Suspect pleads guilty in Asian restaurant robberies across Lowcountry
One of three men accused of terrorizing Asian restaurants and check-cashing stores throughout the Lowcountry over a two-year span with a string of at least three dozen hold-ups pleaded guilty Monday.
Christopher Donnell Simmons, 33, of Wadmalaw Island, pleaded guilty to four counts of an indictment that included weapons and conspiracy charges for more than a dozen armed robberies that took place between 2009 and 2011 and stretched from Walterboro to Holly Hill.
The move to plead guilty came a day before Simmons and his co- defendants, twin brothers Raynard and Winard Eady of North Charleston, were scheduled to watch the jury selected for their trial. Instead, only the Eady brothers will appear in federal court this morning.
During his plea hearing, Simmons wore an orange jail uniform with “GCDC” printed on the back inside the Charleston federal courtroom. He’s currently being detained at the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office. Simmons admitted to investigators he was involved in 18 to 20 armed robberies around the Lowcountry, according to statements made in court.
As part of the plea agreement, which remains sealed, Simmons is subject to paying restitution and must also cooperate with prosecutors, which includes testifying before the grand jury or in court and providing information for the investigation, according to statements made by prosecutors in court. Simmons is also subject to a polygraph test.
During the investigation authorities identified possible suspects and obtained their cell phone records, according to prosecutors.
In February 2011, cell phone activity showed Simmons and Raynard Eady near Georgetown. An armed robbery had taken place at a check-cashing store in Georgetown, where Simmons forced a store employee at gunpoint to the front of the store and shut her in a bathroom, according to arrest warrants.
Prosecutors would not comment on the case until after Simmons is sentenced and the case is closed. Simmons won’t likely be sentenced for at least a few months. Simmons’ defense attorney, John Robert Haley, also denied a request for comment.
The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and the firearm charge carries a mandatory five years in prison for a first offense and a mandatory, consecutive 25 years for any subsequent offense.
Businesses in Charleston County were the main targets, but some in Walterboro, Holly Hill and Georgetown were hit as well between July 2009 and March 2011, officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office have said.
The trio of suspects began their crime wave targeting Asian restaurants, and then altered their tactics to target check-cashing and loan businesses, officials have said. Investigators previously tallied 39 armed robberies.
Authorities created a law enforcement task force and 15 local police departments worked together with the FBI and State Law Enforcement Division to investigate the string of armed robberies. Authorities also offered a $20,000 reward.
Jury selection for the Eady brothers is expected to take place this morning in federal court in downtown Charleston, but their trial has not been scheduled yet, according to the federal docket.
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.