NEWS of the Day - September 26, 2009
on some LACP issues of interest


NEWS of the Day - September 26, 2009
on some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood activist

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular point of view ...

We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...


From LA Times


From the L.A. Times

Grass fire consumes house and two garages in Montecito Heights [Updated]

September 25, 2009 |  4:19 pm Los Angeles firefighters quickly knocked down a half-acre fire this afternoon that began in grass near North Homer Street and Avenue 43rd in a residential area of Montecito Heights.

The blaze ignited just after 2:30 p.m. and spread quickly -- consuming a two-story home and two garages, according to Erik Scott of the Los Angeles Fire Department. With 91 firefighters on scene, the fire was knocked down in 33 minutes, Scott said.

Investigators from the department's arson unit are on the scene. Forecasters have issued a red flag warning through 9 p.m. Saturday evening because of the hot, dry weather and low humidity across Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

[ Updated 4:53 p.m.: The structure that burned was a vacant guesthouse with a garage on its lower level. Eric Anderson, a neighbor, said that before the fire started, a power line began to spark and then snapped off and fell onto the hillside behind the home. Anderson, who had just arrived home, saw the fire as it began to spread along the hillside and ran to warn his neighbors and call 911. Flying embers set fire to a small area of grass in his backyard, but he was able to douse the area with a hose.]

Apparent hit and run leaves three injured in Boyle Heights [Updated]

September 25, 2009 |  9:47 pm


Three female pedestrians were injured in an apparent hit-and-run incident just before 9 tonight near 542 S. Lorena St. in Boyle Heights.

Two adult women were in critical condition and taken to a local hospital, fire officials said. A 14-year-old girl was being treated at the scene, but fire officials did not have any information about her condition.

A Los Angeles police official said the vehicle fled the scene. The department received a tip that a light blue four-door Chrysler sedan was involved in the incident, but no further details were immediately available.

[ Updated 9:25 p.m.: A  20-year-old female has been pronounced dead in the hit-and-run accident at 542 S. Lorena St. Police say two women were injured – not three as authorities reported earlier. The second victim is a 14-year-old girl who is in serious condition and has been taken to a local hospital. Los Angeles Police Officer Cleon Joseph said the two women were crossing the street when they were hit by the car, which fled the scene. ]

Gov. Schwarzenegger signs bill establishing day to honor Vietnam veterans

September 25, 2009 |  2:02 pm

Avoiding the embarrassment of what could have been the first successful veto override in California since 1979, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation Friday that establishes an annual Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day on March 30.

Schwarzenegger had vetoed an identical bill earlier this month, saying it did not address high-priority needs including "comprehensive changes in our policies on water, energy, and corrections" and that he might reconsider the measure once legislators acted on those issues.

In response to the Sept. 8 veto, furious Assembly members, including Assemblyman Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley), the bill's author, threatened to override the governor and said they had the votes to do it.

Cook, a decorated Vietnam veteran, later met with Schwarzenegger and they agreed that Cook would introduce a new bill with the same language and the governor would approve it, even though the Legislature failed to adopt a comprehensive plan to improve the state's water supply.

Schwarzenegger signed the bill today during a ceremony at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms.

"This was a highly politicized war," Cook said of Vietnam. "It still evokes strong feelings among veterans and people who disagreed with the U.S. policies at the time, but it is important that we set aside these differences to honor and thank the men and women who put on uniforms to preserve the freedoms we have today."

No California state parks will close, Gov. Schwarzenegger announces

September 25, 2009 |  1:55 pm


Just months after the state threatened to close 100 parks because of budget cuts, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a plan today that will keep all parks open by instead reducing maintenance, administrative staff and some facilities' hours.

The governor had cut $14.2 million from the parks budget as part of an effort to close a $60-billion budget shortfall, and parks officials said the reduction would force the closure of up to 100 state parks. That sparked an outcry from the public and pressure from environmental groups to reconsider.

Schwarzenegger said today that Parks and Recreation Department and state finance officials have come up with an alternative plan to keep all the parks open, with a reduction of the hours or days of operation at most of them.

The plan means that in many cases restrooms might be cleaned only once each day, some facilities will close weekdays and be open on weekends and holidays, and portions of a park, such as a back loop of a campground, may close part of the week.

Other parks that already close because of seasonal conditions may see a longer closure.

Details were not yet released on which parks will see reductions in the hours and days of operation.

"Working closely with my departments of Finance and Parks and Recreation, we have successfully found a way to avoid closing parks this year,” Schwarzenegger said. “This is fantastic news for all Californians.”

Alleged hit man for Mexican cartel among nine arrested in Bell Gardens gang sweep

September 25, 2009 |  12:44 pm

Nine members and associates of a Bell Gardens street gang, including a suspected hit man for a Mexican drug cartel, have been arrested on drug trafficking and weapons charges, federal officials said today.

The suspects -- six U.S. citizens and three illegal Mexican immigrants -- were arrested Thursday as agents served search warrants in Bell Gardens and Los Angeles, officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said. 

Several assault weapons, including an AK-47 assault rifle, a Tec-9 submachine gun, a MAC-11 submachine gun and a sawed-off shotgun along with thousands of rounds of ammunition were also recovered.

"This is a relatively small and newer gang that has been operating with impunity for the last several years," said Kevin Kozak, deputy special agent in charge of ICE's local office of investigations. "They have access to significant weapons ... and claims they can have access to military grade weapons through a 'friend' in the military."

Times' computer-assisted report traces danger across L.A.'s Metrolink system

September 25, 2009 |  12:30 pm

The regional rail system known as Metrolink developed its reputation as the nation's most deadly commuter line based largely on four dramatic accidents, the most recent being last year's head-on crash with a freight train in Chatsworth.

That collision, the worst rail disaster in modern California history, killed 25.

But accidents with passenger injuries and deaths are only part of Metrolink's troubled safety history.

This weekend, The Times will publish an exclusive database map of all reported accidents and incidents on the Metrolink rail system over its 15 years of operation leading up to the Chatsworth crash.

The research, led by Times Database Editor Doug Smith, shows that the majority of people killed by trains have not been passengers, but drivers and pedestrians who were on the tracks.

Not counting the Chatsworth crash, at least 212 people have been killed by Metrolink or other trains. And many of the most dangerous spots are where tracks cross city streets in the San Fernando Valley.

Metrolink has failed to do much about these "grade-crossing” incidents — unlike its sister agency, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which erected safety guards that significantly reduced pedestrian deaths along its Blue Line light rail system from Los Angeles to Long Beach.

Included in The Times' package of news reports, videos and interactive graphics will be Sherry Griswold's recollection of the day in March 1997 when her son, David Michael, was killed by a Southern Pacific freight train near San Fernando Road.

In the video above by Smith and Times reporter Rich Connell, she calls for new safety improvements to reduce the odds people will wander into harm's way.

Hundreds expected for cleanup effort near Station fire burn area

September 25, 2009 |  11:40 am

Wearing gloves and armed with trash bags, volunteers plan a massive cleanup Saturday near areas of the Angeles National Forest damaged by the Station fire.

The one-day effort will focus on a two-mile area not directly affected by the fire but surrounded by devastation from the 251-square-mile blaze, said Rhonda Glasscock, corporate contributions manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., which is sponsoring the event.

The site was selected for cleanup prior to the fire, but "it is actually even more important now to help raise awareness, about the effects of fires and the importance of forests in our area," Glasscock said.

Inglewood delays release of report on police shootings, prompting criticism

September 25, 2009 |  11:16 am

Criticism is building in Inglewood over city officials' decision to delay releasing an independent report on the city's police department, which came under scrutiny last year in the wake of a spate of fatal police shootings of unarmed suspects.

In a statement last week, the city council announced it had received the report by the County's Office of Independent Review, a civilian oversight group, but was withholding it from public release because of attorney-client privilege in legal matters involving the police department.

The council did not specify when the report will be released, only stating that it will “eventually” be made public in its entirety.

The report will mark the first independent, external assessment of the department since the shootings, in which officers shot and killed four men over a span of four months in 2008. Three of those suspects were unarmed.

Suspected terrorist may have planned 9/11 anniversary attack

Najibullah Zazi 'was intent on making a bomb and being in New York on 9/11, for purposes of perhaps using such items,' a federal lawyer says in a hearing to pave the way for his transfer from Denver.

By DeeDee Correll

September 26, 2009

Reporting from Denver

A Denver man accused of plotting a terrorist attack in the United States had apparently planned to set off a bomb in New York on the most recent anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, a federal prosecutor said Friday.

That revelation came during what was otherwise a routine federal court hearing in Denver that paved the way for Najibullah Zazi, 24, to be flown to New York on Friday.

"The evidence suggests a chilling, disturbing sequence of events showing the defendant was intent on making a bomb and being in New York on 9/11, for purposes of perhaps using such items," Assistant U.S. Atty. Tim Neff told the court.

Zazi, an airport shuttle driver in Denver, was indicted on a terrorism charge Thursday by a federal grand jury in New York, but the indictment did not spell out when or where an attack was allegedly planned to take place.

Neff made the remarks during a hearing in which Magistrate Judge Craig Shaffer dismissed a charge against Zazi of making false statements to authorities, thus clearing the way for the Afghan-born man to be transferred to New York to face the terrorism charge.

At the detention hearing Friday morning, Shaffer rejected arguments by Zazi's attorney, Arthur Folsom, that Zazi should be freed on bail.

Folsom said that Zazi didn't pose a flight risk because most of his immediate family lives in Colorado and because he had neither the resources nor inclination to flee the country. Folsom argued that if Zazi had wanted to escape, he had several opportunities to do so before his arrest.

Shaffer countered that Zazi had powerful incentives for running away, including the possibility that if convicted, he could face deportation after serving his sentence. Zazi is a legal U.S. resident, not a citizen.

"He has very little reason to stay," Shaffer said. Shaffer also said that Zazi posed "substantial danger" to the community if freed.

Folsom also challenged Neff's assertion that Zazi had planned to carry out an attack in New York on Sept. 11.

"He was there on 9/11," Folsom said. "He was there through the entire time period, and nothing occurred."

The indictment said that Zazi and unnamed co-conspirators recently made large purchases of chemicals from beauty supply stores, including hydrogen peroxide and acetone, that can be used to make explosives. It also said Zazi had researched how to make bombs and had sought advice on mixing chemicals for explosives.

The chemicals that Zazi and others sought were the kind found in the "explosive used in the 2005 London train bombings and intended to be used in the 2001 'shoe bomb' plot by Richard Reid," the indictment said.

The document spelled out Zazi's alleged activities in the days leading up to the Sept. 11 anniversary.

On Sept. 8, the indictment said, Zazi rented a car in Colorado and searched the Internet for the location of a home-improvement store in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens in New York City. Zazi then searched the company's website for information on muriatic acid, which can be used as a bomb-making component, it said.

"Zazi viewed four different types of muriatic acid," the indictment said. "He viewed one particular type -- Klean-Strip Green Safer Muriatic Acid -- multiple times. This product claims to have lower fumes and is safer to handle than standard muriatic acid."

The next day, Sept. 9, Zazi began driving to New York, taking with him a laptop computer that contained bomb-making instructions, the indictment said.

The indictment goes on to say:

"Zazi arrived in New York on the afternoon of September 10 and traveled to Flushing, Queens. Lawfully authorized intercepts of Zazi's cell phone reflect that Zazi became suspicious, and then learned directly, that law enforcement officers were tracing his activities. Zazi ultimately purchased an airline ticket and returned to Denver on September 12."

Meanwhile, two other men accused this week of plotting to bomb buildings in Texas and Illinois remained in custody Friday. Authorities say the cases are not connected to Zazi's case.

Decatur, Ill., resident Michael Finton, 29, also known as Talib Islam, was arrested Wednesday after he parked a van that he thought was filled with explosives outside a federal courthouse in Springfield, Ill., according to authorities.

In an indictment released Thursday, federal officials said that Finton worked with federal agents who were posing as Al Qaeda operatives planning to bomb the courthouse.

A similar scenario played out in Texas, where authorities accused Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, 19, of attempting to bomb an office tower Thursday in downtown Dallas. Smadi, duped into thinking he was working with Al Qaeda members, also was under federal surveillance, according to an indictment.

According to the Associated Press, Smadi appeared in a Dallas courtroom Friday and waived his right to an immigration hearing. He is scheduled to appear in court Oct. 5.

Smadi, a native of Jordan, lived and worked in the north Texas town of Italy and was known as Sam. A neighbor at the housing complex where he lived described Smadi as a fun-loving guy who danced to techno music and worked as a cashier at a gas station, according to the Associated Press.

"It's crazy, because I still can't believe the Sam that I know doing anything like that," Tabatha Rogers, 19, told the news agency. "He was just a real good guy.",0,6226110,print.story

U.S. officials say Iran's nuclear plant is no secret to them

Intelligence officials say that they have known about the facility for years and that it's designed to hold enough centrifuges to possibly provide material for a single nuclear weapon each year.

By Greg Miller

10:01 AM PDT, September 25, 2009

Reporting from Washington

U.S. intelligence officials said today that they have known about a newly disclosed Iranian nuclear facility for several years -- possibly as early as 2006 -- and that its dimensions and design all but rule out any civilian nuclear purpose.

The officials said the covert site is about 19 miles north of Qom, and is designed to hold as many as 3,000 centrifuges, enough to provide fissile material for a single nuclear weapon each year.

The facility is "deep underground," a senior U.S. intelligence official said, built inside a mountain on a heavily guarded compound controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The site has been kept secret from all but the highest-ranking officials in the Iranian government and nuclear program.

Public disclosure of the site came only today in a statement released by the International Atomic Energy Agency. President Obama and the leaders of France and Britain rebuked Iran over the nuclear plant this morning, warning of new sanctions if Tehran does not open the facility to international inspectors by December.

The CIA has assessed that the site could not be operational before 2010. Still, a U.S. intelligence official said that the facility has been nearing completion and that Iran began installing equipment earlier this year in preparation for the arrival of centrifuges -- cylindrical devices that spin at high rates of speed to convert uranium to highly enriched fuel.

Officials declined to say how U.S. spy agencies became aware of the site, whether through human sources, satellite imagery, signals intercepts or other means. But the U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said American spy agencies had "multiple independent sources of information."

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Iran's previously acknowledged plant in Natanz houses an estimated 54,000 centrifuges. It has a capacity for that many centrifuges.

The United States had worked closely with France and Britain to corroborate the intelligence on the site, and kept those countries, as well as Israel, informed. But Obama administration officials said Russia and China were not made aware of the covert facility until this week.

Obama personally briefed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday during a meeting at New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Afterward, Medvedev indicated for the first time that Russia would be open to harsher sanctions against Iran.

Iran too appears to have become aware that the existence of the facility was no longer secret, causing the regime to send a letter of notification Monday to the IAEA.

A senior Obama administration official described the letter as a "nontransparent disclosure" and "cryptic" in its content. The letter declared Iran's work on a "pilot" fuel enrichment facility but provided no specific information about the site or its location, officials said.

Obama was made aware of the facility before he took office, officials said. Last summer he instructed subordinates to prepare a brief that could be presented publicly by the end of September -- a step anticipating a potential showdown with Iran coinciding with the Group of 20 meeting in Pittsburgh this week.

"A policy decision was made in the summer to put ourselves in position where we could make a presentation that would be credible," said a second senior Obama administration official.

The senior administration officials said Iran's work on the secret site reflects "a pattern of deception. They tend to reveal only when they are forced to reveal."

In 2002, an Iranian dissident group exposed Tehran's construction of a massive centrifuge facility at Natanz. That facility has a capacity for an estimated 54,000 centrifuges, although experts believe it is not currently equipped to produce highly enriched uranium necessary for a nuclear bomb.

The new facility, the U.S. intelligence official said, "is more easily configured for highly enriched uranium.",0,3635629,print.story

Government ties explored as motive in death of Kentucky Census worker

The man with a rope tied around his neck and the word 'FED' written on his chest was asphyxiated. Investigators look into the theory, while some liberal bloggers cite anti-government violence.

By Richard Fausset

September 25, 2009

Reporting from Atlanta

The body of the asphyxiated man was discovered in the backwoods of Clay County, Ky., near an old family cemetery. A rope around his neck was tied to a tree.

He was a 51-year-old part-time teacher and a former Boy Scout employee -- a gentle man who, one relative said, never caused any trouble.

That would be mystery enough. But the dead man, William E. "Bill" Sparkman, was also a part-time employee of the U.S. Census Bureau. He was found with the word "FED" written across his chest in what appeared to be felt-tip marker, according to Jim Trosper, the county coroner.

Now state and federal investigators are exploring whether Sparkman -- one of hundreds of part-time employees working for a Census Bureau that is under increasing fire from conservatives -- was targeted because of his job.

"If he were killed because of his [government] employment, that'd be a federal case," said David J. Beyer, a special agent with the FBI, which is conducting the investigation with the Kentucky State Police.

The case so far is notable for the lack of details divulged by law enforcement officials -- and the conclusions that have been drawn nonetheless in some quarters of the liberal blogosphere, which is rife with concern that anti-government rhetoric that has escalated in the Obama era could spill over into anti-government violence.

After a detailed report on Sparkman's death by the Associated Press this week, Village Voice Media's True Crime Report blog cited the recent "rage against Washington . . . especially in the rural South," and said the death had "all the makings of some anti-government goober taking his half-wit beliefs way too far."

A Huffington Post commentator with the handle "tantrictim" called the death "the sort of thing one expects to see in some right-wing banana republic dictatorship."

But as of Thursday, state police had yet to rule whether Sparkman's death was a homicide, suicide or accident. Investigators were awaiting a full report from the state medical examiner, said Lt. David Jude, a Police Department spokesman. Jude reported the cause of death, and details about the rope, late Thursday afternoon.

Sparkman's body was discovered Sept. 12 by visitors to the cemetery in the remote community of Arnett's Fork, about 100 miles southeast of Lexington. The body was not hanging from the rope, but on the ground, police said.

Set in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, Clay County is dominated by the heavily wooded Daniel Boone National Forest, where federal officials have been fighting a long-running war with marijuana growers who typically plant their pot on the federal land.

The county is the second-most destitute in Kentucky, with 41.9% of residents living in poverty in 2007, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. In the last 20 years, it also has consistently been one of the state's top five marijuana producers.

But that, too, could have nothing to do with the case. Investigators would not say whether they were pursuing the possibility that the drug trade was involved.

Outsiders perceived as threats to the pot crop have been hurt before, according to Ed Shemelya, marijuana coordinator for the Office of National Drug Control Policy's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area that covers a three-state swath of Appalachia.

However, he said, much of the drug-related violence has been directed toward thieves. Typically, he said, if a person happens to stumble on the plants, "they'd politely let you know that you don't need to be there."

In Gainesville, Ga., on Thursday, Shasda Guier was mourning the death of her cousin. Guier, 37, had last spoken with Sparkman in April. Though he had been battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma, she said, he was happily moving forward in life, working on a teaching certificate and excited to be working for the Census.

"We couldn't believe who would ever want to harm him, because he was such a gentle man," she said. "He had this desire to help people. We were just dumbfounded.",0,4877401,print.story

From the Daily News

City aims $15M at credit crunch

LOANS: Plan is to help small business during recession. By Gregory J. Wilcox, Staff Writer Updated: 09/26/2009 01:08:48 AM PDT

var requestedWidth = 0; if(requestedWidth > 0){ document.getElementById('articleViewerGroup').style.width = requestedWidth + "px"; document.getElementById('articleViewerGroup').style.margin = "0px 0px 10px 10px"; } Providing a boost to small businesses hammered by tough economic times, the city has created a $15 million loan fund designed to help scores of Los Angeles companies expand as the recession winds down.

Powerline Control Systems in Northridge, which manufactures lighting controls, is the first recipient of the program and will use its $220,000 loan to expand its commercial and industrial business.

"Once this thing gets off the ground (and) depending on what the sales volume is, it will create jobs," said Powerline CEO Marshall Lester, who founded the company in his garage 15 years ago.

Lester is taking advantage of the Los Angeles Citywide Small Business Loan Program, which will be administered by the Van Nuys-based Valley Economic Development Center.

"Right now we're in the midst of the most significant credit crunch we've seen since the 1970s," said Roberto Barragan, the center's president. "What this program does is recognize the fact that businesses are going through tough times."

The fund is the brainchild of Barragan and Ninoos Benjamin, director of the Economic Development Division of the city's Community Development Department, who began discussions last February.

"I said, `Look the city has not a citywide loan program since 2004,"' Barragan said Friday.

Benjamin concurred and assembled money for the loan pool, allocating some of the money the city receives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city has typically used these grants for construction projects.

"I credit a lot to Ninoos in making our request feasible because he knows the HUD rules and we don't," Barragan said.

Businesses that qualify can use the money to refinance debt; buy inventory, equipment or commercial real estate; as working capital; or for tenant improvements.

With loan amounts ranging from $50,000 to $400,000, Barragan estimates as many as 60 companies will benefit.

And while HUD provisions require that one job be created for every $35,000 loaned out, Barragan hopes to add one job to the city work force for every $10,000 loaned.

Loan applications and terms are available on the center's Web site at Barragan said that interested companies should first check the terms to determine if the program meets their needs.

The center will then do a free credit check to see whether a company should continue with the application process.

"You don't have to have fantastic credit but we don't want people who had a bankruptcy in the last three years or major collection actions because that would make it very difficult to get through our (application) process," Barragan said.

Startup companies must show strong job creation potential and the owner must have a significant investment of his own money, he said.

Barragan also said that Lester's Powerline was an excellent loan candidate.

"The company is a good, strong company. It has a real upside potential for jobs," Barragan said. (Lester) is in a green type business and that's what we'd like to see more money in."

Lester said there is a lot of competition in the residential lighting control sector but he thinks he's got a clear field on the commercial side.

"There is no competition (in commercial) because nobody can do what we do," Lester said.

The loan money will be used to produce and market Powerline's new, patented GreenWorx energy-efficient commercial lighting control system. Lester said the company will first focus on parking structures and then expand into buildings.

Powerline's control system uses existing power lines to automatically control lights without the need for rewiring the facilities.

The latter is an expensive undertaking, Lester said, and the only other option to his company's technology. GreenWorx systems reduce energy use and power costs, both important considerations to industrial and commercial businesses.

Lester said his company should be ready for its big push at the end of next year's first quarter.

And the company has already sold a couple of systems. One of those, a $120,000 deal, is being installed in a six-story parking structure at California State University, Northridge, the company founders' alma mater.

"That's also kind of our giant testing laboratory," Lester said.

Murder victims are honored during Day of Remembrance

By Fred Shuster Updated: 09/26/2009 01:14:13 AM PDT

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Relatives of murder victims Ron Goldman and Sharon Tate were among those who gathered Friday in downtown Los Angeles to honor their slain loved ones at the city's first-ever "National Day of Remembrance."

The ceremony, one of many that took place throughout the country Friday, was created to honor fallen law enforcement officers as well as murder victims and to recognize the impact of homicides on surviving family members and loved ones.

Kim Goldman, sister of Ron Goldman, one of the victims in the O.J. Simpson murder case, and Debra Tate, whose sister Sharon was slain by members of Charles Manson's cult, were among those at the event.

Goldman said events like Friday's are important so people "remember that lives are being devastated by homicide on a daily basis."

"Crime is rampant and the rest of us are left to pick up the pieces," she said.

Tate expressed sadness at the many who showed up.

"We're all in the same club - and the way to gain entry in this club is very painful," she said.

One of the people who killed her pregnant sister in 1969, Manson follower Susan Atkins, died in prison Thursday of brain cancer at age 61.

"I actually shed a tear this morning because it was her life choices that led to this," Debra Tate said. "Any wasted human life is a tragedy."

She noted that her unborn nephew, who her late sister had named Robert, would have been 40 years old this year.

Hundreds of poster-sized photos of victims, ranging from infants to the elderly, were hung throughout the sunny county Hall of Administration plaza. Pairs of shoes belonging to the slain were spread in front of a podium.

Family members wearing T-shirts inscribed with the names and pictures of their dead loved ones listened to a recitation of victims' names in English and Spanish. Advocacy groups and support organizations manned information booths. At the end of three hours, white doves were released into the sky.

Politicians and others spoke, many expressing support for Marsy's Law, a year-old constitutional amendment that protects victims' rights in a criminal trial.

"I didn't plan to be a mama of a murdered child," said LaWanda Hawkins, who formed the victims' rights group Justice for Murdered Children in 1996 after her only child, Reggie, was murdered.

"After he was killed, my life was never the same," she said. "I don't even remember what my life used to be. But the thing to know is, anyone can be a victim of this crime - regardless of your race, your financial status or your religion."

Or neighborhood, as Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca noted.

"Any American anywhere in this country can be a victim of violent crime," Baca said. "When will America be free from random, wanton violence?"

California Attorney General Jerry Brown seemed to sum up the sentiments of the day.

"There's just too many people being violated and killed," he said. "How did a society that's so rich have so many killings? Stop the murders!"

Public pensions need to stop investing in companies doing business with Iran, elected officials say

Daily News Wire Services Updated: 09/25/2009 12:18:00 PM PDT

var requestedWidth = 0; if(requestedWidth > 0){ document.getElementById('articleViewerGroup').style.width = requestedWidth + "px"; document.getElementById('articleViewerGroup').style.margin = "0px 0px 10px 10px"; } Several city, county and state elected officials on Thursday urged public pension systems to divest from companies doing business with Iran, calling it a "moral imperative."

Standing with a Holocaust survivor, City Controller Wendy Greuel denounced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for developing nuclear weapons, exporting terrorism, calling for the destruction of Israel and persecuting his own people.

Greuel said, "locally, we can flex our economic muscle to put pressure on the Iranian government" by persuading the Los Angeles City Employees' Retirement System and Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension System to divest from companies doing business with Ahmadinejad's regime.

Both pension systems are independent and have rejected similar requests since 2007. Greuel urged them to follow the lead of the California Public Employees Retirement System, the California State Teachers' Retirement System, and the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association.

Greuel said that from a practical standpoint, continued investment in companies doing business with Iran is risky because of international sanctions. LACERS' portfolio is already down 20 percent because of the recession, while LAFPPS' portfolio is down 26 percent, Greuel noted.

Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, said city, state and county pension systems "have both narrow self-interest in this as well as the moral imperative to ensure that a country that is an exporter of terror and is seeking nuclear weapons and suppresses its own people... does not succeed."

"We can do something," Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. "We don't have to sit powerlessly while this madman does his thing."

Mireille Wolf spoke movingly about how she survived the Holocaust, which Ahmadinejad has persistently denied.

"He has the audacity to deny reality -- my reality, my own personal tragedy and my family's history," she said.

Wolf called on the world to see through Ahmadinejad's lies.

"I was there, the camps were there, they rounded us up and they murdered us," Wolf said. "I was one of the lucky ones. I survived.

"I am a witness and you will never take that away from me. The world cannot be silent to your madness."

From the LAPD

Mentoring Program Brings LAPD Officers and At-Risk Youths Together

Los Angeles:  From 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. this afternoon, a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) mentoring program that includes LAPD officers, the sport of football and young people throughout the San Fernando Valley considered at risk for gang activity sponsored an official "Punt Pass Kick Contest."  The event is the culmination of several days of activities designed for both pleasure and mentoring.

In an ongoing effort to engage and influence the Valley's young people in positive ways, officers from the LAPD's Van Nuys Gang Enforcement Detail, Van Nuys Jeopardy Program, Van Nuys Explorer Program and players from the official LAPD Centurion Football Team, held special practices for a select group of boys and girls, 8 to 15 years of age.  The participants were selected with the help and coordination of the Los Angeles Unified School District, LAPD Operations Valley Bureau, Los Angeles Recreation and Parks District, Mid-Valley Jeopardy Foundation and the San Fernando Valley Coalition on Gangs.

During the month of September, three mentoring sessions took place on the athletic field of Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks.  For nearly two hours on each of those three days, officers and participants interacted with one another, learned about football and had a lot of fun.  The intended, successful outcome was for participants to learn basic football skills, such as throwing, kicking and punting the football, while increasing the level of respect and understanding between participants and mentors.  It is hoped the activities will be a starting point for future mentoring programs that teach kids to make the right choices and seek positive role models rather than turning to gangs.

Though the mentoring sessions were for pre-selected participants only, the contest was open to the public and free of charge.  The winners of each age group will be eligible to participate in the “Sectional Punt Pass Kick Contest" to be held later this year in the city of San Diego.  Winners will also be eligible to attend a San Diego Chargers Football game.

With an encouraging turnout and supportive response from the community, and most importantly, because the experience is believed to have been life-altering for many of the participants, future events are being planned.

Questions related to this event may be directed to Lt. Dave Storaker, the officer in charge of the Van Nuys Gang Impact Team, at 818-472-6818.   

September 25, 2009

From the White House


"See the Future. Feed the Future. Change the Future."

Posted by Jesse Lee Tomorrow, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will co-host an event on global food security -- an issue that affects us all, especially the over one billion people suffering from chronic hunger.  Secretary Clinton also gave a speech today highlighting the consequences of this dire situation: chronic hunger causes job insecurity, and children struggle to learn.  In the best traditions of the United Nations, Secretary Clinton focused on how we can work together to eradicate this ever-increasing problem:

Massive hunger poses a threat to the stability of governments, societies, and borders.  People who are starving, who have no incomes, who can't care for their families, are left with feelings of hopelessness and desperation.  And so we know that desperation of that magnitude sows seeds of its own—of tension, conflict, and even the violence we saw in the film.  Since 2007, there have been riots over food in more than 60 countries.  Agriculture—which encompasses not only crops, but livestock and fish—is critical to economic growth around the world; for more than three-quarters of the world's poor, farming is their only source of income and avenue to prosperity.  Food is linked to energy security: when the price of oil spikes, the cost of transporting food rises, while the increased demand for biofuels also affects prices.  And it's linked to climate security; droughts and floods caused by climate change destroy cropland and send food prices higher.  So food security is not merely a question of getting food to hungry people.  And it is not simply a moral imperative.  It represents the convergence of complex issues that have a direct bearing on economic growth, energy and environmental factors, and our strategic interests.  And as such, it demands a comprehensive response. If we can build partnerships with countries to help small farmers improve their agricultural output and make it easier to buy and sell their products at local or regional markets, we can set off a domino effect.  We can increase the world's food supply for both the short and the long term; diminish hunger; raise farmers' incomes; improve health; expand opportunity; and strengthen regional economies.

WEEKLY ADDRESS: President Affirms Commitment to International Cooperation
in Strengthening Economy and Stopping Nuclear Proliferation

WASHINGTON – In this week's address, President Barack Obama recounted the progress made this past week in advancing America's national security and economic prosperity at the United Nations and the G-20. The administration established the U.S. as a leader in the pursuit for clean energy, and agreed to reform the global financial system to prevent another crisis. Also, the President joined the first meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in nearly a year, chaired a meeting of the UN Security Council, which passed a resolution to secure loose nuclear materials, and stood in agreement with our European allies and Russia that Iran must not acquire nuclear weapons.

The audio and video will be available at 6:00am Saturday, September 26, 2009 at .

Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
September 26, 2009

This week, I joined leaders from around the world at the United Nations and the G-20 economic summit in Pittsburgh. Today, I can report on what we achieved—a new commitment to meet common challenges, and real progress in advancing America's national security and economic prosperity.

As I said at the U.N., over the past nine months my administration has renewed American leadership, and pursued a new era of engagement in which we call upon all nations to live up to their responsibilities. This week, our engagement produced tangible results in several areas.

In Pittsburgh, the world's major economies agreed to continue our effort to spur global demand to put our people back to work. We committed ourselves to economic growth that is balanced and sustained— so that we avoid the booms and busts of the past. We reached an historic agreement to reform the global financial system—to promote responsibility and prevent abuse so that we never face a crisis like this again. And we reformed our international economic architecture, so that we can better coordinate our effort to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

We also established American leadership in the global pursuit of the clean energy of the 21st century. I am proud that the G-20 nations agreed to phase out $300 billion worth of fossil fuel subsidies. This will increase our energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, combat the threat of climate change, and help create the new jobs and industries of the future.

In New York, we advanced the cause of peace and security. I joined the first meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in nearly a year—a meeting that even nine months ago did not seem possible. And we resolved to move forward in the journey toward a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

We also took unprecedented steps to secure loose nuclear materials; to stop the spread of nuclear weapons; and to seek a world without them. As the first U.S. president to ever chair a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, I was proud that the Council passed an historic and unanimous resolution embracing the comprehensive strategy I outlined this year in Prague.

To prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists, the Security Council endorsed our global effort to lock down all vulnerable material within four years. We reaffirmed the basic compact of the global nonproliferation regime: all nations have the right to peaceful nuclear energy; nations with nuclear weapons have the responsibility to move toward disarmament; and nations without them have the responsibility to forsake them.

The United States is meeting our responsibilities by pursuing an agreement with Russia to reduce our strategic warheads and launchers. And just as we meet our responsibilities, so must other nations, including Iran and North Korea.

Earlier this year, we imposed tough, new, sanctions on North Korea to stop their efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. And we will continue to stand with our allies and partners to press North Korea to move in a new direction.

This week, we joined with the United Kingdom and France in presenting evidence that Iran has been building a secret nuclear facility to enrich uranium. This is a serious challenge to the global nonproliferation regime, and continues a disturbing pattern of Iranian evasion. That is why international negotiations with Iran scheduled for October 1st now take on added urgency.

My offer of a serious, meaningful dialogue to resolve this issue remains open. But Iran must now cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and take action to demonstrate its peaceful intentions.

On this, the international community is more united than ever before. Yesterday, I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our European allies in condemning Iran's program. In our meetings and public statements, President Medvedev of Russia and I agreed that Iran must pursue a new course or face consequences. All of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and Germany, have made it clear that Iran must fulfill its responsibilities.

Iran's leaders must now choose – they can live up to their responsibilities and achieve integration with the community of nations. Or they will face increased pressure and isolation, and deny opportunity to their own people.

These are the urgent threats of our time. And the United States is committed to a new chapter of international cooperation to meet them. This new chapter will not be written in one week or even one year. But we have begun. And for the American people and the people of the world, it will mean greater security and prosperity for years to come.

From ICE

September 25, 2009

9 men tied to LA-area gang arrested in ICE drug, weapons trafficking probe
One defendant claims to be Mexican drug cartel hit man

LOS ANGELES - Nine members and associates of a South Los Angeles street gang, including one claiming to be a hit man for a Mexican drug cartel, are in custody on federal drug trafficking and state weapons charges following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The defendants were arrested yesterday at residences in Bell Gardens and Los Angeles by agents assigned to ICE's Special Response Teams. During the operation, agents executed search warrants at those residences as well as at a Bell Gardens warehouse used by the organization to store illegal weapons. During the searches, agents recovered dozens of high-powered weapons, including assault rifles, handguns, silencers, a shotgun and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Providing assistance with yesterday's operation were the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, and officers from the Bell, Huntington Park, Vernon and Long Beach police departments.

The enforcement action caps a nine-month ICE investigation into allegations that members of the "Barrio Evil 13" street gang were involved in narcotics and weapons trafficking. The affidavit filed in support of the arrest and search warrants details more than a dozen occasions where the defendants sold an ICE undercover operative illegal drugs, including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as ammunition and firearms. Among the weapons purchased by ICE undercover operatives were assault rifles, sawed-off shotguns, a sub-machine gun and a hand grenade, which turned out to be inert.

"The gang members and associates charged in this criminal complaint are alleged to have trafficked not just in drugs, but in weapons, and not just any weapons, but weapons clearly intended for criminal conduct, including an AK-47 assault rifle, a Tec-9 sub-machinegun, a MAC-11 sub-machinegun, and a sawed-off shotgun," said Acting U.S. Attorney George S. Cardona. "The arrests made yesterday eliminate a source of firearms that would otherwise be out on the streets being used to commit additional violent crimes."

One of the defendants arrested yesterday, Henry "Silent" Valenzuela, 27, of Bell Gardens, Calif., told an ICE undercover operative during the investigation that he is a hit man for a Tijuana-based drug cartel. The case affidavit contains excerpts from a secretly recorded conversation where Valenzuela seeks to recruit the undercover operative to carry out "hits" in the Los Angeles area for a $10,000 fee. In that conversation, Valenzuela claims he conducted a "hit" in Barstow, Calif., in early September and has six murder-for-hire contracts outstanding. So far, ICE has been unable to corroborate Valenzuela's murder claim.

"Given the allegations, this street gang's name 'Barrio Evil' is particularly appropriate," said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles. "When you have members of a criminal organization casually selling high-powered weapons and talking matter-of-factly about murder, you have a serious public safety threat. ICE is using every legal tool and every resource at its disposal to protect our communities from these dangerous organizations."

"We took a number of high caliber firearms out of the hands of gang members whom we allege used them to further their criminal enterprise," said John A. Torres, special agent in charge of ATF's Los Angeles Field Division. "ATF will now trace these firearms and complete ballistics comparisons to determine where they came from and whether they are related to other crimes."

Currently, seven of the defendants are charged by federal criminal complaint with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. The federal defendants will make their initial appearances in U.S. District Court here today. In addition to Valenzuela, they are:

  • Sergio Calderon, aka "Lil Silent," 23, of Bell Gardens;
  • Javier Avila-Lopez, aka "Padrastro," 40, of Los Angeles;
  • Eduardo Ortega-Plascencia, 39, of Los Angeles;
  • Margarito Enciso, aka "Tito," 27, of Long Beach;
  • Everado Venegas-Lumbreras, aka "Lalo," 38, of Bell Gardens; and
  • Silverio Palma-Carlin, 31, of Jalisco, Mexico.

Two other defendants were taken into custody yesterday on state charges. They are:

  • Francisco Arellano, 32, of Nayarit, Mexico; and
  • Alfredo Rutillo-Medina, 27, of Nayarit, Mexico.

ICE received significant assistance with this investigation from the Bell Police Department, as well as from ATF and several other local law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles, Vernon and Long Beach police departments.

"We're thrilled about the results of this joint operation," said Bell Police Chief Randy G. Adams. "As a result of our efforts, we've kept countless dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals, saving untold lives in the process."

The investigation into the Barrio Evil 13 street gang is part of an ongoing initiative by ICE's National Gang Unit called Operation Community Shield. Through Operation Community Shield, ICE is using its powerful immigration and customs authorities in a coordinated, national campaign against criminal street gangs in the United States. Since Operation Community Shield began in February 2005, ICE agents nationwide have arrested more than 13,000 gang members and associates linked to more than 900 different gangs. More than 150 of those arrested were gang leaders.

September 24, 2009

3 men indicted for harboring and holding aliens hostage
Held 11 aliens hostage, some sexually abused

HOUSTON - Three men were indicted by a federal grand jury for harboring and holding aliens hostage in a southwest Houston residence and demanding thousands of dollars from families for their release announced United States Attorney Tim Johnson on Thursday. The investigation is being conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Alex Julca, 24, a U.S. a legal permanent resident, along with Francisco Gomez, 40, and Rigoberto Jaimes-Vargas, 27, both Mexican citizens; were charged in an eight-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on Thursday. The three men charged have been in custody without bond since their August arrest and are expected to appear for arraignment in the near future.

According to court documents, the ICE investigation leading to today's charges was initiated after a woman in Virginia called the Fairfax County Police Department on Aug. 28, claiming a man was forcing her to pay thousands of dollars for her brother's release from a Houston area stash house. The woman claimed her brother had paid smugglers to bring him to the United States and that she paid $3000 in two separate installments. She decided to call police when additional sums were demanded by the smugglers. This information was conveyed to the FBI office in Virginia who in turn notified ICE. Houston ICE agents located the stash house in Houston and during an enforcement action on Aug. 29, agents found 11 men, including the Virginia woman's brother, at the residence on Ashford Green Lane in southwest Houston.

According to the complaint, the men being held were aliens who had been illegally smuggled into the country. The smuggled aliens claimed, according to the complaint, that while the guards fed them, the guards were armed, beating and threatening the men. Upon arriving at the stash house, the complaint alleges the smuggled men were stripped of their clothing to prevent escape and their mouths were often taped shut. Some men were allegedly sexually abused. The men were often held for several days until their families sent the additional money demanded for their release.

Julca, Jaimes-Vargas and Gomez, who were at the residence when ICE arrived, were arrested and jailed. Agents also recovered a firearm at the scene.

If convicted on any one of the four hostage taking counts, Julca and Gomez face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. If convicted of any one of the four alien harboring counts, all three defendants face a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Hays Jenkins and Special Assistant United States Attorney Daniel Menes.

September 24, 2009

Dutch firm and two officers plead guilty to conspiracy to export aircraft components to Iran
Defendants tried to conceal the fact that the parts and goods were bound for Iran

WASHINGTON - A Dutch aviation services company, its director and sales manager pleaded guilty today in the District of Columbia to federal charges related to a conspiracy to illegally export aircraft components and other items from the United States to entities in Iran via the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates and Cyprus.

The announcement was made by David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Channing D. Phillips, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia; and Kevin Delli-Colli, Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Enforcement, and Sharon E. Woods, Director of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service. 

The investigation was conducted by agents from the Department of Commerce's Office of Export Enforcement, with assistance from the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Aviation Services International, B.V. ("ASI"), an aircraft parts supply company in the Netherlands; Robert Kraaipoel, 66, a citizen of the Netherlands and the director of ASI; and Robert Neils Kraaipoel ("Neils Kraaipoel"), 40, a citizen of the Netherlands, the sales manager of ASI and son of Robert Kraaipoel, each entered a plea of guilty to a one-count criminal information in federal court in the District of Columbia.

The information charged each with conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the Iranian Transactions Regulations by exporting aircraft components and other goods to Iran without obtaining licenses from the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).  The two individual defendants each face a potential sentence of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the pecuniary gain or loss.  ASI has agreed to pay a $100,000 fine and corporate probation for five years.

According to the criminal information, from about October 2005 to about October 2007, the defendants received orders from customers in Iran for U.S.-origin goods that were restricted from being transshipped into Iran.  The defendants then contacted companies in the United States and negotiated purchases of materials on behalf of Iranian customers.  The defendants provided false end-user certificates to certain U.S. companies to conceal that customers in Iran would be the true recipients of the goods.

In order to conceal these activities from the U.S. government, the defendants caused certain companies in the United States to ship the materials to ASI in the Netherlands or to addresses in other countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Cyprus.  Upon arrival in the Netherlands or these other countries, the ordered materials were repackaged and transshipped to Iran.

For example, according to the criminal information, the defendants used these methods to purchase various U.S. electronic communications equipment from a U.S. company between 2005 and 2007.  The defendants falsely certified to the company that the equipment, which had potential applications in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, was being sent to the Polish Border Control Agency, when, in reality, the equipment was being sent to Iran. The defendants arranged for the equipment to be exported from the United States to the Netherlands. Shortly thereafter, the equipment was sent to a customer in Iran.

In another instance, a shipment of aircraft parts from several U.S. companies that was destined for ASI in the Netherlands was detained by officers of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in January 2007.  Niels Kraaipoel then called the U.S. Commerce Department and stated that the detained aircraft parts were to be resold in Europe. When asked if any were destined for Iran, he said they were not, that ASI did not have any business dealings with Iran and that he was aware of the U.S. trade restrictions on Iran.

Later in 2007, according to the criminal information, Robert Kraaipoel purchased aluminum sheets and rods from a Florida company for approximately $9,600. Kraaipoel instructed the U.S. company and a freight forwarder to list the Netherlands as the ultimate destination in the shipping documents.  ASI attempted to have these goods shipped from the Netherlands to Iran, but Dutch Customs officials detained them on April 20, 2007.

In March 2007, a shipment of polymide film that ASI had purchased from a Kansas company was detained by U.S. officials. According to the criminal information, Robert Kraaipoel later contacted the U.S. freight forwarder and unsuccessfully attempted to have the items shipped to company in the U.A.E.  The defendants knew that this particular company in the U.A.E. purchased items for customers in Iran.

Finally, the criminal information states that throughout much of August, September and October 2007 the defendants conducted purchases on behalf of a company in the U.A.E. that they knew supplied Iranian customers.  For example, in September 2007, Niels Kraaipoel provided the U.A.E. company with a quotation for more than $200,000 worth of U.S.-origin aircraft parts and supplies.

Under the IEEPA and the Iranian Transaction Regulations, all exports to Iran of U.S.-origin commodities are prohibited absent authorization in the form of an export license from OFAC of the Department of the Treasury.  It is also unlawful to ship U.S. origin products to a third country with the am of then diverting them or re-exporting them to Iran without the necessary authorization from OFAC. These prohibitions have been in place since 1995.

"This investigation demonstrates in clear terms the threat we face from the illegal foreign acquisition of U.S. technology.  Keeping America's critical technology from falling into the hands of state sponsors of terror has never been more important," said David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

"A business or individual who illegally ships U.S.-origin goods to embargoed countries, such as Iran, undermines our national security," said Acting U.S. Attorney Phillips, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. "This prosecution reflects our commitment to enforcing our export control laws vigorously."

"Combating illegal transshipment of U.S.-origin items to Iran is a significant challenge and one of our top priorities," said Kevin Delli-Colli, Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Enforcement. "Willful violations will be pursued regardless of where the perpetrators may reside."

"Today's pleas represent the culmination of a long-term collaboration effort amongst the investigators and prosecutors in bringing international arms dealers to justice," said Sharon E. Woods, Director of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service."As long as there are those who seek to illegally acquire U.S. Military equipment and technology, DCIS will remain committed to thwarting their efforts and to protecting America's Warfighters."

Assistant Attorney General Kris, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillips, and Acting Assistant Secretary Delli-Colli, and Director Woods praised Senior Special Agents David Poole and Special Agents Michael Imbrogna and James Brigham from the Department of Commerce Office of Export Enforcement; Special Agent Michael Campion from DCIS, Special Agents Michael McGonigle and Brett Gentrup from ICE, and Special Agent Amanda McDaniel from the FBI.

The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ann H. Petalas and Denise Cheung from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, and Trial Attorneys Ryan Fayhee and Jonathan Poling from the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department's National Security Division.

September 24, 2009

Illegal alien sentenced for illegal re-entry into the U.S.
Deported in 1998 following a kidnapping conviction in Cobb County

ATLANTA- Armando Galardo-Navarrete, 28, of Marietta, Georgia, was sentenced today to 41 months in prison for illegally re-entering the United States after having been deported. Today's sentence follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE's) Office of Detention and Removal in Atlanta.

Galardo-Navarrete was also sentenced by United States District Judge J. Owen Forrester to three years of supervised release. He will be deported to Mexico upon the completion of his prison sentence.

"Illegal aliens who knowingly break the law by re-entering the United States will face criminal prosecution for their flagrant disregard of our laws," said Felicia Skinner, field office director for the ICE Office of Detention and Removal in Atlanta. "Those contemplating re-entering the country following their deportation should think twice, because they too could face a similar fate."

Acting United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said of the case, "The apprehension and subsequent prosecution of this defendant is but one example of the successful partnership between the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Violent Criminal Alien Section (VCAS) unit of the ICE Detention and Removal Operation's Atlanta Field Office, which reviews criminal and fugitive alien cases for federal prosecution. Since we started participating in this initiative in February 2009, we have charged approximately 55 defendants in cases presented by the VCAS."

According to the charges and other information presented in court, Galardo-Navarrete, a native of Mexico, was convicted of kidnapping in Cobb County, Georgia, before he was deported from the United States in December 1998. He was found by ICE in the Cobb County Jail on March 10, 2009, after his conviction for traffic violations under the alias name "Jose Pastra Balderrama."

ICE's Violent Criminal Alien Section was created in February 2008 under operation "Repeat Offender" in an effort to increase deterrence and reduce future recidivism rates of violent criminal aliens. VCAS screens recidivist criminal aliens encountered through the Criminal Alien Program, the National Fugitive Operations Program, the Joint Criminal Alien Removal Task Force and the Law Enforcement Agency Response Unit. In coordination with U.S. Attorney's Offices across the country, VCAS works to prioritize federal criminal prosecution of egregious recidivist criminal aliens for felony violations.

In fiscal year 2008, VCAS initiated 9,926 cases, of which U.S. Attorney's Offices around the country accepted 6,793 for criminal prosecution. VCAS generated an increase of criminal prosecutions accepted by the U.S. Attorney's Offices by 275% from the 1,808 cases accepted in fiscal year 2007. VCAS also secured 4,248 indictments and information and 2,977 criminal convictions in fiscal year 2008.

Atlanta's VCAS began working on Feb. 11, 2009. Since that time, approximately 55 defendants have been charged.

Special Assistant United States Attorney Randall W. Duncan prosecuted the case.

From OurLA

U.S. Attorney: Miguel Contreras, Late Labor Leader, Masterminded $50,000 Fraud

By Jason S. Mandell in City News , crime , politics Friday, Sep. 25 2009 @ 6:44PM tweetmeme_url = ''; tweetmeme_source = 'LAWeekly'; ? Miguel Contreras, the late Los Angeles labor heavyweight who was lauded as a modern-day Cesar Chavez, masterminded a scheme to defraud his own nonprofit group out of more than $50,000, L.A. Weekly has learned.

An individual referred to as "M.C." in court documents, described as having "formed" the very same nonprofit formed by Miguel Contreras, is labeled the man who "devised" the corrupt scheme.

"The scheme to defraud the Voter Improvement Project was conceived by M.C.," says Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Missakian. Missakian cannot identify M.C. by name according to rules that prevent him from identifying non-defendants. Contreras, who is now dead, is not a defendant in the case.

Contreras' role in the scandal was recently revealed in court documents when ex-labor boss Alejandro Stephens pleaded guilty to participating in the fraud. Both the L.A. Times and City News Service covered the case, but completely missed the fact that Contreras was fingered as leading the corruption.

Is Contreras' legacy disgraced? Consider the steps taken by the former head of the L.A. County Federation of Labor -- a man considered a champion of the working class -- to rob his own nonprofit in order to fill his friends' pockets:

In 2004, court documents state, "M.C." -- Contreras -- hired then-president of SEIU Local 660 Stephens and four others to pose as "consultants" for his nonprofit, Voter Improvement Program (VIP), which was funded by donations from such institutions as DreamWorks and Kaiser Permanente as well as a number of union groups.

The court documents state that Contreras had VIP's bookkeeper write checks to Stephens and his crew to perform voter outreach services. Contracts were drawn up to make the relationship appear legitimate, but it was a sham from the beginning. No one was expected to do any work at all. And no one did. They simply cashed their checks, which totaled $52,000.

Stephens pleaded guilty. He now faces up to 40 years in prison.

The revelations about Contreras' abuse of power are sure to anger at least some of his supporters, who were furious when the L.A. Weekly published its 2006 expose, " The Final Hours of Miguel Contreras ," by David Zahniser. That piece revealed that several public figures had helped obscure the fact that Contreras' May 2005 death of a heart attack occurred not in his car, but at a rundown, fortune-telling bodega in a rough part of South Los Angeles that was later raided for prostitution.

Zahniser wrote that the demise of the union boss, reported on a Friday night just like today's breaking news, "blind-sided the federation's 800,000 members and sent ripples throughout the region's political establishment, just 11 days before the contentious 2005 mayoral election."

Contreras' sudden death opened the way for the now-disgraced Martin Ludlow to take over the top job at the Federation of Labor. Ludlow resigned from that top union job amidst an intensifying scandal over a probe into his alleged use of illegal union riches to fund his Los Angeles City Council election victory.
Tags: Alejandro Stephens , Corruption , Fraud , Guilty , Jason S. Mandell , Labor , Local 660 , Los Angeles , Miguel Contreras , SEIU , Unions From Ron Kaye

Whodunit, Chapter 16: Who's Killing My Neighborhood?

By Ron Kaye  on  September 24, 2009 6:51 PM | st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) }


Crime and Punishment:

The Repentance of Nadya Mahdavi and Nasir Shaikh

Judgment Day was finally here

It had taken 18 months to get to this moment.

A lot had happened since city inspectors first cited Nadya Mahdavi for construction without a permit at the house on Haynes Street in my modest Valley tract of single-family homes.

The case snowballed after neighbors figured out that Mahdavi was illegally converting the house into a three-unit tenement that threatened the quality of their lives and the value of their property.

They complained to the city, to Councilman Dennis Zine. They researched property records, they finally got mad enough to walk door-to-door with petitions demanding the city do something about it

That's how I got involved and started asking questions. I wanted to help, I wanted to know who was killing my neighborhood.

Was it just a greedy landlord trying to get more than $5,000 in rent by converting a 2,000-square-foot house into three units, each with its own kitchen and bathroom, 12 rooms in all? Or was i t the system itself, the city, that was responsible for failing in its duty?

Everyone was a suspect.

The trail led to Chief Inspector Frank Bush and others in the Building and Safety Department, to Zine and his staff and finally to the Van Nuys Courthouse and Deputy City Attorney Don Cocek.

Citations started piling up even as Mahdavi flipped ownership of the house each time a court date approached. The ownership went from Mahdavi's Wall Street Properties to her employee to a company called Fidelity Investment Group which listed her husband Nasir Shaikh as president.

A simple permit problem, an infraction, escalated into a series of charges, misdemeanor crimes subject to fines and jail time, that were filed against Mahdavi, Shaikh and Fidelity Investments.

It took officials a while to unravel the chain of ownership and identify exactly who to hold accountable and for what.

The accused played the system for time, provided misleading information, asked for Public Defenders, didn't have lawyers representing them.

Mahdavi's failure to appear in court led to a warrant for her arrest being issued -- something that took two months to achieve because of the multiple addresses where she might be living.

Authorities' attitudes hardened as the months dragged on. My neighbors adjusted to the irritation of many cars parked at the home on Haynes and the comings and goings of the tenants of the three units.

Finally, 13 months after the first citation, the deconstruction of the house got under way and it was brought back into compliance with the law. It took six more months for Judgment Day to arrive.

Mahdavi and Shaikh were already at court when I arrived yesterday. They didn't look as cocky as they had before. They greeted me with smiles.

A lot had happened in their lives since they bought the house on Haynes. Their marriage had broken up, their high-flying lives had come down to earth as the collapse of the housing market cost them dearly, unraveling their various property schemes.

Encino attorney Gerald Cobb had worked out a deal with Cocek: Fidelity would plead guilty to three counts, Mahdavi and Shaikh would plead no contest to two counts each. They would be fined just under $10,000 and pay $1,500 in investigative fees. They would be on probation for a year and if they stay out of trouble and pay the fine, the charges will be reduced on their record from misdemeanors to infractions.

It was just before noon when they were called to appear before Commissioner Thomas E. Grodin who had imposed his own condition on the plea bargain: Each of the defendants was required to write a 1,000-word essay of contrition for him to consider at sentencing.

Mahdavi's essay ended this way:

"I would just like to state that I am extremely grateful for being given an opportunity to resolve this case. I sincerely appreciate and am appalled by the kindness and generosity displayed by the People and the City in respect to not placing a damaging note on my record. The People have been very patient and generous with me and I do not deserve such mercy. I assure you that this will never happen again."

I'm sure she didn't mean to use the word "appalled" but she was late getting her essay to Grodin who was not amused and found both their essays "self-serving...barely made it." Grodin lectured them, awarding a grade of D to Mahdavi and C-minus to Shaikh.

"I was not terribly impressed ...frankly, with either one."

As we left the courthouse, Cocek said all the information he had gathered was turned over to the state Department of Real Estate.

"If they screw-up again, they will lose their licenses," he said.

The case was closed.

My neighborhood is as safe and tranquil as ever. The suspects were identified and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

The system worked, if slowly. The inspectors, Cocek, the court system had done their jobs well and honorably.

But I couldn't help wondering how much my own role might have changed the course of events, the exposure of the case for all the world to see causing officials to spend far more time on it than was usual.

In her letter to Grodin, Mahdavi acknowledges how that affected her: " The humiliation and disgrace I have felt from being portrayed as a criminal and the harassment I have received through internet exposure has caused such a terrible impact on me and my family "

In the grand scheme of things, this was a small matter.

There are thousands of more serious violations of housing codes going undetected all over the city, especially in poorer areas.

Building and Safety is grossly understaffed and taking a bigger hit in the city budget crisis with our elected officials gutting funds for code enforcement to protect jobs that facilitate developers moving ahead on new projects that generate revenue.

So who is killing our neighborhoods?

There's a lot people like Mahdavi and Shaikh who do stupid and greedy things. Only the few are caught and punished despite the efforts of people like Frank Bush, Don Cocek and Judge Grodin to protect us. Usually, it takes the neighborhoods themselves to bring these problems to their attention and persist until they get action.

The same cannot be said for the city's leadership.

Throughout the current budget process, they have only talked about how to bring in more revenue to the city -- not how to preserve the neighborhoods or the quality of life for the residents.

Laws for our protection are haphazardly enforced and resources are expended to get developments approved faster and faster even though the infrastructure is deteriorating and inadequate for our needs.

Whodunit? It's really not a mystery.

Read the full text of Mahdavi's essay:

Continue reading Whodunit, Chapter 16: Who's Killing My Neighborhood? .