A federal judge on Wednesday handed down a 35-year prison sentence to one of the two men convicted in the 2019 murder-for-hire plot to kill Alex Vega, a car designer who has customized high-end rides for celebrities such as Marc Anthony, Luis Fonsi, rapper Rick Ross and a slew of sports stars.
Julian Jimenez, 27, apologized to the victim, Alex Vega, and his family, as well as his own parents after Judge Roy Altman sentenced him at the federal courthouse in Miami.
“I apologize to Mr. Vega and his family. I am sorry I put you through these hard times. I am going to use this time to become a better man to my child and to my parents,” Jimenez said. “I apologize to my parents because they didn’t raise me this way.”
Jimenez was found guilty of shooting Vega three times out of the eight shots he fired into his car on Aug. 27, 2019, as he pulled into the garage of his Kendale Lakes house.
The man convicted of being the getaway driver that evening, 46-year-old Jaime Serrano, is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 14.
Jimenez pleaded guilty in August — rather than going to trial — to interstate stalking, conspiring to use a firearm during a crime of violence and discharging the weapon to carry out the assault.
Altman said Wednesday that Jimenez’s plea saved him a life sentence had he taken the case to trial and been convicted by a jury.
On Aug. 24, a 12-person jury found Serrano guilty of interstate stalking, interstate stalking that resulted in serious bodily injury and conspiracy to use a firearm during a violent crime.
Altman said he may end up getting more time than Jimenez when he’s sentenced.
“Mr. Serrano will get his punishment when it’s his turn,” Altman said.
Questions over who hired the hit men
While the mystery of who carried out the attempted murder of Vega is solved, who put them up to the crime may never be known. Neither men has cooperated with federal agents and prosecutors on that aspect of the case. When approached by a reporter following the sentencing hearing, Vega said he could not comment.
A witness told FBI agents during the investigation that the men were offered $60,000 to carry out the hit, but that has never been confirmed.
“There were about three levels of hearsay with that statement,” federal public defender Abigail Becker, who represented Jimenez at sentencing, told Altman about the amount of the supposed bounty.
And the men say they weren’t paid anything since Vega survived the attack.
The men are accused of traveling from New York to Miami on a mission to kill Vega, owner of the Auto Firm in Kendall, a company that has customized hundreds of vehicles for high-end customers looking for luxury and creativity. Among the celebrities who have frequented the shop include singer Marc Anthony, boxing champ Floyd Mayweather and Olympic track star gold medalist Usain Bolt.
They arrived in Miami six days before the shooting, renting the Nissan Rogue they used to travel to Vega’s home, and obtained the handgun used in the attack, court records show.
Investigators and prosecutors say the men staked out Vega’s home and studied his daily routine in the days leading up to the shooting.
Two years would go by before Jimenez and Serrano were arrested. Agents placed them at the crime scene largely by matching DNA taken off a surgical mask and gloves found on the sidewalk close to Vega’s home with an oral swab from Jimenez, according to court documents.
Despite not pulling the trigger, Becker said the older Serrano planned the attack. He received the money transfer from a person called “Shifta” that was used to pay for the American Airlines fight to Miami, rented the cars once he arrived and obtained the gun, she added.
Becker said Jimenez has learning disabilities, no criminal history and had no money or credit cards at the time.
But Altman, rejecting Becker’s argument that her client’s lack of involvement in planning the shooting should factor into a lighter sentence, said that actually pulling the trigger was the unchangeable aspect of the crime.
“Even Mr. Serrano, as evil as he might be, horrific mastermind that he may be, wasn’t willing to do that,” Altman said.
Trauma of the attack
During the sentencing hearing, Vega spoke of the horror he — and his wife and son — experienced that day, as well as the trauma they continue to endure.
He described sitting in his car after arriving home from work from his Kendall car shop, the Auto Firm, taking a phone call, then slowly driving into the garage. That’s when Jimenez struck, rapidly firing into the car.
At first he didn’t feel anything, he said. Then, he couldn’t breath. His lungs had collapsed. Thinking death was imminent, he tried getting into the back seat in a desperate attempt to avoid his wife and son having to see him die, he said at the hearing.
Regarding Jimenez’s plea, Vega said he wasn’t impressed, since he still hasn’t given up who put the two up to the attempted murder in the first place.
“Doing a plea to get a lower sentence doesn’t show me anything,” Vega said.
Since the attack, long after he’s recovered physically, Vega said that day continues to take a toll on him, his wife and children.
His family is in therapy, and he doesn’t go anywhere without a bodyguard.
The feeling of terror is exacerbated knowing that whomever wanted him dead is still out there.
“Every day, I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know the motive,” he told Altman. “I don’t know the reason.”