SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Two parolees suspected in a series of armed robberies throughout California, including heists at a Fashion Valley jewelry store and the Barona Casino, pleaded not guilty Monday to robbery and arson charges.
Robert Chavira, 40, and Ryan Alan McKnight, 34, were each ordered held in lieu of $5 million bail. They could face up to life in prison if convicted.
Deputy District Attorney Rick Clabby alleges that Chavira and McKnight were involved in five "high-risk" armed robberies in Costa Mesa, Mission Valley, San Jose, Palm Desert and at the Barona Casino.
"They were as brazen as they possibly could be," Clabby told reporters. "These robberies were taking place primarily in the daylight hours with a lot of innocent victims in the area when they went down."
Clabby said Chavira has a 2003 robbery conviction and a 2007 conviction for threatening a witness. McKnight has burglary and felony escape convictions from 2007 and 2008, respectively, the prosecutor said.
"These folks are a menace to society," Clabby said. "They have gone up and down the state of California terrorizing innocent, law-abiding citizens, and they do not belong on the street."
On Aug. 2, the armed defendants used sledgehammers to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of watches from a Costa Mesa store, Clabby alleged.
On Sept. 12, the armed defendants allegedly drove down a walkway at the Fashion Valley mall in a stolen Honda and used sledgehammers to break display cases and steal high-end Rolex watches from the Ben Bridge store.
Chavira and McKnight used the same tactic to steal Rolex watches from a high-end jewelry store in San Jose on Oct. 15, Clabby told the judge.
Nine days later, the defendants -- armed and wearing masks -- allegedly stole more than $1 million in Rolex watches from a store in Palm Desert.
Clabby said the defendants changed their method of operation when they allegedly stole $60,000-$70,000 from a glass case at the Barona Casino on Nov. 9.
The defendants set fire to a house being built next to the casino to draw firefighters and authorities away from their target, the prosecutor said.
Clabby alleged that Chavira and McKnight tied a chain to the back of a vehicle and ripped out a glass case containing the cash.
Judge Peter Gallagher set a readiness conference for Dec. 21 and a preliminary hearing for Dec. 23.