Fairfax gold burglar gets 3 years
A New York City woman who admitted being part of a ring that burglarized dozens of homes in Northern Virginia, specifically seeking gold and ignoring other valuables, was sentenced Friday to three years in federal prison.
Melinda M. Soto, 34, and her husband, Dagoberto Soto Ramirez, pleaded guilty in federal court in Alexandria to regularly traveling from New York to Fairfax and Loudoun counties, targeting homeowners with South Asian-sounding names. They admitted to burglarizing 37 homes and stealing nearly $600,000 worth of gold heirlooms between January and November of last year, when they were arrested along with a third alleged co-conspirator, Francisco Gray.
The cases against all three were thrown out by judges in Fairfax and Loudoun for lack of evidence, and Gray was deported to Peru. Federal authorities stepped in and indicted the trio in July.
The Sotos pleaded guilty in September to transporting stolen property across state lines. Gray has not been located.
Four of the victims spoke during the sentencing hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema. Raman Kumar told the judge that "our community still lives in fear" and that "the South Asian community is a victim of an economically motivated hate crime."
Soto then spoke publicly for the first time. "I'd like to say I'm sorry to all the victims and all the people that I hurt," she said, still wearing the purple streaks in her hair that captured the attention of some of the neighbors who saw her in the victimized communities. Soto admitted that she would knock on doors, make a phony sales pitch if someone was home, or go back to her car if no one answered and call the home to confirm no one was there.
Her husband and Gray then would break in and seek the gold items that had been handed down through generations of families, and which federal authorities Friday told the victims had been promptly melted down and sold after their removal.
"I linked myself to someone who was ruining my life and other people's lives," Soto said, referring to her husband, whose sentencing is set for next month.
"Ms. Soto, you're not a kid," Brinkema told her. "You traveled down to Virginia to do these crimes. There was an incredible amount of sophisticated planning, targeting an ethnic community, casing these houses. And even after you were arrested, there's evidence you tried to get an associate to manufacture an alibi."
Soto faced a recommended sentencing range of 33 to 41 months. She has been in federal custody for five months, and Brinkema gave her another 36 months on top of that. The judge also ordered Soto to make restitution of $590,860.
The victims were not happy with the sentence.
"Thirty-six months is nothing," said Jaya Sapre of Herndon, who said more than $25,000 worth of property, and a laptop containing all the photos of their children, was taken. "A hardcore criminal knows now, 'I can do something like this.' Thirty-six months is nothing for them."
| December 3, 2010; 11:55 AM ET
Categories: Fairfax, From the Courthouse, Loudoun, Tom Jackman, Updates, Virginia
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