Man gets 5 years in prison for hit-and-run that killed bicyclist in Aliso Viejo

SANTA ANA — A 39-year-old Lake Forest man has been sentenced to five years in prison for a hit-and-run collision in Aliso Viejo that killed a bicyclist.

Rogelio Martinez-Cuin on Dec. 2 admitted one count each of gross vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run with permanent and serious injury, both felonies, as well as a misdemeanor count of driving on a suspended or revoked license due to a DUI, according to court records. He was sentenced Thursday.

Martinez-Cuin ran a red light, was inattentive and driving at an unsafe speed, according to the criminal complaint.

Michael David Tomlinson of Aliso Viejo, 51, was riding on Westridge Drive, crossing Woods Canyon Drive, when he was struck by a Volvo about 6:40 a.m. Jan. 30, 2019, according to Carrie Braun of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. The driver kept going, but witnesses gave deputies a vehicle description, she said.

The vehicle was found about a mile away, and deputies arrested Martinez-Cuin a short distance from the Volvo, Braun said.

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Anaheim shooting leaves man critically injured, suspect charged

SANTA ANA  — A 25-year-old Anaheim man was charged Monday with shooting another man in the face, leaving the victim fighting for his life in a hospital.

Angel Avalos was charged with attempted murder and assault with a firearm, both felonies, with sentencing enhancement allegations for inflicting great bodily injury on the victim, the personal use of a firearm and attempted premeditated murder.

Police were called about 1 a.m. Friday to the 800 block of West Gramercy Avenue, where officers found the victim, who sustained a gunshot wound to the face, Anaheim Police Department Sgt. Shane Carringer said.

Avalos barricaded himself nearby in an apartment for about four hours, Carringer said. The standoff ended when police gassed the apartment, prompting the suspect to jump out of a second-floor window and land on a car below, Carringer said.

A canine unit dog helped apprehend the suspect, Carringer said.

Avalos knew his alleged victim, but the motive for the shooting was not released, Carringer said.

The victim was hospitalized in critical condition Monday but was stable, Carringer said.

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2 insurance agents in Orange County arrested, accused of defrauding investors of more than $4 million

SANTA ANA — A 63-year-old Orange County insurance executive pleaded not guilty Monday to charges in an alleged multi-million dollar investment fraud while another co-defendant awaits arraignment this month.

Robert Andrew Lotter of Newport Beach denied 20 felony charges including making an untrue statement or omission in connection with the offer or sale of a security, use of a device and scheme or artifice to defraud with sentencing enhancement allegations of aggravated white collar crime, according to court records.

Co-defendant Charles Albert Major, 71, of Irvine, an insurance agent who worked for Lotter, was charged with 27 felonies including making an untrue statement or omission in connection with the purchase or sale of a security and burglary with sentencing enhancement allegations for aggravated white collar crime, according to court records.

The two, who were arrested Nov. 24, were being held without bail, according to jail records.

In court papers, state Department of Insurance investigator Braelyn Velasco said Lotter “fraudulently sold securities to 20 victims by means of omission, misrepresentation, and through the use of a device, scheme, or artifice, Lotter’s victims lost $4,087,811.04.”

From May 2003 to May 2018, Lotter “sold investments in his companies’ eAgency Inc. and Mymobilewatchdog Inc. by the use of misleading marketing materials and tactics that led victims to believe Lotter’s insurance agency was affiliated with the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, a state agency that provides retirement pension benefits to California public school educators,” according to Velasco.

Lotter created My Mobile Watchdog, a Newport Beach-based company that helps parents use the app to keep track of web activity on their children’s cellphone.

“Victims responded to the misleading materials with the believe they were requesting a retirement analysis from (the state retirement system),” Velasco alleged.

Accredited investors were then solicited to invest in the defendant’s companies, Velasco said.

Lotter “inappropriate used his agency to access customers’ private financial information to determine if the customer was accredited, in order to solicit the customers’ investments” in the defendants’ companies, Velasco alleged.

Lotter also dangled “unrealistic and inflated financial projects of his companies” to potential investors, Velasco alleged.

Lotter also “failed to properly disclose to all victims” that investments in his companies were “high risk,” Velasco alleged.

“At least 10 victims stated there were no such discussions of the risk involved, or that such discussions did not identify the investment as high-risk,” Velasco alleged. “Some victims were told there was no chance they would lose any of their investment.”

Velasco further alleged that Lotter and his “companies continued to lull victims throughout the years into believing eAgency Inc and/or Mymobilewatchdog Inc. was making significant progress and investors would see substantial returns soon. Nearly every victim stated they were told investors would see returns within one to two years. The same message was given to victims from the early 2000s until 2018.”

Major was scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 16 in the jail courtroom in Santa Ana.

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Costa Mesa driver gets 7 years in prison for fatal alcohol-related hit-and-run crash

SANTA ANA — A 51-year-old Costa Mesa man pleaded guilty Tuesday and was immediately sentenced to seven years in prison for a fatal hit-and-run collision in Costa Mesa nearly two years ago.

Bernardo Alvarez Zalpa admitted felony counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated without gross negligence, hit-and-run with permanent and serious injury, driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury and driving with a blood-alcohol level higher than .08% or more causing injury.

He also admitted sentencing enhancements for fleeing the scene of a vehicular manslaughter and inflicting great bodily injury on the victim.

Zalpa was driving the evening of Dec. 4, 2018, south in the fast lane of the 55 Freeway, just north of Del Mar Avenue, when his 2002 Honda Accord veered across the freeway and crashed into a 2017 Mini Cooper just after 6 p.m., according to the California Highway Patrol. The Honda then crashed into a 1997 Toyota 4Runner. The 4Runner overturned, ejecting 48-year-old Jose Olguin of Orange, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Accord veered back onto the freeway before the driver exited at Victoria Street, where Costa Mesa police detained him until CHP officers arrived.

The driver of the Mini Cooper, a 41-year-old San Clemente man, escaped injury.

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O.C. man gets six years in prison for altering debit cards to steal money from ATMs in Louisiana

SHREVEPORT, La. — A California man was sentenced Tuesday to six years in prison for using altered debit cards to steal money from ATMs in Louisiana, Acting U.S. Attorney Alexander C. Van Hook said in a news release.

Dennis Busch, 40, of of Costa Mesa, was sentenced in federal court in Shreveport, Van Hook’s release said.

Busch was ordered to pay more than $63,000 in restitution.

The release says Busch admitted in July that he altered and re-encoded Capital One debit cards and used them along with account holders’ personal identification numbers he had obtained. Prosecutors said the illegal withdrawals took place in 2018 and 2019.

“The investigation revealed that some of the account holders had previously responded to text messages that were part of a phishing scam, which compromised their banking information. Capital One reimbursed the account holders and ultimately sustained the loss,” the release said.

 

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L.A. man sent to prison for running a lottery fraud scheme targeting Latina grandmothers in Southern California

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles man was sentenced Monday to 33 months in federal prison for running what prosecutors called a “depraved and cruel” fraud scheme that targeted Latina grandmothers throughout the Southland in a scam involving fake winning lottery tickets.

Tito Lozada, a 50-year-old Colombian national and Los Angeles resident, was also found jointly responsible with his co-defendants for $190,422 in restitution to victims. Lozada pleaded guilty in February to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Prosecutors wrote that Lozada personally selected elderly women “with particular vulnerabilities” and exploited those weaknesses for his own personal gain.

Three additional defendants pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and were previously sentenced to prison terms ranging from 33 months to time already served.

Lozada and the others were initially charged in state court with trying to scam a 66-year-old Long Beach woman, but federal prosecutors who took the case said all four defendants were linked to over a dozen incidents since 2017 in which older women were targeted and robbed of cash and valuables in a scheme known as the “Latin Lotto Scam.”

The October 2019 federal criminal complaint referenced crimes across Southern California, including in the cities of Maywood, Long Beach, Baldwin Park, Hawaiian Gardens, Fontana, Lakewood, San Pedro, Garden Grove, Ontario, Santa Ana and Chula Vista.

The defendants approached Latina women who ranged in age from 65 to 85 years old while they were alone in public, and speaking Spanish, convinced them that they had a winning lottery ticket but needed help cashing it because they were undocumented. They would then ask the victim for money and promised they would pay her back, including some extra cash, upon cashing in the ticket.

To further con the victim, one of the co-conspirators would pretend to call a lottery official who was, in fact, a member of the plot and would falsely confirm that the fake ticket in question was a winning ticket that could be released only with a deposit or fee.

The defendants then would drive the victim to her home or bank so that she could get valuable items like jewelry or large sums of cash to pay the sham lottery ticket deposit. Once they had the victim’s money or jewelry in hand, the schemers would create a ruse to get the victim out of the car and flee, taking the valuables with them.

The fraud ring attempted to rip off at least four elderly women per day, and were out looking for potential victims for a minimum of four days per week, according to prosecutors, who called the scheme “depraved and cruel.”

In total, over the course of the nearly 2 1/2-year conspiracy, at least 16 victims were defrauded, causing losses of almost $200,000, federal prosecutors said.

“This was an organized group that singled out older women for the sole purpose of ripping off these vulnerable victims with bogus promises of a big payday,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said. “While law enforcement will do everything possible to bring criminals like this to justice, this case should serve as a reminder to potential victims and their family members that no one should ever pay an upfront fee in relation to any prize, sweepstakes or lottery.”

Co-defendants Maria Luisa Henao, 44, a dual citizen of Colombia and the United States, Mercedes Montanez, 76, and Luisa Camargo, 40, pleaded guilty and received prison sentences of 33 months, 27 months and time served, respectively. Montanez and Camargo are Colombian nationals who were living in Los Angeles at the time of their arrest.

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O.C. man gets 46 months in prison for $3 million investment scam

SANTA ANA — An Orange County man was sentenced Monday to 46 months in federal prison for running a program that purported to offer short-term loans, but was nothing more than an investment scam that caused more than $3 million in losses to victims.

J. Michael Clancy, 58, of Rancho Santa Margarita, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who also ordered him to pay $3,003,084 in restitution. Clancy pleaded guilty in March 2019 to a single-count information charging him with wire fraud, according to the U.S, Attorney’s Office.

From July 2014 until July 2016, Clancy operated Multiplied Equities and Quantum Capital California LP, both located in Lake Forest, which he claimed offered short-term loans secured by real estate, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Clancy sold partnership interests to investors, telling them their funds would be used to make short-term loans. He further promised to sell the loans to outside investors, which would earn profits for his victims and free up funds to make additional short-term loans, prosecutors said.

Instead of using his victims’ funds as promised, Clancy used the money to operate a house-flipping scheme, purchase a personal residence in Silverado Canyon, pay family members, and make “interest” payments to earlier investors in the scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In total, 11 victims lost $3,003,084 as a result of the scheme.

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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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