Two men who allegedly robbed small markets and convenience stores while disguised in wolf and skeleton masks pleaded not guilty in San Mateo Superior Court on Friday, Feb. 28. A third man implicated in the robbery pleaded no contest on March 3 to a commercial burglary stemming from another incident, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office.
Joshua Faoa, 24, and Joachim Piliote Maka, 23, of East Palo Alto were arrested for a string of robberies that took place in October 2013, including the Oct. 15 armed robbery of a 7-Eleven store at 708 Colorado Ave. in Palo Alto. A shotgun-wielding robber punched a store clerk in the face during that incident, according to Palo Alto police.
Faoa and Maka allegedly robbed a 7-Eleven store on Rollins Road in Burlingame on Oct. 17, using a shotgun and pistol and wearing the wolf and skeleton masks. They allegedly threatened to shoot the store clerk and escaped with $45. On Oct. 20, they allegedly robbed the Oakwood Market in East Palo Alto while wearing the same clothing and masks. Maka allegedly fired his shotgun into a store refrigerator and escaped with $3,600.
A search warrant of Maka's and Faoa's apartment on Capitol Avenue in East Palo Alto found both masks, similar clothing allegedly worn by the robbers and shotgun shells. Maka's DNA was allegedly found inside one of the masks, and Google searches for the areas where the robberies occurred were found on their cell phones, according to the DA's office.
The two men each face two counts of robbery in San Mateo County, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and making criminal threats to cause great bodily injury. A preliminary hearing is set for March 11. Bail is set at $1 million, and both men remain in custody.
A third man, Apolosio Piutou Tupa, 27, also of East Palo Alto, was arrested along with Faoa and Maka on Oct. 25 after Redwood City police recognized them from a wanted bulletin sent out by the Palo Alto Police Department. Officers had just detained the trio for an alleged burglary of a Redwood City 7-Eleven. Tupa has been charged in the Palo Alto robbery, but not in the San Mateo County cases, according to both district attorney's offices.
Tupa pleaded no contest on March 3 in the Redwood City 7-Eleven case -- the day his jury trial was to begin -- to one count of felony commercial burglary and to having one prior felony strike conviction and multiple prior felony convictions. He will be sentenced on May 14, and he faces 32 months in prison, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.
Tupa, Faoa and Maka are each charged with one count of robbery for the Palo Alto incident. Maka has been charged with use of a firearm, and Tupa with a strike prior and a Proposition 8 prior -- having committed a prior serious violent felony, Victoria Robinson, Santa Clara County deputy district attorney said. Tupa and Faoa also face vicarious arming enhancements.
Faoa is scheduled to appear in Santa Clara County Superior Court on March 18. All three will appear in Santa Clara County court to face their charges after their San Mateo County cases are resolved, Robinson said.