Three enter plea deals in IHOP robbery

By John W. Goodwin Jr.


Three people convicted of robbing an IHOP restaurant employee in Boardman earlier this year could spend the next three years behind bars.

Bianca L. Santos, 20, of Boardman, Angel M. Cruz II, 23, of Boardman, and Dwayne Lamont Townsend Jr., 22, of Youngstown, each appeared for a pretrial hearing Monday before Judge R. Scott Krichbaum of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, but entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors on reduced charges.

All three had been charged with one count of aggravated robbery with a firearm specification. If convicted of those charges, each of them could have been sentenced to as many as 13 years behind bars.

Cruz already is on probation for possession of drugs, and Townsend is on probation for driving under suspension. Santos, who cried through most of the hearing, did not have a criminal record.

According to police, the IHOP employee said two men approached him as he left the Boardman-Poland Road store about 11:40 p.m. April 3, brandished guns and took the night-deposit bag that contained about $300.

An officer who responded to the call made an investigative traffic stop in the area when he saw a vehicle and passengers who matched the suspects’ descriptions.

The officer found the passengers breathing heavily and in plain view saw a deposit bag. A search of the car turned up a handgun and small bag of suspected marijuana, according to the police report.

Police said Santos first told them she was just picking up her friends after they offered her $50 for gas money, but later admitted she used to work at the restaurant and watched the front of the restaurant during the robbery, texting the two men with updates.

Martin Desmond, an assistant county prosecutor, asked the judge to reduce the aggravated robbery charge to robbery and remove the gun specification. Desmond said it has been determined the three defendants used a BB gun while committing the crime, therefore eliminating deadly force.

Each of the three defendants, represented by lawyers David Betras, David Gerchack and James Gentile, pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of robbery. They each could be sentenced to a maximum of eight years on the charge.

Desmond and the defense lawyers made a joint recommendation of three years in prison. Judge Krichbaum, however, is not obligated to adhere to that recommendation at the time of sentencing, which will be Aug. 22.

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