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‘Brains’ behind robbery of East Rutherford Papa John’s in Muslim clothes delays plea deal

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

EXCLUSIVE: A womandescribed as the brains behind the robbery of a Papa John’s Pizza in East Rutherford by a trio disguised in traditional Muslim garb told a judge yesterday that she won’t plead guilty to driving the getaway car until similar charges in Union County are resolved.

A lawyer for 24-year-old Whendy Laurencio-Blanco said she wants to be sure that her sentences in both Bergen and Union counties run concurrently — and for no more than 10 years. That would make her eligible for parole in 8½ years, authorities said.

All told, Laurencio-Blanco is charged with two holdups in Bergen, where prosecutors have offered a nine-year prison deal in exchange for a guilty plea, and three in Union, where they’ve offered 10.

Defense attorney John P. Pieroni apologized to Presiding Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi.

“She wants to resolve this, your honor,” Pieroni said. “She just wants to be sure the sentences run at the same time.”

Michael Gomezpolanco, an undocumented immigrant living here illegally, admitted in December that he and Laurencio-Blanco took two 17-year-old girls to the Paterson Avenue Papa John’s in East Rutherford the night of Dec. 15, 2012 after stopping in Newark to buy their disguises ( SEE: Convicted robber admits holding up East Rutherford Papa John’s with women dressed as Muslims ).

Gomezpolanco said he was carrying a BB gun and sisters Jessica and Vanessa Morales each had knives when they entered the restaurant, threatened two employees and a customer and took everything they could — including cash from the register and an iPhone.

Gomezpolanco said he sold the personal property and shared the proceeds with the Morales sisters but not with Laurencio-Blanco, who stayed in the car.

Gomezpolanco, of Hillside, faces 10 years in state prison, 85% of which he must serve under the state No Early Release Act, as a result of his plea agreement.

He’s also being sentenced to 12 years for robbery out of Union County, which will run concurrently. He’ll then be deported, authorities said.

The sisters each pleaded guilty to robbery charges in December and are facing 7-8 years in state prison, 85% of which they must serve.

Sentencing for all three co-defendants has been delayed while prosecutors wait for Laurencio-Blanco’s case to be resolved. All have agreed to testify against her if needed.

“Nine years is a good offer,” DeAvila-Silebi told her yesterday.  “How old are you?”

“Twenty-four,” she answered.

“You’re facing as much as 20 years on each of the armed robbery charges,” DeAvila-Silebi said, “so unless you want to be 80 years old when you get out, you better consider this offer seriously.”

With Laurencio-Blanco’s Union County case due to be resolved March 3, the judge set a March 10 date for her to return.

If no deal is cut by then, DeAvila-Silebbi said, she’ll set a date for a trial.

Gomezpolanco in court in December (STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter)

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