July 21, 2014

Soldier on trial in Santa Ana for 2011 Cypress murder

Santa Ana, CA -- Opening statements signal the official beginning of a trial, but there is actually quite a bit of work that goes on before either prosecutors or defense attorneys make any statements in open court. Pretrial hearings, jury selection, and, of course, criminal investigation all precede the beginning of a trial, but opening statements are the first part of a criminal case that is available to the general public and the first time each side outlines its case to the jury.

The trial of Steven Matthew LeClaire, Jr., 26, began on Wednesday with both sides making their opening statements in court. LeClaire has been charged with one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder along with sentencing enhancements for personal discharge of a firearm causing death and great bodily injury. According to prosecutors, LeClaire, an Army Specialist who was away without official leave from his post in El Paso, Texas, shot Marques Murray, Raymond Eligan, and his father Steven Francis LeClaire, Sr. in at the Cypress Lodge on Lincoln Ave in February of 2011. Murray was killed and Eligan and LeClaire's father both were injured.

The prosecution said that the shooting was motivated by LeClaire's anger at discovering that had given alcohol to his 14-year-old sister, and that it was a premeditated act of revenge. LeClaire's attorney, Gassia Apkarian, is arguing that although her client did shoot the victims, it was due to her client's instability and drug abuse, and that LeClaire did not premeditate the attack. According to Apkarian, LeClaire has been abusing drugs and alcohol since his teens and went AWOL after failing a drug test in El Paso before coming back to Cypress to live in his father's motel room.

Continue reading "Soldier on trial in Santa Ana for 2011 Cypress murder" »

July 17, 2014

Two Orange County Attorneys and a German woman charged with White Collar Crime against Saudi sheik's son in Los Angeles

Los Angeles, CA -- White collar crime is generally treated as less threatening than physically violent crimes, but white collar criminals often prey on their victims' deep seated fears in order to make a financial gain. Like blackmailers who threaten to uncover a victim's shameful secrets or phone or internet scammers fishing for their mark's personal information with the imagined threats of health scares or computer viruses. This week saw charges filed in a high profile extortion case in Los Angeles.

Leyla Ors, Joe Cavallo, and Emanuel Karl Hudson were charged with conspiracy after allegedly attempting to extort as much as $20 million dollars from a Saudi sheik in exchange for dropping rape charges against his son, Thamer Albalwi, 23. Ors, a German national in her early 30s, was working for Albalwi as a personal assistant when she accused him of rape in March. She claimed that Albalwi had held her captive in a condominium in Los Angeles and had raped her, beat her, and burned her with a cigarette. Albalwi was arrested and released on $3 million dollars bail.

Albalwi's family in Saudi Arabia hired an attorney to defend him, and the attorney found evidence showing that Ors's claims were false. Additionally, Ors's attorneys Joe Cavallo and Hudsonboth allegedly contacted Albalwi's family in Saudi Arabia and promised that in exchange for $15 million (and later $20 million) Ors would not testify and the matter would be resolved.

Continue reading "Two Orange County Attorneys and a German woman charged with White Collar Crime against Saudi sheik's son in Los Angeles" »

July 11, 2014

California Supreme Court issues important ruling on state's three strikes law

San Francisco, CA -- Just like the United States Supreme Court is the final arbiter on issues of federal and constitutional law throughout the country, each state has its own supreme court that passes judgment on state statutes. The California Supreme Court is located in San Francisco and on Thursday issued a ruling that will have a major impact on sentencing in felony cases statewide.

Ever since voters passed the so-called "three-strikes" law in 1994, criminal defendants with multiple felony convictions have faced harsher penalties, up to and including life in prison for their third conviction on felony charges. On paper it seems simple enough, but in practice it often means that defendants with a criminal record can receive a life sentence for a comparatively minor offense like robbery.

That was the case with Darlene Vargas, who was convicted to serve 25 years to life in prison after she was convicted of a home burglary. Vargas had two previous convictions for robbery and carjacking which both resulted from a single incident in 1999. On Thursday, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously to overturn the sentence and ruled that multiple felony convictions stemming from a single act can only count as one strike under the law.

Continue reading "California Supreme Court issues important ruling on state's three strikes law" »

July 9, 2014

Woman arrested on suspicion of murder, prostitution after man ODs on yacht near Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, CA -- Murder is usually not so sensational a crime as fiction makes it out to be. In mystery novels and television dramas, murders are sometimes a baroque affair, planned out in advance and carried out to exacting standards. The truth is often less titillating. Homicides happen all the time, and for all kinds of reasons, and sometimes for no reason at all. But sometimes the details of a suspected murder are so sensational it can't help but make an impression in the news.

Authorities in Santa Cruz have arrested a woman on suspicion of murdering Forrest Timothy Hayes, 51, who had previously worked at Google, Sun Microsystems, and Apple. Hayes was found dead of an apparent heroin overdose in November of last year. Alix Katherine Tichleman, 26, was booked on suspicion of murder, prostitution, destruction of evidence, and providing narcotics, but so far charges have not been filed in court.

Police say that Hayes had met Tichleman, who resides in Folsom, on a website called Seeking Arrangements which helps its clientele find "sugar babies." On the night of Hayes' death, he and Tichleman were seen boarding his yacht. According to police, video from the yacht's security system shows Tichleman preparing heroin for Hayes and injecting him with it, then doing nothing as he suffers an adverse reaction to the drug, lapsing into unconsciousness. She then reportedly collected her things and left without calling 911 or alerting anyone to the emergency.

Continue reading "Woman arrested on suspicion of murder, prostitution after man ODs on yacht near Santa Cruz" »

July 7, 2014

Doctor sentenced to 41 months for possessing child pornography in Orange County

Santa Ana, CA -- The internet grants people a certain degree of anonymity. Most people simply use this as license to be rude to each other in comment threads and discussion forums. However, someone people, believing their online actions to be invisible or untraceable use the internet to commit crimes. Among the largest categories of online crime are fraud and child pornography.

Robert Harold Dolin, 55, was sentenced to 41 months in prison on June 30 after pleading guilty to one count of possessing child pornography, a felony. The sentence was handed down by US District Judge James V. Seina, who noted in his sentence that possession and production of child pornography is "a real crime with real victims. It is serious and must be deterred." Dolin was arrested in a probe by the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) arm of Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE) working with the Orange County Child Exploitation Task Force and Kaiser Permanente, Dolin's former employer.

!n 2008, Kaiser Permanente brought Dolin to the attention of HSI, after their own internal monitoring showed that Dolin's work computer had visited child exploitation websites. Agents obtained and search warrant and ultimately found that Dolin had used his work computer to download over 1,000 images of child pornography, often involving abuse of prepubescent children or even infants and toddlers.

Continue reading "Doctor sentenced to 41 months for possessing child pornography in Orange County" »

July 5, 2014

Parents accused of Child Endangerment and false imprisoment for keeping 11-year-old boy in cage in Anaheim

Anaheim, CA -- Sometimes the first reaction to a news story about a shocking crime is anger. Even when a report doesn't involve anyone we know personally, we feel outrage that anyone could do something so awful. However, it is important to remember a few basic facts. First, our legal system considers everyone who has been charged with a crime to be innocent until they are proven guilty. We want to be so certain of the outcomes at trial that we give the accused an advantage out of the box. The other thing that is important to remember is that an initial report about a suspected crime is generally built up on official statements and matters of public record. The accused generally does not share their side of the story until they have hired an attorney or until the case goes to trial.

Loi Vu, 40, and Tracy Trang Le, 35, were arrested on Tuesday evening on suspicion of felony child endangerment and false imprisonment. Child Protective Services enlisted the help of the Anaheim Police Department after receiving reports that the couple had been keeping their autistic son in a large dog cage. Officers on the scene did find a cage with a mattress inside their home.

The boy, who is 11, is unable to communicate and, according to a department statement, occasionally had violent outbursts. The parents allegedly put the boy in the cage to control him. However, the boy and his siblings, who have been placed in protective custody, appeared to be well cared for and otherwise healthy. The investigation is still ongoing.

Continue reading "Parents accused of Child Endangerment and false imprisoment for keeping 11-year-old boy in cage in Anaheim" »

July 3, 2014

State Assembly debates bill aimed at alleged illegal gambling operations

Sacramento, CA -- Sometimes in a criminal case the prosecution and defense do not dispute the facts of the case and instead are in disagreement as to whether the defendant's actions were actually a violation of the law. An example of this would be when the defendant claims self-defense in a homicide case. While they do not dispute that defendant did indeed take a life, the defense will argue that their client was acting to preserve his or her own life against an attacker. A similar situation is coming to pass as law enforcement agencies raid so called 'sweepstakes cafes," throughout the state, accusing their owners of operating illegal gambling houses.

Silk and Stars, an internet sweepstakes cafe in a strip mall in Sacramento County, allows people to play video games that simulate games of chance such as slot machines. However, local law enforcement agencies have twice attempted to close down Silk and Stars this year, saying that the cafe's machines run afoul of state gambling regulations and that businesses like it can attract an unpleasant element, leading to increased crime and drug use.

One California lawmaker has introduced an bill in the assembly to ban businesses from using video monitors that simulate casino games and allow the state attorney general as well as district and city attorneys to sue these business in civil court. At issue is the fact that although the video games have predetermined results they appear to be randomized, like a slot machine. The state argues that the machines are deceptive, but business owners argue that they allow for customers to have the experience of playing casino games with less travel and expense.

Continue reading "State Assembly debates bill aimed at alleged illegal gambling operations" »

July 1, 2014

Jurors find 6 LA County sheriff's deputies guilty of White Collar Crime

Los Angeles, CA -- One of the great concerns of our time is how best to constrain police power. While we want law enforcement to have all the tools they need to effectively fight crime, we struggle with how best to ensure that they do not overstep their boundaries and invade people's privacy or misuse their power for their own gain. Issues of police corruption and oversight played an important part in the trial of six current and former officers with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

On Tuesday, jurors issued a guilty verdict against Lts. Stephen Leavins, 52, and Gregory Thompson, 54; Sgts. Scott Craig, 50, and Maricela Long, 46; and Deputies Gerard Smith, 42, and Mickey Manzo, 34. The six defendants were charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice after allegedly attempting to keep an FBI informant inside LA County's jail system away from agents conducting an investigation into allegations of inmate abuse. Two of the defendants were also accused of attempting to intimidate the lead agent on the case into dropping the investigation.

The sheriff's department first became aware of the investigation when they discovered that one of the inmates had a cell phone that had been provided by the FBI. According to prosecutors deputies then began to move the inmate around the jail system, often under false names, in an effort to keep him isolated from his handlers. The trial of a seventh deputy ended with a hung jury, and another deputy plead guilty to accepting a bribe in exchange for allowing the inmate to have a cell phone.

Continue reading "Jurors find 6 LA County sheriff's deputies guilty of White Collar Crime" »

June 26, 2014

Hundreds of accused sexual predators arrested throughout Southern California

Los Angeles, CA -- Just like any other public or private endeavor, law enforcement agencies and district attorneys' offices have to set priorities regarding the targets of their investigations. If one type of crime is particularly endemic to a region or if it is particularly heinous, it would make sense for it to receive more attention than others. So it isn't usual to hear reports of large scale operations resulting in dozens or even hundreds of arrests on similar charges.

Echoing a recent FBI push to fight child sex trafficking, law enforcement agencies from across Southern California held a press conference in LA's Exposition park to announce that more than 275 suspects had been arrested in "Operation Brokenheart" in May. Operation Brokenheart targeted online sexual predators seeking meetings with underage children using stings and other tactics.

Among those arrested were a teaching assistant for special needs children, a retired LA County sheriff's deputy, a computer programmer, and an attorney. But the operation wasn't solely aimed at arresting suspected child predators, a large part of it was also focused on teaching parents how to better keep their children safe in a world of rapid evolving communications technology. One parent told the story of how his 11-year-old son was receiving troubling text messages from an adult he met while playing video games online. Agencies from Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties took part in the operation.

Continue reading "Hundreds of accused sexual predators arrested throughout Southern California" »

June 24, 2014

Former LA Councilman on Tial for Perjury

Los Angeles, CA -- People tell lies all the time. Many are harmless and sometimes even serve to spare someone's feelings, but if someone is found to be lying as part of a business transaction or on the official record it can lead to criminal charges being filed. A lie told as part of a business deal is generally treated as fraud, while lying on government documents or in court statements is considered perjury.

A witness at the perjury trial for former LA City Councilmember Ron Alarcon testified that he had told her that he did not live in his district at the time of his election. Alarcon and his wife Flora Montes De Oca Alarcon are on trial for 22 counts of perjury and voter fraud relating to campaign, voter registration, and DMV forms that they filed between 2006 and 2009 for allegedly falsely claiming to live in the district that Alarcon was elected to represent in 2007.

On Tuesday, Carolyn Jackson, who retired from the city's Department of Transportation in 2010, testified that at a meeting with Alarcon in 2007 he told her, "You know, I wasn't even living in the district when I was elected. I am now, of course." Prosecutors have claimed that at the time of his election Alarcon and his wife were living in Sun Valley, outside of the City Council's 7th District. The Alarcon's have maintained that while they were not living at their home in Panorama City, which is in the district, at the time of his election, that they had always maintained it as their permanent legal residence. Their attorneys attempted to cast doubt on Jackson's testimony by asking her about other topics of conversation in her meeting with Alarcon and pointing out inconsistencies in her testimony before the grand jury and her testimony at trial.

Continue reading "Former LA Councilman on Tial for Perjury" »

June 22, 2014

Trial of LA serial killer enters sentencing phase

Los Angeles, CA -- The jury at a criminal trial is meant to apply the law in a dispassionate manner. However, emotions often run high and both prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys will appeal to jurors' feelings, particularly in the sentencing phase of a trial.

The trial of Chester Dewayne Turner, 47, entered the penalty phase on Friday after he was convicted of murdering four women on Thursday. The jury must decide whether Turner, who has already been sentenced to death on a conviction for the murders of ten women, will receive another death sentence or a lifetime in prison without parole.

Turner was first sentenced to death in 2007 for murders committed between 1987 and 1998 while he was working as a pizza delivery man. Several of his victims were also raped and one was pregnant. In 2011 Turner was charged with four additional murders after DNA evidence linked him to one of the victims. Just like Turner's previous victims, these women had been strangled to death.

Continue reading "Trial of LA serial killer enters sentencing phase" »

June 20, 2014

Property owner in Sylmar faces criminal charges after fire kills family of four

Sylmar, CA -- Landlords have certain obligations to meet when it comes to maintaining residences in a manner consistent with safety codes and zoning requirements. In most cases failure to meet these obligations leads to civil litigation or fines from the city or county, but if a landlord's negligence is found to lead to injury or death, criminal charges may be filed.

In January, a family of four was killed in a house fire in Sylmar. The family had been living in a converted barn that allegedly lacked smoke detectors. This week the owner of the property, Leonarda Duenez Aguilar, was charged with six misdemeanor offenses related to code violations in the structure. The charges include failure to install smoke detectors, illegal use of land, illegal construction, lack of electrical permits, lack of plumbing permits, and failure to comply with orders from the Department of Building and Safety. If convicted, Aguilar could be sentenced to up to six months in jail and fined up to $1,000 for each charge.

According to the city, although Aguilar did receive permission to convert the barn on the lot in Sylmar into a residence, the permits did not allow for the installation of a kitchen or for the structure to be used as permanent housing for more than 30 days. Fire department officials say that there was a kitchen in the building. The property had previously been found to be in violation in 2008 when it was discovered that a warehouse like building had been constructed there without a permit. An attorney for Aguilar has said that his client had always had smoke detectors installed on the premises and that she had not undertaken any construction or improvement on the property since it had been purchased.

Continue reading "Property owner in Sylmar faces criminal charges after fire kills family of four" »

June 17, 2014

Federal indictment targets South LA gang

South Los Angeles, CA -- Criminal investigations portrayed on television police procedurals or legal dramas are generally pretty straightforward. One defendant facing one criminal charge. However, it is not at all unusual for an investigation or trial to feature multiple suspects or defendants being charged with multiple felony or misdemeanor counts, particularly in cases involving organized crime.

On Tuesday, a 212 page racketeering indictment against alleged members of South LA's Five Deuce Broadway Gangster Crips gang, and the "Gremlin Riderz" sub-group within the gang, was unsealed in federal court. The indictment describes a massive criminal enterprise comprising bank robbery, drug trafficking, and murders dating back to 1987. 72 alleged gang members are listed in the indictment and of those about fifty have been arrested by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in Southern California and other parts of the country.

The gang is said to operate in the area around the intersection of 52nd Street and Broadway in South LA. According to prosecutors, they set up a communications network to warn each other when police were in the area and severely disciplined members who talked to police or were named in police documents. The gang allegedly sells drugs in Skid Row, and as far away as Minnesota and Louisiana. The indictment also accuses them of carrying out drug deals near schools and playgrounds and singles them out as planning and committing four murders since 1987.

Continue reading "Federal indictment targets South LA gang" »

June 15, 2014

Fresno man murdered after juror confusion led to his release from jail

Fresno, CA -- The internet is full of stories about strange goings-on in courtrooms across the world, but they often take the form of bizarre behavior on the witness stand or unusual sentences. On Wednesday a man was released from jail, after a jury mistakenly filled out the wrong form during their deliberations.

Bobby Lee Pearson, 37, described by police as a career criminal with history of 11 prior convictions, was found not guilty of burglary on Wednesday, at least according to the forms that they jury had filled out. However, during a recess one of the jurors approached the judge and told him that the jury had actually been split 8-4 in favor of finding Pearson guilty and that they had been confused because there was no form to say that they were deadlocked. However, the judge had no choice but to release Pearson, who had been in jail for 13 months.

Pearson was released at 11:57 pm on Wednesday, and within an hour he was found with multiple stab wounds. He was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead by 1:25 am. Police arrested Willie Gray, 35, the boyfriend of Pearson's sister, on suspicion of murder around 5 am on Thursday.

Continue reading "Fresno man murdered after juror confusion led to his release from jail" »

June 12, 2014

Prison sentences issued in Diamond Bar bank robbery case

Los Angeles, CA -- In a criminal case, prosecutors will generally limit charges to what they believe they can prove to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Though they may believe that the defendant has broken other laws or has committed more crimes, they know that without conclusive evidence a skilled criminal defense attorney will be able to refute their arguments and obtain a not guilty verdict. Which is why sometimes, although a case might be built on evidence collected from multiple crime scenes, the defendants may end up facing relatively few charges.

On Monday, Alceu Johnny Andreis, 46, Lucian Gabriel Isaia, 33, and Laurentiu Penescu, 39, were sentenced after pleading guilty to conspiracy and attempted bank burglary charges. They were arrested leaving a Citibank branch in Diamond Bar after cutting a hole in the roof so that they could later break in and access the vault. Isaia and Penescu were each sentenced to 37 months in prison while Andreis received a longer 51 month term, because of using his previous knowledge of rooftop break-ins. Two other men have pleaded guilty to separate charges in the case, Dean Muniz, 47, who was sentenced to ten years in prison for bank burglary, and Daniel Soto who awaits a sentencing hearing in September.

Authorities believe that the group was responsible for several other break-ins and bank burglaries, but Andreis, Isaia, and Penescu were only charged for the Diamond Bar incident in 2013. The sheriff's department had tracked the robberies for several months and finally had a break in the case when DNA on a walkie-talkie battery cover left behind on the scene matched up to Muniz. The five men were arrested after a stakeout spotted them leaving the Diamond Bar Citibank branch.

Continue reading "Prison sentences issued in Diamond Bar bank robbery case" »