For Immediate Release
ALBUQUERQUE FELON PLEADS GUILTY TO FEDERAL COMMERCIAL ARMED ROBBERY, CARJACKING AND FIREARMS CHARGES
Prosecution Brought under Federal “Worst of the Worst” Anti-Violence Initiative; Plea Agreement Recommends Imposition of 15 to 20 Year Prison Sentence
ALBUQUERQUE – Virgal Malott, 23, of Albuquerque, N.M., pled guilty today in federal court to armed robbery of a commercial business, carjacking and firearms charges under a plea agreement that recommends a prison sentence within the range of 15 to 20 years.
In announcing the guilty plea, Acting U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney said that Malott, whose criminal history includes at least three prior felony convictions, is being prosecuted under a federal anti-violence initiative that targets “the worst of the worst” offenders for federal prosecution. Under this initiative, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and federal law enforcement agencies work with New Mexico’s District Attorneys and state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to target violent or repeat offenders primarily based on their prior criminal convictions for federal prosecution with the goal of removing repeat offenders from communities in New Mexico for as long as possible.
On Feb. 14, 2015, officers of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) arrested Malott on outstanding state felony warrants. Following Malott’s arrest, APD executed a state search warrant at Malott’s residence as part of its ongoing investigation into a series of armed robberies of Albuquerque-area businesses. During the search, APD found a loaded firearm, which provided the basis for a federal criminal complaint charging Malott with being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition that was filed on Feb. 18, 2015, by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). In June 2015, Malott was charged in an 11-count indictment with violating the Hobbs Act by robbing seven businesses engaged in interstate commerce, carjacking, using and brandishing a firearm during crimes of violence, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The indictment alleged that Malott committed the crimes in Bernalillo County, N.M., from Dec. 2014 to Jan. 2015.
The indictment was superseded in Aug. 2015, to add two more defendants, Gabriel Sanchez, 28, and Paul Lujan, 22, both of Albuquerque, and two more charges. The superseding indictment charged the three men with conspiring to violate the Hobbs Act by robbing businesses engaged in interstate commerce in Jan. 2015, the armed robbery of five Albuquerque-area businesses, and using and brandishing firearms during crimes of violence. It also charged Malott alone with the armed robbery of two additional Albuquerque-area businesses, carjacking, and with being a felon in possession of a firearm. The superseding indictment alleged that the three men committed the crimes charged in Bernalillo County between Dec. 2014 and Jan. 2015.
During today’s proceedings, Malott entered a guilty plea to three counts of the superseding indictment charging him with the armed robbery of a business engaged in interstate commerce, carjacking, and using and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence. In entering the guilty plea, Malott admitted robbing a title loan business located in Albuquerque on Dec. 22, 2014. Malott acknowledged being armed with a firearm when he committed the robbery. He also acknowledged pointing the firearm at the business’s three employees and threatening to kill them. Malott also admitted committing a carjacking on Jan. 19, 2015, by pointing a firearm at an individual who was at an Albuquerque convenience store and demanding the individual’s wallet and keys. Malott fled from the scene in the individual’s vehicle.
On Aug. 15, 2017, Lujan pled guilty to a felony information charging him with using and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence. In entering the guilty plea, Lujan admitted that on June 30, 2015, he acted as the getaway driver during the armed robbery of the Loan Max Title Loan in Albuquerque. Lujan further admitted that he discarded a firearm while running from the police following the armed robbery. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Lujan will be sentenced to 60 months in federal prison followed by a term of supervised release to be determined by the court.
Malott was arrested in Nov. 2015, and Lujan was arrested in Dec. 2015. Both men remain detained pending sentencing hearings, which have yet to be scheduled.
Sanchez was arrested on Dec. 31, 2015, and has entered a not guilty plea to the superseding indictment; he remains in custody pending trial, which has yet to be scheduled. Charges in indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty in a court of law.
This case was investigated by the Albuquerque office of ATF and by APD, with assistance from the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Rumaldo A. Armijo and David M. Walsh are prosecuting the case.