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Two decades of prison time for 2012 robbery

A December 2012 crime spree that culminated in two Powell residents being robbed at gunpoint has resulted in 13 felony convictions and more than 22 years of prison time as well as jail time and fines for the four individuals involved in the crime.

The case officially came to a close last month with the sentencing of the fourth member of the scheme.

The bulk of the prison time (15 to 17 years) and felony convictions (eight) went to Obie Phillips, 39, who came up with the plan and actually robbed the Powell men on the morning of Dec. 11, 2012.

In the early morning hours leading up to the robbery, Phillips broke into eight vehicles and stole a .41 Taurus revolver he later used in the robbery, police say.

Around 5:30 a.m., Phillips went to the home of Michael Guzman, 30, and asked for help with the robbery. Guzman agreed.

He and Obie Phillips smeared black shoe polish over their faces and put on masks; Tori Phillips, Obie’s wife, helped craft Guzman’s mask by cutting eyeholes out of a beanie. They packed up some zip ties in case they needed to bind the occupants while they searched the residence.

Tori Phillips, 31, drove them all to the residence — a trailer that another man, 24-year-old Cory Berisko, had suggested as a potential target.

Police believe the home may have been targeted because one of the residents had been involved in selling marijuana; Obie Phillips reportedly told Guzman they would find a lot of drugs and money.

Phillips knocked on the trailer door around 6:45 a.m. When one of the residents opened up, Phillips brandished the revolver, forced the man inside and demanded valuables.

He’d been given a layout of the trailer by Berisko and quickly seized a shotgun the residents had laying inside the door. Phillips told the man he’d “blow his head off.” He hit him with the handgun and a round fired and went through the trailer wall. It was fired close enough to leave powder burns near the man’s ear; the resident later told police he thought he was going to die.

“We were inches away from a possible homicide,” said Powell Police Investigator Mike Hall.

Hearing the gunshot, a panicked Guzman and Tori Phillips exited the waiting getaway car; Guzman tried the trailer’s back door and found it locked while Tori Phillips pulled some wires in an effort to disconnect the trailer’s phone service.

Meanwhile, the resident inside the trailer led Obie Phillips to a back bedroom, where a roommate had been sleeping. Armed with the revolver and the shotgun slung over his shoulder, Phillips kicked in the bedroom door and demanded drugs and money.

He fled the trailer with the roommate’s safe. Police were never able to determine exactly how much money was inside, but there was at least $1,460.

All three conspirators made a getaway to the Phillipses’ home on East Adams Street. Obie Phillips texted Berisko — who didn’t participate in the robbery — minutes later.

“I need the combo to my new safe lol,” he wrote.

Judging by scorched items found in a trash bin, police say it appears there was an attempt after the robbery to burn the clothing and shoes used in the crime; Tori Phillips had stolen a stack of Powell Tribunes from Express Lane several hours before the robbery and some of the newsprint was used as tinder for the fire.

Powell police were called by the Queens Boulevard residents around 7:20 a.m. and they began investigating the robbery and string of auto burglaries.

One officer, Matt Brilakis, thought the given description of the robber sounded like Obie Phillips. The suspicion became probable cause after officers discovered Obie Phillips not only had a hand injury consistent with punching out vehicle windows, but had also tried to buy .41 caliber bullets at Linton’s Big R after the robbery.

The Phillipses and Guzman ultimately admitted to their roles in the crime.

Tori Phillips pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting aggravated robbery and aiding and abetting aggravated burglary as part of a deal with prosecutors. She accepted a five- to seven-year prison sentence and $415 in financial penalties in January 2013.

Tori Phillips is currently asking for a reduction in her sentence, in part to get into a prison substance abuse treatment program more quickly.

“I am learning to take charge of my life and my actions and am working towards being an independent and strong individual,” she wrote to District Court Judge Steven Cranfill last year. “I have seen where my destructive behaviors have led me.”

Guzman pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit burglary and — because police found marijuana at his home — possessing a controlled substance. Since it was his fourth offense for possessing drugs, the charge was a felony.

He agreed to a two- to four-year prison sentence and $415 in penalties in December.

Guzman had a prior aggravated assault conviction from a 2004 incident in which he made threats while armed with a gun. He also served a two- to four-year sentence for that offense.

The Phillipses and Guzman all said in court that they are disabled. Guzman has brain damage from previous car crashes. Obie Phillips has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“When I’m on my medication, I’m fine,” he told the judge before his February 2013 sentencing.

“Mr. Phillips was intoxicated and he was not properly taking his medication,” said his court-appointed attorney, Sarah Miles of Cody.

In addition to the prison time, Obie Phillips was assessed $1,435 in court-ordered payments.

Berisko pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary as part of a deal with prosecutors.

At the Jan. 22 sentencing hearing, District Court Judge Steven Cranfill agreed with Berisko’s attorney, Scott Stinson of Stinson Law Firm in Cody, and sentenced Berisko to five years of supervised probation with four to six years of prison time hanging over his head for any violations.

Deputy Park County Attorney Tim Blatt unsuccessfully argued for an 18- to 24-month prison sentence.

Berisko served 55 days in jail before posting bond and must pay $245 to the court.

All four defendants are also on the hook to pay back $160 for destroying the safe and damaging the trailer’s wiring. Obie Phillips also owes $8,819.80 for the vehicles he damaged.

“We always tell people, lock your cars, but in this case, they were,” said Powell Police Sgt. Matt McCaslin in a recent interview. While the locked doors didn’t stop Obie Phillips, McCaslin noted it did cause him to leave evidence — including an injured hand — that helped lead to his arrest.

McCaslin also repeated another police tip: “Be cautious of what you keep in your cars.” He advises against using vehicles to store firearms and other valuables.

The large case didn’t end with the four participants, either.

The Phillipses’ neighbor, 34-year-old Shawnna Hernandez of Powell, served three days in jail and was ordered to pay $780 after she found $1,460 of the stolen cash at the Phillipses house and took it for herself.

“Hernandez agreed that she should have called us when she found the money but she wanted the money, so she didn’t,” Hall wrote in an affidavit.

She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of receiving or concealing stolen property in April and completed six months of probation.

Meanwhile, the renter of the targeted trailer served a day in jail and had to pay $540 for a misdemeanor count of possessing marijuana.

“There was a lot going on there,” McCaslin said of the case. “And it all stemmed from illegal activity to begin with.”

Editor's note: This version corrects the charge to which Berisko pleaded guilty.

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