A jury convicted Tulio Fernando Correa-Zuniga of Burglary of a Habitation before sentencing him to 10 years in prison and a $4,000 fine on Thursday.
The 35-year old Houston man was charged with breaking into a Sugar Land home in 2013 and stealing thousands of dollars in cash and jewelry.
According to Assistant District Attorney Zahra Jivani Fenelon, the victim left her Sugar Land home mid-morning on April 4, 2013 to take her child to school and go to the gym. She returned a short time later to find the exterior door to the master bedroom broken open and her bedroom and bathroom in disarray. The woman immediately called the Sugar Land Police Department to report thousands of dollars in cash, Indian rupees, jewelry, and other valuables as stolen. The victim stated that much of the jewelry had been in her family for generations.
That same morning, federal authorities had a Houston apartment under surveillance on suspicion that the occupant was part of a Columbian organized crime ring committing burglaries nationwide. Coincidentally, that man, Pedro Lebron, was wanted out of Fort Bend County on an unrelated burglary case. Just before 11 a.m., officers notice two Hispanic men leave the complex in a silver Chevrolet Equinox. The same car returned at 12:05 p.m. with three men, two carrying bags. Shortly thereafter, officers identify Lebron as one of the men and stopped the Equinox as it left again. Inside the car, officers discovered a bag full of Indian jewelry and coins. Correa-Zuniga was found with several thousand dollars in cash while Lebron possessed US currency as well as Indian rupees. Authorities then checked a trashcan they saw one of the men put something in at the apartments and found a duffel bag with the victim’s son’s name and address on it.
Crucial to the investigation was the timing of the suspect’s absence. Officers recorded the Equinox leaving and returning at approximately one hour and eighteen minutes. Mapping software indicted it would only take 26-30 minutes to travel between the apartments and the victim’s home one way.
Correa-Zuniga fled Columbia in 2006, requesting asylum in the United States under the threat that his life would be in danger if he remained in Columbia. Granted permanent resident status, the defendant since gained one prior misdemeanor theft conviction from Harris County that was originally charged as a felony. The defense asked the jury for probation for Correa-Zuniga, but they declined. The Department of Homeland Security now has a hold on the defendant so he will not be released once he serves his prison sentence in Texas.
“The defendant asked for asylum so he could be safe and free from the danger of his homeland,” said lead prosecutor Zahra Jivani Fenelon. “But instead he preyed upon the community who granted him sanctuary, betraying the trust in his cry for help, if it’s even true. Despicable.”
According to ATF Special Agent in Charge Robert Elder, “The citizens of Sugar Land can rest easy tonight knowing that Tulio Fernando Correa-Zuniga, a Columbian national, was sentenced to 10 years for Burglary. This conviction is an example of Fort Bend County continuing to produce stiff sentences for the criminal element that has been operating in and around Fort Bend County. Thank you to the combined efforts of ATF, Sugar Land PD, and the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office”.
Correa-Zuniga was tried in the 400th District Court before presiding Judge Clifford J. Vacek. Burglary of a Habitation in this case is a second-degree felony punishable by 2 – 20 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000. The defendant was also ordered to pay a $4,000 fine.
Assistant District Attorneys Zahra Jivani Fenelon and Rodolfo Ramirez prosecuted the case. Attorney Charles Medlin represented the defendant.