16 of 29 defendants in burglary spree plead not guilty in San Jose, scheduled for trial

SAN JOSE (BCN) — Nearly 30 suspected San Jose gang members were indicted for a three-year burglary spree at homes in three Bay Area counties, Santa Clara County prosecutors announced Tuesday.

The 29 defendants were indicted Friday by a grand jury and 16 of them in custody pleaded not guilty during their arraignments on felony charges at the Hall of Justice in San Jose, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Sandip Patel said.

Most of the 16 defendants are being held on $1.5 million bail and scheduled for jury trial on Feb. 1, according to Patel.

The suspects are alleged members of the San Jose-based Norteno criminal street gang linked with hundreds of burglaries dating back to 2012, Patel said.

Twenty-eight of the 30 burglaries charged in the indictment were out of Santa Clara County while the other two were in Union City and Hillsborough, Patel said.

The most recent burglary happened June 23 on Humboldt Avenue in Santa Clara, according to Patel.

The defendants were part of separate Norteno gangs who joined forces to carry out the burglaries in search of money, jewelry and weapons, Patel said.

They kept the cash and some weapons and sold the other items, he said.

Some property was taken to secondhand stores including one at Tropicana Shopping Center off Story and South King roads, according to Patel.

Some of the jewelry was taken to a pawn shop and the suspects were paid based on the carat and weight, Patel said.

The suspects allegedly carried out the burglaries whenever they ran out of money, according to Patel.

In a few cases, they followed people who left jewelry stores to their homes, cased the residences and broke in when it was empty, according to prosecutors.

In some cases, the defendants targeted Asian-American and Middle Eastern families, who they believed kept more jewelry and money at their homes, prosecutors said.

In three instances, the suspects allegedly fled from occupied homes, prosecutors said.

The alleged gang members entered the homes by kicking down front doors or smashing sliding glass doors from the backyard. They allegedly carried out the burglaries by recruiting juveniles, who they knew would face less serious charges if caught, according to the district attorney’s office.

Many defendants worked in a team and allegedly burglarized several homes in one day, prosecutors said.

A number of the suspects were arrested Monday in what San Jose police dubbed “Operation Grinch,” prosecutors said.

Four of the defendants have yet to be arrested by San Jose police as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Patel.

The defendants arraigned were identified as Margarito Bautista, 22, Christopher Dado, 20, Gabriel Flores, 22, Jesse Gonzales, 23, Salvador Jimenez, 25, Lucas Juarez, 21, Juan Madero 19, Christopher Mejia, 19, David Mendoza 20, Xavier Munoz, 19, Armando Ochoa, 25, Francisco Ochoa, 25, Jose Ortiz, 22, Marco Rodriguez-Valenci, 20, Christopher Sanchez, 22 and Joel Sanchez, 21, according to prosecutors.

“This department will do everything in its power to make sure residents are safe in their own homes. I’m proud that at the end of this challenging investigation, we are holding a brazen and dangerous criminal gang accountable,” San Jose police Chief Larry Esquivel said in a statement.

“This was a prolific and well-organized group of criminals who were shattering front doors, windows and our community’s sense of security,” Patel said in a statement.

Anyone with information on the alleged crimes is asked to call San Jose police at (408) 277-8900.

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