ALBUQUERQUE ― A federal jury in Santa Fe returned a verdict Thursday finding Sara Ruiz guilty of armed robbery, firearms, and witness tampering charges arising out of the robbery Dec. 13, 2015 of the Route 66 Casino Xpress in Laguna Pueblo.
Ruiz, 41, of Grants, and her co-defendants, Lorenzo Chavez, 26, and James Montano, Jr., 24, both of Cubero, were indicted June 30, 2016.
The indictment charged the three with conspiracy to violate the Hobbs Act, violating the Hobbs Act by robbing the Route 66 Casino Xpress, a gas station/convenience store and casino in Laguna Pueblo, at gunpoint; and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence. The indictment alleged that the defendants committed the crimes Dec. 13, 2015, in Bernalillo County. The indictment was superseded June 13, 2017, after Ruiz’s co-defendants entered guilty pleas, and charged Ruiz with three additional counts of witness tampering.
Trial on the superseding indictment commenced May 21, 2018, and concluded today when the jury returned a guilty verdict against Ruiz on all six counts of the superseding indictment.
Evidence at trial established that Dec. 13, 2015, Ruiz and her co-defendants robbed the Route 66 Casino Xpress located in Laguna Pueblo. Jurors viewed surveillance footage showing Ruiz using her casino rewards card to purchase gas in the gas station area of the Route 66 Casino Xpress while the two men who later robbed the Route 66 Casino Xpress at gunpoint were in her vehicle shortly before the robbery. The jury also viewed surveillance video showing Ruiz’s vehicle as it drove around the back of the casino, and dropped off two men who exited the vehicle and entered the casino approximately a minute before the armed robbery took place.
Testimony during the trial established that in Feb. 2016, March 2016, Dec. 2016 and Feb. 2017, Ruiz attempted to tamper with and intimidate witnesses whom she expected to testify against her at trial. According to evidence presented at trial, Ruiz had numerous conversations with several witnesses during which she directed them to lie about her involvement and their knowledge of the armed robbery. Ruiz also threatened to physically hurt the witnesses if they mentioned her involvement in the armed robbery, at one point claiming she would cut the tongue out of a witness’ mouth because that’s what “she does to rats.”
At sentencing, Ruiz faces a maximum penalty of twenty years in federal prison on the Hobbs Act and witness tampering counts, and a mandatory minimum penalty of seven years in federal prison to be served consecutive to any other sentence imposed for using a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
Feb. 23, 2017, Chavez and Montano each pled guilty to Count 2 of the indictment, charging them with violating the Hobbs Act by robbing the Route 66 Casino Xpress at gunpoint Dec. 13, 2015. Chavez also pled guilty to Count 3 of the indictment, charging him with brandishing a firearm during that robbery.
In addition to his guilty plea to the two charges in the case involving the Route 66 Casino Xpress, Chavez also entered a guilty plea to a Hobbs Act and methamphetamine trafficking charges in a separate case. In that case, Chavez was charged in a four-count indictment filed Feb. 24, 2016. That indictment charged Chavez with possessing distribution quantities of methamphetamine Dec. 19, 2015, and carrying a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. It also charged Chavez with robbing an Allsups convenience store in southwest Albuquerque Dec. 29, 2015, and with brandishing a firearm during that robbery. Feb. 23, 2017, Chavez also pled guilty to possessing almost 61 gross grams of methamphetamine Dec. 19, 2015, which he intended to distribute to others. He also pled guilty to robbing an Allsup’s convenience store at gunpoint Dec. 29, 2015.
Under the terms of his plea agreement, Chavez will be sentenced within the range of 120 to 180 months in prison. Montano faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Ruiz, Chavez and Montano remain in custody pending their sentencing hearings, which have not yet been scheduled.
The case against Chavez, Montano and Ruiz, which arises from the armed robbery of the Route 66 Casino Xpress, was investigated by the Albuquerque office of the FBI and the Pueblo of Laguna Police Department, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elaine Y. Ramirez and Kristopher N. Houghton.
The case arising from the armed robbery of the Allsups convenience store and methamphetamine trafficking was investigated by the Albuquerque office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Albuquerque Police Department, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul Mysliwiec and Letitia Carroll Sims.