For Immediate Release
Three Hartford Residents Charged with Robbing Victims Who Advertised Goods on Internet Marketplaces
Vanessa Roberts Avery, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut and James Ferguson, Special Agent in Charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Boston Field Division, today announced that a federal grand jury in Hartford has returned an indictment charging John Villegas, 25, also known as “Kirby,” Jaylen Lasalle, 19, and Valerie Meneses, 23, all of Hartford, with offenses related to a series of gunpoint robberies targeting individual sellers of luxury goods over online marketplaces last year.
As alleged in court documents and statements made in court, ATF, the Hartford Police Department and the Middletown Police Departments investigated a series of gunpoint robberies of individuals who advertised items for sale on internet marketplaces, such as Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp. At an arranged meeting place to sell their items, which included cell phones and luxury sneakers and accessories, the purported purchaser would brandish a firearm, force the victim to hand over the luxury goods and flee. The investigation revealed that Villegas and Meneses committed one armed robbery on August 20, 2022, in Middletown, and that Villegas and Lasalle subsequently committed five armed robberies in Hartford in late August and early September 2022.
The indictment, which was returned on September 27, 2023, charges Villegas with six counts and Lasalle with five counts of interference with commerce by robbery (Hobbs Act robbery), an offense that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years on each count. The indictment also charges Villegas with three counts and Lasalle with two counts of carrying, using and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, an offense that mandatory consecutive term of imprisonment of at least seven years.
The indictment charges Meneses with one count of aiding and abetting Hobbs Act robbery and one count of aiding and abetting the carrying, using, and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
Villegas and Lasalle appeared yesterday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert A. Richardson in Hartford and pleaded not guilty to the charges. Villegas has been detained since his arrest on December 14, 2022, and Lasalle, who was arrested on February 3, 2023, is released on a $50,000 bond. Meneses was arrested on October 5, 2023, and is released on a $25,000 bond.
U.S. Attorney Avery stressed that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. Charges are only allegations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This matter is being investigated by the ATF, the Hartford Police Department and the Middletown Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephanie T. Levick and A. Reed Durham.
U.S. Attorney Avery encouraged those who sell and purchase items online, and need to meet an individual in person to complete the sale, to use a visible, monitored location. Contact your local police department to see if it offers a monitored meeting location, or search online for a nearby monitored location.