12 years for Aurora man who robbed for gambling addiction
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On his best day of gambling Fernando Zavala won $8,000, which he used to buy a truck.
On his worst day, the 39-year-old Elgin man lost $10,000 at the blackjack tables at the Aurora casino.
Wednesday, Zavala's choice to commit nine robberies — albeit with a toy gun — to feed his addiction cost him his freedom after he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Zavala, of the 200 block of North Gifford Street, was arrested last June after leading police on a short chase after an armed robbery of a payday loan store in Aurora.
In March, Zavala pleaded guilty to nine robberies from August 2011 through June 2012 in Elgin, Aurora and East Dundee.
He entered a blind plea, leaving it up to Kane County Judge John Barsanti to determine the punishment.
Barsanti said Zavala could have gone to counseling as his wife suggested.
"Your approach to dealing with this addiction was to rob people of their money," Barsanti told Zavala.
Zavala is eligible to have his sentence cut in half for good behavior while in prison.
The sentence will be served simultaneously with a six-year term Zavala received in February after pleading guilty to four armed robbery charges in Cook County.
Zavala testified he found the lure of playing blackjack "irresistible" and felt he let down his wife and two kids, ages 9 and 11.
"This is a sickness, and even though you may not believe it, this can happen to anyone," he said through an interpreter. "Even if I lose money, I just feel good while playing. ... I've had to rob people when they didn't have anything to do with my problems."
Zavala said after he was caught, he felt like the "worst person in the whole world" and decided to confess to all his armed robberies, even ones that authorities had little information about.
Until his arrest, Zavala's only brushes with the law were traffic offenses.
Kane County Assistant State's Attorney Greg Sams pushed for a 13½-year sentence, or 1½ years for each robbery.
Sams pointed out that Zavala would only serve half his term and noted he likely would be deported because he was in the country illegally and had been deported more than 20 years ago as well.
Sams said even though the gun was a toy, the robberies had an emotional effect on the employees involved.
Zavala gets credit for nearly 10 months in the Kane County jail while his case was pending.
He also has agreed to repay $22,500 from the eight robberies; police recovered more than $1,000 in the last robbery.
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