Palo Alto robber pleads guilty, gets five years

Accomplice who drove getaway car also pleads guilty to robbery

A man who is responsible for two brazen street robberies that terrorized Palo Alto residents beginning in September 2010 pleaded guilty to the crimes Friday (May 20) in Santa Clara County Superior Court in Palo Alto, Deputy District Attorney James Demertzis said.

Vilivuni Fono, 21, of East Palo Alto, was arrested Jan. 5 and was charged with two robberies, which are felonies, for an incident on Oct. 27, 2010, at an apartment complex on Fulton Street near downtown and a Nov. 5, 2010, robbery on Forest Avenue and Cowper Street.

His girlfriend, Ana Loiloi Umufuke, 24, also of East Palo Alto, was accused of driving Fono and her 16-year-old brother to the scene of the Nov. 5 robbery. She also pleaded guilty Friday.

During the November incident, a 2003 red Dodge Durango approached the victim on Forest Avenue. The two males, who were later identified by police as Fono and the juvenile, exited the car and demanded the victim's wallet at gunpoint. The victim was pistol-whipped and received a black eye.

The Durango was later located in East Palo Alto. The juvenile was arrested and identified by the victim as the gunman who pistol-whipped him, according to Palo Alto police.

The 16-year-old admitted his part in the robbery, according to a police report. He led police to a black replica 6 mm Airsoft Desert Eagle pistol hidden outside his family home, according to the report.

Umufuke was arrested on Nov. 19, 2010, in connection with the robbery. Detectives have said she waited for the pair and drove the getaway car after the robbery. She previously denied any knowledge of what her boyfriend and brother were doing. Information discovered during the investigation led to Fono, police said.

In the October incident, two men approached a 27-year-old man near his apartment complex and stole his wallet and messenger bag at gunpoint on Fulton Street near University Avenue, police said. The victim positively identified Fono as the man wielding the firearm, according to police.

Fono will receive five years in state prison for the two felonies. His convictions will count as two strikes under California law, Demertzis said. He could serve 25 years to life if he commits a third felony and is convicted. Court documents show he was previously convicted of carjacking and making criminal threats, both felonies, when he was a juvenile.

Umufuke will receive 45 days in county jail for one count of robbery. She has no prior offenses, but if she commits another felony, her sentence could be doubled if she were to be convicted, according to Demertzis. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 1 in Palo Alto.

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Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2011 at 9:46 pm

It is great to have a few more thugs off the streets!

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 20, 2011 at 11:47 pm

Nayeli, I don't mean to sound selfish, but I am also glad they are outta my city & our overall community for a good while! I am so glad it wasn't a real pistol, but I can only imagine how terrifying it was for the victims.

Really, how much $$ from 2 street robberies could you get that could even begin to make one think this was a "good return on their investment"? Must not have been about the $$.

Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2011 at 10:55 pm

@ Hmmm:

I totally understand what you are saying! There is something very wrong with society when people would prefer to sit on the rear ends and collect "welfare" entitlements OR attempt to rob someone at gunpoint.

A person could spend all week robbing people AND collecting welfare benefits -- but they would probably make more $$$ through good, honest work. Plus, they won't risk leaving their children without a father/mother by spending years in prison.

Something needs to be done to impress individuals about the need to avoid the "gimme" attitude. They want the government to give...and some want to take even more that they didn't work for. My sister has already had THREE bicycles stolen from Stanford.

Hopefully, we can get enough of the bad guys off the streets that people will become smart enough to think twice about selfishly doing evil at the expense of others.

Like this comment
Posted by Brandon
a resident of Duveneck School
on May 22, 2011 at 7:00 pm

That is a fairly light sentence for 2 robberies with a weapon, one involving a pistol whipping. And 45 days for the accomplice is really light -- in California, the getaway driver is a principal, subject to the same punishment as the primary perpetrators. This is the kind of brazen case that the DA should have held out for the maximum. The DA must have been nervous about his case.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 23, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Brandon, do you think in part the sentence was fairly light because it was an air pistol?

Nayeli, it is disturbing. How about the 88 yr old man in Menlo this weekend whose home was invaded & he was assaulted? They kicked his door in early in the morning.

But some other thugs in the area have been caught. Really, if they valued their freedom a bit more, if not other peoples' wellbeing, they wouldn't be stupid enough to pull these terrifying but stupid crimes.

Stanford has *always* been the worst place to leave bikes, even well-locked. The thieves are practically invisible, too.

Like this comment
Posted by Brandon
a resident of Duveneck School
on May 23, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Hmmm The fact that it a BB/pellet gun does matter, but it still qualifies as a "deadly weapon" under the Penal Code, especially when used as a bludgeon. (If it was an actual gun, the "one and done" law would kick in and really raise the minimum sentence). Robbing someone with a pellet gun is robbery + use of a deadly or dangerous weapon. The unnecessary pistol-whipping is assault with a deadly weapon, to which an enhancement for great bodily injury may be applied. Then there is a second robbery, again with use of a D or D weapon. All told, this is a very serious case -- and as a former prosecutor, I would have expected a much harsher sentence. Again, I don't know if there were problems with the case that necessitated a plea bargain, but with county jail credits and some good time/work time, we may be seeing these folks again fairly soon.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 23, 2011 at 11:58 pm

Thank you, Brandon, for sharing your expertise. I thought that when a weapon's used as a bludgeon that the AWD is what counts, not that it's not real gun, but then I wondered if their intent mattered at that point. I agree it's too light. These types of crimes are dangerous & some residents end up terrified. Men are such easy prey because they're not often prey, so it's understandably hard for them to realize they're at risk.

These criminals are also folks who don't care at all about the community & that angers me; it just furthers the divide between EPA & PA in a way that ongoingly erodes trust.

Like this comment
Posted by ooohhhhhh
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 28, 2011 at 7:22 am

Where do these thugs come from? Did anyone check any further than their backgrounds? They look like immigrants that need to be taken off the streets and off the country once and for all.
How does the victims feel? Can anyone exchange place with the victims at the time of incident?
In my opinion, these thugs get off too easy. Five years is not enough for what they did. I agree with Hmmmmmm, they don't care about our community or anyone for that matter. Our streets and neighbors ought to be a place where we can be free and feel comfortable to do anything anytime. We should not be afraid to come home from a hard day of labor or exercise or whatever, just because some unemployed worthless thugs are waiting around for an easy target, etc.... DA should try harder to discourage these on going cases especially when jobs/money are hard to find these days; but most importantly the helpless victims to feel safe at all times.

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