Five people in the Owens community face charges following the brutal beating of an undocumented immigrant lured to a robbery by a friend who claimed she needed help, the Limestone County Sheriff’s Department said Monday.
Tabitha Marie Berzett, 27, and Robert Montez Taylor, 19, both of 20575 Todd Circle, Athens, and Cody Eagle Vibbert, 16, of 15828 Dupree Drive, Athens, went on a shopping spree following Sunday’s 2 p.m. beating of Sergio Vega, spending most of the $3,000 cash stolen during the robbery within hours, investigators said.
“They lured him to their own home to rob him, which is an apartment complex filled with witnesses. It was a boneheaded scheme,” Investigator Leslie Ramsey said.
All three are charged with first-degree robbery. Taylor and Vibbert also face charges of second-degree assault in the attack on the 48-year-old Vega.
Sirena Pugh, 38, and her 17-year-old son, who is charged as a juvenile, each face charges of first-degree hindering prosecution for trying to cover up the beating by getting rid of a bloody comforter and helping the robbers hide the spoils bought with the money, Ramsey said.
Ramsey said Berzett, a former neighbor who was at one time married to a relative of Vega, frequently asked the victim for financial help.
When Berzett told him that her children, who called Vega “uncle,” were hungry, he didn’t hesitate to go to Berzett’s home at Owens Apartments, intending to drive her to a store and buy groceries, Ramsey said.
Berzett shared the apartment with her boyfriend, Taylor. Taylor and Vibbert were waiting to ambush Vega when he entered the residence, Ramsey said.
Taylor struck Vega in the head with a baseball bat, Ramsey said.
“They drug him to a back bedroom,” she said. “Montez was hitting him with a bat, Cody was hitting him with his fists, and Montez was telling the juvenile (Vibbert) to get his money out of his pocket.”
Vega told authorities he saved the $3,000 to wire back to his family in Mexico.
“I think because he’s illegal they thought he wasn’t going to call the police. They thought he was an easy target,” Ramsey said. “I think that’s why they did such a sloppy job of covering it up.”
Ramsey said investigators never focus on a crime victim’s immigration status. Police are forbidden by law from reporting undocumented immigrants who are victims or witnesses of crimes to immigration officials.
“That should never stop someone from reporting any sort of crime,” she said.
After the robbery, Vega, bleeding from his head, went to a gas station where an attendant called 911.
Ramsey said Vega later received about 18 stitches to his head and had a swollen jaw and bruises.
Athens-Limestone Hospital discharged him Monday, a hospital worker said.
Meanwhile, Berzett, Taylor and Vibbert went on a shopping spree, buying jackets, boots, phones, cigarettes, groceries, an Xbox 360 and games. They also stopped at Victoria’s Secret.
“Montez and Tabitha had bought an engagement ring for Tabitha, and each of them got a really nice wedding band at Wal-Mart,” Ramsey said.
They spent all but about $700, which they hid in a Harley-Davidson beer can sleeve under an air-conditioning unit outside their apartment.
Investigators believe they have recovered most of the loot, some of which the suspects were wearing when brought in for questioning, Ramsey said.
Pugh and her son helped the suspects by allowing them to hide some of the merchandise in their attic, Ramsey said. They also helped dispose of a bloody comforter from the bedroom where the beating took place.
“They brought the comforter over and tried to wash it, but the hot water didn’t work. Then they tried to burn it,” Ramsey said.
In the end, they stuck the bloody bedding in a bag, which Pugh gave to her son and told him to dispose of it, Ramsey said. “He just drove out to the river and threw in the river, and we recovered it,” she said.
Berzett remained in Limestone County Jail on Monday in lieu of $20,000 bail. Taylor and Vibbert were being held in lieu of $25,000 bail each. Pugh was released on $2,500 bail. Her son was taken to the juvenile detention center in Tuscumbia.
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