Crime

Pleas in federal court for Stanislaus County defendants accused in Newman cop killing

See web of suspects tied to the shooting of Newman Police officer

These eight people face charges in connection with the death of Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh.
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These eight people face charges in connection with the death of Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh.

Four Stanislaus County residents appeared in federal court and denied allegations that they helped a man evade capture after the shooting death of Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh.

Paulo Virgen Mendoza has been charged with murder in Singh’s death. Mendoza is accused of killing Singh during a Dec. 26 traffic stop in Newman. Mendoza is still identified in jail records as Gustavo Perez Arriaga, an alias. He remains in custody in Stanislaus County, where he will be prosecuted.

Mendoza’s girlfriend, Ana Leyde Cervantes, his brothers Conrado Virgen Mendoza and Adrian Virgen, and his co-worker Erik Razo Quiroz are accused of helping Paulo Virgen Mendoza try to escape into Mexico.

The four defendants appeared in federal court in Fresno on Friday, according to filed court records. The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges.

They are accused of providing Mendoza with changes of clothing, helping conceal his vehicle, driving him around to hide, disposing of the murder weapon, harboring him in their home and paying a human trafficker $400 to smuggle him into Mexico, according to an arrest affidavit by a Homeland Security special agent.

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U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheila Oberto scheduled Mendoza and Virgen and Quiroz to return to her courtroom Wednesday afternoon for a detention hearing. The judge scheduled Cervantes to return Friday afternoon for a detention hearing.

The four defendants were initially charged in Stanislaus Superior Court, but local prosecutors dropped the charges last week so the U.S. Attorney’s Office could take over the prosecution. If convicted, the defendants would face a tougher punishment in federal court.

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If convicted of the federal charge of conspiracy and aiding and abetting, harboring and shielding from detection an illegal alien, each defendant could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, according to a criminal complaint filed Jan. 2 in federal court.

The Stanislaus County residents are among seven people facing federal charges, accused of helping Paulo Virgen Mendoza during a 55-hour manhunt. The murder suspect was captured near Bakersfield.

Bernabe Madrigal Castaneda, Maria Luisa Moreno and Erasmo Villegas were arrested in Kern County along with Mendoza days after the deadly shooting. On Jan. 15, Castaneda, Moreno and Villegas appeared in federal court in Fresno and pleaded not guilty to the charges. They were scheduled to return to court Tuesday.

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Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.
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