Murder victim had lengthy rap sheet

A 69-year-old Gilroy man who was murdered Saturday morning in his Leavesley Road home had a lengthy criminal history dating back 30 years in Santa Clara County, including a 2008 police raid that turned up drugs, guns and a wanted parolee, according to court records.

Tony Diaz Velasco, who the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department says was shot and killed by three still at-large suspects in his bedroom Saturday morning, had 10 prior criminal cases in Santa Clara County and was arrested at least once in San Benito County, court documents show.

Sheriff’s deputies also visited Velasco’s home where his body was found Saturday – located at 2725 Leavesley Road – roughly 25 times in the last year for a litany of 9-1-1 calls and other reported disturbances, Sgt. Jose Cardoza said.

Cardoza said detectives don’t want to divulge details about those recent incidents, but he added, “We don’t just go to somebody’s house because we feel like it.”

As of Thursday afternoon the case remains under investigation, and detectives haven’t identified suspects or determined a motive, according to the Sheriff’s department.

Fifteen officers from local and state law enforcement agencies scoured Velasco’s yellow, fenced-off home on a rural stretch east of Gilroy’s city limits in February 2008 on a tip that he was selling heroin or methamphetamine there, according to court documents.

Officers found marijuana, handguns, rifles, shotguns and a small plastic bag containing a “white substance,” believed to be methamphetamine. A digital scale and several syringes were also discovered, according to court documents. During the search, police arrested Ronnie Lisby, then 50 years old, who was living in the home and was wanted by the California Department of Corrections for a parole violation.

Velasco was not home during the search because he was placed in custody earlier in the day on a warrant for suspicion of kidnapping, according to an incident report filed by the United Narcotics Enforcement Team. He was charged with possession for sale, though those charges later were dismissed after lab results revealed that the small bag of white powder contained table salt, not methamphetamine, said Deputy District Attorney Frank Carrubba, a supervising district attorney in South County at the time of the raid.

Though agents believed Velasco was dealing narcotics from his home, the District Attorney’s office wasn’t convinced it could secure a conviction because officers didn’t locate a large stash of drugs, Carrubba said.

“You need something besides the drugs, unless it’s an exorbitant amount,” he said.

The marijuana, seized from a locked safe in Velasco’s bedroom, totaled roughly 38 grams and conceivably was for personal use, Carrubba said.

Law enforcement officials also were aware that multiple people may have been living on the property – possibly between 10 or 20, according to one neighbor – making it harder to stick evidence to one suspect, Carrubba said.

“It sounds like a number of people had access to that house,” he said.

One neighbor who spoke to the Dispatch Monday said he’d seen upwards of 15 cars parked in front of the residence. Another man said he had lived in the neighborhood more than 10 years and never recalled any major incidents at the home. He said he didn’t know how many people lived there.

“They kept to themselves mostly, and we just kept to ourselves,” he said. “That’s kind of the way it is out here. That’s why I moved out here. It’s quieter than the city.”

The Dispatch has requested court documents detailing Velasco’s other cases which date back to 1981. The three oldest cases have been purged, due either to their age or the nature of the charges. Velasco had three cases from 1988, and there was a 15-year gap before he turned up in the system again in 2003, according to court records.

On Saturday, Sheriff’s deputies responded around 8:45 a.m. to a 9-1-1 call of “shots fired” at Velasco’s home, located about three miles east of Gilroy’s city limits. When they arrived, they discovered Velasco dead from multiple gunshot wounds, Sgt. Cardoza said.

Investigators first believed two suspects were responsible for the shooting, but additional interviews revealed three assailants, though their genders are not known.

The suspects fled the scene on foot prior to law enforcement’s arrival, Cardoza said. The suspects are described as wearing dark clothing, including black ski masks, and were armed with an unknown type of handgun.

When asked Thursday if there were any updates to the investigation, Cardoza sighed, “Nothing.”

He said Sheriff’s detectives “don’t have anything. They’re working really hard at it. They’re not getting much cooperation (from witnesses).”

Asked if family members or people living inside the house were being treated as possible suspects, Cardoza said, “That I don’t know about,” but added he would ask the detectives.

He said investigators haven’t determined a motive, but they don’t believe it was a home invasion because nothing was reported stolen at the time of the shooting.

The Dispatch visited the home Wednesday afternoon but did not make contact with anyone there because the property is surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. No one was seen walking around the property, on which rusted, dilapidating vehicles are strewn about.

A large, yellow warehouse-type building sits behind what appears to be the main residence. Four cars were parked in front of the property Wednesday. In a side yard, at least two chained dogs were barking incessantly.

County animal control officers retrieved about a half-dozen dogs from the property in the hours following the shooting, including two pit bull puppies and several Chihuahuas. About 20 people, some family members of Velasco, congregated near the street where it turns to Ferguson Road. At least two women were seen embracing one another, crying, while several others chatted with one another about a man they referred to as “Grandpa.”

Anyone with information on this case is being asked to contact the Sheriff’s Office at 808-4500 or the anonymous tip line at 808-4431.

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