A thief known as the “Pinky Bandit” and his accomplice pleaded guilty in federal court this week to a robbery spree targeting Metro PCS phone stores across San Diego County.
The crimes happened between Jan. 25, 2017, and Feb. 21, 2017, when Carlos “Pinky Bandit” Soto would enter Metro PCS stores holding a weapon, while Justin Caldwell – in most of the cases – waited outside in a getaway car.
According to the Office of the U.S. Attorney Southern District of California Adam L. Braverman, Soto was dubbed the “pinky bandit” for his distinctive pinky finger, which “protruded out from the weapons he held” during the string of robberies. Sometimes, his weapon of choice was a machete or Taser. Other times, it was a pellet gun that resembled a handgun.
Soto would point his weapon at store clerks and demand cell phones and money.
In at least one case, Caldwell – also wielding a weapon that looked like a handgun – entered a Metro PCS store with Soto. The duo forced an employee into a storage area in the back of the store and made the victim kneel while they loaded a backpack with phones. Then, they demanded the employee open the cash register.
The serial robbers were able to hit 10 Metro PCS stores and one Subway restaurant during their nearly month-long spree in communities like Kensington, Egger Highlands, Normal Heights, and Clairemont, College East and San Marcos.
The crimes left some clerks feeling on edge.
Sometimes, Soto used disguises to cover his face. In all, investigators said the pair stole about $50,000 worth of merchandise.
Law enforcement officers across several agencies noticed the pattern of crimes emerging as more and more Metro PCS stores were targeted by the pair. The FBI, San Diego Police Department and San Diego County Sheriff’s Department worked together to crack the case.
Braverman’s office said investigators were able to identify the suspects after one of them registered a cell phone stolen during one of the robberies.
Soto and Caldwell were placed under surveillance and, on Feb. 21, 2017, investigators were able to follow them to the final robbery in the series near Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach. Soto was arrested after a foot chase, while Caldwell was arrested inside his parked car.
In March 2017, Soto and Caldwell pleaded not guilty to the crimes.
This week, nearly two years after the spree, Soto and Caldwell each entered guilty pleas in federal court for the 11 robberies. Braverman’s office said the charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a$250,000 fine; they will both be sentenced on Jan. 22, 2019 in front of U.S. District Court Judge Thomas J. Whelan.