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Two Houston youths who robbed and terrorized spa workers get federal prison time

August 28, 2018

Two young men will serve lengthy prison terms for a brazen armed robbery in which they terrorized employees for hours at an illicit massage parlor in north Houston. Investigators connected the suspects to the 2016 heist based on blood, fingerprints they left behind as well as DNA evidence developed from seminal fluid recovered from a spa employee who had sex with one of the gunmen.

A federal judge Tuesday sentenced Joseph Berzat, 21, to nearly 18 years and Javian Chapman, 20, on Tuesday to more than 15 years in prison for aiding and abetting in robbery and the discharge of a firearm amid a crime of violence. U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen also ordered the defendants to cover the cost of an ATM they damaged and pay back cash they stole and medical expenses for one of their victims, according to U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick’s office.

They remained in federal custody following the sentencing.

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A prosecutor told the judge the men should get a lengthier sentence because she believed the men sexually assaulted the spa workers during the robbery, however the defendants only pleaded guilty to the robbery and weapons charges.

Attorney Ali Fazel, who represents Berzat, described his client as “a very young man who has suffered a great deal of trauma in life.”

“This morning he started his road to recovery by accepting full responsibility for his part in the crime,” Fazel said. “Although the government sought a much higher sentence against him, he is relieved the court listened to his story and decided to sentence him to the lower range of the applicable federal sentencing guidelines.”

Chapman’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

Berzat and Chapman broke through a window at the Hana Top Spa in the 14000 block of Bammel Road on the evening of Aug. 5, 2016 and were on the premises for about three hours, according to court documents

They forced three prostitutes and a madam at gunpoint to move from room to room, and fired the weapon at one point. They demanded money, other property, and retrieved money from an ATM they broke into using a drill and other tools they had brought with them.

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During the robbery, the defendants also had sexual contact with spa employees, although the defense contends the women were not assaulted. Officials collected forensic evidence discovered that seminal fluid found at the scene positively identified Berzat and Chapman. Investigators also found a palm print from the ATM that matched Berzat’s hand. Victims were also able to identify both men as the armed robbers.

In the days following the robbery, the spa was raided by county officials hit with a civil nuisance abatement lawsuit, amid a push to shut down illegal spas along FM 1960.

The spa owner Ying Wen, 45, was arrested and charged with money laundering. She faces up to 20 years in prison and a possible fine of $10,000.

gabrielle.banks@chron.com

twitter.com/gabmobanks

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