Two South Carolina men have been indicted by a grand jury on federal hate crime charges over an alleged string of robberies targeting Hispanic victims.
Charles Antonio Clippard, 26, and Michael Joseph Knox, 28, of Columbia, are accused of conspiring to carry out the robberies at public businesses, including gas stations and grocery stores.
On Monday, a federal grand jury in Columbia returned an indictment charging the suspects with three counts of hate crime, one count of conspiracy, one count of carjacking and three firearms offences. They reportedly held the victims at gunpoint and stole cash, cellphones and a vehicle.
Mr Clippard and Mr Knox reportedly targeted four victims who identified as Mexican or Hispanic because of those individuals’ “race and natural origin,” the Justice Department said in a statement. At least one of the robberies resulted in bodily injury.
According to the indictment, the suspects carried out three robberies between January 2021 and February of that year.
The first attack happened on 22 January 2021 at the “El Mariachi” supermarket.
Mr Clippard and Mr Knox allegedly followed two men who had exited the supermarket in a vehicle driven by a third party. The suspects allegedly stole cash and a cell phone when the victims exited the car to enter their home.
Prosecutors claim that eight days later, the suspects and other co-conspirators carried out a similar attack at a Spinx gas station and followed the victim to their residence. This time, the victim was robbed of their passport, cash, car keys and vehicle.
That same day, a third robbery occurred when a victim was followed to their residence from a Marathon gas station. The victim was pushed inside their home and other individuals inside the residence were also robbed while held at gunpoint.
The men face a minimum of 21 years behind bars for the firearm offences, while the hate crime charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
If convicted on the carjacking count, they could be sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The FBI Columbia Field Office worked along with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and local police in the case.