He robbed marijuana grower, threatened to chop fingers with machete, prosecutors say

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Witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. Here’s what you should do if you witness illegal activity.

A federal jury has convicted a Waterford man who was part of a home-invasion robbery crew that posed as police officers and stole drugs and cash from marijuana growers, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento.

Jose Jesus Carbajal, 33, was found guilty on Aug. 1 after a three-day trial, federal prosecutors said in a news release. The robbers disguised as cops would announce they had a search warrant, then tie up the victims and rob them at gunpoint.

The prosecution alleged that Carbajal and his robbery crew targeted marijuana growers from October 2014 through December 2017, including an attempted theft at a Turlock home in which one victim was shot.

Federal investigators first tied Carbajal to the robbery crew after a break-in at an Arbuckle home in Colusa County, where a family was held at gunpoint and threatened with torture, according to documents filed in federal court.

Colusa County home-invasion robbery

About 3:30 a.m. Dec. 4, 2016, four armed robbers dressed as police officers entered the family’s home. Marijuana was illegally grown at the home, and processed marijuana and cash from marijuana sales was stored there, according to a filed stipulation of facts in the case. A couple and their son lived at the home.

One of the victims identified Carbajal as the leader of that robbery crew, telling investigators that Carbajal wore a mask that he removed at one point during the robbery, according to a FBI affidavit filed in support of a criminal complaint.

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The mother was held in a bedroom with her son in one of the bedrooms under the watch of one of the intruders. Carbajal pistol-whipped the handcuffed father, demanding the location of the victim’s cash, according to the FBI affidavit.

Carbajal then grabbed a machete and threatened to cut off the son’s fingers, before he took the father outside and threatened to douse him and his son with gasoline and set him on fire if he didn’t lead them to the hidden money, according to the FBI.

The father gave in and took the intruders to the cash. The robbers stole tens of thousands of dollars, a large amount of marijuana and other valuables, according to court documents. Prosecutors said traces of Carbajal’s DNA was found on a mask found at the Arbuckle home, about 48 miles northeast of Sacramento.

Turlock burglary

The prosecution believed Carbajal and his robbery crew were involved in other crimes as their tactics evolved, including the attempted theft on Nov. 6, 2014, at the home in the 800 block of Angelus Street in Turlock. Two men returned to the home and found two burglars already inside.

One of the burglars fired a gun, hitting one of the victims. That man suffered nonlife-threatening injuries in the shooting, according to Turlock police. Detectives searched the home and found marijuana in plain view throughout the home, the garage and a laundry room, along with packaging and processing materials, according to federal prosecutors. They said an informant linked Carbajal and two others to the attempted theft.

The prosecution also alleged that Carbajal arranged a home-invasion robbery in Chowchilla. A large amount of marijuana was stored at the home in a rural area, just east of Highway 99 and about 18 miles south of Merced.

A witness told authorities the robbers, dressed as police, handcuffed a resident there and cut down marijuana plants that were then loaded onto a moving truck, according to court documents. The Chowchilla robbery was not reported to police; the residents renting the property simply left.

The jury last week convicted Carbajal of conspiracy to commit robbery affecting interstate commerce, interference with commerce by robbery, and brandishing a gun during a violent crime.

Carbajal, 33, is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 28. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine for the commerce-related crimes, prosecutors said. Carbajal also faces a mandatory consecutive sentence of seven years to life on the gun charge.

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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.