Attorney: Carjacking had been staged to get cash from cartel
Thief said he didn't know about $322,000 hidden in car
A California man was sentenced Monday to eight years in prison for his role in a Fruita carjacking, which was described by the man’s attorney as a ruse gone awry.
German Martinez-Rivera, 33, of Fontana, Calif., may have been part of an elaborate plot to steal cash from a drug cartel, attorneys said during a sentencing hearing.
Martinez-Rivera on Monday denied having knowledge that a Dodge Nitro — initially believed to be stolen at gunpoint from a pair of sisters on Feb. 21 at Fruita’s Go-Fer Foods, 106 S. Park Square — had more than $322,000 in cash hidden inside. The alleged victims, Jacqueline Aranda and Maria Aranda, both of Southern California, told police they also knew nothing about the money inside their car.
A witness on Feb. 21 said he followed the Nitro from the gas station along with a Silverado pickup west on Interstate 70, and then north on Colorado Highway 139 until the two vehicles pulled off the side of the highway. The driver of the Silverado got out and jumped into the Nitro.
A chase with law enforcement at times exceeding 115 mph ensued, ending when the Nitro crashed into a power pole at 10 and R roads.
Martinez-Rivera was arrested hiding nearby in a ravine. Colleen Scissors, an attorney representing Martinez-Rivera, suggested the carjacking was staged in a plot involving Martinez-Rivera, an unidentified man, “Mario,” the Aranda sisters and a third man, Simon Infante.
“Instead of calling police, Jacqueline Aranda called someone in California the moment the car was driven off by Mario ... it would be absurd to steal a car at a crowded gas station unless the purpose was to have a front page news story to show the ‘employer,’ ” Scissors wrote in a filing.
During Monday’s hearing, Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle said the Arandas have adamantly denied Scissors’ claims. At the same time, the sisters’ claims of having no knowledge of the cash are “not believable at all,” Tuttle said.
“We acknowledge that the exact details of what transpired on the day in question, and the exact nature of the relationship between the defendant and the alleged victims, the Aranda sisters, may never be fully known or provable,” Tuttle said.
Jacqueline Aranda was arrested in 2006 driving a vehicle that was crossing into California from Mexico containing more than 48 pounds of cocaine and approximately $20,000 in cash concealed in the dashboard, according to an arrest affidavit.
Her sister, Maria, was the driver of a vehicle concealing a person during a border crossing in 2010, the affidavit said.
Federal immigration authorities have placed a hold on Martinez-Rivera as a suspected illegal immigrant.