LOS ANGELES (CN) — Two members of a South Central Los Angeles street gang will spend 12 years in federal prison for an armed robbery at a packed Beverly Hills restaurant last year that caused an uproar at the ultra-affluent enclave.
A federal judge sentenced Malik Powell, 21, and Khai McGhee, 18, at a hearing in LA on Monday.
“These types of robberies, which are becoming more and more prevalent in our community, have to stop,” U.S. District Judge John Walter said at the hearing.
The two were part of a Rollin' 30s Crips crew that was driving around Beverly Hills in Powell's BMW this past May, scouting for robbery victims. According to surveillance camera footage, a female accomplice walked around the high-end shopping streets and outdoor dining areas, appearing to talk on her cellphone while looking for possible targets.
The target they found was a man wearing a $500,000 Richard Mille watch who was eating lunch at the crowded outdoor patio of Il Pastaio restaurant. Powell, McGhee and a third robber approached the man with their hoodies pulled over their heads and put a gun to his head. While the robbers pulled the watch from his wrist, the victim grabbed the gun, and in the ensuing struggle two shots went off, one hitting another patron in the leg.
The brazen daylight robbery and shooting in the heart of one of Southern California's richest cities was one of a number of high-profile incidents in the past year that has prompted a public outcry over increased violent crime in areas that rarely see any crime. Beverly Hills has been the scene of a numerous so-called smash-and-grab robberies at luxury stores, and this past December Jacqueline Avant, a philanthropist and wife of music executive Clarence Avant, was murdered during a home robbery in the city.
The uptick in crime has also been fodder for critics of LA District Attorney George Gascón whose more progressive policies such as not seeking cash bail for misdemeanor, nonviolent and nonserious felony offenses are blamed by his opponents for the increases in violent crime.
McGhee, who had just turned 18 at the time of the Il Pastaio robbery, and Powell both pleaded guilty to armed robbery.
Powell, who was 20 at the time of the robbery, said in his sentencing memorandum that he had been "ripe for the picking" when he was recruited by the gang. His father was murdered by a gang when he was only five years old, and virtually all the men in his life had been violent or had been killed by violence, he said.
"I had so much built-up anger which caused me to commit an unnecessary act of violence like this," Powell said. "I never thought about what could happen. I never intended for anyone to get hurt which clearly demonstrates I made a very poor choice at the time."
McGhee's attorney declined to comment on the sentence and Powell's attorney did not respond to an email requesting comment by press time.