FLORENCE — A jury convicted a Florence prison inmate Tuesday of aiding a criminal street gang on the basis of correspondence written seven years ago.
Anthony Armenta, 31, was found guilty of one count of participating in a street gang, a Class 2 felony.
He was accused of promoting the Arizona Mexican Mafia, a notorious prison gang that formed in Florence more than 40 years ago.
Armenta was indicted last year after investigators discovered some letters in his case file at the Arizona Department of Corrections.
The letters notably contained the name of Benito Uriarte, a 27-year-old Guadalupe man shot and killed last year.
The letters appeared to be written in 2010 though they were intercepted by prison guards and never sent to their intended recipient.
Prosecutor Amy Diederich told the jury it doesn’t matter that the letters were never sent. That doesn’t change Armenta’s intention when he wrote them, she said.
The state argued Armenta was exposing Uriarte as a snitch in the letters, writing in gang slang undetectable to the layperson. And labeling Uriarte as a snitch would have put a target on his back.
Armenta was not charged for any involvement in Uriarte’s death, but the prosecution emphasized the fact that outing a snitch is the equivalent of a death sentence within the Mexican Mafia.
Mark Benson, the defendant’s attorney, argued the letters don’t prove Armenta was actively participating in any gang.
The state had to prove Armenta organized, directed, managed or financed the Mexican Mafia. Benson argued none of the evidence at trial indicated Armenta was in any position of power. In fact, witnesses described Armenta as a “probate,” one of the lowest ranks in the gang’s hierarchy.
The defense showed the jury pictures of Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg and Gen. George Patton — all leaders in their respective fields. It would be a huge stretch, Benson argued, to conclude a probate like Armenta could be organizing and managing the gang.
Diederich reminded the jury that probates keep the Mexican Mafia running behind bars by collecting taxes and passing messages. And the bottom line is Armenta chose to write those letters, she argued, and he did so with a specific purpose.
Because of the defendant’s criminal history, he could face a lengthy prison sentence.
2 sentenced for credit card fraud
FLORENCE — Two men were sentenced Friday in Superior Court after they were caught by law enforcement with 54 fraudulent credit cards.
Jeremy Gant, 37, was sentenced to six years in the Arizona Department of Corrections for credit card fraud after accepting a plea deal in October. His co-defendent, 26-year-old Bryce Anderson, was given a four-year prison sentence.
The two men were traveling along Interstate 10 when a state trooper stopped them near Eloy for a traffic violation. The trooper detected marijuana and asked to search the vehicle, court documents show.
While patting down the defendants, the trooper found bundles of cards in their pockets.
The credit cards had been issued from different banks and most of the cards had Gant’s name on them.
Court documents show Gant told the trooper he was in debt to a California street gang so he agreed to transport the fake cards to Texas. He claimed not to be a member of the gang but was threatened into the task.
Gant’s attorney asked Judge Lawrence Wharton for leniency, arguing he committed the crime out of desperation.
Gant told the judge he knew what he did was wrong and apologized to any victims who may have had their identity stolen.
Son admits to killing dad in AC
FLORENCE — A 20-year-old man pleaded guilty Monday to killing his father in Arizona City.
Ricky Hernandez Jr. had been charged with the second-degree murder of Ricky Hernandez Sr., 40, committed Feb. 10. He has pleaded guilty in Pinal County Superior Court to the lesser offense of manslaughter, a Class 2 felony.
The victim was found dead at a residence in the 9000 block of Lynx Drive with stab wounds to his chest and back. The father’s girlfriend sustained an injury to her hand during the altercation.
The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office reported Hernandez fled from the residence after the crime, but he was later located and detained.
According to the terms of the plea deal, Hernandez will serve no more than 10½ years in prison. He will then be placed on probation upon his release.
Hernandez also pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for injuring his father’s girlfriend. The defendant will remain detained at the Pinal County jail until he’s sentenced.