William Oudavanh walked to the podium carrying a photo of his dead father. He tried to hold back the tears long enough to muster a few words before the judge.
"There's no amount of justice that will ever bring him back," Oudavanh told the courtroom. And then the tears came back.
In an emotional hearing Tuesday, Senior U.S. District Judge David S. Doty sentenced brothers Lennie and Randy Brooks to federal prison for a string of robberies last year targeting business owners. During one of the home invasions, Oudavanh's father, Oukham Oudavanh, suffered a fatal heart attack.
Doty sentenced Lennie, whom prosecutors called the "ringleader" of the crime spree, to 30 years in prison. Randy, the "muscle," was given 20 years. Doty ordered them to jointly pay $288,000 in restitution to their victims, along with another member of the crew, Esperanza Cardenas, who pleaded guilty in October.
"After more than a year of investigation and court proceedings, the Brooks brothers' victims have justice," William Terry Henderson, special agent in charge of the St. Paul's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said in a statement. "No one deserves what these people went through, and our hope is that peace can be found in the finality of this sentencing."
The Brooks brothers, of Wabasha, Minn., were indicted a year ago on charges of interference of commerce by robbery, a federal crime known as a "Hobbs Act" violation. They pleaded guilty to the three counts earlier this year, though prosecutors say the spate of robberies hit two dozen victims across Minnesota.
In court Tuesday, Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey Paulsen said the brothers targeted older people, some in rural areas with lagging police response, who ran businesses that would have large sums of money or expensive jewelry on hand. One of those was 63-year-old Oukham Oudavanh, who operated Shuang Hur Oriental Markets in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Wielding a gun, the brothers broke into the Oudavanhs' Eden Prairie home and stole $50,000 in cash belonging to the markets. In the process, Oukham went into cardiac arrest.
"The fear we felt was incomprehensible, and every day since has been a struggle," Paulsen told the court, reading a letter written by Oukham Oudavanh's wife, who said she has never returned to the house since then.
In August 2018, the brothers robbed two people at gunpoint and stole $180,000 in jewelry and gemstones that belonged to a Waite Park jewelry store. The next month, they broke into a home in Ellendale. Randy Brooks held two people at gunpoint while Lennie Brooks ransacked $40,000 in cash, which was business proceeds from an auction company.
Wearing orange jail garb, both brothers asked the judge for mercy, saying severe drug addictions fueled crimes of desperation. Family members wept in the courtroom while the brothers spoke.
"I've had some trouble in my life over the past decade," said Lennie, 34, who told the court he lost his business and got hooked on drugs. He apologized to the victims and their families and said he couldn't sleep after he found out a man had died.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry," he said.
Randy Brooks, 24, said he was "blinded by selfishness and immaturity" and following the direction of his older brother. He said he only feigned the role of the "muscle."
"As I stand before you today, I know you see a monster," he told the court. "But I am not a monster."
Both brothers said they'd gotten sober in jail, planned to participate in programming during prison and eventually return to society as better people.
"I hope this day brings closure for everyone, especially the victims," said Randy Brooks' attorney, Catherine Turner. "Randy's remorse is sincere."
Paulsen disputed that either truly felt remorse for their crimes, saying both had criminal pasts with similar offenses. He said Lennie lost $1 million at Mystic Lake Casino and stole to gamble.
"He says he never intended to hurt anyone — that's a lie," said Paulsen.
Lennie Brooks' attorney, Ryan Pacyga, said his client would likely appeal the sentencing.
"It's obvious the court felt it needed to drop the hammer on this one," said Pacyga.
In October, Cardenas was sentenced to four years in prison for her role in the crimes, which included transporting stolen gems from Minnesota to Iowa. A fourth member, Autumn Nichols — the crew's getaway driver — was sentenced to 10 years in prison later Tuesday.
Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036