Detectives conducting search near Merced for suspect in death of Newman corporal
After allegedly shooting a Newman police officer, Paulo Virgen Mendoza spent the next two days traveling around Central California with help from several friends and family members, federal documents show.
Charging documents against the seven people accused of helping Mendoza detail their roles in the days and hours following the shooting of Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh.
The alleged accomplices of Mendoza, 32, provided him with changes of clothing, helped conceal his vehicle, drove him to multiple locations to hide, disposed of the murder weapon, harbored him in their home and paid a human trafficker $400 to get him to Mexico, according to an arrest affidavit by a Homeland Security special agent.
Mendoza’s girlfriend Ana Leyde Cervantes, 30; his brothers Conrado Virgen Mendoza, 34, and Adrian Virgen, 25; and his co-worker Erik Razo Quiroz, 35, pleaded not guilty to felony accessory charges in Stanislaus County on Monday. Mendoza appeared in court on Wednesday, when his attorney called into question Mendoza’s mental competency. A mental health evaluation was ordered.
Two other family members, Bernabe Madrigal Castaneda, 59, and Maria Luisa Moreno, 57, as well as another co-worker, Erasmo Villegas, 36, pleaded not guilty to felony accessory charges on Wednesday in Kern County, where they were arrested, along with Mendoza.
In addition to the state charges, the seven were charged federally on Wednesday with conspiracy and aiding and abetting, harboring and shielding from detection an illegal alien. The charge comes with a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Castaneda, Moreno and Villegas also are charged with conspiracy to effect flight to avoid prosecution, and Quiroz is additionally charged with being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm.
All but Moreno admitted to being in the United States illegally.
The affidavit gave the following account:
At 1 a.m. on Dec. 26, Cpl. Singh pulled over a Dodge pickup with paper dealer plates at Merced Street and Eucalyptus Avenue in Newman.
He radioed for a backup unit and a Spanish speaking deputy to assist. It was seconds later that Singh radioed, “Shots fired! I’ve been hit!”
Responding officers found Singh face down near the curb west of his patrol vehicle. He’d been shot multiple times.
Officers started CPR until medics arrived and drove him to Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock, where he was pronounced dead.
Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department investigators were first tipped off about Paulo Virgen Mendoza (also known by and arrested under the name Gustavo Perez Arriaga) when a witness told them his pickup was in a carport concealed by plywood at a trailer in Martins Mobile Court along River Road, near Newman.
At about 2 p.m. on Dec. 26, the Sheriff Department’s SWAT team served a search warrant at the trailer, where Paulo Virgen Mendoza and Cervantes lived.
Paulo Virgen Mendoza was gone, and the Dodge pickup was found behind the plywood with a bullet hole on the left rear passenger door.
A 9mm casing that matched one found at the crime scene in front of Singh’s patrol car was found inside the pickup.
Through interviews after their arrests, detectives learned that Paulo Virgen Mendoza had left the trailer earlier in the day with his brother Conrado Virgen Mendoza and co-worker Quiroz.
Cervantes told authorities that Paulo Virgen Mendoza returned to the trailer shortly after 1 a.m. and said he’d “shot a cop and ‘was leaving’.” He left but returned around 5:30 a.m. with his brother and co-worker and asked her for “work clothes. “
Cervantes told investigators that Paulo Virgen Mendoza was holding a pistol he’d purchased two months prior.
She gathered three changes of clothing while the men used plywood to cover the carport with the pickup inside.
Conrado Virgen Mendoza told authorities that Cervantes told him his brother had shot a police officer but he didn’t believe it until he later got a call from his wife, who’d seen news reports of the killing.
Conrado Virgen Mendoza said he, his brother and Quiroz left the trailer and went to the Flying J in Patterson to get gas and then had planned to go to a job at a construction site in Fairfield, where they were expected to work.
But they changed their minds, Conrado Virgen Mendoza told authorities, and headed to their uncle’s ranch in Stockton so his brother could hide for a few days.
The brothers’ aunt and uncle, however, after learning their nephew was wanted, told them they needed to leave.
Before they did, Quiroz, at the request of Paulo Virgen Mendoza, disposed of a heavy metal object he believed to be a gun, in a trash bin at the ranch.
Investigators later recovered from the bin a 9mm Smith and Wesson that had been stolen out of Washington state.
After leaving the ranch, they went to locations in Merced County, ultimately stopping at a ranch in El Nido, where Paulo Virgen Mendoza’s other brother, Adrian Virgen, picked him up.
Paulo Virgen Mendoza and Adrian Virgen went to an aunt’s home in Buttonwillow the night of Dec. 26 and spent the night.
The next morning, the aunt learned Paulo Virgen Mendoza was wanted and she told them they couldn’t stay there.
Virgen told authorities that he lied to his aunt’s husband to get him to loan them $400, which he later wired to a human trafficker “as payment for the purpose of concealing (Paulo Virgen Mendoza) and providing transport from Bakersfield Ca to Mexico.” It was the same trafficker Virgen had used about four years ago to enter the United States illegally.
Virgen next took his brother to the home of their relatives — Castaneda and Moreno — just outside of Bakersfield. After their arrival, Virgen and Castaneda went to a Metro PCS store to buy Paulo Virgen Mendoza a new cell phone.
Erasmo Villegas, a co-worker of Paulo Virgen Mendoza, came to the home at his request with more changes of clothing.
He also accepted a wire transfer of $500 from an unknown source to give to Paulo Virgen Mendoza to help pay for his transportation to Mexico.
The next day, on Dec. 28, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team surrounded the home and Paulo Virgen Mendoza surrendered, along with the three others.
No federal court date has yet been scheduled for the seven alleged accomplices, but all are scheduled to return to superior courts in Stanislaus and Kern counties to answer to state charges.