State

Modesto police arrest pair suspected in pizza parlor robberies

A three-month investigation and the help of Modesto police and store employees led to the arrest of a Modesto man suspected of robbing Little Caesars Pizza parlors in Modesto and Riverbank, authorities said.

Reynaldo Morales, 19, and a 16-year-old boy from Modesto were taken into custody last week after police say they monitored them casing a Little Caesars near Whitmore Avenue and Crows Landing Road, according to Det. Steven Stanfield of the Modesto Police Department.

When officers took the two into custody near the store, there was a loaded handgun in their car, Stanfield said. He said Morales later implicated himself in the robberies during an interview, and the two were arrested.

“It’s very upsetting,” said John Gauthier, who owns 19 Little Caesars in the Modesto area. “They’re probably going to get a slap on the hand compared to the trauma they placed on our employees.”

In December, Gauthier’s store on Paradise Road was robbed twice. The first was a takeover style robbery, where suspects entered the store and left with cash. The other occurred when an employee was robbed while taking the store’s money bag to his car.

There were subsequent robberies or attempted robberies on Gauthier’s stores or employees, including another store on Whitmore, one on McHenry Avenue and another in Riverbank.

“They were hitting us every Thursday,” said Gauthier, adding that none of his employees were hurt.

During the next few months, Gauthier beefed up surveillance cameras and added a security guard at Paradise Road.

Meanwhile, the Modesto Police Department’s Robbery Division worked with employees on policies in handling money and being more aware of those loitering near the stores, Stanfield said.

“These criminals found a weak link in the chain, and the (robbery division) worked with them to get this changed,” he said.

All the while, Gauthier said more surveillance footage was being compiled, including one from a robbery at a Modesto Little Caesars he doesn’t own. At some point, officers determined Morales could be a suspect.

Last Thursday, Stanfield said detectives followed Morales as he and the 16-year-old drove in the area of the Little Caesars at Whitmore and Crows Landing. When they were in the parking lot, they took the two into custody.

Morales later was arrested and booked into Stanislaus County Jail for robbery and attempted robbery. The 16-year-old was sent to Juvenile Hall with the same charges.

Gauthier was appreciative of the hard work of Modesto police and the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department.

Still, he remains frustrated at what his employees have to go through, and at the estimated $5,000 out-of-pocket costs for added security, cameras and an increase in insurance premiums.

“It’s hard enough in this economy to run a business, and then deal with punks who are trying to rob you and hurt your employees,” he said. “It’s a bunch of bad guys looking for easy targets. Well, we aren’t easy targets anymore.”

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