Published Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Updated Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 | 3:40 p.m.
Two purported members of the Texas Mexican Mafia originally accused of beating and robbing a Las Vegas limousine driver are free while awaiting trial next month, but they no longer face charges the alleged crimes were gang-related.
Emilio Ruvalcaba and Carlos Saenz III are accused of beating the driver in the early morning hours of Sept. 5, 2013, outside an Industrial Road liquor store. The female driver stopped at the liquor store at her fares’ request while en route from one Strip nightclub to another.
Before the alleged beating – the genesis of which is unclear – Ruvalcaba told the driver he was a member of the “Mexican Mafia” and that he’d killed before, according to the driver’s testimony to a Clark County grand jury. Ruvalcaba told the driver she would be next and that her body would never be found.
But prosecutors, Clark County District Court Judge Abbi Silver ruled last month, didn’t present sufficient evidence to the grand jury to support felony charges of battery, mayhem and robbery – all with “intent to promote, further or assist a criminal gang.”
On Dec. 17, the judge ordered prosecutors to drop the gang-attachment charges and lowered bail for Ruvalcaba and Saenz from $1 million to $30,000. Ruvalcab posted bail that day and was released from the Clark County Detention Center. Saenz was released Dec. 26 after posting bail.
An amended indictment charging the two with mayhem and battery resulting in substantial bodily harm was filed Dec. 26. Trial for the two is now set for Feb. 24 in Silver’s court.
Among the issues for Silver were the gang-enhanced charges, which carry stiffer penalties upon conviction. Silver noted a Texas Department of Public Safety officer from San Antonio – home of the defendants – testified to the grand jury that the men were members of the Texas Mexican Mafia.
But after reading the grand jury transcripts, Silver told prosecutors the lawman’s testimony didn’t come close to proving the men were gang members.
“He is asked at the grand jury if he recognizes the defendant, and he says yes. That's it,” Silver said, according to court records. “Well if you show the court a picture of Jennifer Aniston, the court can testify that the picture is Jennifer Aniston.”
Silver said while the officer testified about the workings of the "Mexican Mafia," he didn’t say how he recognized the defendants.
Silver also said no evidence was presented showing previous convictions for Ruvalcaba and Saenz, even though statue requires previous convictions for a criminal charge to carry gang enhancements.
Additionally, Silver tossed the robbery-related charge after concluding no theft occurred.
Silver noted that all the evidence showed was this: Six tourists, including the defendants, got in a limo outside the Encore drunk at 4:30 a.m., asked to go to another casino, stopped on the way for more booze, and the defendants ended up beating the limo driver.
“The State has magnified these acts, which could be the same acts of billions of tourists a year, to the level of gang enhancement,” Silver said.
The fight was broken up by two unnamed bystanders, one of whom scared off the attackers with a firearm, according to the grand jury transcripts.
After fleeing the scene, Ruvalcaba and Saenz took a cab to the Palazzo, police said. A police report says that while in the cab, the two talked about how they didn’t want to go to jail but did want to kill someone, according to the cab driver who tipped off police after driving the men to the casino. The cab driver also told police he’d heard the men mention beating a woman.
While being treated for her injuries at Valley Hospital Medical Center, the driver showed police a cellphone video of her attackers, according to the police report. Police showed the footage to officials at the Palazzo, pinpointed which rooms Saenz and Ruvalcaba were staying in, and arrested them.
The incident left the limo driver with a concussion. When she testified to the grand jury, she wore an eye patch and used a cane. She told the grand jury she needed physical therapy because of the attack.