Eric Mercado had just lost a stash of cocaine worth thousands, but he had a plan to make up for that.

There was a man in York who was known to be growing and selling marijuana. According to a plot laid out in court documents, Mercado heard that the man had money at his house, a large single-family estate on a private road near The Ledges Golf Club. Mercado, who lived in Lowell, Massachusetts, could drive north and rob him, but needed help.

Mercado’s plan resulted in a wild robbery attempt in May that eventually resulted in three arrests, according to the documents filed this week in federal court.

One man involved, Nathaniel Rivera, 27, turned himself in to police a couple of weeks after the incident, but Mercado, 32, and Steven Hardy, 42, weren’t arrested until a few days ago – Mercado in Georgia and Hardy in Massachusetts.

The attempted robbery was investigated by the FBI’s Safe Streets Gang Task Force. The FBI also was called to investigate a shooting in York last weekend. Officials said a man suffered life-threatening injuries in a “targeted act of violence” but released no details.

It is unusual for the FBI to be involved in local cases, and rarer still for it to investigate two incidents in a small town within months. But neither federal nor local officials would say on the record whether Saturday’s shooting was connected to the May robbery attempt or provide the address where the shooting occurred.

The robbery victim is identified in court documents only by his initials, R.S. The Press Herald attempted to contact the owner of the home – whose name matches those initials, according to property records – but no one answered the phone there Tuesday.

A PLOT UNFOLDS

An affidavit filed in U.S. District Court outlining probable cause to arrest Mercado and Hardy details the May robbery attempt:

Mercado, Hardy, Rivera and at least one other unnamed person met to plan the robbery a few days before it happened. Mercado, a known drug dealer, was the mastermind and organized the robbery to make up for losing thousands of dollars worth of cocaine.

On May 8, he texted an associate his motive: “Because I’m dead (expletive) broke and was rich a week ago.”

The group all lived in the Lowell area, but Rivera knew the homeowner. On May 10, Rivera called him and said a couple of women with him wanted to come over and party. The three arrived at the house in York, where they spent the evening drinking and eventually ended up in a hot tub.

At some point, one of the people there messaged Mercado: “I’ll t xt u jumping in the hot tub now.” Ten minutes later, a message from the same number to Mercado said, “Be ready.”

Twenty-seven minutes later came the final message: “Now.”

The timing of that message matches the video surveillance footage that shows two masked men walking to the front door.

MASKED MEN ENTER HOME

While the four soaked in the hot tub, two men wearing masks – later identified as Mercado and Hardy – entered the house. One had a shotgun, the other a handgun.

The man with the shotgun ordered R.S. into a bathroom, but R.S. refused and attempted to flee. He was shot in the foot.

The man with the shotgun told R.S. that others were waiting outside and that they would kill him if he didn’t pay off a debt. R.S. continued to fight. He grabbed a liquor bottle, hit the man with the shotgun and ran to a neighbor’s house.

Police responded to a 911 call about 1:30 a.m., less than 15 minutes after the robbery attempt. By then, everyone but the homeowner had fled.

Rivera surrendered three days later and was charged with robbery, burglary and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Days later he was issued a warrant on federal charges of conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, or robbery “affecting interstate or foreign commerce,” a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. He was released on $10,000 bond. His attorney, Amy Fairfield, did not return messages Tuesday.

It’s not clear from the court documents why it took so long to arrest Mercado and Hardy, who also were charged with conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery.

The FBI would not discuss Saturday’s shooting on Tuesday. Kristen Setera, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Boston division, called the incident a “targeted act of violence” that left the victim with life-threatening injuries. She said the investigation remains “very active.”

 

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