Benjamin Diaz

U.S. border agent pleads guilty for alien smuggling conspiracy, bribes

Mar 28, 2013

SAN DIEGO – A former Customs and Border Protection officer who took cash bribes and cars in return for letting illegal aliens into the United States through his inspection lane at the San Ysidro Port of Entry pleaded guilty in federal court today to conspiracy to bring in aliens for financial gain and to receive bribes.

Hector Rodriguez, 45, will be sentenced July 1 by U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez.

Rodriguez, of San Diego, admitted that from 2010 until his arrest last July, he received bribes from co-defendants Gerardo Rodriguez and Maria Guerrero in the form of cash, the use of luxury vehicles and the use of an apartment in return for failing to enforce U.S. immigration laws by letting aliens enter the country illegally, according to court records.

Hector Rodriguez provided his lane assignment to his co-defendants, who would drive vehicles containing illegal aliens from Mexico to the United States through Rodriguez’s inspection lane.

On their date of arrest, July 13, 2012, Gerardo Rodriguez drove a vehicle containing eight illegal aliens and co-defendant Vanessa Moya drove a vehicle with six illegal aliens through Hector Rodriguez’s inspection lane, authorities said.

To conceal the smuggling, Hector Rodriguez would enter into the government database false information about who was driving the vehicle and the number of occupants, according to authorities.

As part of his plea, Hector Rodriguez agreed to forfeit a 2009 Jaguar, five Rolex watches, televisions and computers that were obtained through his criminal activity.

Gerardo Rodriguez agreed to forfeit a 2005 Mercedes-Benz, a 2006 Harley Davidson and $60,000.

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L.A. woman in videotaped arrest files excessive force lawsuit

Mar 28, 2013

LOS ANGELES – A Sunland woman who accused two Los Angeles police officers of using excessive force during a videotaped arrest at a fast food restaurant parking lot last year has filed a lawsuit against the city.

Michelle Jordan brought the suit Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court. She alleges excessive force, assault and battery, false imprisonment and negligent hiring, training and retention. She also names as defendants the two officers, Christopher Hajduk and Christopher Carr, and Capt. Joseph Hiltner, who at the time was commander of the Foothill Division.

The suit states that Hajduk is believed to be “one of the officers present during the LAPD’s beating of Rodney King in 1991.”

Jordan is seeking unspecified damages. An LAPD spokesman today declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The registered nurse, then 34, was stopped in a Del Taco parking lot near Foothill Boulevard and Saluda Avenue in Tujunga around 11:15 a.m. last Aug. 21 for allegedly using a cellphone while driving.

Police said Jordan got out of her car and was taken to the ground and handcuffed. After she was handcuffed, she was taken to the ground a second time. The video shows one of the officers landing on top of her during the second takedown.

Jordan was arrested and booked on suspicion of interfering and resisting arrest, and then released on her own recognizance, police said.

According to her lawsuit, Jordan was on her way to pick up her grandmother from a nearby hospital. She never threatened either officer, according to her suit.

“Without cause or justification, the officers grabbed Ms. Jordan and slammed her to the pavement,” her suit states. “The officers then laid on top of Ms. Jordan, forced her arms behind her and handcuffed her. After she was handcuffed, (the) officers picked Ms. Jordan up off the ground and shoved her against the side of their police car.”

After Jordan complained about the treatment, the officers then slammed her down to the pavement again, this time head first, according to her lawsuit. They used such force that skin was “torn off her face, neck and shoulders, and she sustained internal injuries to her abdomen and spine,” the suit states.

“Ms. Jordan was terrified for her life and in a state of utter shock,” the suit states.

After a bloodied Jordan was placed in the back of the patrol car, the officers “engaged in a jovial fist bump celebrating their beating of a defenseless young woman,” the suit states.

Unknown to the patrolmen, their acts were recorded by a parking lot security camera, according to the suit.

Jordan was later held for 6 1/2 hours, but never prosecuted, the suit states.

Jordan now has bulging discs in her spinal column and facial scars, the suit states.

“She experiences recurring nightmares about the beating and has fear and anxiety about her safety,” according to the suit. “The mere sight of police or police vehicles now creates such anxiety for Mr. Jordan that she suffers panic attacks.”

Last September, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck removed Hiltner from command of the Foothill Division and initiated a process to demote him.

“Proper steps were not taken, including appropriate notifications and the removal of the involved officers from the field,” Beck said.

Hiltner’s attorney said the demotion was in response to his involvement in an earlier, unrelated harassment case against another LAPD captain who was eventually exonerated.

Hiltner later filed a complaint with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

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Lakers legend Magic Johnson endorses Greuel in L.A. mayors race

Mar 28, 2013

LOS ANGELES – The two candidates vying to be L.A.’s next mayor made a big play for the city’s black vote today, with Eric Garcetti receiving the endorsement of one-time mayoral candidate Jan Perry while Controller Wendy Greuel got the backing of Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

Perry, one of the three black members of the 15-member City Council, endorsed Garcetti during a news conference at the 28th Street YMCA, which was founded in 1926 by members of the black community.

“I am proud to endorse Eric Garcetti for mayor,” Perry said. “I spent the last two years seeing the candidates up close. It’s clear that the best choice for mayor is Eric Garcetti. Eric has the independence we need to balance the budget.”

Calling Perry an “independent voice” during the primary race, Garcetti highlighted projects they collaborated on as colleagues on the City Council.

“Together, we wrote the nation’s largest clean water initiative and created the independent DWP ratepayer advocate, and now we are going to win this election to get our city back to work, balance our budget and expand opportunity here in South L.A. and across Los Angeles,” he said.

An endorsement by Perry, who made a strong showing in South Los Angeles in the March 5 primary, has the potential to persuade her nearly 60,000 supporters to back Garcetti in the May 21 runoff against Greuel, who finished second.

Although she fell short overall in her mayoral bid, Perry bested both Garcetti and Greuel in the primary in a broad swath of precincts in South Los Angeles, an area that includes many black and Latino communities.

In the past two weeks, Garcetti, who has set up a campaign office in South Los Angeles to court voters there, picked up the endorsements of the Los Angeles African American Women Political Action Committee and the New Frontier Democratic Club, a predominantly women’s group with a long history in the black community.

Perry’s endorsement is the second for Garcetti from a former opponent. Emanuel Pleitez, who came in fifth in the primary, announced his backing for Garcetti earlier this month.

Third-place finisher Kevin James, who snagged more than 60,000 votes, mostly in the San Fernando Valley, met with Garcetti and Greuel two weeks ago but said he was dissatisfied with both of them.

Greuel won an endorsement today from Johnson, a basketball-legend-turned- entrepreneur and major figure in the city’s black community.

“Wendy is a tough and experienced leader,” Johnson said. “And she’s got the public and private sector background to level with business owners and about how to make L.A. a great place to open and expand a business.”

Greuel was accompanied by County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, one of the Southland’s most prominent black politicians — who has already endorsed Greuel — as well as LA Sentinel publisher Danny Bakewell.

“I’ve also felt a strong connection to the South Los Angeles community for decades, starting when I had the privilege to serve in the administration of Mayor Tom Bradley,” Greuel said. “Today, it’s a sincere honor to have the support of Magic Johnson, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the many other leaders from across the African-American community in this race to be mayor.”

Greuel earlier this week also won the endorsement of former President Bill Clinton, known as a well-liked politician in the black community.

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Mother pleads not guilty in attack on teacher, teacher’s assistant

Mar 28, 2013

LOS ANGELES – A 33-year-old mother pleaded not guilty today to two felony charges for allegedly striking a teacher and a teacher’s assistant during a March 6 fracas at John Muir Middle School in Los Angeles.

Superior Court Judge Shelly Torrealba agreed to allow Kiki Lolita Fowler to remain free on $10,000 bail posted a day after her March 6 arrest by school police, citing a “lack of criminal history” and “health issues.”

“I do see she has a walker to assist her,” the judge said. Fowler also had an oxygen tank.

At the prosecution’s request, the judge barred Fowler from contacting the alleged victims or going to the school.

Authorities said that Fowler, accompanied by her 13-year-old and 15-year- old daughters, was upset about the way her younger daughter was treated in class, and a heated conversation ensued in which Fowler allegedly struck the teacher and the teacher’s assistant during the March 6 run-in.

The teacher’s assistant was allegedly scratched.

If convicted, Fowler faces up to three years and eight months behind bars.

Fowler’s daughters also were involved in the fracas, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Fowler’s younger daughter was charged March 7 with battery on a school employee involving the teacher’s assistant, according to the District Attorney’s Office. The status of her case was not immediately available.

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City Attorney hopeful: Ethics lawsuit a desperate political move

Mar 28, 2013

LOS ANGELES – A lawsuit filed against city attorney candidate Mike Feuer by a community activist alleging illegal campaign finance tactics is a “transparent political gimmick,” a spokesman for the Feuer campaign said today, heating up an already contentious campaign.

“This is a phony lawsuit filed by a phony group on behalf of a desperate candidate,” Feuer spokesman Dave Jacobson said, pointing to a recent ABC7 poll that indicates Feuer is leading incumbent City Attorney Carmen Trutanich by 18 percentage points.

Jacobson’s comments came in response to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by activist Laura Lake and comments by Trutanich strategist Rick Taylor, who called Feuer “morally unfit to hold public office.”

Lake, a member of the nonprofit Fix the City, filed suit against Feuer accusing the former assemblyman of cheating the public out of $300,000 in matching funds. Trutanich’s campaign filed similar complaints earlier against Feuer with the city Ethics Commission.

Lake contends a scheme between Feuer and his campaign strategist, John Shallman, allowed the candidate to receive free services without disclosing that they were worth $250,000, an amount that also breaks laws limiting campaign donations to a maximum of $1,300 a person.

Lake’s lawsuit claims that Feuer, by not disclosing the true worth of Shallman’s services, attempted to defraud the public out of $300,000 in taxpayer-funded matching money, which is given to candidates who spend below $1.2 million.

Shallman, who typically charges a $20,000-$25,000 fee, gave his services for free to Feuer as part of a “win bonus” arrangement in which Feuer would only pay Shallman if he wins the May 21 runoff against Trutanich, according to the lawsuit.

Taylor said the agreement gave Feuer an unfair advantage in the race and tainted the results of the March 5 primary election, which ended with Feuer receiving 44.1 percent of the vote and Trutanich with 29.7 percent.

“This is undoubtedly the biggest, most outrageous election scam ever perpetrated in the city’s election history,” Taylor said.

Jacobson said the payment agreement with Feuer was permitted by the city Ethics Commission.

Former Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg also came to Feuer’s defense, attacking Trutanich’s integrity.

“It doesn’t matter that respected legal experts say he’s wrong. If it serves his political interests to lie, he (Trutanich) will again and again and again,” Hertzberg said.

“He uses the law as a self-serving political weapon — rather than a tool to do good,” he added. “He has embarrassed the office and is unfit for duty.”

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Lake Forest councilman gets 3 years probation for drunk driving

Mar 28, 2013

NEWPORT BEACH – Lake Forest City Councilman Peter Herzog pleaded no contest today to a misdemeanor drunken driving charge and was placed on three years informal probation.

Prosecutors dismissed another misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence against Herzog, who is also an attorney. As part of his sentence, he must complete a three-month first-offender alcohol program.

“It was a very common, standard first-offender deal,” Herzog’s attorney, Edward Stopyro, said. “It’s pretty much what everyone gets for a first-offense DUI.”

Herzog, 57, issued a statement saying he was taking responsibility for his actions.

“When you make a mistake, as I have done, you face up to it, without excuses, do what is necessary to address it, and move on in a positive fashion,” he said. “I would like to thank my friends, family, and all the poeple who have sent me kind words of support these past months. I have done everything possible to make amends for my error and, in moving forward, I will strive to be a force for good in this community and will continue to provide the people of Lake Forest the same dedication and thoughtful representation as I have for the past 18 years. I hope many learn from my mistake and to those I have disappointed, while I do not ask you to forgive me, I hope you can see how I have worked to take full responsibility and accountability for my actions.”

Herzog, who was charged Jan. 24, was arrested at home Nov. 17 after motorists called sheriff’s deputies to report he had been driving erratically, according to Farrah Emami of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

About 8:15 that night, Herzog made a left turn from Portola Parkway to Lake Forest Drive on the wrong side of the road, Emami said. He then swerved over the center median to get back onto the westbound lanes.

Herzog made a too-wide left turn from Lake Forest Drive to Regency Lane, hitting the right side of the curb in the process, according to the District Attorney’s Office. He veered into the opposite lane and weaved back and forth until he got home.

Investigators measured Herzog’s blood-alcohol level as .18 percent, more than twice the legal limit, as of 10:30 p.m. the night he was arrested, according to prosecutors.

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Giants pitcher Barry Zito sues taxi owners for West Hollywood collision

Mar 28, 2013

LOS ANGELES – San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito today sued the owners of a taxi cab that he says collided with his vehicle in West Hollywood two years ago.

The Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit by the 34-year-old lefthander names as defendants Los Angeles Checker Cab. It seeks unspecified damages.

According to the suit, Zito was driving a rented Cadillac STS on March 30, 2011, on Sunset Boulevard near Sunset Plaza Drive when a taxi driven by Bagrat Verdiyan collided with the 2002 Cy Young Award winner’s vehicle.

Zito suffered injuries that have not yet been determined, but will be specified later, according to the suit.

A Checker Cab representative said he had not seen the lawsuit and had no immediate comment.

CNS-03-28-2013 15:26

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Gay-marriage case comes to U.S. Supreme Court; Definition-of-marriage, right-to-marry arguments to be heard

Mar 26, 2013

LOS ANGELES – Southland supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage will focus their attention on the U.S. Supreme Court today as it hears arguments on Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved measure restricting marriages to unions between a man and a woman.

Proposition 8 was enacted by voters in 2008 but was deemed unconstitutional last year by a federal appeals court panel, which found the initiative was at odds with U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal protection under the law.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the issue today, with a decision likely by June.

Dozens of same-sex marriage supporters held a candlelight vigil outside Los Angeles City Hall Sunday night in advance of the arguments.

The Rev. Susan Russell from All Saints Church in Pasadena, which helped organize the vigil, said the marriage issue is about “the power of God’s inclusive love.”

“And it is a deep honor to stand with those around the country who are stepping up and speaking out to end discrimination against LGBT people and their families and take another step closer to making liberty and justice for all really mean ‘all.”‘

More vigils are scheduled for Tuesday night outside Long Beach City Hall and at the federal courthouse in Santa Ana.

Opponents of same-sex marriage will also be watching the proceedings closely.

Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com and an opponent of same-sex marriage, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s review of Prop 8 goes beyond the issue of marriage.

“This case is as much about the survival of our Republic as it is about natural marriage between a man and a woman,” Thomasson said. “We are a constitutional government that abides by written laws and their original meanings. A republic under the thumb of judges who act like kings has ceased to be a republic.

“The unchanging laws of nature require two distinct sexes for humans — male and female,” he said. “… In contrast, homosexual behavior is neither natural nor healthy, and doesn’t qualify for marriage, which requires one man and one woman, no more, no less.”

In March 2000, California voters approved Prop. 22, which specified in state law that only marriages between a man and a woman are valid in California. But in May of 2008, the state Supreme Court ruled the law was unconstitutional because it discriminated against gays, and an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples got married in the ensuing months.

Opponents of same-sex marriage quickly got Prop. 8 on the November 2008 ballot to amend the state constitution, and it was approved by a margin of 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent. The approval was followed by statewide protests and lawsuits challenging Prop. 8’s legality.

In May 2009, the California Supreme Court upheld Prop. 8, but also ruled that the unions of roughly 18,000 same-sex couples who were wed in 2008 prior to its passage would remain valid.

Same-sex marriage supporters took their case to federal court, and U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled in August 2010 that Proposition 8 “both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.”

Backers of Proposition 8 — ProtectMarriage.com — appealed to the 9th Circuit, because then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Attorney General Jerry Brown declined to do so. The appellate court heard arguments in 2011, but put a decision on hold while it awaited the state Supreme Court’s ruling on the ability of Prop. 8 backers to press the case forward.

Once the state Supreme Court decided that Prop. 8 supporters had legal standing, the 9th Circuit moved ahead with its consideration of the case, hearing more arguments last December on a motion by Prop. 8 backers asking that Vaughn’s ruling be thrown out because the judge was in a long-term same-sex relationship that he had not disclosed.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the proposition’s primary impact was to “lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California.”

“It stripped same-sex couples of the ability they previously possessed to obtain and use the designation of ‘marriage’ to describe their relationships,” according to the court’s decision. “Nothing more, nothing less. Proposition 8 therefore could not have been enacted to advance California’s interests in child-rearing or responsible procreation, for it had no effect on the rights of same-sex couples to raise children or on the procreative practices of other couples.

“Nor did Proposition 8 have any effect on religious freedom or on parents’ rights to control their children’s education; it could not have been enacted to safeguard those liberties.”

In addition to Proposition 8, the U.S. Supreme Court this week will also hear arguments over the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was enacted in 1996 and defined marriage solely as a union between opposite-sex couples.

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Palmdale teen riding bike dies after being hit by school bus

Mar 26, 2013

PALMDALE – An 18-year-old who had just finished his first day on a new job at a market and was on his way to play soccer was struck by a school bus and killed as he rode a bicycle in Palmdale Monday.

The crash happened at 3:45 p.m. at the intersection of Avenue R and 55th Street East, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The bus, driven by a 54-year-old woman, was westbound on Avenue R, traveling around 50 mph, just prior to striking the victim, the CHP reported.

The bicyclist, who had been headed south on 55th Street East, stopped at the intersection, then proceeded into the path of the bus. The driver swerved to avoid the victim, but the right front end of the bus hit the bicycle in the left turn lane of eastbound Avenue R, according to the CHP.

The victim was taken to Antelope Valley Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, the CHP reported.

No one aboard the bus was injured, according to the CHP.

The bicyclist was identified in broadcast reports as Michael Valenzuela.

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Bobby Womack settles royalties lawsuit that alleged fraud, financial elder abuse

Mar 26, 2013

LOS ANGELES – Singer/songwriter Bobby Womack and a businessman who has lent money to many recording artists have settled the musician’s lawsuit alleging he was duped into selling the rights to his work of the past 40 years for a minimal sum.

Lawyers for Womack filed a notice of settlement March 14 with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White. The terms were not divulged.

Womack sued Parviz Omidvar and his company Music Royalty Consulting Inc., in February 2012. His allegations included fraud, restitution of contract and financial elder abuse.

In their court papers, attorneys for Omidvar called the suit “a simple case of buyer’s remorse.”  The lawyers said Womack knew what he was doing when he entered the agreement and that he received “substantial monies” from Omidvar. The 69-year-old Womack alleged Omidvar conned him into taking $40,000 in exchange for royalties for such Womack creations as “It’s All Over Now,” which became a hit for the Rolling Stones. Womack was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.

Womack got loans from Omidvar about 15 times in the previous 25 years and trusted him because of their previous business relationships, the suit stated. So, Womack contacted Omidvar for another loan two years ago, the suit stated.

The suit maintained Womack signed the contract in April 2011 when he was suffering from ailments ranging from prostate cancer to dementia. The surgery for the cancer was followed by a “morphine-induced” two-week stay in a hospital, the suit stated.

Womack also was taking 17 prescribed medicines at the time, according to the suit. Even Omidvar observed that Womack “looked dizzy and was staggering” and had swollen legs, the suit stated. Yet, he presented the agreement to Womack despite the plaintiff’s condition and his knowledge that the musician was heavily medicated, the suit states.

After the signing. Omidvar told his secretary to have Womack’s daughter pen her name as a witness to her father’s signing, the suit stated. The daughter was rushed into signing the document and later realized it wrongly stated she had witnessed her father’s signing, according to the suit.

After consulting with his attorneys, Womack tried to rescind the agreement and return the $40,000 check to Omidvar, but the businessman refused in both instances, the suit stated.

Omidvar’s past clients include the late Michael Jackson.

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