L.A. special ed teacher attacked in hallway; Mom, daughters arrested

Mar 8, 2013

LOS ANGELES  – A woman and her two daughters could face assault and battery charges for allegedly fighting with a teacher at John Muir Middle School.

The alleged attack on the campus at 5929 S. Vermont Ave. occurred about 9 a.m. Wednesday in a hallway, Monica Carazo of the Los Angeles Unified School District said.

Kiki Fowler, 33, and one of her daughters were arrested on suspicion of felony battery on school grounds with injury, Carazo said. Her other daughter was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, Carazo said.

The names of the daughters were withheld because they are juveniles. One is a student at  John Muir, Carazo said.

Fowler was being held on $20,000 bail, according to the sheriff’s department.

The three went to the school about 9 a.m. Wednesday, checked in at the office, then went to the special-education teacher’s classroom, where they attacked her in the hallway, Carazo said.

What motivated the fight was not disclosed. It was unclear what kind of injuries the teacher may have suffered, but Carazo said she sought treatment yesterday and did not come to work today. Her name was withheld.

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9th Circuit Appeals Court overturns dismissal of disabilities lawsuit linked to Chase bank in El Monte

Mar 6, 2013

LOS ANGELES  – A federal appeals court ruled today that a Los Angeles judge erred when he dismissed a disability rights lawsuit brought against an El Monte bank by a quadriplegic who uses a wheelchair for mobility.

Plaintiff Ricardo Murillo alleged that the Chase bank branch violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and state law by not providing “full and equal” access to teller windows for those using wheelchairs when he tried to cash a check there in March 2011.

In granting Chase’s dismissal motion, U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real found that Murillo had not stated a claim for relief under the ADA because the complaint, which was filed in July 2011, did not allege that he was unable to cash the check or was an account holder at Chase.

A representative for Chase Bank said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

According to the ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Real was mistaken when he dismissed the claim.

The lawsuit “alleged that Murillo personally encountered the alleged ADA violation — a lack of wheelchair-accessible teller stations — while attempting to cash a check at the Chase branch,” according to the appeals panel.

“The complaint also connected the alleged violation to Murillo’s disability, quadriplegia,” the unanimous decision states. “This suffices to state a claim for relief under the ADA.”

The panel vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded the case back to Real for further proceedings.

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Garcetti, Greuel clear primary to compete in May runoff election

Mar 6, 2013

LOS ANGELES  – City Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel, who led the field of mayoral candidates in fundraising, were preparing today for a May 21 runoff in the race to become the city’s next chief executive.

The results of Tuesday’s primary election went pretty much as expected, with Garcetti and Greuel jumping to early leads in the eight-candidate race and never relenting, but both falling short of the 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff.

Councilwoman Jan Perry was a distant third in the race, followed by businessman Kevin James.

Garcetti and Greuel easily outpaced their competitors in primary election fundraising, with each collecting more than $4 million.

James and ex-tech executive Emanuel Pleitez rounded out the list of the more widely featured candidates; while Yehuda “YJ” Draiman, Norton Sandler and perennial candidate Addie M. Miller were also vying for the job. Greuel, Garcetti and Perry formed a trifecta of sitting elected officials who touted their experience in the public sector while facing two self-described political outsiders in James and Pleitez.

James was the sole Republican in the non-partisan race and would have been the first openly gay mayor if elected. Greuel would be the city’s first female mayor.

“You know, ladies and gentlemen, we are just 11 weeks from electing a mayor for all of Los Angeles so no part of our city is left behind,” Greuel told supporters last night in downtown Los Angeles. “And yes, we’re 11 weeks from making history, electing the first woman mayor, and of course, first mom for the mayor of the greatest city …

“Los Angeles deserves tough and strong leadership, a leader tough enough to weed out waste, fraud and abuse at City Hall and bring our fiscal house in order. I am that leader.”

At his election-night party in Hollywood, Garcetti rallied his supporters by echoing a theme of his campaign — job creation and development in his 13th District. He also touted his “record of real pension reform, of responsible budget cutting, of getting ourselves through tough times so that we could protect core services that people depend on in our neighborhoods.”

“It’s why this district is ranked number one by the Chamber of Commerce in job growth in the midst of a recession,” he said. “I’d like to say we accomplished this because of great leadership, but we didn’t, at least not in the singular sense. We did it because leadership, we understood, doesn’t just exist up here at a podium. But it’s out there on the streets. It’s every block and every street and every neighborhood in this city that is waiting to be unleashed. The creativity and the genius that is Los Angeles, we will bring back, and that’s what I’m going to do as the next mayor of Los Angeles.”

The city’s looming $200 million-plus budget deficit in the upcoming year is arguably the most pressing issue on tap for L.A.’s next chief executive. Along with ballooning pension costs, the future mayor will be faced with a shortage of funds that could jeopardize critical services in years to come.

During the campaign, Greuel, a former councilwoman, boasted experience in both the public and private sphere, having spent five years as an executive at animation company DreamWorks.

She was noted for declaring, with some dispute from opponents, that as city controller she dug up $160 million in “waste, fraud and abuse.” She was also fond of plugging her time as a deputy mayor in Tom Bradley’s administration.

Greuel took hits from opponents over her financial backing by unions such as the IBEW Local 18, which represents Department of Water and Power workers, and the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the police union. A recent tally put union contributions to a super PAC supporting Greuel’s campaign at $2.5 million.

Later today, the Service Employees International Union will announce its endorsement of Greuel in the runoff election.

Meanwhile, a promise by Greuel to increase police ranks by 2,000 officers was slammed by her opponents as unreasonable, if not suspect, given the city’s budget and the types of groups funding her campaign.

Greuel, 51, tried to counter the perception she would bow to union pressure by promising not to raise salaries for DWP workers if the city still faces a deficit next year.

“We are going to cross the finish line with Wendy,” city Police Commissioner John Mack told the crowd at Greuel’s election-night party.

He added that Greuel was “deeply committed to making sure our mosaic of a city will be at the table.”

Garcetti, a native of Silver Lake, ran a campaign that sporadically took advantage of his show biz connections, whether it was getting an endorsement from comedian Will Ferrell or accompanying electronic music D.J. Moby on the keyboard at a fundraiser.

Garcetti comes with an Ivy League resume that includes undergraduate and graduate degrees from Columbia University and a year studying as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, and later the London School of Economics. He is also noted for having traveled to 80 countries, including on charity and relief missions.

Garcetti, 42, has had to counter claims that he helped contribute to the budget deficit by voting to raise salaries for public safety and other city employees.

Some observers have blamed an early lack of tough budget-related decisions on then-Council President Garcetti and his penchant for consensus- building, which is normally considered an attribute but can also be ammunition for opponents equating it to an unwillingness to stand-up to powerful entities like city employee unions.

During the campaign, Garcetti touted his role in the redevelopment of once-blighted areas of Hollywood, as well as his record on environmentally friendly policy-making — such as solar-energy initiatives — and his endorsement by the Sierra Club.

As the primary election neared, however, Pleitez filed ethics complaints alleging Garcetti held shares in billboard company Clear Channel and The Home Depot while voting on council items involving both. Garcetti has denied any conflict of interest.

Greuel criticized the development of Hollywood, saying it brought traffic and air pollution to the area. A petition was also circulated urging Garcetti to withdraw shares he has in oil company Venoco.

Unlike Greuel, Garcetti swore off independent contributions throughout much of his campaign, and as a result trailed in spending power. A PAC supporting Garcetti was recently formed, not for the primary election, but for the May 21 general election.

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Ex-president of school-workers association arrested for embezzlement

Mar 1, 2013

HUNTINGTON PARK  – Detectives today arrested a Huntington Park man for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from the California Schools Employment Association’s general fund while serving as the organization’s president from 2005-2012, authorities said.

Rodolfo Sanchez, 47, was taken into custody at his home this morning and was booked on suspicion of grand theft embezzlement, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reported. Bail was set at $100,000.

The CSEA represents custodians and other non-teaching staff employed by the Lennox School District. The alleged theft was uncovered by a routine audit, officials said.

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Washington DEA, LAPD arrest 41 in 2-state Oxycontin drug ring

Mar 1, 2013

LOS ANGELES – Dozens of people were arrested Thursday in the Los Angeles area and in Washington state for their alleged role in a drug ring peddling the pain medication  Oxycontin, authorities said.

“Members of this ring regularly circulate between Los Angeles and Spokane to fuel their customers’ insatiable appetite and pharmaceutical addiction,” said Matthew G. Barnes of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Seattle office.

In the Los Angeles area, authorities arrested 28 people on federal charges, two of whom were already in custody on state charges. In Washington state, 12 people were arrested on federal charges in Spokane, and one was arrested in Mountlake Terrace.

Also, three people were arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department on state arrest warrants in a “separate but related investigation,” officials said.

The names of the suspects were not immediately released.

“Today’s operation is another fine example of the outstanding partnerships that have been forged between agencies who are committed to ridding our communities of violent organized criminals who prey on our city,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said. The enforcement action stemmed from a 32-count federal indictment handed down in the Eastern District of Washington in January. The indictment charges numerous people with criminal violations relating to the distribution, possession and attempted possession of oxycodone hydrochloride in violation of the Federal Controlled Substances Act.

Some of the people named in the indictment face potential mandatory minimum sentences of 20 years in prison, officials said. Also, federal authorities have filed a notice of criminal forfeiture seeking a money judgment of $20 million, which is alleged to represent the amount of proceeds obtained as a result of the charged controlled substances offenses.

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Deliberations in Bell trial to start anew after juror dismissed for misconduct

Mar 1, 2013

LOS ANGELES – A juror in the trial of a former Bell mayor and five ex-City Council members was dismissed today for doing research on the Internet and talking to her daughter about what she called “the abuse I have suffered from the other jurors,” who indicated they were deadlocked in their fifth day of deliberations.

Picking from among four ping-pong balls placed in a Los Angeles Dodgers helmet, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy chose one of the four remaining alternates — a woman — to take the place of the ousted juror.

The judge this afternoon instructed the seven-woman, five-man panel to “begin your deliberations all over again” in the case of former Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former council members Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, Victor Bello, Luis Artiga and George Cole, who are charged with misappropriating public funds.

The reconstituted jury is due back in court Friday morning to resume deliberations.

After the judge was informed through a note from another juror that now- ousted juror number 3 had told the group that she had contacted an attorney about being coerced to return a verdict a certain way, she told the judge that she used the word attorney — though she had not spoken to a lawyer — “so they would leave me alone.”

Shortly before being dismissed, the woman said she had consulted a legal website online.

“I was on there looking to see at what point can I get the harassment to stop,” the ousted juror said, questioning how long she had to “stay in there and deliberate with them when I’ve made my decision.”

The woman — who had asked to be taken off the jury Monday during the second day of deliberations — said she had spoken with her daughter about the way she was treated by other jurors. She said she asked her daughter to look up the word coercion — a definition of which she had brought to court in her purse.

She said her daughter told her, “Mom, they’re trying to find a weak link. Just be patient. You’ll be fine.”

Just before dismissing the woman from the jury, the judge said, “It seems fairly clear to the court that juror number 3 has engaged in misconduct,” noting that she has repeatedly warned jurors not to do any outside research.

The judge said the conduct was “simply not acceptable,” but told the juror while dismissing her that “you’re not in trouble.”

The woman appeared emotional as she walked out of the courtroom for the last time without returning to the jury room where the remainder of the panel was waiting.

Her dismissal came shortly after attorneys were summoned to court in response to a note signed by two jurors who said there were “fundamental disagreements” among the panelists and that it did not appear a verdict could be reached.

Jurors were not questioned about that note.

Outside the jury’s presence after the juror was dismissed and before the alternate was named, the judge said the deadlock was “no longer in play” because there were only 11 jurors to be questioned at the time and a jury must be comprised of 12 people.

Before the case went to the jury last Friday, Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller told them that the defendants “want to fool you just like they fooled the city of Bell.”

Miller contends that the defendants were paid illegal salaries that reached $100,000 for sitting on four city boards — the Community Housing Authority, Surplus Property Authority, Public Financing Authority and Solid Waste and Recycling Authority — that rarely met. In any event, sitting on those boards were “part and parcel” of their city council duties, he said.

Defense attorneys maintain that their clients have been wrongly accused, arguing they worked diligently for the city and earned their salaries.

“I think the acquittals here should be across the board,” Mirabal’s attorney, Alex Kessel, told jurors during his closing argument last week.

Hernandez, 65, Jacobo, 55, and Mirabal, 63, are each charged with 20 counts of misappropriating public funds between January 2006 and July 2010; Bello, 54, is charged with 16 counts of misappropriation between January 2006 and December 2009; Artiga, 52, is charged with 12 counts of misappropriation between January 2008 and July 2010; and Cole, 63, is charged with eight counts of misappropriation between January 2006 and December 2007.

Former city manager Robert Rizzo is awaiting trial separately, along with former assistant Angela Spaccia, on corruption-related charges.

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L.A. candidate for mayor to run, bike 100 miles ahead of election

Feb 27, 2013

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles mayoral candidate Emanuel Pleitez today kicked off a six-day, 100-mile running and bicycling trip across the city as part of a get-out-the vote effort on the final weekend before the March 5 election.

Pleitez ran 15.4 miles from the Canoga Park Community Center to Mestizo restaurant in Mission Hills today in about three hours.

The entire 100-mile trip will take Pleitez through neighborhoods in the western and eastern San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, Eastside, Mid-City, Venice, and South Los Angeles areas.

It will conclude Monday night in San Pedro, in time for the election on Tuesday.

Pleitez, 30, was a personal assistant to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa from 2003-2005, a financial analyst with the Securities Division of the investment bank Goldman, Sachs & Co. and a member of the Obama transition team reviewing potential staff for the Treasury Department.

Pleitez most recently worked as Chief Strategy Officer for Spokeo, a search engine to find information about people using data mined from their public profiles on various social networks.

Pleitez finished third in a 2009 special election in the 32nd Congressional District to succeed Hilda Solis, who had been appointed Secretary of Labor.

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Study ranks happiest cities by geo-tagging Twitter messages

Feb 27, 2013

MISSION VIEJO – Mission Viejo, Lake Forest, San Clemente and Simi Valley are among the top 10 happiest cities in the United States, according to a University of Vermont study.

University researchers analyzed more than 10 million “geo-tagged” Twitter messages from 373 urban areas. The researchers scored more than 80 million words in the tweets for levels of happiness.

The researchers said the results “show how social media may potentially be used to estimate real-time levels and changes in population-level measures such as obesity rates.”

Napa was ranked the happiest city in the country.

Mission Viejo, Lake Forest and San Clemente were ranked fourth on the list, and Simi Valley was ranked fifth happiest. Thousand Oaks came in at 19th on the list, San Diego was ranked 40th happiest and Los Angeles, Long Beach and Anaheim — home to the so-called “happiest place on earth,” aka Disneyland — came in at 79th on the list.  Santa Clarita was ranked 96th.

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8 charged in $10 million tax fraud that used stolen identities of homeless, retired persons

Feb 27, 2013

LOS ANGELES – Federal authorities today arrested six of eight defendants charged in an alleged San Fernando Valley-based fraud ring that used stolen identities to collect nearly $10 million in phony tax refunds.

According to a 132-count indictment, filed this week in Los Angeles federal court, members of the scheme obtained nearly 2,000 stolen identities, many from retired people and residents of homeless shelters, some of whom had not filed federal tax returns in years.

Prosecutors allege the defendants then submitted forms to the Internal Revenue Service under the names of the identity-theft victims. After getting refunds, the defendants took the fraudulently obtained checks to various check cashing companies, which took their own cuts, according to the indictment.

In an effort to hide their activities, the eight used coded language to refer to U.S. Treasury checks, called each other by nicknames, used bogus addresses on their own driver’s licenses and had “straw buyers” purchase property, federal prosecutors allege.

“These individuals demonstrated a blatant disregard for the integrity of the United States tax system and caused immeasurable hardship to innocent victims,” said Richard Weber, chief of the IRS criminal investigations unit.

Those arrested today are:

— Ashot Karapetian, 47, of North Hollywood;

— Suren “Sonny” Gambaryan, 33, of North Hollywood;

— Artak “Max” Berberyan, 33, of Van Nuys;

— Vigen “Vic” Tsaturyan, 47, of Sun Valley;

— Armen “Roman” Berberyan, 33, of Van Nuys; and

— Arman Zargaryan, 30, of Granada Hills.

Additionally, defendants Akop “Jack” Kantrdzyan, 33, of Sylmar, and David “Little Guy” Samsonyan, 31, of Winnetka, are fugitives, authorities said.

The indictment charges conspiracy, theft of government money, mail fraud, money laundering, aggravated identity theft, and cashing government checks with forged signatures. All eight defendants are charged in the conspiracy count, and each are charged in various mail fraud counts.

Authorities also arrested two others on unrelated charges. Armine Nazaryan, 41, of North Hollywood, was indicted on charges of making false statements to Homeland Security Investigations agents, and Spartak Karapetian, 23, of North Hollywood, son of Ashot Karpetian, was arrested on suspicion of being a felon with a gun, officials said.

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Man who took mother-in-law, son hostage commits suicide

Feb 27, 2013

SANTA MONICA – An armed man who was holed up overnight in his house in Santa Monica as SWAT officers surrounded the home was found dead today of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said.

Police officers were sent to the 2900 block of Delaware Avenue just before 5 p.m. Tuesday after the man’s 15-year-old son managed to escape from the house and call 911, said Santa Monica police Sgt. Richard Lewis.

The boy reported that his father, who was armed with a handgun, had taken him and his 86-year-old grandmother hostage inside the house, where all three were living along with the man’s estranged wife, Lewis said.

SWAT team officers found the man dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in a bedroom when they entered the home about 4 a.m. today, Lewis said.  He was identified by the coroner’s office as 48-year-old John Carroll Lowery.

The situation arose from a domestic quarrel between Lowery and his wife, who was not at home when the crisis began, Lewis said.

Santa Monica and Beverly Hills police SWAT teams surrounded the house and evacuated neighbors in a roughly square-block area, Lewis said.

Lowery’s mother-in-law emerged from the house unharmed at around 9:50 p.m. Tuesday and was interviewed by police after being examined by Santa Monica paramedics, according to Lewis.

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