Six Texas residents arrested last year in connection with a string of nearly half a dozen armed home invasions targeting families of Asian-Indian descent in one New Jersey county have been indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit bias intimidation, robbery and burglary, authorities said Wednesday.
Chaka Castro, 39, Juan Olaya, 34, Octavius Scott, 22, and Johnisha Williams, 19, were all taken into custody in their Houston home in December; Justin Johnson, 25, and 21-year-old Jakeyra Augustus were also arrested in the alleged plot to rob five pre-selected families at gunpoint between October and November, authorities said. Though the bias charges were not initially filed, prosecutors said the ongoing investigation warranted the presentation of such charges to a grand jury.
The indictments -- five containing a total of 103 counts -- stem from a months-long investigation into targeted armed robberies at five homes in three Middlesex County communities. In each robbery, families were tied up with duct tape and robbed of cash and jewelry. The pattern dates back to Oct. 20, when a home was hit in Old Bridge. Families were later targeted in South Plainfield and Edison.
Castro allegedly targeted the homes and directed her co-defendants to break in, tie up the families, steal jewelry and other items and smash the families' cellphones so they couldn't call for help. Scott and Olaya allegedly entered the homes, armed with at least one gun, while Williams, in all but one case, is accused of waiting outside and driving the getaway car, prosecutors said.
Johnson and Augustus allegedly assisted in some of the home invasions. Bail for each of the five defendants has been set at $1.25 million; information on their attorneys wasn't immediately available.
None of the victims was seriously injured in the robberies.
One woman whose family was attacked said robbers waved guns in front of her 4-year-old and 6-year-old sons. In another case, the home's owner said his wife was taking out the garbage when the invaders attacked. He and his wife were then tied up along with their three children.
One victim, Rajesh Singh, said he pleaded with the intruders not to harm his family.
"I just said, 'Take what you want, just don't hurt anybody,'" Singh said.
The first four home invasions were in a period of 10 days.
Residents say similar armed robberies over the last decade have coincided with the time around the Hindu holiday of Diwali, when gold jewelry is frequently given as a gift.
Police created a task force of Edison, South Plainfield, and Old Bridge police, along with detectives from the Middlesex County prosecutor's office, state police and the FBI to work on the case. It wasn't clear what led them to the crew in Texas.
In addition to the conspiracy charges, the suspects face varying degrees of offenses related to robbery, kidnapping, aggravated assault and making terroristic threats.