Three previously pleaded guilty, sentenced

A federal jury in Fresno Monday convicted two defendants of assisting in an effort to help Paulo Virgen Mendoza’s escape from California to Mexico after he allegedly killed Newman Police Corporal Ronil Singh during a Dec. 26, 2018 traffic stop, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.

Two other defendants were acquitted.

Three defendants charged with aiding the accused killer after the murder previously pleaded guilty and have been sentenced, according to a Department of Justice news release issued Tuesday morning.

Prosecutors said Paulo Mendoza’s brother, Conrado Virgen Mendoza, 34, an illegal alien from Colima, Mexico, residing in Chowchilla; and friend, Erik Quiroz Razo, 28, an illegal alien from Michoacán, Mexico residing in Merced, were found guilty of conspiring to aid and abet Paulo Mendoza’s flight to avoid prosecution for murder, the U.S. Attorney’s office reported. They are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 13, 2020. Each faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The jury acquitted family members Erasmo Villegas Suarez, 36, and Maria Luisa Moreno, 57, both of the Bakersfield-Lamont area. However, prosecutors reported, Suarez and Moreno have been issued notices to appear initiating deportation proceedings and Suarez faces additional federal charges relating to fraud involving identification documents. Suarez is scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 21 in connection with that case. 

According to prosecutors, Paulo Mendoza’s girlfriend, Ana Leydi Cervantes Sanchez, 31, an illegal alien from Michoacán, Mexico, who was living with Paulo Mendoza in the Newman area, was sentenced earlier this week to one year and one day in prison after previously pleading guilty to conspiring to aid and abet the accused killer’s flight to avoid prosecution for murder, conspiring to harbor an illegal alien and harboring an illegal alien. Paulo Mendoza is an illegal alien from Colima, Mexico, authorities said.

Paulo Mendoza’s brother Adrian Virgen Mendoza, 26, an illegal alien from Colima, Mexico, previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to aid and abet his brother’s flight to avoid prosecution for murder and was sentenced to one year and nine months in prison, prosecutors said. Moreno’s husband, Bernabe Madrigal Castaneda, 60, an illegal alien of Colima, Mexico, also previously entered a guilty plea to the conspiracy and was sentenced to one year and one day in prison, according to the news release. Sanchez, Adrian Mendoza, and Castaneda have been issued notices to appear initiating deportation proceedings after serving their prison terms. 

In the two days after Cpl. Singh was killed, the news release stated, Paulo Mendoza’s friends and relatives conspired together to help him escape to Mexico. Conrado Mendoza, Razo, Sanchez, Adrian Mendoza, and Castaneda were aware from news coverage, social media, and from cell phone alerts that Paulo Mendoza was wanted for the murder of the officer, prosecutors said. Nevertheless, the news release stated, Conrado Mendoza and Razo helped him to conceal his truck and drove him to various locations, and Razo disposed of Paulo Mendoza’s loaded firearm. Sanchez provided Paulo Mendoza with clothes, and Castaneda provided him with food and shelter, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

As part of the conspiracy, prosecutors said, Adrian Mendoza arranged for a smuggler to take his brother across the border, and he and Castaneda purchased a new cell phone for Paulo Mendoza to use to communicate with the smuggler.

On Dec. 28, SWAT officers were deployed to Moreno and Castaneda’s residence after receiving information that Paulo Virgen Mendoza was at that location, where he was arrested for murder.

Throughout the 55-hour manhunt, prosecutors noted, there were widespread media reports and alerts indicating that Paulo Mendoza was wanted for killing Cpl. Singh, identifying the suspect as an illegal alien, and showing photos of the accused killer and the truck he was driving at the time of the shooting. None of the defendants, the news release stated, notified the authorities of their contacts with Paulo Mendoza when they learned that he was wanted. Ultimately, prosecutors stated, Conrado Mendoza directed law enforcement officers to the dumpster where Razo had thrown the gun.

This case is the product of an investigation led by Homeland Security Investigations and the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Enforcement and Removal Operations; Central Valley High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force; Southern Tri-County HIDTA; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; California Highway Patrol; California Department of Justice, the Sheriffs’ Offices for Kern, Merced, and Santa Cruz Counties; and the Police Departments for Merced, Turlock, Modesto, and Santa Cruz. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Karen A. Escobar, Laura D. Withers, and Michael G. Tierney are prosecuting the case.