It was a shocking case of betrayal and greed.
A single mother’s friend since middle school set her up to be robbed at gunpoint of $3,000 cash from her income tax return, after giving the victim and her 4-year-old son an hours-long ride around town to run errands.
Those errands included a trip to a tax office to get the refund check, and from there to the Buena Vista Road Walmart to cash the $3,995 check, then to Dixie Cars in Phenix City to pay $1,000 down on car repair. They dropped the 4-year-old off at his great-grandmother’s and ate at the Popeye’s restaurant on Wynnton Road.
And then around 6 p.m., the friend gave the 22-year-old mother a ride to the Rivertown School of Beauty, where she was a student, and offered to give her a ride home after class.
At the end of the day on Feb. 12, 2013, the longtime friend, Mary Allen, picked the mother up at the beauty school, but said on the way home she had to go by Columbus’ Beallwood Park at 12th Avenue and 51st Street.
At the park, Alicia Gonzalez, wearing a black skull cap and dark bomber jacket and armed with a pistol, was waiting.
It was around 10 p.m. when Allen stopped at the park in her Mercury Grand Marquis, the mother in the front passenger seat. Gonzalez got in the back seat, grabbed the mother by the back of her hair, yanked her head back and put the gun to it.
“Give it up!” she ordered. “Give it up!”
She pulled so hard the victim’s hair weave came loose. The young mother tried to flee, but Gonzalez got out and blocked her, still pointing the pistol. She started patting the victim down, asking, “Where is it? Where is it?”
Allen knew where the money was. She reached into the front floorboard for the Nike-brand book bag she knew her longtime friend had put the cash in, and tossed it into the back seat for Gonzalez to grab. Gonzalez took it and ran, stealing not only the young mother’s money but also her Rivertown School of Beauty uniform.
Allen gave the victim a ride to her grandmother’s house, but did not go inside, nor wait for the police to come. She sped away immediately.
It occurred to the victim then that aside from her grandmother and 4-year-old son, Allen was the only person who knew she had a lot of cash on her. The set-up seemed obvious.
So did the identity of the robber: The victim knew Gonzalez from high school, and named the suspect as soon as she called police.
Besides feeling betrayed by a longtime friend, the young mother faced hardship: She needed the money for her car, and for her son. She and her little boy had made plans for spending what was left.
"She said she had made promises and commitments to her son," said prosecutor Jennifer Cooley.
Reached by telephone Tuesday afternoon, the mother said he son had much to look forward to, before the robbery.
"I have planned on getting him some video games, some brand-new shoes and clothes," she said. "It was going to be just like Christmas all over again."
Cooley stressed this Tuesday as she talked about the case: The young mother conscientiously was caring for her son while working toward a career. She was trying to do everything right, but fell victim to someone else’s greed.
The criminal case against Allen and Gonzalez ended this week as each pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Initially each was arrested for armed robbery.
Gonzalez pleaded guilty to robbery and to using a firearm to commit a felony. Superior Court Judge William Rumer sentenced her to 10 years in prison with four to serve on the robbery, and five years with two to serve on the weapon charge. Cooley said that means Gonzalez, now 26, will serve a total of six years in prison.
Rumer sentenced Allen, now 24, to 10 years in prison with two to serve for robbery. He ordered both women to repay the victim the $3,000 they stole.
Cooley said several relatives spoke on Gonzalez’ behalf before the sentencing.
Despite the fact Gonzalez put a gun to the victim’s head, one relative said the robber “didn’t mean no harm,” and another said the family was sorry if the young mother was “offended” by what happened, Cooley said.