Three men went on a rampage. It involved guns, money and sexual violence. It lasted at least seven weeks, stretching from downtown St. Petersburg to Apollo Beach.
The authorities got together Thursday and said they had put a stop to it. Three suspects were in jail.
St. Petersburg police intend to file more charges against the three today in connection with a rape and robbery of a downtown restaurant.
The suspects are Mexicans who live in eastern Hillsborough County. One is a strapping 13-year-old with a Latin gang tattoo on his left cheek. The man described as the ringleader is an illegal immigrant who was arrested here at least twice before and set free without being deported.
The crimes accumulated quietly, with little media attention at first, insulated from each other by time and distance.
Their full extent is not yet known, but it appeared Thursday that the first in the rampage took place in the small hours of July 3, near the shore of Hillsborough Bay in Gibsonton, when the men burst into a home, holding guns and duct tape.
A married couple lived there, according to Hillsborough sheriff's Col. Gary Terry. The men tied up the husband and found the wife in the shower, and one of them raped her three different ways. Then they made off with computers worth around $3,000. Authorities say the rapist left a fingerprint on the outer doorknob, but it did not immediately lead to an arrest.
Sixteen nights later in Apollo Beach, two 17-year-old girls were walking on U.S. 41 when a Hispanic man in a dark SUV offered them a ride. They declined, and he drove off. But he soon returned on foot, with a gun, and forced them to lie on the ground in a vacant parking lot. He ran away when they screamed. Detectives from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office later identified him as Rigoberto Moron Martinez, age 20, the main man behind the rampage.
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Martinez is an unemployed welder who enjoys baking cakes. He has a 9-month-old son, Rigoberto Moron Martinez Jr., with his former girlfriend. They lived at 1425 Zulia Court in Ruskin.
"My mom loved him," said the girlfriend, 18-year-old Liliana Castillo, as baby Rigoberto sat quietly on her lap. "All my family loved him. They always said, 'You're never going to find a better man.' "
Martinez walked across the U.S. border with his mother and brother about 11 years ago and had no documentation, she said. He attended East Bay High School but dropped out in ninth grade to work as a welder. He often worked seven days in a row to make ends meet.
Four months ago he lost his job. He began hanging with a new crowd that Castillo neither knew nor liked. She called them troublemakers.
Authorities said one of his associates was Vicente Reyes-Carbajal, 20, of Ruskin. Little was known Thursday about Reyes-Carbajal's background.
The third member of the trio was Jose Walle, authorities said. He is 13. On Thursday his father, a landscaper who goes by the same name, stood outside the family's mobile home in Wimauma, looking bewildered.
"We never expected something like this," he said.
He said Jose had been a soccer star and a good boy until middle school, when he discovered marijuana and juvenile delinquents. Then he ignored his father. He ignored his coach. His parents took him to a Catholic counselor, and he ignored the counselor. He ran away four months ago and has not been home since.
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Now the story moves across the bay to Pinellas County.
Around mid July, Martinez got a part-time job cleaning the kitchen at the Table, a Latin-themed restaurant in downtown St. Petersburg. Joe Moledo, the manager, said Martinez lasted seven days.
"I would find him in different places in the restaurant he had no business being," Moledo said. Martinez walked out upset, leaving the kitchen dirty, when he got his first paycheck.
A week later, Martinez came to pick up $100 that was owed to him and one of the kitchen workers told the manager that Martinez had a gun in a holster.
"Right away I wondered what would a guy like that be doing with a gun," Moledo said.
Around 3 a.m. Aug. 3, police said, Martinez and his two associates entered the restaurant through a back door when an employee opened it to take out the trash. They bound one employee with duct tape and Martinez raped another one, police said. They took a computer and about $2,000 in cash.
The next day, Moledo said, he told St. Petersburg police his hunch about Martinez. He gave them a copy of the suspect's driver's license and Social Security card. (It is not clear where these documents came from; Col. Terry said Martinez may have had a fake resident alien card.)
But Martinez was not immediately charged in the case.
"I gave the police this guy on a silver platter," Moledo said. "Who makes the decision?"
One day after that, Martinez was arrested in Hillsborough County on a domestic-violence charge. He was released the next day on bail.
Then, at the Docks bar Saturday in Apollo Beach, two women were kidnapped, bound with duct tape, raped, threatened with death and left near Interstate 75. All three of the men are charged in that case with eight counts of sexual battery.
Then the crimes became a big story. With high media attention, investigators were flooded with tips. They chased down Martinez around 9 p.m. Wednesday in Wimauma.
As deputies closed in, Walle and Reyes-Carbajal carjacked and beat a construction worker who was talking on the phone to his family in Mexico, authorities said. They took off in his Kia Sephia but were caught about an hour later.
At Thursday's news conference, Col. Terry said there may be more suspects. And more victims. "The case is far from over," he said. "I assure you that."
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Violent crime is over in a few minutes, and it is also never over.
The two Apollo Beach women were instructed not to return home, because their stolen purses contained personal information that might put them in danger. One says she never wants to go anywhere alone again.
The couple from the home invasion in Gibsonton moved out of their home soon after it was invaded. Someone else lives there now. On a side door, the bolt is still broken where the men came in.
Times staff writers Chandra Broadwater, Alexandra Zayas, Jessica Vander Velde, Colleen Jenkins, Cristina Silva and Casey Cora contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3416.