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Tony Moreno, Jr.

Other California Robbery Exonerations
On November 24, 2013, Nikhil Seth called Los Angeles County Sheriff’s police and reported he had been attacked by a man in a hooded sweatshirt while walking in Palmdale, California. The man said nothing during the attack, and, took $100 from Seth’s pocket after he knocked him to the ground. Although Seth reported he was with someone else at the time, no name was listed in the report.

On January 7, 2014, Seth was at work at Malhi’s Inn, a motel in Palmdale. He flagged down a police officer to make another report of the crime. In this report, he said he and his brother, Nitin Seth, were the victims of the November 24th robbery. Nikhil now said that the attacker punched Nitin several times in the back of the head until he fell down. The man then punched Nikhil several times in the face—knocking him to the ground—and then said, “Give me your money.” Nikhil said he and Nitin complied and the man fled.

Nikhil said that about a week after the robbery, he saw the robber walk from the parking lot of the motel into one of the rooms. On January 2, 2014, the man, who Nikhil identified as 28-year-old Tony Moreno, Jr., came to reserve a room at the motel. Nikhil said that Moreno offered to sell him some counterfeit money, but he declined.

Nikhil said he flagged down the officer because Moreno had just come into the motel lobby to leave a backpack by the door, and said he would be back soon. When asked why he had not contacted police earlier, Nikhil said he was afraid of Moreno and that he believed the police weren’t investigating the crime since no officer had contacted him after he filed the initial report.

Police located Moreno and put him in a lineup. Nikhil and Nitin both identified him as their attacker. Nitin was interviewed and gave an account similar to Nikhil’s report of the robbery. Moreno denied involvement in the crime.

Nikhil and Nitin testified at a preliminary hearing in Los Angeles County Superior Court that Moreno attacked and robbed them. Nikhil now testified that the first time he saw Moreno was on January 7, and denied that Moreno had previously rented a room at the motel. Nikhil also said for the first time that the robber kicked his brother after knocking him to the ground. Nitin gave a similar account, but did not say he had been kicked. Nitin said he had spoken to a police officer after the robbery although he was not mentioned by name in the report.

On March 13, 2014, after the preliminary hearing concluded, Moreno pled no-contest to one charge of robbery and was sentenced to three years in prison.

In August 2015, two men—Bhavesh Patel and Manzur Chowdhury—reported to police that the Seth brothers were bragging that they had framed Moreno to get a U-visa. The U-visa, authorized under federal legislation in 2000, is reserved for victims of certain crimes who have suffered abuse and are helpful to law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of criminal activity.

Chowdhury told a detective he met Nikhil in 2013 when Chowdhury was working at the East West Motel, which was owned by the person who owned Malhi’s Inn. Nikhil claimed he was homeless and had no money. Chowdhury paid for a room for one night for Nikhil. Subsequently, Nikhil sought out the motel owner and was hired to work there as well.

Two weeks later, Nikhil’s brother, Nitin, arrived in the U.S. from India, and was hired to work at the restaurant at Malhi’s Inn. Chowdry said that in the fall of 2014, he moved from the East West Motel to Malhi’s Inn, and began working with the brothers. Chowdry said that one night, the brothers left the motel saying they were going to dinner. The following day, he saw Nikhil with a bandage on his head. Nikhil said that a man with a knife robbed him and his brother.

Not long after, Chowdhury quit working at the motel and moved to Los Angeles. A month later, Nikhil contacted Chowdhury and asked him to join him, Nitin, and others in filing labor complaints against the owner of Malhi’s. Nikhil said that they had quit their jobs and claimed that Chowdhury would get as much as $15,000 by filing a false labor claim. Chowdhury said that he initially filed a complaint, but then dropped it. Chowdhury told the detective that Nikhil later claimed he received $10,000.

Chowdhury said that Nikhil later asked him if he was a U.S. citizen. When Chowdhury said he had been in the U.S. for 25 years and had a work visa, Nikhil urged him to get a U-Visa by staging a robbery by paying someone to tie him up and throw him into a motel room. Then, Nikhil said, Chowdhury should seek medical attention and report the crime to police.

When Chowdhury said he told Nikhil he didn’t want to jeopardize his ability to stay in the U.S., Nikhil said, “No risk, no gain.” Over several weeks, Nikhil continued to talk about “scams” to obtain government benefits, including food stamps and welfare. He ultimately admitted to Chowdhury that he and his brother paid a “random male” to assault and rob them, and that they had dirtied up their clothing to make it seem serious. They then decided to frame Moreno because they thought he was possibly involved in selling drugs and would make an easy target.

After reporting the crime, Nikhil said he and Nitin hired an attorney to apply for U-visas. As a result of getting the visas, they were able to get food stamps and welfare payments. When Chowdhury expressed displeasure at their actions, Nikhil said he knew that Chowdhury was being paid in cash at his job and would report him for non-payment of taxes if Chowdhury told anyone of their scheme. Despite the threat, Chowdhury called the police.

Patel, the owner of Malhi’s Inn, said that after the labor complaints were filed against him, he spoke with Chowdhury to find out what was going on. At that time, Patel said, Chowdhury told him that the brothers admitted they paid a man $600 to beat them up so they could falsely report a robbery, and then decided to frame Moreno after he rented a room at the motel.

Police interviewed Patel’s son, Malhi. Malhi said that ultimately he had paid $14,000 to Nikhil, $5,000 to Nitin, and $3,000 to another individual to settle labor complaints filed against the motel. Malhi told the police that a frequent tenant at the motel told him that Nikhil had asked her how to find someone with a criminal record. Another tenant told him that the brothers had hired someone to beat them up and stage a crime.

In 2016, detectives arrested Nikhil and Nitin Seth. Both denied framing Moreno, and claimed that Chowdhury, Patel, and Malhi were attempting to frame them.

The results of the police investigation were turned over to the Los Angeles County District Attorney. On March 3, 2016, the prosecution filed a motion to vacate Moreno’s conviction. The motion was granted, the robbery charge was dismissed, and Moreno was released.

Moreno subsequently filed a claim for compensation with the California Victim Compensation Board. In June 2017, the board approved an award of $110,180.

The board’s decision said that the prosecution declined to file charges against Nitin and Nikhil Seth. Kaveh Navab, Moreno’s attorney, said Nitin and Nikhil were deported.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/19/2017
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2013
Sentence:3 years
Age at the date of reported crime:28
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No