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Two Ringleaders Plead Guilty in String of Jewelry Store Heists

May 29, 1992|THOM MZOREK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Two Southeast San Diego men pleaded guilty Thursday to being the ringleaders in a gang responsible for a string of jewelry store robberies that netted more than $1 million in merchandise.

Jeffrey Todd Diaz and Joseph Rey Perez pleaded guilty to numerous counts of armed robbery before San Diego Municipal Court Judge Larry W. Stirling.

Diaz, 25, admitted to planning the robberies and converting the stolen jewelry to cash. He pleaded guilty to nine counts of armed robbery involving seven separate incidents.

Diaz could be sentenced to up to 13 years in state prison and fines totaling $90,000.

Perez could be sentenced to up to 21 years in prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of armed robbery. His potential sentence is substantially more than Diaz's because he admitted using a gun during the five incidents.

Perez, 27, acted as the gunman at most of the robberies, but he was the driver at the gang's final holdup.

On the morning of April 30, the gang simultaneously robbed both the Ben Bridge Jeweler and the Muratta Pearl Co. in Mission Valley Center. One of the bandits was captured after the daylight robbery, effectively ending the crime rampage.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Josephine Kiernan said that the stolen jewelry had a retail value of more than $1 million and very little had been recovered. She said the thieves spent much of the money they received from selling the jewelry on luxury items such as cars, condominium rentals and clothes.

Both Diaz and Perez will be held in lieu of $1 million bail until their sentencing June 26.

Kiernan said the investigation is continuing into the robberies, which started on Feb. 19, and authorities are examining the possibility of charging more suspects, including at least one juvenile.

Three other defendants are in the midst of a preliminary hearing to determine if they should stand trial in Superior Court.

Kiernan said all the defendants admitted to investigators their responsibility for the crimes.

The three other defendants are: 18-year-old Ishmael A. Meraz, charged with two counts of robbery; 21-year-old Miguel Ortiz, charged with eight counts of robbery after being arrested at Mission Valley Center and 20-year-old Gilbert J. Morales, charged with one count of robbery.

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