Relatives who hid alleged shooter after Newman cop killing convicted, face deportation

A jury has convicted two people for helping Paulo Virgen Mendoza avoid capture during a 55-hour manhunt after the death of Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh. Two other people were acquitted.

Mendoza is accused of shooting Singh during a Dec. 26 traffic stop in Newman. He faces a murder charge in Stanislaus Superior Court. Mendoza is still identified in Stanislaus County Jail records as Gustavo Perez Arriaga, an alias. But he’s referred to in court by his given name.

Authorities say Mendoza shot Singh shortly after the police corporal pulled Mendoza over near the intersection of Merced Street and Eucalyptus Avenue on suspicion of driving under the influence. Mendoza was captured near Bakersfield.

His brother, Conrado Virgen Mendoza, 34, of Chowchilla and Erik Quiroz Razo, 28, of Merced were found guilty of conspiring to aid and abet Paulo Mendoza avoid prosecution, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento announced in a news release Tuesday morning. The verdict was reached Monday.

Federal prosecutors said both men had entered the country illegally; Conrado Mendoza was originally from Colima, Mexico and Razo was from Michoacán, Mexico. Authorities say Paulo Mendoza also had entered the country illegally; he was originally from Colima and was living in Newman at the time of the shooting.

The same jury in federal court in Fresno acquitted Mendoza’s other relatives, Erasmo Villegas Suarez, 36, and Maria Luisa Moreno, 57, both of the Bakersfield-Lamont area.

Suarez and Moreno have been issued notices to appear in court for deportation proceedings, according to the prosecutors. Suarez faces additional federal charges of alleged fraud involving identification documents. Suarez is scheduled to appear in court Oct. 21 in that case.

Also on Monday, Paulo Mendoza’s girlfriend, Ana Leydi Cervantes Sanchez, 31, was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison. She had pleaded guilty to conspiring to aid and abet her boyfriend avoid prosecution, conspiring to harbor an illegal alien, and harboring an illegal alien.

Prosecutors said Sanchez was originally from Michoacán, Mexico, entered the country illegally and was living with her boyfriend in Newman.

Paulo Mendoza’s other brother, Adrian Virgen Mendoza, 26, has pleaded guilty to conspiring to aid and abet his brother avoid prosecution. He has been sentenced to one year and nine months in federal prison. Moreno’s husband, Bernabe Madrigal Castañeda, 60, has pleaded guilty to the conspiracy and has been sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison.

Prosecutors said Adrian Mendoza and Castañeda were both from Colima and had entered the country illegally. They said Cervantes, Adrian Mendoza and Castañeda have been issued notices to appear in court for deportation proceedings after they’re released from prison.

In the early hours of Dec. 26, 2018, Paulo returned home after the shooting, authorities say. Over the next two days, Paulo Mendoza’s friends and relatives conspired to help him try to escape to Mexico, according to prosecutors.

Authorities said Conrado and Razo helped Paulo Mendoza hide his truck and drove him to various locations, and Razo got rid of Paulo Mendoza’s loaded gun. Sanchez gave Mendoza clothes, and Castañeda gave him food and a place to stay.

As part of the conspiracy, Adrian Mendoza arranged for a smuggler to take Paulo Mendoza across the border into Mexico, prosecutors said, and he and Castañeda bought a new cell phone for Paulo Mendoza to use to communicate with the smuggler.

Two days after the fatal shooting, SWAT team officers went to Moreno and Castañeda’s home, after authorities were told Paulo Mendoza was there. Paulo Mendoza and the others were then taken into custody.

Prosecutors said none of the defendants notified the authorities of their contacts with Paulo Mendoza when they learned he was wanted. Conrado Mendoza later directed investigators to a dumpster, where Quiroz had dumped the gun.

Conrado Mendoza and Razo are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 13. They each face a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.

Testimony is scheduled to begin Dec. 10 in a preliminary hearing. for Paulo Mendoza to determine whether there’s enough evidence for him to stand trial. His attorney has entered a not guilty plea on behalf of Mendoza. He remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail.

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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.