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Prison for `Fight Club' member

Gilberto Cuevas, 18, of Murrieta admits theft, burglary, gang and drug charges. He is the fourth of 11 suspects to agree to a plea bargain.

April 17, 2007|Sara Lin | Times Staff Writer

An 18-year-old member of a self-styled Murrieta "fight club" who prosecutors said graduated from backyard brawls to armed burglaries, robberies and assaults was sentenced Monday to more than six years in state prison.

Gilberto Cuevas of Murrieta pleaded guilty to grand theft, steroid possession, burglary and receiving stolen property and admitted to being involved in a gang, prosecutors said. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Judith C. Clark handed down the 76-month term.

Cuevas was the fourth of 11 club members who have accepted plea bargains. The former Murrieta Valley High School students, including former football players, started a Fight Club gang in 2004, prosecutors said. The suspects are accused by Murrieta police of committing a two-year crime spree of robberies, burglaries and assaults.

Cuevas' older brother, Leo, 27, said his brother took the plea agreement rather than face a potential 15 years if convicted by a jury. He called the gang allegations unfair.

"For what he did, the sentence is way out of hand," he said. "They're calling it a gang, but my brother doesn't even know all the guys. He only knows two or three of the guys in the supposed gang."

William J. Unmacht IV, 21, of Murrieta pleaded guilty Friday to burglary and the gang allegation, and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Also Friday, Travis Baker, 20, of Winchester received a seven-year sentence after pleading guilty to burglary, assault with a deadly weapon and a gang allegation.

Two weeks ago, Christopher Bredesen, 18, of Murrieta pleaded guilty to burglary and a gang allegation in exchange for three years in prison. He will be sentenced April 27.

Bredesen's lawyer, Parwana Anwar, said her client pleaded guilty rather than face a trial and the possibility of a longer sentence.

"The district attorney's office just has everyone in a tough spot because of a gang allegation" that could add years to their sentences, she said. Her client "wanted to get his case over with. He was willing to take gang enhancement even he doesn't admit there is a fight club gang.... He's guilty by association if anything."

The remaining seven defendants were due in court Friday for a felony settlement conference.

The 11 defendants, along with a juvenile being prosecuted separately, were arrested in February by Murrieta police.

Police say the group had dog tags and baseball caps with an "FC" logo, and was modeled on the gang depicted in the 1999 film "Fight Club," starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.

The gang members would case homes in Murrieta and neighboring Temecula while attending parties, and come back later to burglarize the residences, investigators said.

They first stole guns, which they later used in robberies at liquor stores and gas stations, police said.

Charges against the two men investigators call ringleaders -- 20-year-old Michael Petty and 19-year-old Anthony Smith -- include armed burglary and grand theft auto at a home in September.

They also burglarized an LA Fitness gym in Temecula, stealing weights, computers and furniture, police said.

Another defendant, Travis Erickson, 18, is charged with arson for allegedly burning the stolen equipment.

All the men face the gang allegation and various felony charges. The defendants face sentences of two to 35 years if convicted.

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