Alleged robbery ringleader faces 21-year sentence

A San Mateo man accused of spearheading a rash of brazen armed robberies last summer in which employees at a massage parlor, a spa center and an acupressure business were tied up will soon be sentenced, while his three alleged accomplices remain in custody.

Jason Zhang Gao, 26, was the alleged ringleader behind the string of robberies last summer and will face a 21-year sentence after agreeing on June 19 to a plea deal to four felony charges of armed robbery and residential burglary.

Gao was arrested after Sam Lim, 17, Scott Tong, 22, and Derek Wong, 21, claimed he was an accomplice to a June 11 robbery of Belbien Spa on Hillsdale Boulevard in San Mateo. In the robbery, Lim, Tong and Wong allegedly tied up two employees before blindfolding them and placing duct tape over their mouths.

Gao’s string of robberies began, however, on May 25, 2006, when he and several others entered New Moon Bay Health Center on El Camino in San Mateo, forcing the employees to strip naked before robbing them and the store of an undisclosed amount of money, prosecutors said. Lim, Tong and Wong were not charged because they could not be identified as accomplices.

On June 8, Gao struck again, prosecutors said, this time at a Redwood City massage establishment.

There were no injuries in any of the robberies.

Gao’s scheduled sentencing on Wednesday was delayed until Sept. 18. Gao faces amaximum sentence of 21 years, eight months in state prison. Lim, Tong and Wong will be in court Aug. 27 for a pre-trial conference. They face a maximum of life in prison.

Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Baum did not know the nature of the relationship between Gao, Lim, Tong and Wong except to say they weren’t related. She did not know why the three businesses were targeted.

Gao remains in custody on $5 million bail until his sentencing.

bfoley@examiner.com

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