenda Weksler said Del Toro fled to Mexico right under the nose of the FBI last year to avoid sentencing on state felony charges. While there, he posted photos on Facebook showing a wad of cash.

He also took a trip to his native Cuba, the lawyers said.

Eventually, with warrants out for his arrest, the lead FBI agent in the case, Shay Christensen, picked up Del Toro at McCarran International Airport, the lawyers said.

Bliss, a former federal prosecutor who represents Del Valle Garcia, said the government has no forensic evidence — finger prints and DNA — tying the three defendants to any of the crimes.

The only fingerprint on an unloaded gun found in the trunk of one of the defendant’s car after the kidnapping arrests belonged to Christensen, according to Bliss.

All three defendants are in federal custody and are being assisted in court by Spanish speaking interpreters. They face several felony charges, including conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery and conspiracy to commit theft from an interstate shipment.

Members of the theft ring are alleged to have conducted surveillance at retailers around the valley to determine delivery patterns. Once a delivery truck was identified, members followed the truck to a warehouse where the merchandise was stored.

Torches were used to cut holes in metal garage-style doors to enter the warehouses and steal the goods, which were loaded into waiting vehicles, authorities alleged

FBI agents assigned to an organized crime squad linked the ring to the Oct. 15, 2012, warehouse theft of $573,756 in exclusive Coach merchandise, including purses, in southeast Las Vegas.

Ring members also broke into unattended delivery vans to steal drugs and other goods, prosecutors alleged.

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

The three defendants also are accused of trying to fence the stolen goods in Las Vegas.

Del Toro could take the witness stand on Wednesday when the trial resumes in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey.

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

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.