Ripoff Crew Dressed Like SWAT Team Steals $60K From Kidnapped Would-Be Pot Sellers; One Victim Leaps from Trunk on Way to Desert
Edward Alvarez, one of five people arrested in a violent robbery on March 24.
A group of men dressed up like a SWAT team and armed with assault rifles robbed and kidnapped three people connected to a pot-selling scheme last month in Litchfield Park.
One of the terrified victims jumped from the trunk of a Jaguar going 60 mph while being taken to a desert location.
The victim survived and was hospitalized with severe cuts, bruising, and road rash.
Five of the estimated seven or eight suspects were arrested over the next several days, including one busted Monday at his home in El Mirage. They include: David Anthony Ybarra, Edward Alvarez, Victor Vasquez-Duarte, Johnny Ray Fernandez, and Frank Ybarra.
Victor Vasquez-Duarte, one of five men arrested in the last two weeks on suspicion of dressing like police officers to steal from would-be pot sellers.
The injured victim (New Times is withholding his name) ran up to a person on March 24 after jumping from the trunk and "begged" him to call 911, saying he'd been a victim of a carjacking, court records state.
Hiding the man in his vehicle, the witness fled the area near Litchfield and Camelback roads and called the authorities.
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office deputies interviewed the victim and figured out his carjacking story didn't make sense. The victim then began talking about a drug deal gone bad.
He said he'd gone to a house in Litchfield Park with two other people in an attempt to broker the sale of 180 pounds of marijuana for $60,000 to $95,000.
The three victims were led inside the house and immediately ambushed by the attackers, who were dressed in black clothing complete with police insignia, records state.
Armed with handguns and assault rifles, the robbers began screaming, "Police!" and ordered the victims to the floor, where they were beaten, shocked with stun guns, and pistol-whipped.
The victims were zip-tied, threatened with death and relieved of their $60,000.
One of the victims was placed in the trunk of his mother's 2003 Jaguar, while another rode in the passenger compartment.
As they were driving to an unspecified desert area, the aforementioned victim was able to unlatch the trunk and jump out. (Since 2001, all new vehicles with trunks are supposed to have an internal trunk-release handle, mainly to protect the lives of kids who might be trapped inside -- but the latches work well for kidnapping victims, too.)
The injured victim told deputies where to find one of his friends, and deputies interviewed the friend -- whose face sported cuts and bruises -- and got him to cooperate in finding the suspects.
Deputies and the FBI were helped in the case by video from a nearby restaurant, which showed the suspects eating pizza together following the robbery, records state.
Alvarez was arrested at his home in Litchfield Park, where the robbery had taken place. Authorities found the trunk victim's ID and family pictures in Alvarez's home, along with gloves, masks, "police quality body armor," an AR-15 rifle, an FN Herstall 5.7mm pistol, cell phones, and a "large quantity of cash."
Vasquez-Duarte was arrested on March 29 at his home, where cops found $5,000 in cash, a pistol, and a police badge.
Ybarra, with some meth in his pocket, was arrested yesterday at his home at 14014 North Alto Street in El Mirage. After being read his Miranda rights, Ybarra confessed that he'd been involved but only as a lookout.
Possible charges listed for the suspects include kidnapping, armed robbery, impersonating peace officers, aggravated assault, misconduct involving weapons and possession of dangerous drugs.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.