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Three men accused of stealing a gold medal, among other items, from a local Olympic champion pleaded not guilty on Thursday.
Mauro Gonzalez, Emilio Valencia and David Villa were arraigned in Vista. The judge ordered the media not to show their faces.
The trio was allegedly involved in a theft ring where they would wear gloves and masks and be on the lookout for one another during robberies.
One of their victims was Oceanside resident and Olympic gold medalist Tristan Gale Geisler, according to investigators. She says she was home when they broke into her house the first time and they left. But returned days later.
“They were scary to see up close in person, whether it’s in handcuffs or not. I was still a little taken aback that they had come into my house while I was home alone,” said Geisler.
The champion, who won the women's skeleton at the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City, reported that her medal, Olympic ring, engagement ring, computers and other possessions were taken during a break-in Jan. 25 at her home.
“This wasn’t just a crime against me. It wasn’t stolen just from me, I earned that medal as an American for the USA and to have it stolen, no matter where it was going to go or who it was going to go to, this is a theft against me and our country,” said Geisler.
Investigators said they recovered the medal and the jewelry while serving a search warrant on Greenbrier Street. They also reported finding two assault rifles and other stolen property.
”It goes without saying, you know, I just thank them over and over and over,” said Geisler. “I took them breakfast yesterday when I went to go ID my items because I just can’t say thank you enough.”
Geisler isn’t sure when she will get her medal back in her possession.
“My race date, my anniversary date, is February 20 so we’ll see if I get it close to when I earned it the first time,” said Geisler.
The men are being held on $250,000 bail.
”These people are a danger to the community and a danger to Oceanside and I’m glad to see that their bail was set high and that they’re not going to be out robbing someone else tomorrow,” said Geisler.
At the same time, she says it’s impossible for her not to feel bad for them.
“I see them as young kids making bad choices,” said Geisler. “The fact that they made the choice to rob my house and take the items that they took, it’s kind of sad.”