Suspected Southern California drug traffickers charged, arrested in operations targeting ‘darknet’ sales

LOS ANGELES — Federal officials announced a crackdown Tuesday on an alleged Los Angeles-based drug trafficking ring that they said distributed methamphetamine and other narcotics to thousands of customers in at least 35 states and numerous countries around the world via hidden darknet websites.

Prosecutors said the organization used online names such as “Stealthgod” to sell meth and MDMA — known as ecstasy or molly — on multiple darknet marketplaces. Investigators alleged the crew has been linked to more than 18,000 illicit drug sales to buyers throughout the globe.

An alleged meth trafficker who was a key supplier to the organization is being sought after being charged last week in Los Angeles federal court. Earlier this year, five other alleged members of the narcotics ring were arrested on federal charges, and authorities made substantial seizures of narcotics and cryptocurrency during the probe, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“These online black market websites use a variety of technologies, including the Tor network and other encryption technologies, to ensure that communications and transactions are shielded from interception and monitoring,” according to court documents filed last week in Los Angeles. “A famous dark web marketplace, Wall Street Market, operated similar to legitimate commercial websites such as Amazon and eBay, but offered illicit goods and services in exchange for virtual currencies, such as bitcoin.”

During an operation earlier this year, members of Los Angeles Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement — JCODE — executed search warrants that led to the seizure of more than 60 parcels containing narcotics that were ready to be shipped across the country, prosecutors said.

Andres Bermudez of Palmdale, 37, who allegedly was the key supplier of meth to the crew, is currently a fugitive being sought by federal authorities, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

During takedowns in Los Angeles in February, members of JCODE arrested five defendants allegedly at the center of the “Stealthgod” organization and seized about 120 pounds of meth, seven kilograms of ecstasy, and five firearms.

The five defendants arrested on federal charges are:

–Teresa McGrath, 34, of Sunland-Tujunga, who allegedly delivered dozens of narcotics-laden packages to a post office in Sunland;–Rane Melkom, 35, of Sunland-Tujunga, who shared a residence with McGrath where authorities allegedly seized more than 50 pounds of meth, nearly 15 pounds of ecstasy, about 30,000 Adderall pills, cash, and three loaded handguns;–Mark Chavez, 41, of downtown Los Angeles, whose bedroom allegedly yielded nearly 40 pounds of methamphetamine and two handguns during a search in February;–Matthew Ick, 51, of downtown Los Angeles, who is linked in court papers to a narcotics shipment to the organization; and–Thomas Olayvar, 43, of downtown Los Angeles, who allegedly was involved in the shipment of narcotics through the United States Postal Service.

McGrath has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and MDMA, possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, and cryptocurrency money laundering, admitting that over the course of about six months she received $161,916 in bitcoin and helped disburse this money to her co-conspirators, prosecutors said.

Chavez has pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute meth and ecstasy, as well as possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.

McGrath and Chavez are scheduled to be sentenced next year, when each will face up to 15 years in federal prison.

Melkom, Ick, and Olayvar face various narcotics charges and are scheduled to go on trial next year in downtown Los Angeles.

In addition to the Stealthgod cases, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles have filed cases against other alleged darknet narcotics traffickers and those who help them convert bitcoin into gold or similar currencies. For example:

Kais Mohammad, 36, of Yorba Linda, was scheduled to plead guilty Thursday to federal charges stemming from the operation of 17 bitcoin kiosks across Southern California. In his plea agreement, Mohammad admitted that he knew that at least one of his clients was engaged in illicit activity on the dark web.

Earlier this year, three people linked to the online moniker “Aeirla” were sentenced to federal prison for conspiring to distribute meth and cocaine to customers who negotiated transactions on the darkweb. Those defendants are:

–Anh Pham, 49, of Hawaiian Gardens, who was sentenced to 80 months in federal prison;–Joseph Michael Gifford, 43, of La Crescenta, who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment; and–Carlos Miguel Gallardo, 60, of Hawaiian Gardens, who was sentenced to serve 18 months in federal prison.

Pham sold pound quantities of meth on the darknet, while Gifford and Gallardo packaged them in toys — a beach ball, and boxes of Christmas cards and chocolates — and shipped them to customers nationwide.

Five defendants are scheduled to be tried in October 2021 in Los Angeles on various narcotics trafficking charges that allege they used the monikers “Drugpharmacist” and “RickandMortyShop” to sell cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and crack cocaine on Wall Street Market and another darknet marketplace called Dream.

Members of the conspiracy allegedly shipped narcotics in small vials concealed inside stuffed animals. The defendants scheduled to go on trial are: Jerrell Eugene Anderson, 30, of Inglewood; Christopher Canion Van Holton, 33, of Valencia; Adan Sepulveda, 28, of Lancaster; Kenneth Lashawn Hadley, 33, of Lancaster; and Jackie Walter Burns, 22, of Lancaster.

Anderson and Sepulveda face a charge of distribution of heroin resulting in death in relation to a shipment of heroin to a customer in Knoxville, Tennessee, who suffered a fatal overdose.

Kunal Kalra, 26, of Westwood, was sentenced in March to 18 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to federal narcotics and anti-money laundering charges related to his unlicensed money transmitting business that he used to exchange virtual currency for cash for darknet vendors. Prosecutors said this was the first federal case in the nation charging an unlicensed money remitting business that used a bitcoin kiosk.

A father and his son who distributed meth on the darknet using monikers such “Quartersandup” and “Colsandersdream” were sentenced to federal prison last year. William Glarner III, 65, of Huntington Beach, was convicted at trial and sentenced to 15 years. His son, William Glarner IV, 35, of Irvine, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years.

Tyler Reeves, a 30-year-old Irvine man who sold narcotics on the now-defunct Wall Street Market darknet site, was sentenced last year to 10 years in federal prison.

“Through the outstanding efforts of the JCODE Task Force, we have been able to unmask those hiding on the darknet, bringing to justice a wide array of criminals, including those operating online marketplaces, laundering cryptocurrency, and spreading drugs around the world,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said. “My prosecutors and their JCODE partners will continue to rein in illegal dark web activities by disrupting other traffickers and those who help them access their illicit cryptocurrency.”

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3 family members from O.C. sentenced to jail for home loan modification scheme

SANTA ANA — A 43-year-old Yorba Linda man, his brother and the brother’s wife received jail terms Tuesday as part of their involvement in a $390,000 scheme involving loan modification companies that preyed on mostly Spanish-speaking victims throughout the state.

The ring leader, Carlos Jose Centeno, who pleaded guilty in January, was sentenced to a year in jail and placed on seven years of formal probation. He is scheduled to report to jail Oct. 30, according to court records.

Centeno’s brother, Ricardo Torres Centeno, 36, of Anaheim, who also pleaded guilty in January, was sentenced to 150 days in jail and placed on seven years probation. He is also scheduled to report to jail on Oct. 30.

Ricardo Centeno’s wife, Lizeth Garcia Arzate, 37, who also pleaded guilty in January was sentenced to 90 days in jail and placed on three years of formal probation. She is scheduled to report to jail by Feb. 12, according to court records.

Co-defendants Hector Alfredo Valdivia, 55, of Lake Elsinore, and Susie Rabadan, 36, of Anaheim, were scheduled for sentencing Sept. 9, according to court records.

About two dozen victims were bilked out of fees for helping them to renegotiate their home loans, Orange County District Attorney’s Office prosecutors said when charges were filed in January 2015.

Carlos Centeno was the ringleader, prosecutors said. He owned Foreclosure Prevention Department in Irvine and was an executive for Orange County-based Debt Settlers of America.

It is illegal to charge upfront fees for loan modification services, prosecutors said.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department led the investigation, prosecutors said.

Valdivia and Rabadan were considered lesser players in the scams from the end of 2009 through 2012, prosecutors said.

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2 O.C. men sentenced to prison for scamming distressed homeowners during ’08 recession

SANTA ANA — Two Orange County men were sentenced Wednesday to five and 12 years in prison for their roles in a Santa Ana-based home loan modification scheme during the Great Recession in 2008.

Aminullah “David” Sarpas and Samuel Paul Bain started Santa Ana-based U.S. Homeowners Relief in late 2008 during the collapse of the housing industry that tipped the nation into a recession.

The company promised distressed homeowners relief on mortgage payments in exchange for advance fees ranging from $1,450 and $4,200, prosecutors said. The two falsely promised they had a 97% success rate lowering mortgage payments for clients, prosecutors said.

About 1,600 homeowners lost about $3.5 million in the scheme, prosecutors said. Many of the victims lost their homes.

Sarpas and Bain also co-owned Greenleaf Modify, Waypoint Law Group and American Lending Review.

Sarpas, 37, of Irvine, was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney. Sarpas was convicted in a trial of 10 counts of conspiracy and mail fraud in April 2019.

Bain, 40, of Tustin, was sentenced to five years in prison, but has already served that amount of time behind bars, said his attorney, Kate Corrigan. Bain pleaded guilty in 2016 to conspiracy and mail fraud.

Bain “has changed his life quite a bit and Judge Carney recognized the changes,” Corrigan said.

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Man gets 9 years in prison for crashing car into La Mirada fitness center after cancellation of membership

NORWALK — A Whittier man who deliberately crashed a relative’s car into the front of a La Mirada fitness center that had canceled his membership was sentenced to nine years in state prison, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.

Sergio Gabriel Reyes, 34, was sentenced immediately after pleading no contest to one count of assault with a deadly weapon — an automobile — on Monday, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Reyes drove a relative’s vehicle to Crunch Fitness, in the 12800 block of Valley View Avenue, and crashed the car through the front window, nearly hitting an employee who was standing at the reception desk, on March 19, 2019.

Reyes fled the scene and was arrested soon afterward, according to Deputy District Attorney Robert Villa.

Reyes’ gym membership was terminated that month due to alleged inappropriate behavior, according to authorities.

He has remained behind bars since he was taken into custody, jail records show.

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Costa Mesa sex offender, kept on mental health hold for more than 20 years, may be released

A court order that has kept a former Costa Mesa man and registered sex offender inside a mental health hospital expired Saturday, signaling alarm from Orange County officials who have fought for decades to keep him detained.

It was not clear whether the man, identified by officials as Cary Smith, was released from Coalinga State Hospital on Saturday.

Department of State Hospitals officials were not immediately available for comment.

Orange County officials said they were unaware of Smith’s whereabouts on Saturday.

Smith had initially been placed in the state’s custody in 1999 after his then-wife turned over a letter to authorities that he wrote expressing his urge to kidnap and molest  a 7-year-old boy in his Costa Mesa neighborhood.

Every six months, Smith is allowed to argue for his freedom in court during a civil trial.

And during each trial, hospital and medical officials, along with Orange County counsel, have continued to seek the renewal of the hold, a pattern that has kept Smith locked up in mental institutions since the 1999 incident. But Deputy County Counsel Robert Ervais said this time, the state hospital did not send a petition to renew the “5300 hold” against Smith, allowing the hold to expire Saturday.

Ervais said Saturday said that over the past 20 years, Smith continued to meet the criteria of the 5300 statute, which states a person must be held if they have “demonstrated danger of inflicting substantial physical harm upon others,” due to a mental disorder.

“Mr. Smith, in the past, had stated, that if released from the hospital, he would re-offend,” Ervais said.

Ervais, who has been contesting Smith’s freedom for years, pointed to previous court hearings where psychologists have testified that Smith poses an imminent danger to society because he fantasizes about raping, killing and torturing children.

He declined to comment on the circumstances of Smith’s possible release, which Ervais said would be a violation of HIPPA.

Lynn Rinner, the mother of the 7-year-old boy who had been the subject of Smith’s 1999 letter, said she was surprised by news of Smith’s possible release. Though her son is now 28, Rinner said she is worried for other children who may come in contact with Smith.

In Smith’s defense, during a 2013 hearing, a court-appointed attorney argued that the former Costa Mesa man has reasons to keep from molesting young boys and should be released. The reasons included fear of being ostracized, regaining his family and being able to have some semblance of a normal life.

In another 2013 hearing, Smith said he believes that he is ready to be let out because he has learned to suppress his fantasies and plans to avoid children at all costs when free.

Court records show Smith registered as sex offender after he was convicted in 1983 of a child annoyance misdemeanor for trying to pay a young boy to run through a sprinkler naked.

The records show prosecutors leveled 20 counts of felony child sex crimes against Smith in October 2002, but they were dismissed by the court in July 2003. An additional 12 counts of child sex crimes were brought against Smith in September 2003, but were also dismissed that same month.

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Landlord and tenant plead guilty to sexually assaulting neighborhood girls in Laguna Hills

SANTA ANA — A Laguna Hills landlord pleaded guilty Monday to sexually assaulting two 7-year-old girls, and one of his tenants pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting another 7-year-old girl.

Tomas L. Fabian, 51, pleaded guilty to four felony counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a minor younger than 14, according to court records.

Cleto Angeles Trejo, 59, who rented a room in Fabian’s home, pleaded guilty to six felony counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a minor younger than 14, according to court records.

The victims lived in the neighborhood, according to authorities.

The two are scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 23.

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California’s alleged Golden State Killer set to plead guilty

By DON THOMPSON

SACRAMENTO — Forty years after a sadistic suburban rapist terrorized California in what investigators later realized were a series of linked assaults and slayings, a 74-year-old former police officer is expected to plead guilty Monday to being the elusive Golden State Killer.

The deal will spare Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. any chance of the death penalty for 13 murders and 13 kidnapping-related charges spanning six counties. In partial return, survivors of the assaults that spanned the 1970s and 1980s expect him to admit to up to 62 rapes that he could not be criminally charged with because too much time has passed.

Yet nothing is certain until he actually speaks in a Sacramento State University ballroom pressed into use as a courtroom to provide for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve been on pins and needles because I just don’t like that our lives are tied to him, again,” said Jennifer Carole, the daughter of Lyman Smith, a lawyer who was slain in 1980 at age 43 in Ventura County. His wife, 33-year-old Charlene Smith, was also raped and killed.

Investigators early on connected certain crimes to an armed and masked rapist who would break into sleeping couples’ suburban homes at night, binding the man and piling dishes on his back. He would threaten to kill both victims if he heard the plates fall while he raped the woman.

Gay and Bob Hardwick were among the survivors.

They are now looking forward to DeAngelo admitting to that 1978 assault. The death penalty was never realistic anyway, she said, given DeAngelo’s age and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s moratorium on executions.

“He certainly does deserve to die, in my view, so I am seeing that he is trading the death penalty for death in prison,” she said. “It will be good to put the thing to rest. I think he will never serve the sentence that we have served — we’ve served the sentence for 42 years.”

A guilty plea and life sentence avoids a trial or even the planned weeks-long preliminary hearing. The victims expect to confront him at his sentencing in August, where it’s expected to take several days to tell DeAngelo and Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman what they have suffered.


Newlyweds Keith and Patty Harrington were killed in August 1980. They are believed to be among the victims of the Golden State Killer. (Courtesy of the Harrington family)

Ron Harrington’s younger brother, Keith, was married to Patty Harrington for just three months when they were bludgeoned to death in their Orange County home in 1980 by a killer then known as the Original Night Stalker.

All four brothers were successful, but “Keith, the youngest of all of us, was the smartest,” he said. “It’s just such a loss. And every time this comes up I think of all the lives he would have saved as an emergency room doctor.”

Their father found the couple two days later.

“It was so gruesome,” Harrington said. ”My dad was never the same.”


Manuela Witthuhn, 28 was bound, raped and bludgeoned to death in 1981 in the bedroom of a single-story house in Irvine. She was alone. Her husband, David, was hospitalized at the time. DNA evidence led authorities to link the crime to the East Area Rapist, now known as the Golden State Killer. (File photo)

 


Janelle Cruz, killed in 1986, is believed to have been a victim of the Golden State Killer. (File photo)

 

The killer racked up a series of monikers for his crimes over the decades.

Visalia Ransacker.

East Area Rapist.

Original Night Stalker.

Diamond Knot Killer.

But it wasn’t until years later that investigators connected a series of assaults in central and Northern California to later slayings in Southern California and settled on the umbrella Golden State Killer nickname for the mysterious assailant whose crimes spanned 11 counties from 1974 through mid-1986.

The mystery sparked worldwide interest, a best-selling book and a six-part HBO documentary, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” that premiered Sunday.

It was only the pioneering use of new DNA techniques that two years ago led investigators to DeAngelo, who was fired from the Auburn Police Department northeast of Sacramento in 1979 after he was caught shoplifting dog repellent and a hammer. He previously had worked as a police officer in the Central Valley town of Exeter from 1973 to 1976, near where the Visalia Ransacker struck more than 100 homes south of Fresno.

Investigators painstakingly built a family tree by linking decades-old crime scene DNA to a distant relative through a popular online DNA database. They eventually narrowed in on DeAngelo with a process that has since been used in other cases nationwide, but said they confirmed the link only after surreptitiously collecting his DNA from his car door and a discarded tissue.

His defense attorneys have publicly lobbied since then for a deal that would spare him the death penalty, though they did not respond to repeated requests for comment before Monday’s hearing.

Prosecutors who had sought the death penalty cited the massively complicated case and the advancing age of many of the victims and witnesses in agreeing to consider the plea bargain.

“Death doesn’t solve anything. But him having to sit though a trial or preliminary hearing, that would have helped,” said Carole, who said neither she nor her slain father believed in capital punishment.

She was so committed to seeing the case through that she temporarily moved from Santa Cruz to her adult daughter’s Sacramento home, where she has slept on an air mattress in a spare bedroom. She has told the story of her father’s death and her own recent experiences through podcasts called The Lawyer’s Daughter.

But she said it “absolutely” makes sense for prosecutors to agree to a life sentence without parole, both to spare older victims and witnesses who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus from having to appear in court, and to save taxpayers the $20 million projected cost of a trial.

Harrington supports the death penalty, but also agreed with prosecutors’ decision “just to give some degree of closure.”

“This will be a relief for all of us, to move on with our lives,” said Hardwick. “We’ve dealt with the effects of the attack for 42 years.”

***

These are the charges faced by DeAngelo. The charges linked to rapes were filed as kidnappings to commit robberies because the statute of limitations for sexual assaults has expired.

Contra Costa County:Four counts of kidnapping to commit robbery using a gun and knife between Oct. 7, 1978, and June 11, 1979, with the victims identified as Jane Does numbers 10-13.

Orange County:Four counts of murder in the Aug. 21, 1980, slaying of Keith Harrington, 24, and rape and slaying of Patrice Harrington, 27, of Dana Point; the Feb. 6, 1981, rape and slaying of Manuela Witthuhn, 28, of Irvine; and the May 5, 1986, rape and slaying of Janelle Cruz, 18, of Irvine.

Sacramento County:Two counts of murder in the Feb. 2, 1978, shootings of Kate Maggoire, 20, and Brian Maggoire, 21, as they walked their dog in their Rancho Cordova neighborhood.

Nine counts of kidnapping to commit robbery using a gun and knife between Sept. 4, 1976, and Oct. 21, 1977, with the victims identified as Jane Does numbers 1-9.

Santa Barbara County:Four counts of murder in the Dec. 30, 1979, rape and slaying of Debra Manning, 35, and slaying of Robert Offerman, 44, of Goleta, and in the July 27, 1981, slaying of Gregory Sanchez, 27, and Cheri Domingo, 35, of Goleta.

Tulare County:One count of murder in the Sept. 11, 1975, slaying of Claude Snelling, 45, during an attempted kidnapping of the victim’s daughter from their home.

Ventura County:Two counts of murder in the rape and slaying of Charlene Smith, 33, and slaying of Lyman Smith, 43, of Ventura between March 13 and March 16, 1980.

Source for charges: Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office.

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2 accused of possessing child pornography in Orange County

A 28-year-old man was arrested Tuesday in Santa Ana on suspicion of possessing “thousands” of child sexual abuse images and videos.


Jaime Castillo (Santa Ana Police Department)

An investigator with the Santa Ana Police Department began investigating Jaime Castillo in March for allegedly trading child erotica and child sexual abuse materials, commonly known as child pornography, according to the department.

Over the two-month investigation, involving nine search warrants, thousands of images and videos of child sexual abuse were found to be stored by Castillo, and he allegedly sent more than 75 images and videos depicting the sexual abuse of “young children,” the Santa Ana Police Department said.

Police tracked the IP address to a home in Santa Ana, and on Tuesday morning they executed a search warrant at the home, which “reaffirmed the suspicion that Castillo was storing the sexually explicit files in several data storage devices located in his home,” according to the Santa Ana Police Department.

Castillo was arrested and the devices were seized, police said.

Also, a 38-year-old man twice convicted of possession of child pornography was charged Monday with the same offense in Anaheim.

Santos Chris Hernandez pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in the jail courtroom in Santa Ana to bringing obscene matter into California and possession and control of child pornography with a prior conviction, both felonies, according to court records.

Hernandez’s probation officer discovered child pornography on Hernandez’s cellphone and reported it to Anaheim police on June 16, according to Anaheim police Sgt. Shane Carringer.

Hernandez is accused of possession more than 600 images, including 10 or more images involving a child younger than 12, according to the criminal complaint.

Hernandez pleaded guilty to possession and control of child pornography and carrying a dirk or dagger, both misdemeanors, in January 2013.

Hernandez also pleaded guilty to possession or control of child pornography with a prior conviction, sale or distribution of obscene matter of children and distribution of pornography to a minor with the intent to engage in sexual conduct in March 2018 and sentenced to two years in prison.

Hernandez was ordered to return to court July 7 for a pretrial hearing in the North Justice Center in Fullerton.

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Anaheim man, formerly a Long Beach physician assistant, gets 18 months for illegal distribution of narcotics

LOS ANGELES — A former Long Beach physician assistant was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months behind bars and a year of home confinement for diverting dangerous narcotics to the black market.

Gabriel Hernandez, 59, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Christine Snyder to pay a $13,000 fine, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Hernandez, who worked at a Long Beach pain management clinic known as Vortex Wellness & Aesthetics, pleaded guilty last year to a federal charge of distributing oxycodone without a legitimate medical purpose.

The Anaheim man was arrested in February 2019 as part of an investigation codenamed Hypocritical Oath, a yearlong U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-led probe targeting doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and clinic operators suspected of illegally providing controlled substances to so-called patients and black market customers in violation of their oaths to do no harm.

Over a two-year period that ended in November 2018, Hernandez prescribed nearly 6,000 controlled substances — more than half of which were for maximum-strength oxycodone, which means he was responsible for 446,000 oxycodone pills being dispensed.

Hernandez often wrote prescriptions for drug cocktails known on the street as the holy trinity — a narcotic, tranquilizer and/or muscle relaxant — which are sought by drug addicts and are particularly dangerous because of the threat of fatal overdose.

In 2017, according to records maintained by the state of California, Hernandez wrote a prescription for the three drugs to a 41-year-old man who died a week later from the combined effects of alcohol and two of the prescribed drugs, the criminal complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court states.

A San Diego pharmacist contacted investigators in late 2018 about suspicious and identical prescriptions Hernandez wrote to three people who appeared to be living in the same house more than a hundred miles away from the Vortex clinic.

A medical expert who reviewed data on Hernandez’s prescription history and tapes of two office visits by a law enforcement source concluded that Hernandez’s actions were “much closer to that of an illegal drug dealer than that of a physician, and the patient visits are a sham,” court papers show.

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ACLU sues Los Angeles, LA County and San Bernardino to stop curfews

LOS ANGELES — Calling the curfews imposed throughout Southern California “draconian,” the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and individual journalists, protesters and others against Los Angeles, Los Angeles County and the city of San Bernardino.

The ACLU claims in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Los Angeles that the curfews are a violation of the First Amendment because they suppress all political protest in the evening hours and restricting movement outside of working hours is a violation of the Constitution’s protection of freedom of movement.

“The city and county of Los Angeles are attempting to use these curfews to suppress Black Lives Matter-L.A.’s right to protest,” Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of BLM-L.A., said.

“They are attempting to suppress our ability to fully mobilize and focus full attention on the true issue of concern in the protests — police violence against black people.”

Enforcement of an L.A. curfew was seen Wednesday night in Grand Park, across the street from Los Angeles City Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

About 11:20 p.m., @LASDHQ deputies began arresting members of the group, several at a time, and walked them over into the theee Sheriff’s Department busses parked in front of City Hall. pic.twitter.com/O9730zGW9L

— Jonah Valdez (@Jonahmv) June 4, 2020

A small group of about 120 people had remained after a crowd of about 4,000 protesters gradually thinned out after the city’s 9 p.m. curfew had gone into effect.

The small group staged a sit-in at the park in protest of the curfew, arguing that they were only there to exercise their First Amendment rights and should not be subject to arrest.

By about 11:20 p.m., Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies closed in on the sitting group at Grand Park, which is owned by the county.

The group chanted, “Peaceful protest” with hands raised, as the deputies arrested the group, several at a time.

The ACLU lawsuit claims the curfews also prohibit journalists from being able to fully report their stories from the scenes of the protests.

“These unconstitutional curfews have suppressed a huge amount of important political protest activity and disrupted the lives of over 10 million people,” Ahilan Arulanantham, senior counsel of the ACLU SoCal, said. “The curfews must end now.”

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has said curfews in the county will remain in effect until the protests end.

 

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