May 2012 Archives

Alleged White Supremacist Leader Found Guilty of Gun Charges

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By Raul Hernandez

A jury today found an alleged leader of a white supremacist gang guilty of being a felon in possession of a loaded shotgun and ammo.

Jurors also found Jeremy McCubbin guilty of street terrorism in connection with his involvement in the Skin Head Dogs, a criminal street gang with white supremacist beliefs.

In an interview outside the courtroom, prosecutor John Barrick said the Ventura Police Department is going to be elated with the jury's decision.

"I would imagine that the whole of the Ventura Police Department is going to let out a cheer tonight, because he is an extremely dangerous man, and he needs to be in prison for the rest of his life," said Berrick.

The 38-year-old McCubbin is facing life in prison under the "three strikes" law when he is sentenced on June 28.

During the reading of the verdicts, McCubbin stared straight ahead with his attorney Jesyka Cho's hand on his back. As he was being lead out of courtroom by Sheriff's deputies, McCubbin smiled at his aunt who was in court.

Cho would only quote the Bible after the verdicts.

"All things work to the good of those who love God and that are called according to his purpose," she said. "It might seem bleak right now because of the verdict, but I do believe that God has a plan for his life."

McCubbin's aunt Donna Gray said in an interview that her nephew isn't a violent man, saying that his white supremacy views were spawned in prison to keep him safe there.

"He's a very loving man. He's made some bad choices and bad decisions in his youth and that's what he's paying for now," she said. "I love him very much, yes. All I can say is that I am very upset that they found him guilty, and all I can do is pray."

Ventura Police Officer Daniel Stegner who is considered an expert on white supremacist gangs told jurors about the signs, symbols and tattoos that members identify with including the Skin Head Dogs. Stegner said there are 20 active members of the Skin Head Dogs,

"I can't say enough about the work Detective Stegner did. He was fantastic," said Barrick after the trial.

McCubbin, whose moniker is "Screwball," is a "well-respected" leader in the Skin Head Dogs, a violent criminal street gang, said Barrick. McCubbin has two white-supremacist tattoos on the temples of his head.

While on patrol on Sept. 5, 2007, Ventura police officer Teddy Symonds testified that he recognized the passenger of a truck as being McCubbin, a wanted parolee. He said he turned on this patrol car lights to stop the vehicle on Highway 126.

Symonds said the truck slowed down and speed up for about seven to 10 seconds. Symonds said the passenger door opened and McCubbin ran, jumped over a fence, ran across Highway 126, jumped another fence and continued running. Symonds said Eric Nestroyl who was also wanted on a parole violation and on methamphetamine was arrested. Nestroyl was driving the stolen vehicle where McCubbin was a passenger, said Symonds.

Nestroyl had testified that the shotgun belonged to him and that he had just met McCubbin and asked him if he wanted a ride.

Symonds said a loaded Mossberg pistol-grip shotgun and syringers were inside a blue bag inside the truck, which police later learned it had just been stolen. 

DNA evidence on the shotgun and shotgun shells was linked to McCubbin, court testimony showed.


Chicago Man Indicted for Bank Fraud Involving Millions of Dollars

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CHICAGO-- A Chicago investment advisor was indicted after he fraudulently got a $1.3 million line of credit from the bank for his business, as well as separate loans of $1.4 million and $500,000, for what, he said, was for two clients, federal authorities announced today.
Robert J. Lunn, of Chicago, allegedly made a series of misrepresentations to Leaders Bank on his personal financial statements. He allegedly lied and said he owed millions of dollars of stock in Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers.
Lunn, 62, did business as Lunn Partners LLC, an investment advisory business.

Judge Tosses Out Some Autopsy Photos of Murder Victim

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After jurors had gone home for the day, defense attorney Willard Wiksell told the judge that he was objecting to six autopsy photographs that were going to be used by the prosecutor in the murder trial of Alex Compian, saying that they were "extraordinary gruesome"

Wiksell said the District Attorney's Office has a right to present its case. However, he said these photographs would be "unduly prejudicial" if jurors saw them.

Judge Charles Campbell agreed.

But not before prosecutor Rameen Minoui argued that the district attorney has a right to present its case. Minoui said he wanted to show jurors the path of the bullet and where the killer was standing when the shots were fired to corroborate witnesses' testimony.

He argued that this was most "persuasive evidence" to underscore key points in the prosecution's case. Minoui made his arguments as he stood near the bench and while holding up the large photographs so the judge could look at them.

"This is a heinous crime. The crime of murder by way of gunshot,"   Minoui told the judge.

The victim Mario Cisneros, 50, was found shot and lying near the side of his home in the 200 block of Alpine Street in Oxnard about 11:20 p.m. on Dec. 24, 2009, Oxnard police said.

Wiksell said there is no fact in dispute that the victim was killed, and there is no need to have these photographs to prove this point. He said the photographs are "unduly prejudicial"   

Basically, autopsy photographs are used when they are necessary to give details to the jury about how a person was killed, and just because they are enlarged and in color doesn't mean they'll get tossed out of a trial.

The rule of thumb is whether the photographs are more inflammatory than what is needed to show how a killing happened.

A defendant's conviction can be overturn because he was denied  his constitutional right to a fair trial if a judge allows some very gruesome photographs with no probative value to be admitted as evidence.

Although Minoui was told by the judge that he couldn't use these specific six autopsy photographs, he still can use other autopsy photographs during the trial.

 Outside the courtroom, Wiksell said he didn't know the specific number of autopsy photographs that prosecutors have to use in this trial.

"Plenty ," he said.

Restating his basic argument to Judge Campbell as he walked down the hallway: "There is no question. He got shot. He died."

 Compian maintains that he wasn't the gunman.

Closing Arguments and Opening Statements Begin in Two Trials

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Closing arguments in the trial of a parolee and alleged leader of the Ventura-based white supremacist gang continue this afternoon in Courtroom 23 at Ventura County Superior Court.

Jeremy McCubbin, 38, is facing life in prison under the three strike law, according to prosecutor John Barrick.

McCubbin is charged with street terrorism and being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.

McCubbin's lawyers Patrick Rossetti and Jesyka maintain that McCubbin did violate his parole but that the shotgun belonged to Eric Nestroyl who was with McCubbin.

Judge Kevin DeNoce is presiding in that trial.

Upstairs in Courtroom 35, opening statements are also set to begin this afternoon in  Courtroom 35 in the murder trial of Alex Compian.

Compian is accused of killing his neighbor who was shot to death on Christmas Eve and found lying near the side of this home in the 200 block of Alpine Street in Oxnard in 2009.

Compian has pleaded not guilty to murder.

Judge Charles Campbell is presiding in that trial. The prosecutor is Rameen Minoui and Compian's lawyer is Willard Wiksell.

East St. Louis Cop Flunks Integrity Test and Pleads Guilty to Theft

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SPRINGFIELD -- An East St. Louis cop failed an integrity test after federal agents put a Rolex watch encircled with diamonds in a vehicle that appeared to be abandoned or stolen, according to federal officials.

On Sept. 17,2010, Larry D. Greenlee responded to a call of a suspicious vehicle and inventoried what was inside the vehicle before it was towed, according U.S. Attorney General's Office.

Audio and video surveillance caught Greenlee stealing the Rolex watch.

Greenlee, 40, pleaded guilty today to  one count of theft in federal court. He will be sentenced on Sept. 21.

 Greenlee is no longer with the police department.

Today's Quote

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"You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother." --  Albert Einstein

Report States Crime Rates Down And Spending for Police Up

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Despite the crime rates being at their lowest levels in more than 30 years, the U.S. continues to "maintain large and increasingly militarized police units," spending more than $100 billion every year, according to a report released this month by the Justice Policy Institute, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system. 


"Police forces have grown from locally-funded public safety initiatives into a federally subsidized jobs program, with a decreasing focus on community policing and growing concerns about racial profiling and 'cuffs for cash,' with success measured not by increased safety and well-being but by more arrests."  -- the report states.

For more information on the report:

In Other Courthouses Across the Nation This Week

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SAN ANTONIO -- An AWOL soldier was found guilty by a jury on Thursday of attempting to bring a bomb into Fort Hood and detonate it inside an unspecified restaurant frequented by soldiers, according to federal officials.
The 22-year-old Naser Jason Abdo, who was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, is facing life in prison when he is sentenced in July. He was arrested on July 27, 2011. He had a gun and instructions on how to build a bomb as well as bomb-making components when he was arrested.

SAN DIEGO -- Federal prosecutors announced this week that 43-year-old Armando Villareal Heredia, also known as "Gordo Villareal," was extradited from Mexico into the United States.
The defendant is a key player in the Fernando Sanchez-Arellano Organization, which evolved from the now-defunct Arellano-Felix drug empire, according to federal authorities.
So far, 38 defendants have pleaded guilty in this criminal case and admitted to participating in violent "transnational" crimes such as murders, kidnappings, robberies, assaults, money laundering, and a wide range of of drug trafficking.
Villareal was arrested by Mexican police on July 8, 2011 at the request of U.S. officials.

BUFFALO -- A former teacher was sentenced to 30 years in prison this week for producing and possessing child pornography, according to federal officials.
Timothy Bek, 25, of West Seneca, New York, posed as a teen on a social networking website. He made contact with youngsters, some of whom were students in schools where Bek taught. He persuaded the victims to take explicit photos and videos of themselves and send these images over the Internet.
Bek's brother, Jason Bek, was also arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2011, say federal prosecutors.

Michael Planet and Co. Have Some Tough Decisions Ahead

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Michael Planet hasn't been his jovial self lately.

I spotted him walking down the Hall of Justice hallway  today.  Michael Planet is the executive officer of the Ventura County Superior Court.

Michael, his administration along with the presiding judge Vincent O'Neill have been having meetings and endless discussions about the best way to tackle the local budget deficit, which just grew almost overnight from $10 million to an additional $3 million.

Scrap the $10 million proposed plan, unfurl the new  budget deficit with the bigger blow -- $13 million.

Michael has a great sense of humor but lately, there has been a look of frustration and concern on his face.  There is uncertainty about where the state's budget is going to take Ventura County's and other state courthouses and at what price to those seeking justice.

In Ventura County, Michael said nothing is being ruled out. There could be more job cuts,courthouse closures or further reducing administration hours.

Across the state there has been wholesale closure of courtrooms, very long lines just to file civil cases or retrieve records and hundreds of courthouse staff being handed pink slips.

Recently, the budget deficit resulted in the recent decision to move all the courtrooms from Simi Valley to Ventura by the end of June. There is only one remaining court, which is a civil court, is still in Simi Valley.

People from East County will now have to travel to Ventura to seek justice.

I never pass an opportunity to talk to Michael about many things, including football, great places to visit and of course, what's going on at the courthouse.

What going to happen to the empty courtrooms in Simi Valley, any chance of leasing office space or something there? I asked.

Good question, Planet said, adding that there has been no decision on the Simi Valley courthouse, aside from keeping some administrative offices there.

Planet said he didn't think it was a good idea to lease space even if it could be done, noting that he has a friend who works in commercial real estate and that business has slowed down considerably.

We shifted our conversation  to Catholic schools vs. the public school system, then, for some reason, about nuns and catechism.

We went back to talking about the state budget deficit.  I told him that the state should explore the idea of a marriage between business and public state agencies. I said that the post office, I believe, toyed with the idea many years ago of allowing free business advertising on stamps in exchange for big bucks.

We went back and forth on the pros and cons of a possible alliance between business and the state's courthouses.

This time the conversation took a turn into the land of crazy.

 "You know what would be cool?  Judge's wearing the black robes with the Nike swoosh sign up top," I joked. "If I was a judge and this business thing got a green light, I'd want the swoosh sign on my robe."

"Yeah," he chuckled.

"Or, what about something like a "T.J. Towing" ad on the other side of the robe in the front?" I continued.

I said judges could look like those racecar drivers who have STP and Pennzoil and dozens of other ads on their uniforms.

"What about "Bud Light" on the back of the robe," Planet said and laughed.  "Or, it could be 'This Space for Rent' sign on the robe."

"Yeah, or something like Beto and Sons' Bail Bonds with an 800 number in wide letters in the back of the robe," I suggested.

"Yeah, yeah," he said.  

"Run it by Judge O'Neill," I said. "See what he thinks."

We both laughed.

"I am glad we had this conversation," he said as we ended our brief chat.

Michael said it made him feel a better.

In a few weeks,  Michael Planet, Judge O'Neill and other courthouse administrators have the very grim task of making some very tough choices,  deciding where to make more cost cutting decisions, including the possibility of having to let go more employees into an already shakey economy.


Today's Quote

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"Laughter is the shortest distance between two people." -

Victor Borge

N.C. Man Sentenced to 50 Years in Prison for Ponzi Scheme

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A 47-year-old man was sentenced today to 50 years in prison in connection with a $40 million Ponzi scheme he operated, according to federal prosecutors.
From April 2007 to September 2009, Keith Franklin Simmons, of West Jefferson, North Carolina and his co-conspirators induced more than 400 victims nationwide to invest more than $40 million in Black Diamond, a supposed business trading in the foreign currency exchange market.
Simmons used the victims' money to pay for a lavish lifestyle, according to federal authorities.

Man Who Allegedly Terrorized People at Pier Will Stand Trial

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This afternoon, Diego Aquino found out that a judge believes that there is enough evidence to hold him for trial for allegedly terrorizing men, women and children with words and a knife at the pier in Port Hueneme earlier this month.

Witnesses said Aquino was drunk and cursing loudly when a group of four children whose ages ranged from six months to 10 years along with three adults and a 16-year-old  showed up at the pier to go fishing.

One of the adults politely asked the 25-year-old  Aquino, "Excuse me, sir. Can you watch your language? There are children on this pier. That's not appropriate," Serenity Lindsey who was with the group testified.

Acquino became so enraged by a request that he tone it down that he pulled out a knife and began spewing  threats with his curse words, including threatening to slit the throat of one of the women.

"Do you want some of this," Lindsey said Aquino told them. "I am going to get my gun."

There was a woman who was with Aquino pleading for him to stop.  But he dug into his pocket, pulled out a knife and came within arms length of Lindsey.  He also approached  the 16-year-old boy with his arm extended and holding a knife close to the teen's face.

The baby with the group started to cry and Aquino threatened the mother who was going to tend to her daughter.

"Don't you (curse word) touch her," Lindsey said Aquino told the mother as he brandished the knife.

"This is my child. She is crying. I need to nurture her," Lindsey said the baby's mother told Acquino.

The 16-year-old boy had testified earlier that he thought he had a box cutter in his tackle box. He said he felt the need to get it to protect the females and children. But he said he couldn't find the box cutter in his tackle box but stood between Aquino and the females.

The family decided to leave to protect the children.Lindsey said she had  sent the older  children to the restroom when they first arrived at the pier to get them out of the way of Aquino's vulgarities.

"He could walk a straight line if he wanted to. He knew what he was doing," Lindsey testified. "He reeked of alcohol. He wasn't drunk."

Lindsey demonstrated on the witness stand how close Aquino and how he held the knife.

"I kept backing up so he wouldn't stick me," said Lindsey.

Adding, "we were all trying to stand back, and he kept coming closer and closer...He's looking at all of us, making eye contact."

Lindsey said Aquino wasn't fishing, "all he had in his hand was a beer and in the other, a knife."

 Aquino kept telling people that it was his pier and other witnesses told the group that he had bumped into them, throwing his shoulders around at the pier,  according to Lindsey.

"This is my pier. I served in the military for you punks," Lindsey said Aquino told the group.

The prosecutor Stuart Gardner said he has no record of Aquino's military service. Aquino's lawyer Andre Nintcheff declined to comment after his client's preliminary hearing.

Gardner said Aquino, of Oxnard, has been charged with two felony counts of criminal threats and three counts of brandishing a knife, misdemeanors.

Criminal charges that are serious enough to land him behind bars for as long as four years, said Gardner.  But it's more than likely that Aquino who is in jail under a $60,000 bail will get additional jail time.

Aquino who sat quietly in court has pleaded not guilty.

If this case goes to trial, a parade of witnesses who were at the pier will probably be put on the stand.

 Nintcheff's  argument to the judge  in trying to reduce some of the felony charge was that observations by people in these situations tend to be "heightened and exaggerated" seems lame.







Check Out the New Ventura County Superior Court Web Site

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The new Ventura County Superior Court web site has been overhauled and it's easier to find information, phone numbers and civil and criminal cases.
Check it out:

Santa Ana Attorney Sentenced To Prison for Investment Scam

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SANTA ANA -- An Orange County attorney was sentenced today to more than seven years for stealing more than $25 million stemming from an investment scheme, according to federal authorities.


Jeanne Rowzee, 53, of Irvine and her "cohorts bilked scores of investors with empty promises," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. stated.  "Rowzee played a key role in this scheme by promising huge returns on investments and pretending to be an experienced securities fraud admitting that she helped bilk victims who thought they were investing in public investments in private entities (PIPE's) and money market programs."


Rowzee  and her co-defendant James Halstead, 65, of Tustin, promised returns of 25 percent to 35 percent every three or four months, according to federal officials.


Halstead was sentenced two years ago to 10 years in federal prison.


About 140 investors suffered more than $20 million in losses.


The victims' money was never invested. Halstead and Rowzee instead

used the money to make Ponzi payments to some investors and to support their lavish lifestyles, federal officials state.

According to court documents, Halstead used $191,005 of victim-investors'

money to buy a Ferrari, more than $1 million to purchase a home for himself in the Las Vegas area, and $162,350 to buy a Porsche.



State Court Administration In Sacramento Cuts 180 Jobs

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SACRAMENTO-- The Administrative Office of the Courts announced last week that it was slashing its workforce by about 180 employees by the end of June as a result of the state budget crisis.

Interim Administrative Director Jody Patel told the state Judicial Council that the Administrative Office's budget of $112.2 million was cut by 12 percent this fiscal year, and she is preparing for bigger cuts next fiscal year, officials stated.

"It's important we make these changes," Patel stated. "It is a painful process for everyone, especially for those losing their jobs. But we have little choice. Our budget has been cut by 18.2 percent during the last four years. In addition, we feel that a realignment of AOC operations was long overdue."

The state's Administrative Office serves as the administrative arm of the state's Judicial Council and provides many services including education, legal services, safety and security and information technology

California has 58 trial courts, one in each county.

Today's Quote

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"In time we hate that which we often fear"  -- William Shakespeare

Disbarred Lawyer Sentenced to 11 Years For Investment Scam

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LOS ANGELES -- A disbarred lawyer was sentenced today to more than 11 years in prison for his role in a $9.5 million investment scam, according to federal prosecutors.

Mark Roy Anderson, 57, who owned the now-closed Prego restaurant in Beverly Hills with his wife, falsely promised huge profits through investments in various oil companies and oil ventures in Oklahoma and California.

U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson called Anderson a "professional conman" who had prior convictions and came from a "decade-long" frenzy of fraudulent activity in the 1980s, federal officials stated.

The judge told Anderson that he was a "financial predator with little regard for the law or harm he causes," concluding that Anderson's sole motivation was greed.

In total 14 victims lost more than $9.5 million, according to federal prosecutors.

Anderson was disbarred from practicing law in Nevada.

Courthouse Budget Deficit Could Go Up Another $3 Million

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The financial train wreck known as the state budget is expected to take another large chunk from California's courthouses, many are still limping from the last cuts, including Ventura County.

Ventura County Superior Court Executive Officer Michael Planet said Friday that the budget deficit this fiscal year, which begins on July,  is now expected  to be as high as $13 million, up  $3 million.

This means austere reductions, including closing and relocating all the Simi Valley courtrooms to Ventura by June 25.

"It's not clear what the impact will be on the trial courts," said Planet, adding that the state's courthouses need more clarification from Sacramento.

Planet said everything will be reviewed, including more cuts in staff and hours, which will result in longer lines to file and retrieve court records.

"Everything is on the table," he said.

The state is facing a $16.7 billion shortfall, and the budget is set to be adopted on June 15.

Gov. Jerry Brown is cutting many programs and services throughout  the state including $544 million in funding to the judicial branch for fiscal year 2012-2013.

Thursday, a special session was called by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, chair of the Judicial Council in Sacramento after the governor announced the $544 million cut for the judicial branch in fiscal year 2012-2013.

On Friday, Cantil-Sakauye appointed a 10-member ad hoc group of judicial branch leaders who will lead budget negotiations on the Governor's proposals.

Ana Matasantos, the director of the state Department of Finance, was questioned Thursday about the governor's new proposals for drastic reductions in the judicial branch budget, according to state officials.

Cantil-Sakauye said Thursday that the courts have been so successful in protecting essential services that the governor believes that trial courts haven't been harmed from the tens of millions taken from the judicial branch.

Matosantos maintains that the trial courts have "substantial reserves" and believe that the local reserve system should be modified. 

This means sweeping changes in the way the courts are funded, officials state.

This modification should include setting up a reserve of 3 percent  allocated by the Judicial Council bases on uniform criteria.

Planet said the nuts and bolts of how this reserve fund will work is still in limbo.

Of the $544 million proposed reduction in the May budget revise, $300 million would come from the trial court reserves. Another $240 million would come from delays in court construction, and $4 million in increased retirement contributions from state court employees, according to Matosantos.

Planet said the blows of the deep cuts have been felt in the Ventura and other courthouses.

More recently, as of June 25 all the misdemeanor and family courts at the Simi Valley courthouse will officially be located in Ventura, Planet said.

All but one family court have moved to Ventura from Simi Valley, said Planet.

There are discussions underway on whether to close down the remaining courts that hear traffic, landlord-tenant and small claims disputes, according to Planet.

There have been many staff and other reductions in Ventura County.

Ventura has lost 70 courthouse positions in the last three years, and records and case filing windows now close at 3 p.m., Planet said.  In addition, there is a work-furlough program that mandates that many Ventura court workers, including management,  take 13, 15 or 18 unpaid days off each year.

Management positions are mandated days to take the most days off. There is the week-long Christmas closure of Ventura's courts, Planet noted.

Ventura County courts have numerous functions and expenses, including collections, interpreting services, jury services, court reporters, judicial assistants, court records and criminal, civil and juvenile cases.

One of the hardest hit courthouses in the state budget crisis is the Los Angeles County Superior Court. 

 In April, Los Angeles Court officials announced that by the end of June they would reduce its staff by nearly 350 workers, close 56 courtroom, reduce the use of court reporters and end the Informal Juvenile Traffic Courts.he courtroom being impacted include 24 civil, 24 criminal, three family, a probate and four juvenile courts.

As of May 15, Los Angeles Superior Court will no longer provide court reporters for civil trials.

New Yorker Who Spread Mercury at a Hospital Cafeteria Indicted

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NEW YORK -- A man who was apparently upset for having to pay for his medical treatment at the Albany Medical Center was indicted today for spreading mercury, a known toxic substance, throughout various areas of the hospital cafeteria, according to federal prosecutors.

Martin S. Kimber, 59, of Ruby, New York, was indicted on three counts of violating the chemical weapons statue, which prohibits people from possessing, stockpiling or using a toxic chemical as a weapon. He has also charged with consumer product tampering, according to the U.S. Attorney General's Office.

Kimber is facing life in prison if he is convicted for his crimes.
Kimber allegedly spread mercury also in areas where food is served to customers and "on or around heating elements" used in food preparation, federal authorities allege.

Federal officials stated that on four separate occasions last year Kimber spread the mercury.  On March 2, 2012, Kimber's activities were caught on hospital video surveillance. He was arrested on April 25, say federal officials.

 Kimber's house was searched by the FBI. Two canisters of mercury and 21 guns were removed from his house, according to federal officials.

White Supremacist literature and a Nazi swastika were found inside Kimber's home during the execution of a search warrant, prosecutors said.


Today's Quote

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"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." -- Albert Einstein

Thought You'd Like to Know

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Habeas Corpus, literally means "you have the body," and represents a right granted in the constitution.

Basically, a writ of habeas corpus allows a person to challenge the legality of his detention and requires a prisoner to be brought to court.

The history of Habeas Corpus is ancient and goes back further than the Magna Carta in 1215. The Habeas Corpus Act 1679 is an Act of the Parliament of England passed during the reign of King Charles II.

The name is taken from the opening words of the "Habeas Corpus" writ in medieval times.

Although rarely used nowadays, it can theoretically be demanded by anyone who believes they are unlawfully detained and it is issued by a judge.

It does not determine guilt or innocence, merely whether the person is legally imprisoned. If the charge is considered to be valid, the person must submit to trial but if not, the person goes free.

The Habeas Corpus Act passed by Parliament in 1679 guaranteed this right in law, although its origins go back much further, probably to Anglo-Saxon times.

According to Article One of the Constitution, the right to a writ of habeas corpus can only be suspended in "cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety."

Habeas Corpus was suspended during the Civil War and Reconstruction, in parts of South Carolina during the fight against the Ku Klux Klan and during the War on Terror.

Sources: "Habeas Corpus in America: The Politics of Individual Rights (Constitutional Thinking) by Justin Wert and "Federal Courts: Habeas Corpus, 2d," by Larry Yackle.

Also visit BBC News web site:



Mongol Sent to Prison for Life for Killing Hells Angel SF President

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SAN FRANCISCO -- A member of the Mongols motorcycle gang was sentenced to life in prison today for murdering the president of the San Francisco Hells Angels.

Christopher Bryan Ablett, also known as "Stoney," was sentenced to serve two concurrent life sentences and one life sentence to run consecutive, according to U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag.

Ablett is committed the gang-related murder of Mark "Papa" Guardado, the president of the San Francisco Chapter of the Hells Angels in San Francisco on Sept. 2, 2008.

"The defendant killed a complete stranger for no reason other than his membership in a rival motorcycle gang," Haag stated.

The Mongols are an organized criminal motorcycle gang who are rivals to the Hells Angels motorcycle gang, say officials.

During Ablett's trial, the evidence showed that Ablett was armed with a foot-long military knife and a .357 magnum revolver when he went to visit a friend.

When Guardado learned that Ablett was wearing a Mongols patch shirt in a bar in Mission, Guardado went to the street outside the bar and approached Ablett, according to Haag.

A fight broke out and Ablett stabbed Guardado four times and shot him twice, killing him.

The jury rejected Ablett's claims that he acted in self-defense and found that Ablett murdered Guardado to increase his status in the Mongols, according to Haag. 

New Haven Man Facing 10 Years For Possessing Child Porn

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New Haven - A 44-year-old man pleaded guilty on Tuesday to possessing more than 300 images and 22 videos of graphic child pornography and is facing up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Joseph Calvin Laughner, 44, will be sentenced in federal court in September.

To report cases of child exploitation go to website:

Today's Quote

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"Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours."  Yogi Berra

"Phish Phry" Lands Oceanside Woman In Federal Pen

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LOS ANGELES - A Southern California manager of an international  computer hacking ring was sentenced today to five years in federal prison, the U.S. Attorney General's Office announced today.

Nichole Michelle Merzi, 26, of Oceanside was accused of being one of the main players in the "phishing" operation that used spam, emails and bogus websites to collect personal information used to defraud American banks, say federal authorities.

Last year, jurors found Merzi guilty of bank and wire fraud conspiracy, aggravated identity theft, computer fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy charges,  federal officials stated.

As a result of a multinational investigation tabbed "Operation Phish Phry," 47 people have been convicted in federal court in Los Angeles.  The investigation conducted in the U.S. and Egypt led to charges being filed against 100 people, according to federal officials.

Also arrested  was Merzi's former boyfriend Kenneth Joseph Lucas II. He was sentenced to 13 years stemming from a phishing scheme and from an indoor marijuana grow operation, say federal authorities.

Operation Phish Phry was the largest number of defendants ever charged in a cybercrime case, federal authorities said.


The Two Sides of Prison Privatization

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A new report released today by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency and titled "Prison Bed Profiteers: How Corporations Are Reshaping Criminal Justice in the U.S" states that private prison corporations are derailing public safety and long-term, sustainable criminal justice reform.

The Council on Crime states that it promotes just and equitable social systems for individuals, families, and communities through research, public policy, and practice.

For more information visit the organization's  website:, which features the report.

Another viewpoint on the privatization of prisons in California was published in Reason Magazine in 2010:

The Reason Foundation-Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation study found that modest expansion of California's current use of public-private partnerships in corrections would save taxpayers nearly $2 billion over the next five years. Additionally, more aggressive use of private prisons and contracting out some operations of existing prison facilities would save another $400 million to $1.2 billion each year.

Reason and Reason Online stated that they are editorially independent publications of the Reason Foundation, a national, non-profit research and educational organization.

For more information visit Reason's web site:

Former Medical Tech Admits Contaminating Patients With Hepatitis C

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JACKSONVILLE, FL-- A former radiology technician is facing life in a federal prison after he admitted in court on Friday that he stole syringes of Fentanyl during patients' medical procedures and replaced them with syringes of saline contaminated with hepatitis C, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Steven Beaumel, 48, pleaded guilty to one count of tampering with a consumer product that resulted in death, federal authorities stated.

Epidemiologists from the Mayo Clinic, Florida Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control worked for more than three years to solve the hepatitis C outbreak at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville from October 2004 through August 2010.

The first patient discovered to have hepatitis C linked to Beumel was a liver transplant patient who received a new liver in September 2006. During a radiology procedure in November 2006, Beumel took this patient's Fentanyl and infected him with hepatitis C. The patient battled hepatitis C for almost four years. He died from complications related to hepatitis C, never knowing how he got it, say federal officials.

Beumel's tampering occurred from 2006 through 2008 at the Mayo Clinic's Intervetonal Radiology Unit, according to federal authorities.

FBI agents arrested Beumel on May 24, 2011.

A sentencing date hasn't been scheduled yet. 

Judicial Review Committee Stands By Its Unqualified Rating

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In response to poor ratings by the Ventura County Bar Association's Judicial Evaluations Committee as to his qualifications to be judge,  Attorney Bradley Bjelke who is running against Judge Harry Walsh wrote:

"I made the decision not to participate in the evaluation because I want to be elected by the people--not a committee of individuals who have no accountability.  It should also be noted that one of the members of this supposed "independent" committee openly and publicly endorses my opponent. That alone discredits the entire evaluation."

 "I graduated from a top law school, worked for one of the largest law firms in the United States, and I represent sophisticated clients in complex matters and litigation.  The ratings that this committee gave me are not based on any facts and they are irresponsible and absurd.  I am confident that the voters in Ventura County will see through this nonsense and realize that this is just an attempt to discredit me to maintain the status quo.  If you want to change the way the current process works, you will vote for me and bring new life to the bench."

The committee recently concluded that Walsh is exceptionally well-qualified; Bjelke is not qualified to be on the bench.

The Bar's 13-member judicial Evaluations Committee who rated the qualifications of Walsh and Bjelke fired back on Friday, saying that Bjelke was invited on numerous occasions to participate in the judicial review process but declined to do so.

"Mr. Bjelke also alleges that the support of one member of the Committee of his opponent "discredits the entire evaluation."  Again, Mr. Bjelke is incorrect.  When this allegation surfaced shortly after the evaluations were released, the Committee's Vice Chair investigated it and concluded that it was unfounded.  The Committee member in question had been asked to endorse Judge Walsh.  He did not intend to do so.  However, a supporter of Judge Walsh placed the Committee member's name on the list of endorsers in error.  The Committee member participated in the evaluation process not ever knowing of the mistake or that his name appeared as an endorser of Judge Walsh.  Once the error was brought to the Committee member's attention, he promptly asked that his name be removed from the list of endorsers."

"What is particularly irresponsible about the timing of Mr. Bjelke's allegation is that, under the rules, he had a right to bring the situation to the attention of the Committee and to ask that the member not participate in either or both evaluations.  Mr. Bjelke chose to do nothing.  Had he acted in accordance with the rules, the mistake would have been corrected sooner.  Had he done so, based upon past experience, it also is most likely that the member voluntarily would have withdrawn from the process."

"Accordingly, while the Committee regrets the error and is disappointed that Mr. Bjelke did not raise the issue sooner, the Committee also continues to stand by the independence and integrity of its investigation and its evaluation of Mr. Bjelke." -- Joel Mark, Vice Chair Ventura County Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Committee

The Jury Foreman

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When the jury summons arrived in the mail, Dave would see it as an opportunity to go to the Ventura County Hall of Justice, sit somewhere on the courthouse grounds and read a good book.

Then, Dave, who asked that his real name not be used, was selected to serve on a murder trial involving three defendants, Brian Starks, Corey Lamar Johnson, and Terrance "Terry" Morrow.

The three were accused of killing 49-year-old Michael Wade, of Northern California and wounding Kenneth Pecaro, a San Bernardino parolee, during a drug deal gone bad on Nov. 9, 2009.

This trial's cast of seedy characters included parolees, former and current prison inmates, big-time drug dealers and small time pushers. And attorneys who called the other side's witnesses liars.

One side was armed with a rifle and two guns; the other side had no weapons, according to the prosecution. The shooting took place 75 yards from an elementary school. Wade died in an alley in the 1400 block of South E Street in Oxnard. Starks shot him twice in the back with hollow-point bullets, ammunition that is designed to cause a lot of damage to the human body.

The trial started on April 9.

During opening statements, the prosecutor told jurors that the defendants were going to rob Wade and Pecaro. Defense lawyers said it was simply a drug deal gone bad, and there was no money. Therefore, it couldn't have been a robbery.

The first week of May, jurors began deliberations after all the testimony and evidence -- including DNA and a video of a convenience store parking lot where Starks met with the victims on the day of the shooting -- ended.

It got more serious for Dave.

Fellow jurors picked him as jury foreman whose job it was to keep the deliberations going, help sort through all the pieces of evidence including crime scene photographs and allow the smooth and steady recollection of testimony by jurors.

There were countless hours and thousands of words said on the witness stand.

But first, Dave said jurors had to wade through 80-pages of jury instructions that had been read by Judge Charles Campbell. That was done before the prosecutor and defense attorneys could present hours of closing arguments.

He recalled going into the jury room, jurors finally selecting him as the foreman, and then having to wait to get copies of the jury instructions.

"They were still working on them," he said.

 Dave, however, said this short waiting time was well spent by jurors sorting out some of the evidence.

Dave said he was very impressed Judge Campbell, saying that he was fair to both sides.

"I was very impressed by him and the bailiffs," he said. "It was a good courtroom experience."

Dave said the most compelling evidence was not one thing but was how the prosecutor Maeve Fox and the investigators linked all the evidence together.

What sticks out in his mind was the 20-minute audio recording of Wade who had been fatally wounded and was played at the start of the trial. In the background of the recording, a dog barked almost incessantly and a police officer asked the dying Wade questions and gave commands and encouraged him to keep breathing.

"That was kind of eerie because we already knew that he had died and to hear him suffering," said Dave.

The Oxnard police officer who arrived at the crime scene and is heard asking the mortally wounded Wade questions, left an impression on Dave. The officer was "calm and focus" while trying to keep Wade alive amid the chaos, Dave said.

The autopsy photographs that often tend to linger in the minds of people who serve on juries involving homicides didn't have much of an impact on Dave. He said the autopsy photographs weren't graphic.

On May 4 and after four days of deliberating, jurors said they had verdicts on some of the felony counts and were deadlocked on others.

Starks was the only defendant found guilty of murder with great bodily injury.  Starks also had a gun during the murder and was a felon in possession of a gun, jurors said.

The jurors were deadlocked on the conspiracy charge against Johnson and Morrow, and therefore, they couldn't convict the defendants of murder during the commission of a robbery.

Morrow was found guilty of assault with a firearm because he wounded Pecaro in the hand; Jurors deadlocked on the murder and other felony charges against Johnson.  

Dave said he no longer sees a jury summons the same way,a ticket to go sit on courthouse grounds and read a good book.

"I think a lot of people don't want to do jury duty," he said. "Now that I have been involved I have a great appreciation for the process. I have no hesitation in doing it again.

And yeah, Dave emphasized that this was a very serious case. But that's what jurors promised to do when they raised their hands to sit in a case where another human being lost his life, he said.

"We took it seriously, very seriously. We swore that we would do that, and so we had a job to do," Dave said.

The Latest Financial Scoreboard for the Judicial Campaigns

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The latest campaign contributions and expenditures reports for judicial candidates Judge Harry Walsh and Attorney Bradley Bjelke indicate that Walsh has outspent Bjelke by more than 2 to 1 from Jan. 1 to March 17.

Source: Ventura County Elections Department

Judge Walsh: Contributions -- $31,248
                     Expenditures -- $13,478
                     Ending Cash Balance -- $17,829

Wash has loaned his campaign $28,500

Attorney Bejelke: Contributions -- $7,840
                           Expenditures -- $5,859
                            Ending Cash Balance -- $1,980

Bjelke has loaned his campaign $6,020 

In Other Courthouses Across the Nation This Week

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PHOENIX - A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a methamphetamine trafficker to more than seven years in prison, according to the FBI.

Roberto Benjamin Chavez, 58, of Yuma, Arizona was involved in a methamphetamine distribution ring between September 2010 and April 2011. Chavez received the methamphetamine from a Mexican-based supplier, according to the FBI.

WASHINGTON - Two stock promoters, a securities lawyer and a stock trader were sentenced Thursday for their participation in a stock manipulation scheme that defrauded investors in a company called CO2 Technologies, according to the U.S. Justice Department officials.

A federal  judge in Miami sentenced Michael Krome, 50, a securities attorney from New York to nearly three years in prison. Stock promoters Timothy Barham Jr., 44, of Tennessee, and Robert Weidenbaum, 46, of Miami, were sentenced to more than a year in prison each.



The Bar Association Issues Its Judicial Ratings

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The Ventura County Bar Association on Wednesday released its ratings of judicial candidates Judge Harry Walsh and Attorney Bradley Bjelke.

The ratings were given by the Bar's 13-member Judicial Evaluations Committee.

Walsh is exceptionally well-qualified; Bjelke is not qualified to be on the bench, according to the committe's findings.

Candidates were rated on Professional Ability, Professional Experience, Judicial Temperament, Professional Reputation and Work Ethic/Resource Management.

The ratings scale ranged from outstanding, very good, satisfactory, below average, unsatisfactory and unknown. The overall ratings given were either Exceptional Well Qualified; Well Qualified; Qualified or Not Qualified.

        Judge Harry Walsh was rated Outstanding in the categories of Professional Ability, Professional Experience, Professional Reputation and Work Ethic/Resource Management.  He received a rating of Very Good in the category of Judicial Temperament.  Overall, Judge Walsh has been rated as Exceptionally Well Qualified for the office of Superior Court Judge.

            Bradley Bjelke was rated Unsatisfactory in the categories of Professional Ability, Professional Experience, Professional Reputation and Work Ethic/Resource Management.  He received a rating of Unknown in the category of Judicial Temperament.  Overall, Mr. Bjelke has been rated as Not Qualified for the office of Superior Court Judge. 

            Judge Walsh stated in an email that his goal is to be "outstanding" in all categories and that he had some work to do on "judicial temperament."

         "I am not going to be falsely modest.  I have been a judge for 14 years, and I think the overall rating of "Extremely Well Qualified" is accurate, and I am proud of it.  I have never made a secret that being a judge is the best job I have ever had, and I work hard to be good at it.  I was disppointed that Mr. Bjelke did not fully participate in the process.  This is not an election for student council.  It is an election for an important position where the decisions that a judge makes often have a direct impact on people's everyday lives."

"Lawyers are in the unique position of being able to critically evaluate the performance of judicial officers they encounter on a daily basis, and most are able to do this objectively and get beyond the monentary disappointment they may experience when they in get a ruling they disagree with. My endorsements now include just under 500 lawyers. The VCBA evaluation reflects that level of support and approval.  Mr. Bjelke does not show great respect for either his profession or the position he seeks by refusing to present himself for scrutiny and evaluation."


Attorney Bjelke stated in an email that he declined to participate in the Bar Association's evaluation of the judicial candidates, criticizing the ratings process:

"I made the decision not to participate in the evaluation because I want to be elected by the people--not a committee of individuals who have no accountability.  It should also be noted that one of the members of this supposed "independent" committee openly and publicly endorses my opponent. That alone discredits the entire evaluation."

 "I graduated from a top law school, worked for one of the largest law firms in the United States, and I represent sophisticated clients in complex matters and litigation.  The ratings that this committee gave me are not based on any facts and they are irresponsible and absurd.  I am confident that the voters in Ventura County will see through this nonsense and realize that this is just an attempt to discredit me to maintain the status quo.  If you want to change the way the current process works, you will vote for me and bring new life to the bench."


The Ventura County Diversity Bar Alliance Inaugural Mixer

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The Ventura County Diversity Bar Alliance is holding its inaugural mixer on Wednesday,May 16 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Twenty 88 Restaurant & Bar in Old Town Camarillo, according to Attorney Dien Le.

Come and learn about the Diversity Bar Alliance and its pro bono program.

The cost is $25 a person, this includes appetizers and drinks, said Le who is the president of the Ventura County Bar Association.

Please RSVP to the Diversity Bar or the Ventura County Bar Association at 650-7599 or email Dien at

Today's Quote

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"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."-- Albert Einstein

Got $35 and Need Some Legal Advice? Call the Bar Association.

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Are you about to sign a contract for thousands of dollars in goods or services and like most people are mesmerized by all the fine print on the written agreement?

Need a defense lawyer to ask about a criminal charge such as drunken driving, shoplifting or vandalism?

Do you have questions about a trust fund or a will, or perhaps, need to legal advice about estate planning?

For a $35 flat fee, the Ventura County Bar Association can help connect you with one of its 110 civil and criminal lawyers who can help answer these legal questions and are part of the Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service, according to Steve Henderson who is the executive director and CEO of the Bar.

Here is how it works, said Mr. Henderson:  People can 650-7599 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Ask for the Lawyer Referral Service and someone from Mr. Henderson's office will interview the caller for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Mr. Henderson said this is so the Lawyer Referral Service worker who is screening the calls can put a person in touch with the right lawyer whose law office is close to where the person lives.

A person, for example, might need a personal injury lawyer rather than a worker's compensation attorney, said Mr. Henderson.

The Lawyer Referral Service works strictly on an attorney rotation basis to ensure fairness in the referral process, according to Mr. Henderson.

 The Lawyer Referral Service screener sets up the interview between the attorney and the person who is seeking legal advice, said Mr. Henderson.

The $35 fee goes to the Bar Association, which is a non-profit agency.

Basically, the lawyer who is giving free legal advice does so in hopes of gaining a client, said Mr. Henderson.

The legal consultation with lawyers usually lasts about 35 to 45 minutes, according to Henderson.

A person who uses this service, however, is not obligated to hire the attorney after the legal consultation, and as a matter of fact, the individual can call the Bar Association, pay another $35 and get another referral to a different lawyer to get a second legal opinion.

Mr. Henderson said lawyers who agree to participate in this service must fill out a nearly three dozen page application and questionnaire so the best possible referral can be made.

The Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service has an 11 attorney advisory board and is certified by the State Bar Association and the American Bar Association, Mr. Henderson noted.

For more information go to the Ventura County Bar Association web site:


Cameron County, Texas DA Indicted for Bribery and Extortion

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SAN ANTONIO -- A federal grand jury today indicted and arrested Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos and Attorney Eduardo "Eddie" Lucio with bribery and extortion, according to the U.S. Attorney General's Office..

The 12-count indictment alleges that Villalobos and Lucio were involved in a scheme to illegally generate income for themselves and others through a pattern of bribery and extortion,  favoritism, improper influence, personal self-enrichment, self-dealing, concealment and conflict of interest, according to federal officials.

Villalobos solicited and accepted more than $100,000 in bribes and kickbacks in the form of cash and campaign contributions from Lucio and others in return for favorable acts of prosecutorial discretion, including minimizing charging decisions, pre-trial diversion agreements, agreements on probationary matters and case dismissals, federal authorities allege.

Villalobos and Lucio face up to 20 years in federal prison for each count, officials state.


Virginia Woman Going to Prison For Murder-for-Hire Plot

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Alexandria, Virginia - A 41-year-old woman was sentenced to six years in prison on Friday for hiring a hit-man to kill her boyfriend's "mistress," according to federal authorities.

Ann Jenene Cinnamon, also known as Ann Jenene Greer, contacted a man asking for help in hiring someone to murder a person who she described as her boyfriend's mistress, U.S. Attorney General's Office stated.

Cinnamon offered $500 to the hit man, paying $100 as a down payment. She also concocted an alibi, say federal officials.

The man she contacted went to the FBI who investigated and arrested Cinnamon on Oct. 11, 2011.

Opening Statements in a Sexual Assault Trial Begin Monday

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Opening statements in the trial of a 29-year-old Oxnard man charged with sexually assaulting six male minors in their teens begin Monday at 9:00 a.m. in Courtroom 47.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Brian Back will preside in the trial of Joe Richard Maldonado, 29, who is charged with multiple sex crimes.

These crimes include luring, sodomy, and numerous counts of lewd acts with a child sodomy along with oral copulation of an unconscious person, according to court records.

Court documents indicate that the first boy, who was 16 years old, reported the sex assault to the Oxnard Police Department in May 2010. The victim told police that he knew Maldonado's brother, who was also 16 years old.

The victim and several other high school friends spent the night at Maldonado's residence where they "hung out" and played video games, according to court documents.

On the second evening at the house, Maldonado offered the victim an alcoholic beverage and offered him money if he would drink the beverage. As the evening progressed, Maldonado asked the victim to perform lewd acts for money. But the victim refused.

The victim passed out and woke up to Maldonado performing a lewd act on him, court records indicate. The victim got up, quickly left and subsequently, the police were called and an investigation began, court records show.

Police secretly recorded conversations between the victim and Maldonado. A meeting was set up for Maldonado to meet the victim. Maldonado allegedly wanted the teen to perform a lewd act in front of him for money, according to court records.

When Maldonado arrived at the location to meet the victim on May 26, 2010, police arrested him. Upon further investigation, Maldonado allegedly named three other boys who he had engaged in sexual acts with.  Police found two other minor teens who Maldonado also had allegedly sexual abused, according to court documents.

On Friday, Maldonado's lawyer Justin Tuttle declined to comment.




Today's Quote

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"Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh."   -- George Bernard Shaw

Thought You'd Like to Know

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The Miranda Rights, which begin with "you have the right to remain silent" and further state "anything said can and will be used against you in a court of law" were spawned from the 1966 landmark case of Miranda vs. Arizona.

In 1963, Ernesto Miranda, of Phoenix, was arrested and charged with rape, kidnapping and robbery. Miranda was not informed of his rights before being interviewed. During an interrogation, Miranda allegedly confessed to the crimes.

Miranda had not finished ninth grade and had a mental problems. At trial, the prosecution's case against Miranda consisted only of his confession. Miranda was convicted and sentenced to prison.

In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that Miranda's confession could not be used as evidence in a criminal trial because police failed to tell Miranda of his constitutional rights to an attorney and against self-incrimination.

Without his confession but using other evidence and witnesses, Miranda was retried and convicted in 1967. He was sent to prison and paroled in 1972. After his release, Miranda returned to his old neighborhood where he made a modest living autographing Miranda Rights cards for police officers and others. The cards have the text of the written warning and are read to suspects by officers.

In 1976, Miranda was stabbed to death at a bar during an argument.

For information buy the 55-page booklet "Historic Supreme Court Decisions: Miranda vs. Arizona" for .99 cents

Or visit:


My Compliments to the Chef. Can I See the Wine List?

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Inmates at the county jail who break the rules or create headaches for the deputies are put on the Disciplinary Diet Inmate Meat Loaf program.
This means they get one meat loaf a day that is supposedly packed with vitamins and minerals and a lot of other tasty stuff like raw cabbage (chopped fine), raw grated potato, red beans, raw onion, an egg, seven ounces of either ground beef, turkey or "rehydrated canned or frozen".
But Sheriff's deputies aren't so sure about how effective this disciplinary meat loaf tool is. 
Under the "Disciplinary Diet Inmate Meat Loaf" recipe obtained by the Court Reporter, there is this note by "Custody."

Note: Inmates placed on a disciplinary diet are served this meatloaf. I am not sure how much of an effective discipline tool it is when inmates and staff request the recipe because they "like" it.   --- Custody

Here's the recipe itself if readers are interested  in whipping up their own:

Meatloaf recipe

One of Three Defendants Found Guilty of 2009 Murder

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Jurors today found one defendant guilty of murder and a co-defendant guilty of assault with a firearm.

The jury, however, deadlocked on all the felony charges involving a third defendant, Corey Lamar Johnson.

The trio -- Brian Bilal Starks, 38, Terrance "Terry" Morrow, 31, and Johnson,34, -- were involved in a drug deal that left Michael Wade dead and Kenneth Pecaro wounded on Nov. 9, 2009.

According to court testimony,  Wade and his friend Darrell Babagay wanted to buy a large quantity of cocaine for more than $55,000, and Pecaro was going to set up the deal with Starks, who knew Pecaro from prison. Starks, in turn, recruited Morrow and Johnson.

Prosecutor Maeve Fox claimed that Starks, of Camarillo, lured Wade and Pecaro to an Oxnard residence on South E. Street in Oxnard to rob them; Defense lawyers countered that Wade and Pecaro had no money and so, there is no robbery.

Jurors found Starks guilty of first-degree murder with great bodily injury; assault with a firearm and possession of a firearm by a felon.

Morrow, of Oxnard, who was also on trial for murder and other felony charges, was found guilty only of assault with a firearm for shooting and wounding Pecaro during a struggle for a gun.,

Jurors deadlocked on the murder and other felony charges against Johnson who was accused of being an aider and abettor during the murder.

The jury foreman told Judge Charles Campbell that the votes were pretty much split 6 to 6 on the remaining charges including conspiracy and robbery.

Johnson's lawyer Willard Wiksell said the jury did a really good job, asking a number of questions during their deliberations.

"They did a very hard job. I cannot fault the jury in anyway," he said. "Mr. Johnson, he got justice."

Wiksell temporarily substituted for Morrow's lawyer Charles Cassy who was unavailable for comment. Stark's lawyer Gay Zide with the Public Defender's Office declined to comment as she left the courtroom.

Jurors couldn't decide the whether the trio was trying to rob Wade, Pecaro and Wade's friend Darrell Babagay. He didn't go to the residence where the drug deal was to take place.

"Our position was that there was not a robbery and the jury did not find that there was a robbery," said Wiksell. "That wasn't resolved, and I don't think it will ever be resolved."

Adding that Johnson was at the South E. Street residence because he was asked to provide a place for a cocaine deal.

Wiksell said his client's role in this incident was "so minor" that it was difficult for anyone to say he committed a crime.

Before the jurors came into the courtroom with their verdicts, Johnson pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and admitted to having two felony strikes against him. He will be sentenced to seven years in prison on that charge.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell set the sentencing for the three defendants on June 5.

The prosecutor is expected to decide whether the District Attorney's Office will retry the felony charges against Johnson and Morrow that jurors deadlocked on.



Today's Quote

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"I won't belong to any organization that would have me as a member."

Groucho Marx

Jury Verdicts on Murder Defendants to be Read Friday Morning

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The jury reached verdicts Thursday afternoon in the murder trial of three defendants -- Brian Starks, Terrance "Terry" Morrow and Corey Lamar Johnson.

The jurors' decisions will be read on Friday morning.

The trial resumes at 8:30 a.m. in Courtroom 35.

The three are accused of murder during the commission of a robbery along with conspiracy and other criminal charges in connection with the fatal shooting of drug dealer Michael Wade and the wounding of Kenneth Pecaro in 2009

Lawsuits Filed Against Marijuana Stores in Santa Barbara County

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Three asset forfeiture lawsuits were filed by federal prosecutors against properties housing marijuana operations in Santa Barbara County, the U.S. Attorney General's Office in Los Angeles announced today.

Federal authorities also executed search warrants at four locations and have sent letters warning people associated with 10 other illegal marijuana stores in the county, according to federal officials.

The three properties are located Santa Barbara and Summerland were marijuana is grown or the stores are currently operating, say officials.

The buildings named in the forfeiture lawsuits are Miramar Collective on Ortega Hill Road in Summerland, which officials say was generated $840,000 in profits in 2009, and whose owner is currently being prosecuted by the Santa Barbara District Attorney's Office.

Also Pacific Coast Collective on North Milpas in Santa Barbara, which its operators say is a non-profit business. But authorities allege that the business doesn't have a non-profit status for taxes, federal official stated. The operator is being prosecuted by the Santa Barbara District Attorney's Office.

A search warrant was executed today at an indoor marijuana farm on East Haley in Santa Barbara.   Federal authorities claim that substandard and unpermitted equipment was used in that operation.

This week's legal action against the commercial marijuana industry in Santa Barbara County follow similar action targeting illegal storefronts and grows in recent months in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and eastern Los Angeles counties, according to federal prosecutors.


Man Who Attacked Friend With Skateboard Pleads Guilty

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Simi Valley resident Kevin Cunningham decided to  plea guilty Wednesday in the middle of his trial for smacking a friend in the back of the head with a skateboard and causing serious head trauma.

Prosecutor Richard Simon said today that Cunningham will be sentenced to eight years in prison.

Simon said Cuningham pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and violating his probation for theft of a firearm.

Cunningham's lawyer David Lehr said five years was tacked on his client's sentence because he has a prior felony conviction for theft of a firearm.

Lehr said Cunningham had offered to plead guilty before the trial and agreed to serve seven years in prison. But that offer was rejected by Simon until Wednesday when Simon agreed to an eight year sentence, according to Lehr.

"We took it," said Lehr.

Simon said Cunningham was looking at the maximum sentence of 12 years in prison for attacking Jonathan Hill Kennedy, 22, on May 18, 2011.

Kennedy testified that Cunningham had confronted and accused Kennedy of "forcing" himself on Cunningham's girlfriend.

The Simi Valley resident said his skull was fractured in several places.  He testified that he suffered bleeding of the brain, and it took 53 staples to close up the laceration.

Lehr said Kennedy lied on the stand, saying Cunningham is "the nicest guy I've met in a long time."

Simon said Cunningham will be sentenced on May 30.


National Crackdown of Medicare Fraud Results in 107 Arrests

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CHICAGO  - The federal  government conducted a nationwide, Medicare fraud crackdown in seven cities that resulted in charges against 107 people, including doctors, nurses, and other medical professions,  the U.S. Department of Justice announced today.

The persons arrested allegedly participated in Medicare fraud schemes involving about $452 million in false billing, say federal authorities.

This coordinated takedown by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force is the highest amount of Medicare billing crackdown strike force history, according to officials.

In addition to making arrests, federal agents also executed 20 search warrants in connection with an ongoing investigation, say federal officials.

 Arrests were made in Chicago; Miami;Tampa, Florida; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Houston and Detroit. In Los Angeles, eight defendants, including two doctors, were charged in schemes to defraud Medicare of about $14 million.

In one case in Los Angeles,two people allegedly billed Medicare for more than $8 million in false claims for medically unnecessary services, including home health, psychotherapy, and infusion therapy.


Today's Quote

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"Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music." -- Angela Monet

Man Accused of Attacking Friend with a Skateboard is on Trial

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The 21-year-old defendant had been friends with the victim for about four months before he approached him from behind and smacked him in the back of head with a skateboard, causing a serious head trauma, according to court testimony.

The trial of  Kevin Cunningham got underway today in Courtroom 24 with Ventura County Superior Court Judge Ryan Wright presiding.

Cunningham is charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon and causing great bodily injury in an attack that occurred May 18, 2011.

The 22-year-old victim, Jonathan Hill Kennedy, testified that he woke up 10 to 15 seconds after being struck, was driven to the hospital and ended up staying there for a week.

The Simi Valley resident said his skull was fractured in several places.  He suffered bleeding of the brain, and it took 53 staples to close up the laceration, Kennedy testified

During his testimony, Kennedy walked in front of jurors and showed them the permanent scar on his head.

Earlier, prosecutor Richard Simon told jurors during opening statements in the trial that Cunningham accused Kennedy of "forcing" himself on Cunningham's girlfriend and "bashed" him in the head with the skateboard.

Simon told jurors that Cunningham will deny that he struck Kennedy with his skateboard inside Kennedy's garage where the defendant, the victim and two others had been smoking marijuana.

"It was too dark inside the garage. The lights were off and nobody knows who did it," Simon said the defense will claim.

Cunningham's lawyer David Lehr suggested to jurors that Kennedy had marijuana and cocaine in his system before he was struck, questioning what drugs can do to a person's ability to perceive things.

Lehr cautioned the jurors against immediately jumping to conclusions before all the evidence is heard.

Kennedy testified that he met Cunningham about four months before the incident and knew his girlfriend about two months before he met Cunningham.

On the day of the incident, Kennedy said he was inside his garage with two friends smoking marijuana. Cunningham arrived later in the evening with "a serious look" on his face, Kennedy testified.

Cunningham accused Kennedy of forcing himself on Cunningham's girlfriend.

Kennedy admitted on the stand that they both kissed while they were in an empty classroom at Moorpark College. He said he might have inappropriately touched her. However, he adamantly denied "forcing" himself on Cunningham's girlfriend.

"I would never push myself on a girl," he said, adding that he didn't know why Cunningham's girlfriend would say that.

Adding that he told Cunningham, "Come on, dude. You know me. You know I wouldn't do that."

Kennedy said he shook hands with Cunningham. Forty-five minutes later, Kennedy said he went to change the station on his radio when he was struck.

"I was sitting on my couch and my head was ringing," Kennedy testified.

He said his two friends who had been inside the garage told him that Cunningham "smacked" him on the head with the skateboard and left.

On the stand, Kennedy said he sold small quantities of drugs and uses medical marijuana because it relieves his anxiety and stress and when he doesn't use marijuana, he gets "restless leg syndrome."

Kennedy admitted having sex with Cunningham's girlfriend five or seven times, and twice when Cunningham was there.

"They just started and invited me in," Kennedy testified.

Kennedy said he still uses drugs, including marijuana.

"I feel normal when I smoke. I feel abnormal when I don't smoke," he testified.

The trial resumes this afternoon.


Long Beach Man Arrested for Sex Trafficking in Orange County

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Los Angeles ­­­­- A Long Beach man was arraigned Monday in federal court for coercing women to engage in prosecution, according to authorities.

Roshaun "Kevin" Nakia Porter, 36, operated a prostitution ring in the Orange County area and meets potential victims by placing ads on and with, law enforcement authorities allege.

The women believed they were entering into an monogamous relationship with Porter, say officials. They claimed that Porter maintained a romantic relationship with them and then, forced them into prostitution, according to law enforcement.

During a sting operation, law enforcement officers said they found five women who claimed Porter was forcing them to work as prostitutes.

Porter allegedly threatened to find them and hurt their families if they tried to leave, authorities allege.

A federal grand jury on April 25 indicted Porter with two counts of forced labor and two counts of sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion.

Law enforcement officials believe Porter may have additional victims. Anyone with information about victims may contact the FBI at 310-477-6565.



Five Arrested in a Plot to Blowup Bridge Near Cleveland

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CLEVELAND - Five people were arrested and accused of conspiring to blowup a bridge near Cleveland.

The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Douglas L. Wright, 26; Brandon L. Baxter, 20, and Anthony Hayne, 35 on Monday on charges of conspiracy and attempted use of explosives, the U.S. Attorney General's Office announced today.

Also arrested were Connor C. Stevens, 20, and Joshua S. Stafford, 23. Charges against Stevens and Stafford are pending.

Federal officials said the public was never in danger from the explosive devices, which were controlled by an undercover FBI employee. Also the defendants were closely monitored by law enforcement, according to officials.

According to the criminal complaint, Wright, Baxter and Hayne are self-proclaimed anachists who formed into a small group and considered a series of other plots.

The Court Reporter
Raul Hernandez has spent years writing stories about the drama that unfolds in the courtroom. Here he answers common questions, share some insights on the judicial system and passes along some of the little things that make the Ventura County courts an interesting place to be. You can contact him at