The following is a press release issued by the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office:
With his jury trial just around the corner, the third and final defendant who jointly planned with others and was personally involved in the 2020 Covelo Road armed robberies and kidnappings of two cannabis money runners, as well as the armed robbery of a separate motorist, tapped out Wednesday afternoon in the Mendocino County Superior Court.
Defendant Jesus Estevan Vargas, Jr., age 44, of Moreno Valley, chose to forego a trial by jury and, instead, accepted the District Attorney’s last and final plea/sentence “bargain” mandating that the defendant serve 19 years in state prison.
To that end, defendant Jesus Vargas entered a no contest plea Wednesday afternoon to his participation, along with two co-conspirators, in the kidnapping of the cannabis money courier and his driver, said crime occurring on September 27, 2020.
Having surreptitiously placed an electronic tracker in Southern California on the courier’s vehicle, the three crooks — dressed to look like law enforcement agents, masked, armed for what appeared to be a war, and driving a vehicle outfitted to look like a law enforcement vehicle – tracked their target as it traveled from the Los Angeles area towards Covelo, initiating what would have appeared to any driver on the road that day to be a law enforcement pull-over of the courier vehicle and second vehicle on Covelo Road.
The financial target of the crooks was the almost $700,000 secreted away in a hidden compartment in the courier vehicle, a stash of money and a hidden compartment known to defendant Jesus Vargas from when he used to be the illegal cannabis money runner until he was fired and replaced.
Defendant Jesus Vargas also plead no contest Wednesday afternoon to having committed a separate armed robbery of an uninvolved motorist who also had pulled over when he saw the flashing lights on the faux police vehicle.
Finally, defendant Jesus Vargas admitted a special sentencing enhancement charged by the District Attorney that during the robbery and kidnappings he was armed with a firearm.
Because kidnapping and robbery have been characterized as violent felonies by the California Legislature, defendant Jesus Vargas now stands convicted of two Strikes, within the meaning of California’s current version of Three Strikes.
Again, because kidnapping and robbery are characterized by law to be violent felonies, the early release credits defendant Jesus Vargas may attempt to earn in state prison is should be capped by prison authorities at no more than fifteen percent.
Because he had procrastinated in resolving his case, defendant Jesus Vargas was also required by the prosecutor to waive a full year of actual jail custody time credits in order to be able to resolve the matter, making the defendant’s overall sentence equal to a state prison commitment of just over 20 years.
The defendant’s case was referred to the Mendocino County Adult Probation Department, as required by law, so Adult Probation may gather background information on the defendant that will be used by the CDCR in their intake, classification, and prison facility assignment responsibilities.
The law enforcement agencies that gathered the evidence supporting the defendant’s convictions were the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, the California Highway Patrol, Cal Fire, the Las Vegas Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, various law enforcement agencies in Southern California, and the District Attorney’s own Bureau of Investigations.
Special note is made of Cal Fire’s involvement in this case. As the crooks were preparing their getaway after having pulled over the two vehicles, hooded the money runners at gunpoint, restrained them with zip ties in the back seat of the fake law enforcement vehicle, zip-tied the uninvolved driver on the ground and stole his keys and cell phone, and inserted defendant Jesus Vargas as driver of the money vehicle, Cal Fire fire crew vehicles traveling from Covelo came upon and witnessed what they considered to be a very suspicious situation happening at the turn-out not far from Highway 101.
The trailing Cal Fire vehicle stopped and freed the uninvolved motorist, received a quick summary of what that victim said had happened, and called in the crimes to the Sheriff’s Office, which allowed Sheriff deputies to eventually locate the two vehicles on Highway 20 as the crooks were trying to go out through Lake County.
Mendocino County DA David Eyster has been directing the prosecution of defendant Jesus Vargas, as well as the defendant’s brother, Nathan John Vargas, and their crime associate, Roy Ha.
Defendant Ha was sentenced on June 7, 2023 to 30 years in state prison. Defendant Nathan Vargas was sentenced on June 23, 2023 to 25 years in state prison.
Mendocino County Superior Court Victoria Shanahan accepted defendant Jesus Vargas’ no contest pleas and firearm enhancement admission Wednesday afternoon. The defendant will return to court in late September to be formally sentenced to the stipulated prison sentence.