November 2012 Archives

Q&A: The District Attorney's Office - Part III - Missing Complaints

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In some criminal incidents, charges aren't filed because of so-called "missing complaints," meaning that law enforcement hasn't submitted a police report to the District Attorney's Office, which reviews the report, weighs the facts and circumstances surrounding an alleged crime.

Prosecutors then make a decision on whether to file a criminal complaint against a defendant.

Other reasons for the delays in filing criminal complaints by the District Attorney's Office include waiting to get a blood-alcohol analysis from the Sheriff's laboratory or prosecutors sending back police reports that are incomplete or need more information about the alleged crime that was committed to make a decision on the case.

The result is that defendants - some who live in other counties - have to return to Ventura County Superior Court sometimes as much as four or more times just to find out whether the District Attorney's Office has decided to file charges.

Thousands of misdemeanor complaints were filed last year --  19,112.

In DUI cases alone, the District Attorney's Office handled 5,457 in 2009; in 2010, 4,493 DUI cases were filed and in 2011, there were 3,976 DUI cases.

Critics say that the delays in making decisions on whether to file cases takes up a lot of court time, adds to the court's already crowded calendar and uses up court resources at a time when California courts are operating with limited resources because of budget cuts.

Also people have to take time off work just to learn whether charges will be filed against him or her.

There are also the costs in taking time off work to go to court along with paying for gasoline to get there, which is often near $4 or more a gallon. This can get more costly if people are driving to the Hall of Justice in Ventura from other counties, critics note.

During these court appearances, defendants can tell the judges that they'd rather be notified by mail instead of repeatedly returning to court to learn whether charges were filed.

But if criminal charges are filed and the notice gets lost in the mail or if a defendant moves to another residence or the notice goes to the wrong address by mistake, the result is that the defendant will never know.

Here, Chief Deputy District Attorneys -  Mr. W. Charles "Chuck" Hughes and Mr. Michael Frawley - talk about "missing complaints" and how the District Attorney handles this issue.

Are missing complaints a problem?

Prosecutors say missing complaints are a problem but sometimes, there is no way to speed up decisions.

"We always want to make the decision as quickly as possible," said Hughes.  "But the way it works, the police agency submits a case to us that they think 'hey, there may be sufficient evidence here.' We look at that. Sometimes, there is not enough information to make that decision, and that's when we then ask for more investigation. And, that becomes a missing complaint. That's one of the ways."

Adding, "There are a variety of ways that it happens. A person can be arrested and cited, and the (law enforcement) agency doesn't get the filing request to us because they are doing more investigating."

"We are not going to reject the case where we think 'you know what, if they take these two other investigative steps there may be sufficient evidence,'" said Hughes.

Hughes said a further investigation by a police department could result in charges being dismissed.

Frawley said some defendants agree to return to court instead of being notified by mail so they won't lose the bail they posted and would have to post it again if the case is filed.

"So in some instances it is in the defendant's interest to just agree to come back (to court)," Frawley said.

Frawley said that as of Jan.1, the district attorney isn't going to ask the judges not to order the defendants who have missing complaints to return to court.

Q: How is the person going to be notified if the District Attorney's Office files criminal charges against him or her?

Frawley said this is going to be done by a courtesy letter or people will be arrested.

 "If it's a misdemeanor it will probably be a letter, generally a felony, it's not going to be a letter," he said.

Q: What happens if a person is driving down the street and he is stopped because of a traffic violation.  The officer then checks and says that criminal charges were filed against this person in Ventura Superior Court last week. Will the person be arrested because he has an arrest warrant and taken to jail?

"No, you will just be arrested and given a date to appear. No one will take you to jail on a misdemeanor. You would just be given a court date to appear," said Hughes.

Starting, Jan. 1, Ventura County Superior Court judges will no longer put on the court calendar any future appearances by defendants who have missing complaints, according to prosecutors.

If a defendant, for example, who didn't receive the notice to appear in court runs a red light and he gets pulled over by a police officer," he said. "The officer then runs the person's driver's license and finds out that this person has a misdemeanor warrant for a DUI, said Hughes.

"They sign their traffic ticket. They get another citation saying, 'show up to court'" on a specific date for the misdemeanor warrant. The defendant shows up to court and it is considered a first appearance, according to Hughes.

"And, the case moves on," said Hughes. "They are not in any trouble for what's happened before because there was no case filed. They didn't fail to appear or anything. They get a new citation. They show up and the case begins at that point."

Q: You agree that missing complaints are a problem?

"A problem in the sense that it creates inefficiencies in the system, yes," said Hughes. "We work hard to emphasis with our folks that we need to make decisions correctly and as quickly as possible."

Adding, "They have to be the right decisions. We don't want folks just sitting on cases and waiting and waiting and waiting. It doesn't help the case. It doesn't help the justice system. It doesn't help anything."

Q: Has your office tried to pinpoint the sources of why decisions aren't made quicker to file criminal complaints and try to address these specific problems?

It might be, for example, that the Sheriff's laboratory needs another lab technician to do blood-alcohol analysis or a police agency  is overwhelmed with paperwork , and there is not enough administrative help.

"When we see consistent trends, we try to address them where we can," said Hughes. "We don't control, obviously, other agencies. They don't control our staffing, and we don't control theirs. But we have discussions and dialogues."

Adding, "If we see that there is a particular long delay or turn-around time from a particular agency or particular detective, we address those kinds of things."

But Hughes said this is done on an informal basis.

"We are always working together to try to make it more effective," he said.









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"To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men," -- Abraham Lincoln 

Former MLB Player Indicted for Insider Trading

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A former pro baseball player and three associates were indicted today by a federal grand jury for insider trading charges, U.S. Attorney's Office.

A 44-count indictment against Doug DeCinces and three others with using information the former third baseman got from a high-ranking official at a medical device company to buy stock prior to the announcement of a tender offer from an international medical company, according to federal officials.

DeCinces, 60, of Laguna Beach, was a Major League Baseball payer from 1973 to 1987 who is currently the president and CEO of a real estate development firm in Irvine, federal officials state.

Q&A: The District Attorney's Office - Part II - Screening Criminal Cases

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There are thousands of misdemeanor and felony cases filed by the Ventura County District Attorney's Office every year.

There are  86 prosecutors who work at the office, and currently, the DA is hiring more attorneys to fill its authorized ranks of 96 authorized positions.

In 2009, the office handled 4,562 felonies and 19,743; in 2010, there were 4,160 felonies filed and 17,331 and in 2011, there were 4,101 felony and 15,011 misdemeanors filed.

Through 2011, the number of both felony and misdemeanor cases has been decreasing in accordance with local and national crimes statistics, according to prosecutors.

The DA's office says the crime decrease is due to many reasons including changing community demographics, improved sophistication in police crime-fighting techniques, improved anti-theft technology in automobiles and increased prison sentences.

Here, Chief Deputy District Attorneys - Mr. W. Charles "Chuck" Hughes and Mr. Michael Frawley  -- answer questions about how these cases are screened and when charges are filed against defendants.

Q: How are misdemeanor and felony cases screened by your office? Take me through the process. Who looks at the reports from law enforcement to determine whether a criminal complaint should be filed against a suspect by the District Attorney's Office?

Frawley explained how the process works: six law enforcement agencies in the county submit incident reports on an alleged crimes, the vast majority  being  general misdemeanors and general felonies.

"We have reviewing (DA)  deputies. That's their job all day long is to look at misdemeanor cases or felony cases and see what's been presented is a provable case, and whether it should be prosecuted," said Frawley.

If it gets filed as a criminal complaint and the defendant doesn't plea  guilty at arraignment --  he noted  that the vast majority of criminal cases do --  then,  the case gets assigned to a prosecutor, according to Frawley.

The prosecutor who is assigned the case reviews it again to make sure it is a provable case, said Frawley.

And if the prosecutor doesn't think he can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, Frawley said, "their job is to go to their supervisor and say, 'I think I've got a case that is not provable.' So at least two sets of eyes would be on every case before it  went to trial."

A supervisor always reviews a case before it goes to trial, said Frawley.

"So that is a third set of eyes that would look and evaluate that case before it ever went to trial," said Frawley.

Hughes added that most felony cases goes through a preliminary hearing and after a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor makes notes about the evidence and testimony presented at the hearing.

"And that's going to be round tabled at a meeting, including the supervisor of that unit and the members of that unit. They are all going to have input, 'hey, is this a case we have sufficient evidence that we should proceed.'"

He said: "Some of the cases don't get filed after a preliminary hearing. Most of them do."

Also Frawley said sometimes after a preliminary hearing and after the round table meetings, some of the criminal charges could be dismissed.

Q: Critics say that once a case is filed by police that prosecutors use a so-called  "shot-gun" approach in charging defendants.  In other words, the district attorney piles criminal charges against defendants with little or no evidence to justify doing so.

An example might be a parking lot fistfight, which can be turned into a felony by simply tagging the legal words "likely to produce great bodily injury" to a misdemeanor battery crime.

Critics say that this action results in defendants having to pay higher bails to get out of jail, cases lingering in the criminal justice system, and in most instances, these crimes that are eventually dismissed or defendants are allowed to plead to lesser charges.

This is a waste of the limited resources and time of the Ventura County Superior Court, which has seen the cut in staff and hours as a result of the state's financial crisis, the critics say.

How do you respond to this?

Hughes denies that this happens at the District Attorney's Office.

"Do we, as a matter of practice, take a 'hey, let's file everything and coerce a guy into pleading to something less approach?'" Absolutely not. We just don't do that."

Adding, "and you're right I've heard those types of criticisms all over the state, all over the nation.  You watch CNN when there is a high profile trial, and somebody is there in front of the camera talking about prosecutors who overcharge. That is a common misconception."

Adding, "if you speak to most prosecutors, they'll tell you that's their worst fear,  that is, convicting somebody of something they didn't really do. I have no interest in doing that. There is nothing to be gained by overcharging somebody."

Hughes said this approach would harm the criminal justice system.

"What happens sometimes is that during the course of the case additional information comes to light. Sometimes it's through our own investigation, sometimes the witnesses tell us things, sometimes, the defense discovers things or knows things that they tell us about. And, we always reevaluate things and at the end of the day, just short of trial, sometimes the case looks very different then it did when it came in."

Sometimes, felony charges are reduced to misdemeanors as the case goes through the process or more felony crimes are tacked on to the criminal complaint, according to Hughes.

Part Two on Friday:  The issue of "Missing Complaints."



LA Doctor Pleads Guilty To Defrauding Medicare of $11 million

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A Los Angeles-area doctor pleaded guilty today to defrauding Medicare of over $11 million, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Dr. Juan Tomas Van Putten, 66, of Ladera Heights, admitted to getting patients for his medical clinic, Greater South Bay Medical Group, which was located in Carson, and his nursing home from street-level patient recruiters or "marketers," state federal officials.

The marketers illegally solicited patients with Medicare benefits for the expensive, highly-specialized power wheelchairs and other medical equipment that patients did not need, according to federal authorities.

The marketers worked for the operators of fraudulent DME Supply companies, including Van Putten's  co-defendants Charles Agbu, a church pastor and his daughter Obiageli Agbu who both operated Bonfee Inc., doing business as "Bonfee Medical Supplies," and Ibon Inc., which were located in Carson.

Van Putten admitted that operators of DME Supply paid him cash kickbacks to write prescriptions for power wheelchairs that were not needed, according to federal officials.

Charles Agbu and Obiageli will go on trial in February.

Co-defendants Dr. Emmanuel Ayodele; Alejandro Maciel and Candalaria Estrada have been charged for their roles in the alleged conspiracy, according to federal prosecutors.

Van Putten is facing up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced in March.

Q&A: The District Attorney's Office

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The District Attorney's Office prides itself in contributing to Ventura County having the lowest crime rate in any county in Central and Southern California according to the Caifornia Department of Justice.

The office has 267 staff members, and 30 of those positions are currently vacant, according to prosecutors.  Some positions are vacant because of budget cutbacks.  There are 96 authorized prosecutor positions, and 86 of those are filled.  The office has 49 investigators posts and 42 are filled, according to the DA.

The number of authorized prosecutor positions has increased from 91 to 96 attorneys in the last five years.  Some vacant attorney and investigator positions will be filled by the end of the year.

As of November, the District Attorney's has an annual budget ranging from $38.7 million in 2011 to $38.6 million in 2013.

Here,  two Chief Deputy District Attorneys --   Mr. W. Charles Hughes and Mr. Michael  K. Frawley,-- answer questions for the Court Reporter Blog about the office and its policy on drunken driving cases, the problem of delays in filing misdemeanor and felony cases, and whether the office takes a so-called "shotgun" approach in charging defendants. in other words, critics say that the district attorney charges defendants with numerous crimes, often with weak evidence,  just to see what charges will stick in court.

This is the first of a three-part  Q&A series, which will be published today, Wednesday and Friday.

Q:  How many drunken driving cases does the District Attorney's Office handle each year? Has there been an increase in the DUI caseload?

There were 5,457 DUI cases in 2009; 4,493 in 2010 and 3,976 last year, according to prosecutors.

 Fortunately, the number of DUI felony and misdemeanor cases has been decreasing since 2009. Felony DUI cases involve repeat offenders who injure others while driving under the influence. In the most extreme cases, these are people who kill others as a result of a DUI, according Frawley and Hughes.

These examples of felony DUI  include Judith Ramirez who was convicted of murder for killing her 17-year-old daughter, and injuring two others, including her four-year-old son, while driving drunk, they stated.

Another example includes  a mid-trial guilty plea to second-degree murder and other charges by Satnam Singh, who drove while under the influence of alcohol. He killed a 20-year-old man and seriously injured another victim, they state.

Q:  State law allows a person who is arrested for drunken driving to plead guilty to a "Wet Reckless" charge if a prosecutor feels that the DUI case against the defendant has some weaknesses.  This weakness may include when blood or breath results are close to .08, which is the blood-alcohol legal limit, and if a sobriety test that is done in the field by law enforcement is bad.

If a defendant who pleads guilty to a Wet Reckless offense gets another DUI within 10 years, it will be considered a second DUI because the Wet Reckless counted against the person is now like a first-time DUI.

In Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties, DUI defendants, in some cases, are allowed to plead guilty to Wet Reckless charges instead of DUI offenses.  Has your office ever considered allowing some DUI suspects to plead guilty to Wet Reckless charges instead of DUI offenses?

The fines and penalties between a DUI and Wet Reckless are pretty significant, said Frawley.  The fine for Wet Reckless is between $145.00 and not more than $1,000.  On the contrary, the fines and fees  for a DUI conviction are just under $5,000, said Frawley.

"The difference in the financial penalties is significant between the two," said Frawley. "That  doesn't even include insurance fees going up and attorney's fees. That just what the court charges them."

Also if you get a Wet Reckless conviction,  the law provides for 12 hours of education on the perils of drunk driving, according to Frawley.  For a DUI conviction, it is going to be 30 hours of education, said Frawley.

In addition, there is no mandatory driver's license suspension for a Wet Reckless conviction.  But a DUI conviction will result in a suspension or restriction of a driver's license as part of probation.  The state Department of Motor Vehicles will then decide whther a person's driver's license is revoked or suspended.

Q:  If Los Angeles and Santa Barbara allow some defendants to plead guilty to Wet Reckless offenses  --  taking into consideration that there are now less court resources and court staff because of the state financial crisis that have impacted California courts and the criminal justice system -- why doesn't  the Ventura County District Attorney's Office consider the use  of Wet Reckless offenses ?

 "We don't want to minimize the seriousness of driving and drinking. There is no need to do that, and if we can't  prove our case, then we don't charge it.  We don't get into this plea bargaining thing, well let's see, this case isn't as robust as another case so we'll give this person a Wet Reckless, and this person, we're going to hold out to get the DUI."

Adding, "Other counties might do it that way but that's not the way we want to do business.  If two people are both guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, we want to treat them the same."

The District Attorney's Office isn't going to treat people differently  because one person has a .08 percent drug alcohol reading  and another person blows a .12 percent blood-alcohol.

"They are both guilty of the same thing," said Frawley.

Q:  Do you think that Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties minimize the gravity of drunken driving by  letting some defendants to plead guilty to a Wet Reckless charge?

"It's not for us, at all, to comment how anybody else does business," said Frawley.

Adding, "Just because resources are tight, we are not going to take this less seriously and put the community more at risk. It is a community safety issue."

Q:  Some of the your critics say that this kind of talk -- about being tough on crime and prosecuting anything and everything that -- is  political chest pounding.

The critics note that the whelming majority of cases never go to trial and  plea bargain agreements between defendants and prosecutors happen all the time. More than 95 percent of criminal case filed are resolved through a plea agreement, and cases seldom go to trial.

Can you respond to this?

"One, I'd want to know who are the critics that are saying that because criminal defense attorneys have a financial interest in trying to get the district attorney to lower the price of crime in the county," said Hughes. "And, I am not saying that you can never trust what a criminal defense attorney says. But you have to consider the source.  They have a vested interest in trying to critique the District Attorney's Office into reducing the price of crime."

Adding, "But beyond that. It is not chest thumping. I'd be surprised if you could point to anyone who said we file everything all the time, and it doesn't matter. We use the same filing standards every District Attorney's Office around the state uses. "

Hughes said a criminal complaint is filed against a suspect when there is sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant committed a crime along with taking into consideration foreseeable defenses.

" It's not about 'look at us we're filing everything.' That's not what it's about," said Hughes. "It's not anybody in management that's doing the filing of the cases.  It's the line folks (prosecutors) that are applying that criteria day in and day out."

Adding, "What we don't say, 'okay, you committed a robbery. We'll let you plead to a grand theft because it is easier for everybody.' If you committed a robbery and we can prove it, then you have to plead to a robbery. "

"That is where we draw the line. You are going to have to plead to the most serious thing that you did. We are not going to knock it down to facilitate moving cases,"  Hughes said.





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"The press is the enemy." - Richard Nixon

In Other Courtrooms Throughout the Nation

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PHILADELPHIA - A 47-year-old man who was using his position to steal a flat screen television for himself, his family and friends along with things was sentenced Tuesday to nearly three years in federal prison, according to federal officials.

William Rullo' fraud scheme cost the city's First Judicial Court of Pennsylvania about $433,000, the U.S. Attorney's Office stated.

Rullo was a procurement technician between 1999 and 2010. His duties included: placing orders with vendors, purchasing courtroom electronic and other merchandise, federal officials stated.

Rullo used his court credit card to make the purchases. He also forged the signatures of judges and the director of Administrative Services on invoices, according to federal authorities.

Rullo bought about $35,000 in monthly parking passes that he then resold the passes to friends and co-workers for about $100 per monthly pass, say officials.

 NEW YORK - The head of a self- described "security research" hacking group; was convicted Tuesday for breaching  AT&T servers, stealing email addresses and other personal information belonging to about 120,000 Apple iPad users and disclosing the information to Gawker, an internet magazine, according to federal officials.

Andrew Auernheimer, 27, is facing up to five years for each felony conviction.

A co-defendant  Daniel Spitner, 27, of San Francisco, pleaded guilty to the same charges and is awaiting sentencing.

Goatse Security is a so-called "security research" group, composed of Internet hackers to which both Spitler and Auernheimer belonged.


The Court Reporter's Notebook

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Deputy Dan is Packing It Up and Leaving for the Streets of T.O.

Dan McLaughlin is the kind of cop that you want to show up at your door after you call the 911-dispatcher.

Mr. McLaughlin, who works at the Ventura  County Sheriff's Department,  is the bailiff in Courtroom 23.

Tuesday, however, is his last day at the courthouse. Afterwards, he begins his new assignment, patrolling the streets of Thousand Oaks.

Mr. McLaughlin has been assigned to the courthouse for nearly five years, and has been a deputy for nearly a decade.

Mr. McLaughlin, who is the son of a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran, is courteous and friendly--firm, yet fair when he did his job as bailiff, which is to maintain order during court proceedings.

On his off hours, he puts in a lot of hours at the gym usually arriving there early in the morning. He one of the best candy dishes on his desk that jurors, lawyers and others dip  into.

Mr. McLaughlin spent nearly 10 years in the Air Force where he was a crew chief for experimental aircraft.  His courtroom desk and wall are filled with photographs and models of aircraft, and his knowledge and details of jets and experimental aircraft is impressive.

"I miss the smell of jet fuel in the morning," said McLaughlin and laughed.

But the northern California native said his dream has always been to be a police officer and is now looking forward to his new assignment.

"I'd like to think of it that I am no longer serving the county," he said. "It's more personal. I am serving my community."

The courthouse's loss is Thousand Oaks' gain.


Courthouse is in Stabilizing Mode After Austere Years


With a sluggish economy showing signs of improvements, including the state comptroller office saying that revenues are up 4 percent and home foreclosures down,  it's still going to be a while, however, before the courthouse lines to file legal papers gets shorter, say court officials.

 "I think right now we are just in a kind of stabilizing mode. We are not looking to increase staff at this point," said Robert Sherman, assistant executive director of the Ventura County Superior Court.

There were 20 layoffs at the end of June in addition to 16 voluntary separations and the elimination of 45 vacant positions.

That's slowed down, even more, the wheels of justice at the Hall of Justice in Ventura.

"Less (staff) people, longer waits, longer processing times, and that's the new normal of operating at this point," he said.  "We might see some improvement for the future. "

The courthouse at Simi Valley will continue to remain open two days a week until the end of this fiscal year, said Sherman.

 "We'll have to wait to see what happens next (fiscal ) year," said Sherman.

Sherman said the courthouse will be closed this Wednesday, the before Thanksgiving and for five days between Christmas and New Year's Day to save money.

Only emergency legal matters will be handled during those days, said Sherman.

The Ventura County courts have 29 judges with one judicial vacancy and a staff of 375 people, said Sherman.

More Than 100 Penny Pinching Ideas Surface to Save Money 


Aside from laying off 20 courthouse workers, giving others voluntary separations and eliminating 40 vacant positions at the courthouse, judges and courthouse staff came up with dozens of other ways to save nickels and dimes  during these last two years during this statewide financial chaos.

 "We've got maybe 100, 150 things that have been done over the last couple of years," said Robert Sherman, assistant executive director of the Ventura County Superior Court.

Some of these things including changing the color of the paper used by staff at the courthouse, said Sherman. White paper is cheaper than colored paper; therefore, colored paper is not used, according to Sherman.

Also court reporters, whose job is to record the courtroom proceedings, will now have to ride with judicial assistants to go to the mental facility instead of taking separate vehicles and submitting two separate mileage reimbursement requests for the same trip, according to Sherman.

In addition, there is better coordination of the court calendars allowing one court reporter to cover multiple courts, he said.



Court Reporter's Notebook

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Oxnard Police Surveillance Shuts Down Two Houses of Prostitution and Leads to the Arrest of An Alleged Pimp

The detective said he was doing surveillance a couple of months ago at a house in the 400 block of West 4th Street in Oxnard that was suspected of being a place where prostitution was taking place.

Detective James Langford began to notice that across the street there was a steady stream of males going into the house that had a black pickup truck parked there.

He said males would go into the house and leave in 10 minutes or so.

"On average 10 per day, and as many as 25 in a day," Langford said.

He said he kept his eyes on this house and soon, he spotted a pattern: Every week different females lugging suitcases - one with a child - were arriving or leaving the house.

"There were new girls being brought into the house every week," said Langford.

Langford testified in the preliminary hearing of 45-year-old Cergio "Flaco" Garcia who is charged with felony pimping, a crime that could land him in prison for the minimum mandatory sentence of three years.

Garcia's lawyer Justin Tuttle, who is with the Public Defender's Office, told the judge that his client was willing to plead guilty to aiding and abetting in prostitution, a misdemeanor. Tuttle said the evidence wasn't sufficient to convict his client of felony pimping.

Langford and prosecutor David Russell disagree, saying that it appears that the house was being used for prostitution with the prostitutes being rotated every week, a different girl every week.

What about the house across the street?

Russell said that was unrelated to Garcia's operation, and it just happened that both were in the same business operating in the same neighborhood.

Russell said the neighbor across the street from the Garcia house has been charged with conspiracy to commit prostitution.

Russell put one of the prostitutes who knew Garcia on the stand - 28-year-old Soriya Perez who initially took the Fifth unless she was given immunity from being charged with more crimes via her testimony.

Perez had already pleaded guilty of misdemeanor prostitution.

Her lawyer Joel Steinfeld, who stood next to Perez while she was on the stand, said his client would refused to testify unless she got immunity.

Russell granted her immunity from prosecution if she answered the questions.  Through an Spanish interpreter and with Steinfeld's consent,  Perez told what she knew.

Perez testified that she read ad in a magazine in Las Vegas where she lived and decided to travel to Oxnard to engage in prostitution.  She got on a Greyhound Bus and arrived in Oxnard in October.

She  said she needed to make some quick cash to leave the county and go back home to Mexico.  Perez said Garcia picked her up at the bus station. They first drove to the Target store to get a week's supply of condoms.

Perez said she charged $40 for sex, and said she never talked to Garcia about giving him money.  She said she never saw Garcia sitting on the porch,  greet and talk customers walking up to the house.

Russell grilled Perez about Garcia's role,   about what kind of sex she offered and what Garcia knew and whether he protected her while she worked there.  Russell tallied up Perez's earnings for the week and came up with $1,080.

"What happened to the money?" Russell said.

Well, Perez said $480 was sent to a sister in Mexico who was sick, the rest was spent on clothes, shoes and a purse. Also she bought food with Garcia, and she denied giving Perez a cut of her earnings.

"No, I didn't give this young man any money," Perez said.

"You had to pay money to use the house for a week," Russell told her, adding that Garcia had already said he charged the prostitutes $240 a week.

Perez stuck to her story that Garcia didn't get a dime.

During her testimony, Perez was being video recorded because as soon as she is cut loose Perez will be deported to Mexico.  So, authorities want to record her testimony in case Garcia is tried.  Perez's recorded testimony will be shown to jurors.

Perez testified that she didn't see as many men as police say she did.

Perez said she was free to come and go any time she wanted; never locked up or threatened or struck by Garcia.

"He was very respectful and very kind to me," Perez testified, and they even shared the food.

Perez said Garcia would buy food one day, and she'd buy the next day.

But Detective Langford said his surveillance indicated that in one week in October, 23 males entered the house on Monday;  11 men went into the house on Tuesday; Wednesday, there were 10 males; Thursday, 9 males and Friday, 8 men.

On Oct. 25, a search warrant was executed and police found Perez inside the house dressed in a tight-fitting orange dress with her mid-section showing and her low-cut top showed cleavage.

 Langford said Perez had $170 in her purse and Garcia had $590 in his possession.  Langford said officers found condoms. bottles  of lubricants and a book with the name Manuel Cortez written on it.

Garcia used that fake name when he was arrested, Langford said.  The book had the names of females, weeks marked out and other information.

Langford said Garcia later admitted that he charged $240 a week to lease the bedroom and $60 for transporting the prostitutes from the bus station to his house. In addition, police found out that here were eight different women that had stayed at the house since Langford began his surveillance.

Garcia's told police that he's been in the pimp business for three months.

Langford said there were cards found near the statutes of saints. Perez said it was an offering to her saint, La Santa Muerte statue.

Langford, however, said the cards were a way to keep score using the Ace card to indicate the first customer and the numerical cards to indicate how many others a prostitute had sex with.

Garcia's lawyer Tuttle said in an interview that this case was "grossly over charged."

But Russell pointed out that nobody wants to live next door or in a neighborhood where men come and go to have sex.

"It's about the quality of life," said Russell.

Judge James Cloninger ruled that there was sufficient evidence to hold Garcia for trial.


Today's Quote

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"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great makes you feel that you, too, can become great." - Mark Twain

In Other Courtrooms Throughout the Nation

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WASHINGTON--Thirty-four alleged members of the prison-based Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) gang, including four of its most senior leaders, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Houston, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

They are charged with conspiring to participate in racketeering enterprise, state federal authorities.

Alleged members of the ABT are also charged with involvement in three murders, multiple attempted murders, kidnappings, assaults, and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine.

The federal indictment was unsealed on Friday.

According to court documents, the ABT has a detailed and uniform organizational structure, with territory divided into five regions, each run by a "general." The superseding indictment charges four generals: Terry Ross Blake, 55, aka "Big Terry"; Larry Max Bryan, 51, aka "Slick"; William David Maynard, 42, aka "Baby Huey"; and Charles Lee Roberts, 68, aka "Jive," with conspiracy to participate in the racketeering activities of the ABT, among other charges.


PHILADELPHIA--Darwin D. Dieter, 53, of Kempton, Pennsylvania, allegedly stole more than $500,000 in checks that were issued by his insurance company that were intended for payment of his wife's dialysis treatments, federal officials state.

An indictment was unsealed last week in connection with a health care fraud scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Dieter, a former employee of a direct mail company located in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, kept the checks and laundered the proceeds from December 2010 to July 2011.

Dieter was arrested by Friday by the FBI, according to federal authorities.




The Child Victim

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It takes courage to make a victim's impact statement in court, which is basically a legal right afforded to people who have been injured by criminal acts.

In nearly 20 years of covering the courts, I've heard hundreds of adult victims pour their hearts out as the convicted criminals who caused them the physical and emotional sit a few feet away at the defense table.

Rarely, do children make victim impact statements because it can be so overwhelming to walk into a courtroom where tensions often run high, especially during a sentencing.

Today, a 14-year-old girl mustered up enough courage. She sobbed and cried and gave a detailed account on how convicted killer Justo Navarro changed her life when he murdered her uncle Gilberto Aguilera who she loved very much.

I was there to write what she said, and her remarks were compelling and powerful as she described the devastation caused by Navarro.

I wrote the story, adding many of her remarks.

But I got a call from my supervisor who said the newspaper couldn't publish the girl's comments unless we print her name.  My supervisor had talked to the newspaper's editor, and he agreed.

We cannot use her comments unless we have her name, she said.

I said "What?  Are you serious? "

She is a child who told the court that schoolmates knew about her psychological problems and taunted her. The girl said they tell her she is "mentally f-ed up."

She could possibly be subjected to more cruelty in school or by others in the community, I said.

We need to protect her identity.

I was told it didn't matter because she was in court to make a victim's impact statement, and the courtroom is open to the public. So everyone knows her name, my supervisor said.

We can't have exceptions not even in this case, I was told.

But we have exceptions, I argued. We don't use the names of victims of sexual abuse. Sometimes, we don't even use the names of career criminals in the witness protection program.  Also we don't print the names of children who testify in court, I told my supervisor.

That is different, I was told, and unless we get her name we have to edit her comments out of the story.

This is about a victim who is child and who is speaking about how children are impacted by these horrific acts of violence. We need to give her a voice, and  we need to protect her identity because she is a child, I said.

I even threw in the edict from the Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Code of Ethics which states:  "Give voice to the voiceless," including children who have the courage to tell a convicted killer what he did to her and her family.

I lost the argument. The story was published with the girl's quotes edited out.

That was sad.

I thought about the 14-year-old for the longest time after the sentencing, and I wasn't the only one who felt her pain.

Just outside the courtroom after the sentencing, the 14-year-old girl clung to prosecutor Rebecca Day and sobbed.

"He's not going to get out. He's not going to get out," the teary eyed Day reassured the girl.

 I decided to give the girl a voice on my blog and print the story I sent to the newsroom.

 I have her name but I will never use it.

By Raul Hernandez

Ventura County Star

The girl cried and told the judge that her life had completely changed
when her uncle was murdered nearly two years ago at a flower-growing
business in Somis.
"What happened to my uncle, it changed me completely. It changed
everybody in my family," said the 14-year-old. "Everybody is afraid of
me and what will happen to me. I want him to suffer for what me and my
family have suffered through."
Her uncle's killer Justo Navarro sat between his lawyer and a
Spanish-language interpreter at the defense table as the girl spoke.
He would later learn his fate - 40 years to life in prison for the
second-degree murder of Gilberto Aguilera, 36.
The girl told Ventura County Superior Court Judge Patricia Murphy that
she suffers from anxiety, has panic attacks and problems controlling
her temper. She said she engages in self-cutting behavior and is
depressed. So much depression, she said that it has even affected the
way she dresses.
"I would dress in color and now, I dress in black," said the girl who
was dressed in black jeans and a black jacket. "I am not really social
anymore. I have been getting sent to the (school) office because I
forget stuff."
 She said her classmates taunt her saying she is "mentally F-ed up."
She is going to teen-grief counseling program, the girl told the
In September, a jury found Navarro guilty of second-degree murder in
the shooting of Aguilera, a former friend and business partner. The
jury also found Navarro guilty of making criminal threats against
Javier Viorato, a friend of Aguilera's who saw the shooting at a Somis
nursery Feb. 1, 2011.
In addition, jurors found that Navarro, of Somis, used and discharged
a firearm during the crimes.
For these crimes, Judge Murphy tacked on another sentence of seven
years to the 40 years to life.
Several family gave victim impact statements or their letters were
read to the judge including one from Aguilera's daughter who sobbed and
wept throughout much of the sentencing.
"I will never see him and tell him how much I love him. I know that
this pain nobody can take away," she said. "I will never be able to
hug my dad."
The judge leaned forward with her chin resting on the palm of her hand
as she listened attentively as the victim's daughter and others told
her about the pain of losing a loved one.
Navarro, who was dressed in jail garb, asked for forgiveness for his crimes.
"I am sorry for everything that happened," he told the court. "I ask
for forgiveness from his family. I hope that one day they forgive me."
His lawyer Michael McMahon told the judge that he still believes his
client was guilty of voluntary manslaughter, saying it was
self-defense and committed in the heat of passion.
Prosecutor Rebecca Day told the judge that all the facts point to
murder in this case. She said Aguilera was a nonviolent, generous,
well-liked and hardworking person who had been tormented by Navarro,
who, Day described, as a fast-talking, manipulator.
The judge said this murder caused "wide and expansive harm" and was
"based on ego and revenge," noting that Navarro had two arrest for
violent crimes but no convictions.
Just outside the courtroom after the sentencing,  the 14-year-old girl
clung to the prosecutor and sobbed..
"He's not going to get out. He's not going to get out," the teary eyed
Day reassured the girl.

Father and Son Bank Robbers Get Sent to Federal Prison

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ATLANTA--A father and son were sentenced to prison this week for armed attempted bank robbery, armed commercial robbery and using and carrying firearms during the commission of violence, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Clifford Durham Jr., 39, was sentenced to 50 years and eight months in prison and his son Clifford DeAngelo  Jackson, 23, got 16 years behind bar, according to the federal prosecutors.

The father and son with the help of three co-defendants did two robberies

Durham and Jackson were charged in separate indictments with robbing a small family-owned restaurant in downtown Stone Mountain in November 2010 and attempting rob a Wells Fargo Bank in DeKalb County in April 2011, federal officials state.

Federal officials state that Durham and Jackson planned and executed each robbery and conspired with a different group of individuals on each occasion.

In the November 2010 robbery, Jackson got help from a co-conspirator who worked at the business that was robbed. Jackson recruited his father and during the robbery, Durham shot the restaurant owner's son who narrowly avoid more serious injuries by running underneath a food preparation table and out of the restaurant's front door, according to federal authorities.

The father and son were arrested after they and two co-conspirators attempted to commit a second robbery in April 2011 of the Wells Fargo bank.

During that robbery, the four robbers went into the bank brandishing guns and ordered all of the customers to the ground.

Bank employees refused to allow the robbers access to the glass-enclosed teller line, so they left the bank without money and fled.

A short distance from the bank, an officer spotted the defendants at a busy intersection during rush-hour traffic.  When the officer tried to arrest the robbers, one of them fired a shot from inside the vehicle through the car window, endangering the lives of the officer and pedestrians, federal officials stated.

They eluded law enforcement that day but arrested shortly thereafter.


Today's Quote

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"Humor is mankind's greatest blessing." - Mark Twain

Kansas Man Gets 245 Years for Drugging, Videotaping and Molesting 13 Children

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KANSAS CITY, MO-- A federal judge today sentenced a 63-year-old man to 245 years in prison for drugging, videotaping and molesting 13 child victims, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Some of the children were sexually abused and videotaped over a four-year period, state federal authorities.

James Phillip "Phil" Edwards, of Kansas City, created multiple videos of his serial molestation of 13 victims, which ages ranged from 6 to 13 years.

Evidence indicates that one girl may have been victimized as young as 4 years old, federal officials state.

The sexual abuse occurred at Edward's residence with all but one of the videos recorded in his basement between July 21, 2001 and June 23, 2005.

Edwards told law enforcement that he began his criminal activity in 1997.

"We're satisfied that an extremely dangerous sexual predator is guaranteed to spend the rest of his life in prison," said David Ketchmark, acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri stated in a press release. "A virtual life sentence is the only just resolution for a self-confessed pedophile who drugged innocent children in order to sexually abuse them and then recorded videos of his molestation. This serial abuser will never victimize another child for the rest of his life."

Edwards said he drugged the victims with sleeping pills, including Ambien and its generic, which were hidden in ice cream and soft drinks that he served to the children, according to federal authorities.

He admitted to using his young son to unwittingly lure victims and their friends to his home for sleepovers.

Edwards had documents that included "How to Molest Young Girls," which provides specific information about drug dosage amounts, and "Pedo  Handbook," which also includes a section on "Drugging Children and Preteens."

 In forensic interviews, a few of the victims recalled having ice cream-eating contests at Edwards's house. However, none of the victims knew they were being drugged, according to federal authorities.

Check It Out

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Failing Law Schools
By Brian Z. Tamanaha
The University of Chicago Press, 235 pages, $25, hardcover


The book "Failing Law Schools" is a very depressing book for someone like myself who has spent his entire career in legal education. In Failing Law Schools, Brian Z. Tamanaha asserts that law professors are overpaid and under worked, and that the legal scholarship they produce is of little practical use to judges and practitioners. He accuses law schools of overstating the employment prospects for their graduates and fudging the data U.S. News and World Report uses to rank them. He describes the cut-throat competition among law schools in the scramble to attract students who use those U.S. News rankings to choose where they will enroll. And he concludes that more than half of the students currently enrolled in law schools will never earn enough to pay off the debt they are incurring.

What's so depressing about all this is that it's true.


Reviewed for California Lawyer magazine by:


Gerald F. Uelmen 

A professor at Santa Clara University School of Law

Today's Quote

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"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, "I used everything you gave me." -- Erma Bombeck

Former Santa Fe Springs Official Sentenced To Prison for Bribery

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LOS ANGELES - A judge today sentenced  a man who was a member of the Santa Fe Springs City Council to two years in federal prison for taking $10,000 in bribes from the operator of a marijuana store, according to U.S. Attorney's Office.

The operator wanted to influence the city to allow his store to stay open, according to federal authorities.

Federal judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the former councilman Joseph Serrano Sr., 62, who served as the mayor of Santa Fe Springs from 2010 to October 2011, to pay $10,000 as restitution.

Wilson rejected a plea from Serrano's lawyer for probation, federal officials stated.

"This was pure greed. The defendant sold himself," Wilson said in a press release, adding the crime was "a serious offense that attacks the integrity of government."

On July 30, Serrano pleaded guilty to one felony count of bribery, according to federal prosecutors. 

Co-Conspirator Testifies in Plot to Kidnap and Murder a Reseda Man

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By Raul Hernandez

Ruben Szerlip walked into Courtroom 25 at the Hall of Justice last week with a shaved head, handlebar mustache,  khakis,  a bleach-white shirt and dull black shoes.

The 65-year-old Szerlip was there to testify about a nefarious plot to kidnap a Reseda man put him on a yacht docked at the Oxnard marina, kill him and toss his body into the ocean.

The loquacious co-conspirator and former heroin addict was granted immunity in exchange by prosecutors for his testimony against his former pal and Pacoima businessman Barry Carlisi.

Szerlip, who is in the state's witness protection and relocation program, testified that he walked away from the plan to kill Tom MacAllister after Carlisi said he wanted another man who had given him a bad check and his 15-year-old son dead.

The  57-year-old Carlisi, who is a Pacoima businessman, is on trial for conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to kidnap, solicitation to commit murder on MacAllister.

He is also charged with possession of marijuana for sale.

A marijuana grow farm was found at Carlisi's Bell City house when law enforcement executed a search warrant to gather evidence for the conspiracy charges.

A Bitter Divorce and Child Custody Battle Resulted Trigger the Conspiracy

Carlisi and his family were involved in a very bitter divorce and child custody dispute with Tom MacAllister who is the ex-husband of Carlisi's niece, Shannon.  

Barry Carlisi concocted a detailed plan to kill MacAllister and chop up his body. The plan included the use of Tasers, untraceable cell phones,  GPS  tracking devices that can be attached to cars, photographs of the victim and his house, and  a calendar that marked the days that MacAllister had custody of his daughter.

Szerlip and Barry Carlisi were doing surveillance on MacAllister, according to court testimony.

MacAllister's and Shannon Carlisi's legal disputes resulted in drawn-out legal battles including courtroom accusations and counter-accusations.

Later, there were threats and lawsuits and counter-lawsuits between MacAllister and the Carlisi family along with its patriarch Frank Carlisi Sr. who raised Shannon Carlisi.

MacAllister testified that the acrid legal battle left him broke, and he lost two houses after the Shannon Carlisi refused to sign for-sale papers to put the real state on the market.

Szerlip Testified that Barry Carlisi  Wanted Another Man Dead

Szerlip  told jurors last week that he decided to pull the plug on an alleged plan to murder and kidnap MacAllister after Carlisi told him that he wanted to kill another man who gave him a bad business check for $3,500.

Szerlip said an angry  Carlisi wanted the bad check writer's 15-year-old son also killed because Carlisi feared that the man was going to retaliate against him. 

Carlisi was with his 15-year-old son when he brutally beat the bad check writer. Carlisi's son beat up the man's son who looked older than 15 years, according to Szerlip

Carlisi's son was later remorseful about what he did, Szerlip told jurors..

After the beatings at Carlisi's place of business,  the bad-check writer didn't know where he was when he woke up,  Szerlip told jurors.

"He barked like a dog and didn't even know he was a person," Szerlip said.  "Both (father and son) went to the hospital in an ambulance."

"They needed to be killed" Witness Testifies

When the police arrived,  Carlisi's entire staff at his business told police that the man and his 15-year-old son started the fight,  and so, no charges were filed against the Carlisis,  Szerlip said.

As soon as Barry Carlisi learned that the man was going to retaliate, he told Szerlip that he wanted the man and his 15-year-old son killed, according to Szerlip.

"They needed to be killed," Szerlip said Carlisi told them.

Szerlip said he had no qualms about going along with the plan to kill MacAllister but he wanted no part in murdering a 15-year-old boy. So, he decided to go to law enforcement.

"You didn't care about saving Tom MacAllister's life is that fair to say?" asked prosecutor Anne Spillner.

"Yes," Szerlip relied.

Szerlip Goes to Law Enforcement To Report A Crime

Szerlip testified that he first went to a lawyer to get advice on how he should report these crimes because he didn't know how to do it. The lawyer told him that for $5,000 to $8,000 in legal fees, he would represent him.  Szerlip called the legal fees  "ridiculous" since he was only going to report a crime.

He then decided to go to the FBI  just to tell them about the plot to kill the bad check writer and his son.

Szerlip said the FBI didn't believe him and told him that Barry Carlisi was just testing  Szerlip's  "loyality."

"They just blew you off?" prosecutor Anne Spillman asked.

"Yeah, they did," Szerlip replied.

Next, he went to the Port Hueneme Police Department since some of the details to kill MacAllister were discussed at Friends Cafe at Port Hueneme. They referred him to the District Attorney's Office and an investigator  there told him to go to the Sheriff's Department who immediately launched an investigation after talking to Szerlip.

During Szerlip's testimony last week, one of Carlisi's lawyers John Hobson was frustrated by what Szerlip was saying on the stand.

Hobson objected.

"Hearsay," Hobson told Judge Patricia Murphy. "This happens constantly in this trial, hearsay."

Szerlip Testified That Barry Carlisi  Wanted MacAllister  Killed Like He Had Murdered  Sonny

Initially, Szerlip said Barry Carlisi's father Frank Carlisi Sr. wanted MacAllister dead.  But Frank Carlisi later changed his mind, said Szerlip.

However, after Frank Carlisi Sr. died in January 2010, fliers were put up with Frank Carlisi's name on them that stated: "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead."

In a rage, Barry Carlisi blamed MacAllister who testified earlier that he didn't do it.

After Barry Carlisi saw the flier, he revived efforts to kill MacAllister in the same way he killed a guy named Sonny Elan. Elan was taken out on a yacht parked in the Oxnard marina and murdered at sea, according to Szerlip.

Szerlip told jurors that Barry Carlisi said Sonny Elan who was Frank Carlisi's hunting partner was wrapped in a chain-link fence and weighed down with chains and weights. He was asked whether he wanted a bullet to his head or just thrown overboard and  into the ocean.

Barry Carlisi used profanity to described Sonny Elan's reaction, saying Sonny was begging for divine intervention up until seconds before he died. He was tortured and thrown overboard,  according to Szerlip.

"In the next 10 seconds God, was going to intervene and save him," Szerlip said Carlisi told him. "That somehow God was going to change the scenario."

During much Szerlip's testimony,  Barry Carlisi who is out of custody leaned slightly back in his chair. His eyes fixed on Szerlip who appeared calm and wore large glasses.

Szerlip said the yacht was used for surfing and going to the islands.

"The boat was used for other purposes other than surfing," said Szerlip.

Szerlip Agreed to Co-Operate with a Law Enforcement Investigation and Wear a Wire.

Szerlip told jurors that he was a former and close friend of Barry Carlisi so he didn't like being on the stand.

"I had a very close relationship with him, and this is really uncomfortable," he testified.

He said he met with Barry Carlis at various restaurants in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, including Friends at Port Hueneme, to discuss how to kidnap MacAllister.

In two meetings with Carlisi at the IHOPs at Agoura Hills, Szerlip wore a wire to secretly record their conversation.  He said he had agreed to wear a wire for law enforcement on as many as five occasions or more.

Szerlip was given a new calendar with the dates when MacAllister had custody of his daughter along with a list of places were MacAllister visited, banked or shopped including Pet Smart.

Szerlip said he and Barry Carlisi went over a number ruses they could use to isolate and grab MacAllister.

"Barry was going to kill him," Szerlip said, adding "Once he was caught, I was out of it."

Szerlip testified that Barry Carlisi told him to buy a "throw away" cell phone that can't be traced and use a fictitious name when he  purchases it.

A large envelope was handed to Szerlip with personal information about MacAllister, including a photograph of a large, heavyset man that Barry Carlisi told him was MacAllister.

"I thought, holy smokes," Szerlip said, wondering how he was going to "bag" this large man.  "I wasn't sure I could do it."

GPS Device Used to Track MacAllister's Movements

The GPS tracking device was put under MacAllister's car and his movements were recorded for a year, including visits he made to a sister's house in Culver City.

Barry Carlisi was upset at the first GPS device under MacAllister's car because the batteries only lasted six months.  Szerlip said Barry Carlisi would go by MacAllister's house and pretend to be walking his dog, stop and quickly slip under MacAllister's car to change GPS devices.

Barry Carlisi bought a GPS device with better batteries,  Szerlip testified. 

"The new one was good for a year,"  said Szerlip. "I was surprised that there was so much technology out there."

Adding, "I got the Taser in Port Hueneme but it could have been at the IHop," said Szerlip, noting that the Taser had two prongs.

"I thought of sharpening them (prongs) but it was brand new when I got it," said Szerlip.

Szerlip said he did surveillance of MacAllister at his house, including one time when he pretended to be using a walker. He noted that there was a 24/7 neighborhood watch program there.

He said he walked by MacAllister's house one day, and MacAllister had left the front door open.

"He left the door wide open. I could hear him talking on the phone," Szerlip said.  "I was really close but I didn't have the Taser on me."

Using  a Fake  $25 Home Depot Gift Certificate to Nab MacAllister.

A ruse was also concocted to post phony fliers in the neighbor offering homeowners a new screen door from Home Depot to the first ones who responded to the $25 gift, hoping MacAllister would respond, Szerlip testified.

He testified that he was going to use a wheelchair or walker and lure MacAllister to an RV where Barry Carlisi would jump out of the RV and help snatch him.

But that was never pulled off either, and MacAllister got wise to the comic book ruse.

MacAllister had  told jurors that Shannon Carlisi took his prized comic book collection that he started when he was a 9-years-old.

Szerlip said Barry Carlisi tried to lure MacAllister into an isolated place by having others email him offering collectible comic books at very low prices.  But MacAllister who is a comic book collector didn't fall for it. 

Under Cross Examination by Hobson,  Szerlip Testified About His Past Crimes and His Affair with Barry Carlisi's Wife

Szerlip admitted that in the late 1960s, he and his wife along with three others, including his brother seized a man, took him up to Hollywood Hills, beat him severely and poured liquid fluid on his head.

They set his hair set on fire.

"I don't know if it was lighter fluid or not. I know that his hair was put on fire," Szerlip said. "I probably participated in it."

Szerlip said he went to prison for doing that, admitting that he committed theft every day to buy heroin.

"You even stole from your own mother," Hobson said.

"It's true," Szerlip said.

When questioned about his memory, he said he had a good memory, saying that he takes medication for his diabetes.

"I've been told I have a pretty good memory but I can't find my glasses sometimes," he said.

Szerlip admitted to having an affair with Barry Carlisi's wife Sabrina when she was separated for six months from Barry Carlisi.

Szerlip testified that he's been paid more than $30,000 from state officials since being put on the witness protection and relocation program.

He told jurors that his deal with prosecutors is to testify truthfully and his charges will be dropped.

"I was a co-conspirator because I went along with it," he said.

The trial which continues Monday and is expected to last two or three more weeks.



Woman Who Pleaded Guilty to Insurance Fraud Could Go To Jail

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By Raul Hernandez

A judge today postponed a decision on whether a Camarillo woman who pleaded guilty to insurance fraud should get jail time along with probation because he has to determine how much in restitution she owes to the insurance company.

Mona Alberti, 52, claimed she suffered a back  injury in 1997 after she bent down and picked up a pencil during a training session for her job with an insurance company , said prosecutor Gilbert Romero.

Romero told Ventura County Superior Court  Judge Charles Campbell that Alberti should pay $356,000 for more than a decade of insurance payments for such things as doctors, limousine service and medication.

In April, Alberti pleaded guilty to insurance fraud and is facing up to a year in jail after she is examined to find out the extent of her disability.

The judge said he will determine how much jail time, if any, Alberti should get based amount of fraud she committed.  Meanwhile, the judge put Alberti on probation.

Alberti is scheduled to return to court in March.

State workers compensation workers have filed a civil lawsuit to collect some of the payments made to Alberti,  a case that is pending, according to Romero.

Alberti's lawyer Brett Greenfield of Encino told the judge that his client is penniless.

"This is a woman who is broke," he said, adding that she has three children who attend college and a husband with three jobs.

Greenfield said Alberti has had surgery and  takes  "medication beyond belief that you can almost drug an elephant with."

Romero said in an interview that the insurance company paid for limousine service so Alberti could go to the doctors because she said she couldn't drive. He said Alberti went to doctor's appointment using a walker and later that day, she is caught on video shopping at the mall, holding bags and driving away.

Outside the courtroom,  Greenfield said his client still has a 48 percent disability rating and that was lowered from 100 percent after the video recording.

Greenfield called the state's workers compensation "flawed," saying that there are a lot of people who are disabled like his client who has "multi-faceted" impairments.

"In her case,  very frustrated by seeing 50 to 60 to 70 doctors over a period of 13 years," said Greenfield. "These doctors flagged physical and psychological issues."

He said he explained the secret video recording as an attempt to "embellish" her injury and a cry for help to get a doctor to pinpoint her disability.

"In her mind, she was trying to cry out because she didn't feel anybody was recognizing what was wrong,"  said Greenfield. "You can explain it to a jury but it is the same result that we have here today. Ms. Alberti is not backing away from the fact that she embellished."



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