By Jean Cole
An Hispanic man living in the country illegally was lured to an Athens apartment Sunday, then beaten with a baseball bat and robbed of $3,000 in cash he had earned working construction, an official said Monday.
While the victim sought help, the three accused in the attack went on a shopping spree that included buying engagement rings from Walmart, a purse and cologne from Victoria’s Secret and dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings, among other purchases.
Limestone County Sheriff’s Investigator Leslie Ramsey said Tabathia Marie Berzett, 27, of 20575 Todd Circle, called her next-door neighbor, Sergio Vega, 48, to her apartment Sunday to take her to the grocery store because her children had nothing to eat.
Berzett had previously been a neighbor to Vega and she was once married to a person related to Vega, Ramsey said.
When Vega arrived at Berzett’s apartment, he was clubbed with a baseball bat by Berzett’s live-in boyfriend, Robert “Montez” Taylor, 19, Ramsey said.
“Montez hit Vega with the baseball bat and also punched him,” she said.
Meanwhile, Cody Eagle Vibbert, 16, of 15828 Dupree Drive, who was living three apartments down from Berzett, also punched Vega, the investigator said.
“Montez told Cody to get in Vega’s pocket, where he finds $3,000 that Vega had planned to wire back to Mexico,” Ramsey said. “After the attack, the victim leaves, and Tabathia, Cody and Montez go to Buffalo Wild Wings and eat a big meal. They get some Carhart jackets and some boots at Tractor Supply. Montez gets Tabathia an engagement ring at Walmart and they buy some cologne and a purse at Victoria’s Secret. They stop by the Shoe Department and go to the mall. They also bought their child an Xbox 360.”
What remained of Vega’s money, about $700, was later found stuffed under an air-conditioning unit at Montez’s apartment, Ramsey said.
Vega’s status as an undocumented resident made him a target, Ramsey said. The three accused assumed Vega would be afraid to report the attack because he was in the country illegally, she said. But, Vega did tell authorities, and deputies arrested the three suspects following their alleged shopping spree.
Berzett is charged with first-degree conspiracy to commit robbery, records show. Taylor and Vibbert are each charged with first-degree robbery and second-degree assault, records show. They are being held in the Limestone County Jail. Berzett’s bail is set at $20,000 and Taylor’s and Vibbert’s bail is set at $25,000 each.
Although Vibbert is a juvenile, he was charged as an adult because he is accused of committing a Class A felony, specifically robbery with a dangerous instrument and felony assault, Ramsey said.
Two other neighbors — Serena Pugh, 38, and her 17-year-old son, also neighbors of Berzett — were charged with hindering prosecution in the incident, Ramsey said.
Ramsey said Pugh hid some of the trio’s store purchases in her attic and her son put a comforter stained with Vega’s blood into a garbage bag and threw it in the river at Grigsby Ferry (Elkmont). The items were later recovered.
As for Vega, who is recovering, the Sheriff’s Department will not move to deport him.
“We’re not concerned with his immigration status, we are trying to get his money back,” Ramsey said. “We don’t want to discourage people like him from reporting something like this.”