Three Miami Men Sentenced to Life for Pawn Shop Robberies and Murders
MIAMI – Senior United States District Judge James I. Cohn has sentenced Jonathan Cruz, 36, Eric Ortiz Melendez, 28, and Jorge Aponte Figueroa, 25, to life in federal prison for their participation in violent robberies and murders.
The sentences follow two federal trials. The first was a Miami trial where in March 2022, a jury found Aponte Figueroa guilty of carjacking resulting in death and discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. The second trial happened in Fort Lauderdale, where in November 2022, a jury found Cruz, Ortiz Melendez, and Aponte Figueroa guilty of committing armed robbery of nine pawn shops in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties (and conspiring to do so), as well as killing a customer during a robbery in Little Havana. That jury also found Cruz guilty of being a felon in possession of ammunition.
According to the trial evidence, beginning in October of 2016, Cruz, Ortiz Melendez, and Aponte Figueroa, along with five previously convicted co-conspirators, agreed to commit armed robberies of pawn shops throughout South Florida. They would steal jewelry and resell it. Cruz would scout the pawn shops, then organize and direct the robberies.
After obtaining guns and tools from Cruz, the coconspirators would drive to the stores, commit the robberies, and return to Cruz’s home with the jewelry. Cruz would sell the stolen jewelry and give coconspirators their cut.
Shots were fired during robberies in Pembroke Park, West Park, and Miami, one of which resulted in the murder of an elderly customer at a Little Havana pawn shop.
The spree began to unravel after one pawn shop robbery in Hialeah, when officers with Hialeah Police Department arrested three of the robbers at the end of a high-speed chase.
Additionally, in May 2017, Aponte Figueroa and two co-conspirators carjacked at gunpoint an Uber driver while he slept in his minivan. After driving the victim throughout Miami-Dade County, Aponte Figueroa pointed a gun at him, stole his wallet, and shot the victim seven times, including close range shots to the head. The victim died.
U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida and acting Special Agent in Charge Maged Benham of the FBI Miami Field Office announced the life sentences.
FBI Miami investigated the case, with assistance from Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Miami-Dade Police Department, City of Miami Police Department, Hialeah Police Department, City of Hollywood Police Department, City of Miami Gardens Police Department, City of Palm Springs Police Department, and Fort Lauderdale Police Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alejandra L. López and Jodi Anton prosecuted this case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Annika Miranda is handling the asset forfeiture aspect of the case.
This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. On May 26, 2021, the Department launched a violent crime reduction strategy strengthening PSN based on these core principles: fostering trust and legitimacy in our communities, supporting community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, setting focused and strategic enforcement priorities, and measuring the results.
Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov, under case number 17-cr-20487.
Originally published at https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/miami/news/three-miami-men-sentenced-to-life-for-pawn-shop-robberies-and-murders
originally published at HUMAN RIGHTS - USA DAILY NEWS 24