Mastermind of Cayo attacks in jail
Belize police are patting themselves on the back tonight following the arrest of the person they say masterminded a crime spree against visitors and residents of the Cayo district. News Five's Janelle Chanona reports.
Senior Superintendent James Magdaleno, Head, National C.I.B.
“He was the ringleader. He was the one giving instructions. He was up front during these robberies, so he was easily identified by the victims.”
Janelle Chanona, Reporting
This afternoon, law enforcement officials escorted forty-four year old Jeronimo Cortez Gonzalez to Belize City Magistrate’s Court to be arraigned in connection with twelve separate armed attacks in the Cayo District. According to Senior Superintendent James Magdaleno, Head of the National Crimes Investigation Branch, an anonymous call on Tuesday led Belizean and Guatemalan investigators to a home in the border village of Arenal.
“The person was picked up, he was taken into custody and was interviewed. He was shown his picture to be one of the robbers that were committing these robberies and at some point in time, he admitted yes, he was involved.”
According to police, since July 2005 there have been twelve reported armed hold ups in the Cayo district, specifically in the Mountain Pine Ridge, Caracol, and Chiquibul areas. Victims described the bandits as Hispanic men brandishing assault rifles.
The M.O. was simple: as vehicles drove to Mayan sites with tourists, the gunmen would ambush the cars, direct them to a secluded area, and then rob them of cash and valuables. But in May of this year, one of the attacks turned violent when a tourist was sexually assaulted and another shot. Tonight cops tell News Five Cortez, a resident of San Benito, Peten, claims to have lived in Belize.
“He used to be working here before. I understand that he worked at the Hershey Limited before, so hence the reason he is in and out of Belize.”
“We know that there are several other people involved in these attacks. The investigation continues?”
“The investigation continues. Again this man was positively identified by fourteen persons between the twentieth and twenty-first.”
“We understand this gentleman may also be wanted in Guatemala for crimes there?”
“They had committed some crimes over there, some minor crimes. They were dealt with, they went to court, and I guess they paid their fines or they are on bail so that is how it went over on the Guatemalan side.”
The last armed robbery took place on June second at the Black Rock Lodge and authorities say despite a major break in the case, police and B.D.F. patrols will continue in the area.
“And that will not stop until eternity, so it continues and I could also say to the public, to the tourists visiting that the area is safe, that they can go there now and go the different Mayan sites, the ruins, it is safe. And I must give thanks to the residents of the Cayo district, the B.T.I.A., and everybody else that assisted for the rewards that they give which led to the capture of this person.”
Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.
According to court officials, Cortez was arraigned on five counts of robbery this afternoon. The charges are being treated as indictable offences so no plea was taken. Cortez was denied bail and has been remanded to Hattieville Prison until his next court date on September twenty-eight. It is expected that additional charges will be filed against him then. We understand tonight that many of the victims were encouraged to participate in an identification parade of the suspect thanks to two one-way mirrors recently installed at the San Ignacio and Benque police stations, by the Cayo branch of the Belize Tourism Industry Association.