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Syhavong pleads not guilty in robbery case

WORTHINGTON -- A Worthington woman accused of helping two men steal more than 40 firearms from a Vail, Iowa, gun store pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a dozen felonies ranging from bringing stolen goods into the state to aiding an offender to avoid arrest.

Phothong Syhavong, 28, was charged in May of this year with crimes connected to the robbery in Vail and with aiding and abetting a bank robbery that took place in July 2010 in Rushmore.

The gun shop was robbed in May 2010.

Syhavong was arrested July 2, along with three others, after the bank robbery. Felix Mendez and Jose Osoria-Mendez, accused of robbing the bank, were both prosecuted federally, entering into plea agreements to serve 57 and 50 months respectively for armed bank robbery.

Mercedes Lovan, girlfriend of Osoria-Mendez, served 30 days in the Nobles County Jail after pleading guilty to aiding an offender to avoid arrest.

After the gun shop robbery, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) requested assistance in their investigation, prompting the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force to open an investigation.

Less than a month later, the bank robbery took place, and authorities arrested all four and seized cash and firearms.

Days later, a shooting was investigated at a Worthington residence.

Two long guns were found buried in the grass at that residence.

Over the next month, assault rifles, long guns and hand guns were found in various locations -- in a Nobles County Lake, hidden under a tree and buried in the ground at Syhavong's residence.

She allegedly helped Mendez steal some of the guns by driving the vehicle to the Vail store, and she told authorities she threw some of the stolen guns into a lake after the men were arrested.

She allegedly enlisted the help of a family member to bury some of the guns in Cottonwood County and also concealed a gun in her residence after it was found by Lovan's child.

She was released on her own recognizance after charges were filed this May.

On Tuesday her attorney Mike Hanson said no plea agreement has been made, but "serious negotiations" are taking place.