Political Consultant Jesus Cardenas Sentenced on Grand Theft Charges

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that defendant Jesus Cardenas, 41, has been sentenced to 45 days in work furlough, 135 days in home detention and two years formal probation for committing two felony counts of grand theft. Should he violate the terms of his probation, Cardenas could be ordered to serve up to two years and eight months in custody. Cardenas pleaded guilty to fraud related to funds obtained from the federal Paycheck Protection Program and the state Employment Development Department. Cardenas acknowledged cheating the U.S. government out of $176,000 in COVID-19 relief funds which he laundered and used to pay for personal expenses. He also unlawfully applied for over $26,000 in unemployment benefits.

As part of his probation, Superior Court Judge Rachel Cano ordered Cardenas must submit to search and seizure, must operate any business legally and comply with all rules and regulations of such business including being licensed, paying taxes, and comply with any campaign finance laws. He must also pay back the full amount of the funds he stole including $176,227 to the Small Business Administration joint and several with the co-defendant Andrea Cardenas, $26,700 to the Employment Development Department, and an amount to be determined to the Franchise Tax Board.

“Our dedicated prosecution team conducted a thorough investigation resulting in the service of 27 search warrants to examine financial and email accounts,” DA Stephan said. “They uncovered and proved that Cardenas had engaged in multiple fraud schemes over several years. In these types of cases, we often rely on the public, the media, or people who suspect wrongdoing to report potential public integrity crimes to our office so we can investigate. Members of the public, and members of local media outlets like La Prensa deserve recognition for their reporting, which helped bring this case to light.”

Cardenas began operating a political consulting firm called Grassroots Resources in 2016. In 2019, Grassroots Resources began acting as a payroll service for one of their clients, Harbor Collective, a marijuana dispensary. In early 2021, Grassroots Resources was being pressured to pay off debts including money owed to TMC Direct, a political mailing company.

In February 2021, Cardenas filed for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan from the Small Business Administration via PayPal. He misrepresented multiple items on the application, including: that Grassroots had 34 employees, when in reality these 30 of these individuals worked for Harbor Collective; that they were not engaged in activity illegal under federal law (marijuana dispensaries are not legal under federal law); that they were not a business engaged in political consulting; and that the loan funds would be used to cover payroll expenses. The loan was approved for $176,227.

On May 3, 2021, the $176,227 of PPP loan funds were deposited into a Grassroots Business account. Over the course of the next two weeks, the money was transferred between two different Grassroots accounts. From there, Cardenas used the PPP funds to pay off multiple personal expenses including $21,000 owed to American Express and he transferred $35,000 to his sister’s personal Wells Fargo account where much of it was used to pay of campaign debt she owed.

In a separate fraud scheme, in 2020, Cardenas unlawfully applied for unemployment benefits and received $26,700 from the Employment Development Department. He misrepresented on applications that he was not working and not receiving any income. However, his political consulting business was fully operational during that election year, handling the campaigns of multiple candidates and other entities.

This case was prosecuted by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office Public Integrity Unit. Team members included Deputy District Attorney Chandelle Boyce, Deputy District Attorney Hector Jimenez, Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr, District Attorney Investigator James Hawksley, District Attorney Investigator Justin Bostic, and Forensic Accountant Kevin Boyne. The investigation was also assisted by the Department of Homeland Security COVID Fraud Unit.

Disgruntled Patient Charged with Murder, Attempted Murder in El Cajon Dental Office Shooting

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced murder and attempted murder charges today against a 29-year-old El Cajon, California man who opened fire at a dental office on February 29, killing one and injuring two others.

Mohammed Abdulkareem, 29, has been charged with one count of murder and two counts of premeditated attempted murder with gun and great bodily injury allegations. He was arraigned this afternoon in San Diego Superior Court. He faces life in prison if he is convicted of all charges.

“Today is the first step in seeking justice for the victims, their families, friends, and community in this tragic case,” DA Stephan said. “We grieve the loss of Dr. Benjamin Harouni along with his family. I am grateful for the thorough and professional work by El Cajon Police Chief Mike Moulton and his team that led to a swift arrest, and to our own DA team of experienced prosecutors and investigators who are working every angle of this case.”

In a motion filed today with the court, prosecutors argued against bail, saying in part the defendant burst into the dental office and immediately opened fire with a semiautomatic handgun. At least 23 rounds were fired over the course of about one minute. After the shooting, Abdulkareem ran from the scene and fled in a rented truck parked nearby.

The defendant is a former patient of the dental office. He was well-known at that dental office, having repeatedly shown up over the last six months to complain about his dental work. The Defendant was apprehended in the Balboa Park area on the evening of February 29, near the rented truck. He was found in possession of a loaded semiautomatic handgun, ammunition, and multiple handgun magazines. A handgun consistent with the shooting had been recently legally purchased by the Abdulkareem and was received by him on February 24.

This is an ongoing investigation, and the DA’s hate crimes team is assisting in thoroughly reviewing all possible motives. In the event evidence develops, it is possible additional charges could be added in the future.

The defendant pleaded not guilty and is being held on no bail. His next court date is March 12 for a readiness hearing.

 

Oceanside Man Sentenced to Prison for Animal Cruelty

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that a 31-year-old Oceanside man was sentenced to eight years in prison for torturing and killing at least 10 cats that he adopted from the San Diego Humane Society and Craigslist.

Joshua Boyer, who had previously been ordered to stand trial, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of animal cruelty on August 2, 2023.

“This was an egregious and extremely disturbing case of animal abuse,” DA Stephan said. “Our specialized Animal Cruelty Unit brings its expertise working with other agencies in order to investigate and prosecute these difficult cases and bring justice to those can’t speak for themselves. Let this case be a warning that those who abuse animals will be held accountable.”

To report animal abuse, call 619-299-7012.

To report domestic violence, call 1-800-DV-LINKS

On May 24, 2019, a GPS tracker on a cat who was reported missing led to the discovery of 10 deceased animals, and other partial remains, on Joshua Boyer’s family property. Humane Society Officers seized more than 125 pieces of evidence, including firearms and tools to inflict harm, that linked Boyer’s fingerprints and DNA to the feline victims.

This case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Eva Kilamyan, who works in the DA’s Animal Cruelty Unit. Specialty units provide countywide, prosecutorial and investigative support along with dedicated expertise. This case included collaboration between multiple law enforcement agencies, including Escondido Police, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, and the FBI.

Assistant District Attorney Dwain Woodley Receives Bayard Rustin Award

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that Dwain Woodley, the Assistant District Attorney, was honored Wednesday night with the San Diego Human Relations Commission’s Bayard Rustin Honors award at a ceremony at City Hall.

The Bayard Rustin Honors awards celebrates San Diegans who work tirelessly as advocates or activists for equality and equity, social justice and community. Bayard Rustin was an American civil rights activist who was an adviser to Martin Luther King, Jr., and who was the main organizer of the March on Washington in 1963.

Woodley was recognized for his continued and tireless efforts in enhancing the equity, safety, and overall wellbeing of San Diego communities.

 “Dwain Woodley treats everyone with dignity and respect, giving a voice to the entire team and to the People of San Diego County,” DA Stephan said. “His leadership focuses on internal accountability and community-based partnerships. He has worked tirelessly to deliver fair and equal justice, support victims of crime, build trust with the public and develop direct access to our office for all the diverse communities we serve. I am proud to work alongside Assistant DA Dwain Woodley to continue to build a model prosecutor’s office that balances public safety and responsible criminal justice reform.”

Assistant DA Woodley helped develop and lead the DA’s Community Partnership Prosecutors program which has been especially successful connecting the public with much-needed services around domestic violence, child abuse and hate crimes. He also works with the advocacy organization “For the People” on reviewing cases that might qualify for prosecutor-initiated resentencings.

A former public defender, Woodley joined the DA’s Office as a Deputy DA in 2001. He began his management track in 2008 serving as Assistant Chief of Central Pretrial and Disposition Division, Assistant Chief of Superior Court Division, Chief of Superior Court Division, Chief of the Juvenile Branch, and Chief of the South Bay Branch. In 2018, DA Stephan named Woodley Chief Deputy DA and in 2021 he was selected as the Assistant District Attorney.

Woodley served honorably in the United States Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps from 1989-1995, where he was both a prosecutor and defense counsel. His last assignment in the military was a staff attorney for Office of General Counsel at the National Security Agency. He then served as a San Diego Deputy Public Defender before joining the District Attorney’s Office in 2001.

“Dwain has been instrumental in further developing our office as one that reflects the diversity of the community we serve by striving to recruit and retain the most talented, diverse and inclusive workforce in order to improve our pursuit of a fair and equal justice for all,” DA Stephan said.

Woodley grew up in Baltimore Maryland and graduated from McDaniel College (formerly Western Maryland College) and University of Maryland Law School and completed the Prosecutors for Now course at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

Meet District Attorney Investigator Jovanna Derrough

In honor of Black History Month, which is celebrated throughout the month of February, the DA’s Office is featuring stories of employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service.

Meet District Attorney Investigator Jovanna Derrough. Her job is to support the Deputy District Attorneys in an investigative capacity with the cases they bring forth to trial. This can range from interviewing victims and witnesses and following up on investigative leads to writing search warrants, serving subpoenas or collecting evidence. Read more about what inspired her to pursue a career at the DA’s Office, below.

What inspired you to pursue a career in law enforcement/ at the DA’s Office?

“It probably sounds cliché, but I pursued a career in law enforcement because I wanted to help people. Everyone wants to belong to something… I joined the San Diego Police Department and became a part of a law enforcement brotherhood/sisterhood. At SDPD, I had the opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge and investigative experience in the areas of narcotics, gangs, de-escalation, missing persons and cold case homicide and retired after 27+ years. I wanted to extend my law enforcement career and continue to serve the community by helping pursue justice for crime victims. Joining the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office gave me the opportunity to do just that.”

Why is Black History Month important to you?

Black History Month is an opportunity to spotlight the countless contributions African Americans have made to our country, and to show pride in our achievements past and present. Representation matters. I believe educating, acknowledging, and accepting African American accomplishments provides all Americans the opportunity to celebrate African American achievements and see how they are woven into the fabric of building our country. ‘Knowing the past, opens the door to the future.’ -Carter G. Woodson.”

DA, 14 Mayors Work to Place Public Safety Initiative on the Ballot

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan was joined today by the mayors from cities across San Diego County as well as business leaders, crime victims and other concerned citizens in an effort to inform the public and boost signature gathering to place the Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act on the November ballot. The measure would make communities, businesses, and streets safer and healthier by restoring the rule of law, holding repeat retail thieves and fentanyl dealers better accountable, and incentivizing individuals who are addicted and homeless to accept life-saving treatment.

The following mayors are all supporting the signature gathering effort: Vista Mayor John Franklin, Escondido Mayor Dane White, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, National City Mayor Ron Morrison, Chula Vista Mayor John McCann, San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones, La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis, Santee Mayor John Minto, Oceanside Mayor Esther Sanchez, Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey, Carlsbad Mayor Keith Blackburn, Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner, Encinitas Mayor Tony Kranz, and Poway Mayor Steve Vaus.

[WATCH LIVE STREAM OF NEWS CONFERENCE HERE]

“This is a balanced, commonsense initiative that addresses the fentanyl crisis by going after drug dealers who are killing our loved ones and imposes stronger penalties for repeat offenders of organized retail theft, which is hurting far too many families and local businesses,” said DA Stephan. “We need responsible reform that allows judges to incentivize life-saving treatment for those struggling with severe addiction, holds repeat offenders accountable but also gives first, second, and even third chances for those who commit theft or possess hard drugs to be treated for addiction or mental illness. Voters should have the opportunity to debate and weigh in on this important initiative.”

The measure has collected more than 360,000 signatures from California voters to place it on the November ballot, but nearly 550,000 valid signatures are needed.

The ballot measure is designed to fix the unintended consequences and harmful impacts of Proposition 47, which passed in 2014 and— for example— made retail theft under $950 and drug possession of methamphetamine and fentanyl into misdemeanors no matter how many times the crime is repeated.

“Neighborhood markets are the lifeblood of our communities,” said Neighborhood Market Association President Arkan Somo. “Proposition 47 unleashed a tidal wave of theft and violence that harms our small business owners, their employees and families, and most importantly, our customers. This proposed ballot measure will give law enforcement the tools it needs to keep all of us safe. “

Unintended Consequences of Prop 47 and current laws include:

  • Homelessness increased 51% in California while decreasing 11% in states with more balanced laws.
  • Homeless individuals in San Diego County are dying of drug overdoses at a rate 118 times higher than the general public.
  • Overdose deaths from illicit fentanyl have more than tripled, claiming more young lives in San Diego County than any other cause.
  • Organized retail theft has exploded, resulting in massive economic losses, losses of jobs caused by store closures, and losses of essential goods for struggling neighborhoods.
  • Fentanyl dealers who cause overdose deaths generally receive minimal consequences under the law.
  • Drug Courts that offer effective treatment have lost their ability to incentivize those who commit crimes driven by addiction to engage in treatment.

A recent survey showed that more than 85% of voters across every political party and each demographic support reforming Proposition 47.

“This initiative is a balanced approach that gives our justice system the tools they need to protect our communities from criminals while also providing an opportunity for people suffering from addiction to get back on their feet,” said Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey. “Current policies have contributed to the rise in crime and homelessness throughout the state over the past decade, but this initiative will help reverse those trends and make California a safe place to live and do business once again.”

“As a retired San Diego Police Officer and Detective with 29 years of law enforcement experience, I possess a firsthand understanding of the adverse effects of Proposition 47 on the lives of Californians,” Santee Mayor John Minto said. “This initiative is a crucial step towards addressing the rising challenges of homelessness, drug addiction, and theft that plague our communities. Californians, including the residents of Santee, are demanding relief from the escalating lawlessness that has driven up the cost of goods statewide.”

Oceanside Mayor and retired public defender Esther Sanchez said, “The unintended consequences of Prop 47 took out the highly successful drug court program, leading to increased drug addiction and crime and in effect tying the hands of law enforcement protecting our neighborhoods and businesses. This citizens’ initiative gives back tools our communities need to help residents, many times family members, face their addictions and crimes while offering support and a path toward a life with positive options, such as family reunification, a home and jobs.”

The Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act would allow for stronger penalties for those engaged in the trafficking of hard drugs or for repeat offenders of retail theft. It will still give first and second chances for those who commit theft and possess hard drugs to be treated with a misdemeanor. However, on the third conviction, there’s a requirement that drug treatment be completed to earn a misdemeanor or be held accountable for a felony creating a new category of “Treatment Mandated Felony.” A fourth conviction results in a felony crime.

This initiative will also allow aggregation of multiple thefts to reach the $950 threshold to charge a felony theft so that those that are gaming the system can be stopped. The initiative addresses the fentanyl crisis by allowing harsher penalties fentanyl drug dealers whose actions lead to overdose deaths.

Signature gathering for the Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act will take place in the coming weeks across the county and the public is encouraged to seek out opportunities to sign the petition.

Meet Deputy District Attorney Isaac Jackson

In honor of Black History Month, which is celebrated throughout the month of February, the DA’s Office is featuring stories of employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service.

Meet Deputy District Attorney Isaac Jackson, who has been at the DA’s Office for over seven years. He is currently in the Family Protection Unit in North County doing Felony Trials concerning Child Abuse, Elder Abuse, and Domestic Violence. Read more about what inspired him to pursue a career at the DA’s Office, below.

What inspired you to pursue a career in law enforcement/ at the DA’s Office?

“I joined the DA’s office because I wanted to have a positive impact on my community. I grew up in Southeast San Diego, but I went to high school in Point Loma. Every day, I saw and felt the different relationships those communities had with law enforcement. It became apparent that a strong and healthy relationship with law enforcement is necessary for a strong and healthy community. I joined the DA’s office so I could help build that relationship.”

Why is Black History Month important to you?

“It is easy to connect with someone with whom you can identify, and it is human nature to shy away from the unknown. For centuries, this country vilified people who were different from those in power and we are still feeling the effects of that today. Black History Month reminds some and teaches others that Black people have made significant and foundational contributions to this country. It allows Black people to celebrate a heritage of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles and shows other cultures and communities that we are not so different. We are all human beings seeking freedom and acceptance.”

‘Del Mar Rapist’ Denied Parole

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that a defendant who admitted breaking into Del Mar homes and sexually assaulting women in the mid-1990s lost his bid for parole at an emotional hearing held this morning. After the hearing to weigh his suitability for release, parole officials denied 49-year-old Robert Dean Rustad’s request, and said he should not be up for consideration again for another three years.

“Two of this rapist’s victims were at the hearing today and justice was served because the panel sees this inmate is still not being truthful about his true motivation for these crimes,” DA Stephan said. “Our DA Lifer Unit handles these hearings, led by Deputy DA John Cross. The Unit does an excellent job of representing victims and working to protect the safety of our communities when violent criminals are being considered for release.”

Rustad, also known as the Del Mar Rapist, brutally raped seven women from 1992 through 1996 before he was finally caught. Most were threatened at knifepoint and tied up. One was badly beaten. He was between the ages of 19 and 22 when he committed the crimes. Rustad pleaded guilty to 36 criminal counts, including rape. He was sentenced in 1997 to a 326 years-to-life prison term but came up for parole early through the state’s Youth parole law, which considers a person’s age at the time of their offense. His last parole hearing was in 2020 when he was denied release for five years, however he came up early for this latest parole hearing by filing a Petition to Advance his hearing that was granted.

Rustad has claimed his actions were driven by a desire for a girlfriend-type relationship. “His motivation was clearly sadistic and his inability to accept that continues to make him a serious threat to society,” said DA Stephan.

The DA’s Lifer Hearing Unit has two main goals: to ensure that dangerous prisoners with life sentences are not released carelessly or improvidently, and to ensure that crime victims and their families are given an opportunity to participate in the parole hearing process and have their voices heard.

When a defendant is given a life sentence, the Lifer Hearing Unit processes the case to ensure that it is ready for future parole suitability hearings. This involves preserving victims’ statements and documenting the gravity of the crimes to ensure the offenders serve sentences proportional to their crimes.

Last year, there were 664 lifer parole hearings scheduled in San Diego County. Of those, 96 inmates received parole grants from the California Board of Parole Hearings. The remainder of the hearings –568– resulted in denials, postponements, or stipulations to a denial of parole.

In addition, the Lifer Hearing Unit tracks court activity on lifer cases and assists the Attorney General’s Office in opposing writs of habeas corpus seeking release. The Lifer Hearing Unit also submits amicus briefs on behalf of the California District Attorneys Association on important cases. The Lifer Hearing Unit is the state-wide leader in lifer matters and San Diego County serves as the training office for other prosecutors who seek to understand the complex laws governing parole hearings.

Meet Assistant Chief of the Juvenile Division Samira Seidu

In honor of Black History Month, which is celebrated throughout the month of February, the DA’s Office is featuring stories of employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service.

Meet the Assistant Chief of the Juvenile Division, Deputy District Attorney Samira Seidu, who has been with the DA’s Office since 2009. As Assistant Chief of the Juvenile Division, Samira works closely with the Chief of the Juvenile Division and our justice partners throughout the county to ensure that our community is kept safe by working together to provide our youth with the services they need to reach their rehabilitative goals.  Read more about what inspired her to purse a career at the DA’s Office, below.

What inspired you to pursue a career at the DA’s Office?

“I had no idea I would wind up at the DA’s office when I started law school. I went to law school to pursue a career in environmental law. But while reading jury trial transcripts during an internship with the Attorney General Office’s Writs and Appeal section, I quickly decided I wanted to be a District Attorney. I wanted to work with the victims. I wanted to be the person in court arguing motions, questioning witnesses, and arguing the case to a jury. I wanted to be a trial lawyer, to give victims a sense of justice and to be a voice for the most vulnerable members of our community. I interned with the DA’s office in Spring 2008, and I have been here ever since.”

Why is Black History Month important to you?

Black History Month is important because it is an opportunity to honor and celebrate the achievements of African Americans and the contributions they have made to American society. Black History Month is important because I don’t know that we would hear about these achievements and contributions otherwise. Although this singular month represents an opportunity to put a spotlight on the significant contributions Black Americans have made to this country, Black history is American history and Black history should be celebrated year-round.  Black history should be important to everyone.”

District Attorney Summer Stephan Honored with U.S. Attorney General Meritorious Public Service Award

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan was honored at a ceremony Wednesday with the United States Attorney General’s Award for Meritorious Public Service — the top public service award granted by the U.S. Department of Justice. It is designed to recognize the most significant contributions of citizens and organizations in support of justice.

U.S. Attorney General, Merrick Garland, announced the recipients for the 71st Annual Attorney General’s Awards in December.

“I’m grateful for the Attorney General’s award and recognize that this national award speaks to the entire team’s dedication at the DA’s Office to pursue fair and equal justice,” DA Stephan said. “I’m honored to lead and work alongside them and appreciate this extraordinary recognition of our work. Serving the public through protecting the most vulnerable is my calling in life and I am grateful to be able to carry out this important work on behalf of San Diegans. I was so moved by the accomplishments of so many deserving recipients from across our beloved nation in other award categories. Several U.S. Attorney’s Offices, including the local office of U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath, were recognized for incredible work protecting our democracy from domestic and foreign criminals.”

District Attorney Stephan was selected in recognition of her leadership and collaboration with federal law enforcement on multiple large-scale operations to combat fentanyl trafficking, elder fraud, and violent crime.

The Attorney General’s award recognizes that DA Stephan has furthered the mission and goals of Department of Justice by implementing a protocol to identify and investigate school threats, tripling hate crime prosecutions, embracing community policing and criminal justice reform, leading law enforcement de-escalation training, and creating and expanding diversion programs for substance users, juveniles, veterans, and those struggling with mental health issues.

The award is also in recognition of DA Stephan’s leadership in prevention and messaging campaigns, focused on reducing sexual assaults on college campuses, raising awareness about human trafficking, and using social media to warn the public about counterfeit pills and prevent fentanyl overdoses.

“This award reflects on the collaboration and partnership with the dedicated team at the U.S. Attorney’s Office along with federal, state and local law enforcement all working together to keep our neighborhoods safe,” DA Stephan said.

The award ceremony was Wednesday afternoon at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.