Hanselo Recio, 18, Betel Paulino, 18, and Junior Feliz, 22, of the Dominican Republic, and Helwood Paris, 20, of Puerto Rico, made their first appearances Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller to answer charges in the March 25 attempted robbery of the McDonald’s restaurant in Lockhart Shopping Center, which resulted in the death of one of the alleged robbers.
According to acting U.S. Attorney Joycelyn Hewlett, each man is charged with a Hobbs Act robbery, conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, conspiracy to possess a firearm during a crime of violence, and territorial charges of robbery, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, and possession of a firearm in a public housing zone.
The Hobbs Act is a federal statute prohibiting actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce “in any way or degree,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice website. It allows prosecution of the offense in federal District Court rather than the territory’s Superior Court.
The men were detained pending detention hearings to be scheduled.
According to the information presented Monday in court, on March 25 members of the Virgin Islands Police Department responded to reports of a robbery at the McDonald’s. After an exchange of gunfire, Recio, who was inside McDonald’s, surrendered and was taken into custody. The follow-up investigation identified Paulino, Feliz and Paris as the remaining persons involved in the robbery.
Juan DeDios, a 17-year-old born in the Dominican Republic, died during the shootout of what an autopsy determined was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The penalty for conviction of Hobbs Act robbery or the local robbery charge is as much as 20 years, and for the federal charge of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, it is a mandatory 10-year consecutive sentence. For the territorial possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, the penalty is as much as 15 years, and for possession of a firearm in a public housing zone, the penalty is as much as 30 years.
The case is being investigated by the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the VIPD. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sigrid M. Tejo-Sprotte.