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Merced man convicted of intimidating taxi driver

Mario Flores Benitez, 26, of Merced, was convicted by a Merced County Superior Court jury of intimidating a victim from reporting a crime and giving police a false name. He faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced later this month.

Merced County Deputy District Attorney Mark Bacciarini said Benitez threatened a Los Banos taxi driver Dec. 20 with a knife if he reported Benitez' sister vandalized a car and broke the taxi's windshield. Nancy Benitez, 32, of Los Banos, is being sought by police on an arrest warrant for vandalism.

Deputy District Attorney Kimberly Madayag, who prosecuted the case, credited swift police work and the bravery of the taxi driver in reporting the crime for obtaining the conviction.

"He showed great bravery in not only reporting the crime after being threatened, but in coming to court and testifying against the man who threatened him with a knife," Madayag said. "His bravery is admirable, and I wish more citizens had the courage to do what he did. I am thankful that the jury delivered a fair and just verdict that validates what the victim was put through and encourages other crime victims to come forward."

Bacciarini said the jury also found true an enhancement alleging Benitez personally used a deadly weapon in committing the offense.

After the jury's verdict, Benitez admitted he had served two separate terms in prison.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or