DA Investigators Join Shop With a Cop

This past Saturday, 10 investigators from the District Attorney’s Bureau on Investigations participated in the annual Shop With A Cop program.

At 6:45 am the investigators paired up with the children, who are selected by their schools, as they arrived at SeaWorld. The children were treated to a special breakfast which included hot cocoa with marshmallows.

After breakfast the children had their own private dolphin show before making their way back to the police cars that took them with lights and sirens to a Target store.

While at Target, the children had $150 to spend on themselves and family.  All of the children that were with the DA Investigators made sure to shop for family members.

Supervising Investigator Chris Raagas has been participating in the annual event since 2002.

“My favorite part is shopping with the child at Target and having them get gifts for their parents and siblings,” he said.

Members from the Bureau participated in several charitable events throughout the year to help fund this great holiday event.

Office Manager Convicted of 51 Felony Counts in Massive Patient Referral Scam

Office Manager Convicted in Massive Patient Referral Scam

A jury has convicted Gonzalo Paredes, 62, of 51 felony counts of paying illegal kickbacks to a doctor for patient referrals and fraudulently billing workers’ compensation insurance companies in the California workers’ compensation system. The jury reached their verdict on Thursday, November 29, after a nine-day trial. [TWEET THIS]

This prosecution resulted from Operation Backlash, a large-scale, joint federal and state investigation into multi-million dollar fraud and illegal kickbacks in the state workers’ compensation system. Paredes was the office administrator for Advanced Radiology of Beverly Hills, owned by radiologist Dr. Ronald Grusd. Earlier this year, the U.S. Attorney’s office convicted Grusd on 39 felony fraud counts for paying kickbacks for patient referrals from multiple clinics in San Diego and Imperial counties, resulting in fraudulent bills to insurance companies of over $22 million for medical services. Grusd was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.

The scheme in San Diego involved Advanced Radiology paying a local chiropractor money in exchange for the referral of patients. This allowed Advanced Radiology to treat the patients and then bill several million dollars to insurance companies. As the office administrator for Advanced Radiology, Paredes helped negotiate the kickback deals with the chiropractor and facilitated the kickback payments to the chiropractor and those working with him.

“When law enforcement became aware of the scam, we began following the trail of dirty money and it took us in many different directions,” DA Summer Stephan said. “This criminal network bought and sold patients like cattle and they cashed in on the backs of people who trusted them with their health. They conspired to illegally game the system on a level that we’ve not seen before, but the game is over.” [TWEET THIS]

The District Attorney’s Office partnered with the FBI, California Department of Insurance, and U.S. Attorney’s Office in the investigation and prosecution of Paredes.

“Crimes like these contribute to higher insurance premiums for California consumers,” said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. “Paredes was part of a conspiracy with providers who built a complex system of paying money to get patients. Thanks to the hard work of investigators at the FBI, Department of Insurance and the San Diego District Attorney’s office he has been brought to justice.”

“When it comes to their health, the American people demand nothing less than honest services from their medical providers,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge John Brown. “Operation Backlash has proven that there are those in our communities who would trade patients for money. Working hand-in-hand with the District Attorney’s Office, the United States Attorney’s Office and the Department of Insurance, the FBI remains committed to bringing those who compromise our medical system with greed and callousness to justice.”

Paredes faces a maximum of 43 years and four months in state prison. His sentencing is set for February 1 in Department 1803 of the San Diego Superior Court downtown. Insurance fraud in California is a $15 billion-a-year problem. It’s the second-largest economic crime in America, exceeded only by tax evasion. The San Diego County District Attorney’s Insurance Fraud Division addresses this problem by dedicating specialists to handle complex insurance fraud prosecutions.   [TWEET THIS]

Deputy DA Honored with Legal Trailblazer Award

Deputy District Attorney Sherry Thompson-Taylor was honored on Saturday at the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Foundation’s 42nd Annual Scholarship and Awards Gala Dinner with a Legal Trailblazer Award for demonstrating a significant commitment to serving the legal profession via excellence in practice, legal education, and mentoring and community service. [TWEET THIS]

“Deputy DA Sherry Thompson-Taylor serves as Chief of one of our largest divisions, focused on worker rights, wage theft and insurance fraud,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “She is a powerful role model and strong leader in our office when it comes to programs pertaining to professional development, diversity and inclusion. She has opened doors for others to follow – especially women attorneys and attorneys of color. I am so proud to have Sherry on our management team and of all the work she does to help build safe and equitable communities.”

Thompson-Taylor is the Chief of the Insurance Fraud Division at the District Attorney’s Office, where she manages a team of 60 employees. Over the course of her 22-year career, she has served in other leadership positions and divisions within the DA’s Office and has prosecuted serious cases such as homicides, robberies, and cases involving sexually violent predators.

Thompson-Taylor has invested countless volunteer hours in the community and served in multiple leadership positions including President of Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association, she is the past chair of the San Diego County Bar Association’s Criminal Law Section, and Co-Chair of Lawyers Club’s Professional Advancement Committee. In the community, Sherry volunteered for numerous events over the years including the Women’s Resource Fair. In addition, she currently serves as a Girl Scout Troop Co-Leader.[TWEET THIS]

The Earl B. Gilliam Bar Foundation is a charitable organization that represents the interests of the African-American legal community in San Diego County. The foundation provides support for diversifying the legal community, including providing scholarships for law students and support for law students and African-American legal professionals.

LEER EN ESPAÑOL

DA Investigator Recognized for Cold Case Homicide Work

DA Investigator Recognized for Cold Case Homicide Work

District Attorney Investigator Anthony Johnson was recognized with the Blue Night Award by the San Diego County Crime Commission for his outstanding work on a cold case homicide.

Every year, the San Diego County Crime Commission recognizes law enforcement officers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to serve the community.

The DA’s Bureau of Investigation nominated Johnson for his work in an August 2000 homicide cold case, in which 71-year-old victim LeRay Parkins was fatally beaten and left in an alley, with no witnesses to the incident. The case went cold for more than 17 years and was ultimately revived in 2018 by Investigator Johnson, who reviewed the crime scene photos and noticed the pockets of the victim’s shorts were pulled inside out, possibly by the suspect(s) during the robbery and may still hold DNA evidence.  He met with the San Diego Police Department’s Forensic Biology Unit and asked that the shorts be tested for DNA.  The lab subsequently identified a mixture of DNA in four locations on the right front pocket of the victim’s shorts.  The DNA was submitted to CODIS and a hit came back identifying Edward Brooks, who was one of the original suspects identified by SDPD detectives in 2000.  Investigator Johnson conducted further investigation and ultimately wrote arrest warrants for three suspects who were all living outside of California; Edward Brooks, Lester Bell and Terrance Brown.  DAI Johnson coordinated with the U.S. Marshals Service and secured the arrests and extraditions of all three suspects, who were all charged in San Diego with the murder of Mr. Parkins.

Investigator Johnson has been a peace officer for more than 39 years.  He was employed by the San Diego Police Department for 32 years, during which time he served over six years as a homicide detective.  He joined the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office in November 2011 and has been assigned to the DA’s Cold Case Homicide Team for the past four years.

Warning About Cocaine Mixed With Fentanyl

Warning About Cocaine Laced with Fentanyl

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan joined the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), San Diego Police Department, San Diego County Health and Human Services (HHSA) and San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office today to warn the public about a spate of deaths in beach communities connected to cocaine laced with the highly-potent and often deadly drug fentanyl.  This past weekend three people died, and two others overdosed but survived, related to the ingestion of what initial toxicology results show was cocaine laced with fentanyl.  The deaths occurred in the areas of Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach; the victims ranged in age from 30 to 47-years old.

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Authorities are not able to say publicly where the drugs may have been distributed or obtained. Various law enforcement agencies are investigating and no arrests have been made. In the meantime, investigators believe more of the dangerous drug combination may be being sold by dealers.

“We’re seeing a dangerous trend of drug dealers and cartels cutting various drugs with fentanyl and increasingly it’s a recipe for death,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “The public needs to be aware of the danger of using any controlled substance, but specifically quantities of cocaine that are currently on the street in San Diego that may be laced with fentanyl.”

A DEA-led task force is investigating the recent deaths and said the danger of fentanyl-laced drugs goes beyond cocaine.

“DEA is seizing cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and counterfeit pills that look like legitimate pharmaceutical tablets that are laced with deadly fentanyl throughout San Diego and Imperial Counties,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Karen Flowers. “The public needs to be aware that it is not possible to tell if a product contains fentanyl.  There is no test available at the drug store or from your dealer.   The only test is in a laboratory.  Don’t let your loved ones find out the test results at the mortuary.”

Deaths specifically from fentanyl or fentanyl in combination with other drugs in San Diego County are spiking. 81fatal overdoses were reported last year alone, more than double the number in 2016. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine even in tiny doses. As little as two milligrams of fentanyl is a fatal dose for most people. Fentanyl can be up to 50 times more potent than heroin, and overdoses may require additional Naloxone to reverse. Naloxone is a medication that reverses overdose from opioids. Additional doses of Naloxone are sometimes needed to reverse fentanyl overdoses due to the potency of fentanyl.

“The Medical Examiner has seen a steady increase in fatal overdose cases over the years where fentanyl has been added to opiates”, said San Diego County’s Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Glenn Wagner. “But now we’re seeing an emerging pattern of cases where fentanyl is unexpectedly added to other drug combinations. It’s a new, deeply concerning trend.”

“Illegal drug use continues to negatively affect all of our communities.  The recent deaths are yet another reminder of the dangers of illicit drug use,” said Chief David Nisleit.  “The drug dealers and drug cartels do not care about the people in our communities.  The San Diego Police Department will continue to strictly enforce our narcotics laws and work with the District Attorney’s Office and its prosecution of drug dealers who continue to poison our residents.  We encourage anyone suffering from addiction to seek professional help.”

“These cases show the deadly and unknown nature of drugs that are being sold on the street,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten, San Diego County Public Health Officer. “A variety of drug treatment options and programs are available in San Diego County. If you or someone you know is in need of drug treatment, please get help.”

Individuals can call the San Diego County Access and Crisis Line 888-724-7240 or 2-1-1 San Diego. Both of these resources are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. [TWEET THIS]

DA Reminds School Employees of Legal Duty to Report Suspected Child Abuse

DA Reminds School Employees of Legal Duty to Report Suspected Child Abuse

COMMENTARY

By San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan:

The latest sex abuse scandal involving Catholic priests and the church’s failure to act is devastating. Hundreds of victims were robbed of their childhoods by individuals in positions of trust and power—covered up by leaders and higher-ups who had a duty to act.

As a Catholic, I share in the faithful’s outrage.

As a mother, I empathize with the victims and families grappling with this betrayal.

And as San Diego County’s District Attorney, I am determined to educate and clearly remind those in a position of trust they have a legal and ethical duty to report suspected abuse.

California law says mandated reporters are required to report to law enforcement if they know or reasonably suspect abuse of a child. It is a misdemeanor crime to fail to report. Even if a charge is not found to be true, reporters are immune from liability for reporting in good faith.

“Mandated reporters” include teachers, instructional aides, or teacher’s aides. Most employees of public or private schools, athletic coaches are all mandated reporters. Clergy and medical professionals are also mandated reporters.

“A reasonable suspicion” is when a person entertains a suspicion, based on facts that could cause a reasonable person, drawing when appropriate, on their training and experience, to suspect abuse or neglect.  It does not require certainty that the abuse or neglect has occurred. Any reasonable suspicion is sufficient.

Recognizing that individuals may not fully understand their legal duty to report suspected abuse, we recently took proactive steps to educate the community. My office, in partnership with the San Diego County Office of Education, has produced a training video reminding school officials and employees about their legal duties as mandated reporters. We’re also in the process of distributing 40,000 laminated cards and other printed materials to all school personnel so they’re aware of their lawful obligation to report abuse.

A society is judged by how we treat our youngest, oldest and most vulnerable.  A mandated report is often the first step to ensure that children are protected and stay safe. We routinely see inexcusable failures by churches, universities, athletic programs and schools to protect children from abuse. The price paid for this failure to act is borne by new victims subjected to the same predators and children suffering in silence.  Through our focus on collaborative training in San Diego’s schools, we want to help mandated reporters succeed in fulfilling their obligations.

Click here to learn more about mandated reporters.

EN ESPAÑOL, aquí.

She Has Helped 45 Victims

One of the volunteers from the Prosecutor’s Court Therapy Dog Program was recognized for her work by the San Diego Crime Commission at their 10th Annual Senior Volunteer Awards Luncheon. Janet Kinnon, 60, and her dog Wellington (“Welly”) are volunteers with the San Diego District Attorney’s Office Dog Program, which provides support and comfort to minors who have been victims of physical abuse. and sexual and other vulnerable victims or witnesses. Janet and Welly joined the program in 2015 and have since supported countless victims. Since 2017, Janet and Wellington have helped 45 victims and provided nearly 250 hours of volunteer service. [COMPARTE EN TWITTER]

[See video of his recognition, here]

“For abused minors, testifying in court against their abuser is scary because they have to confront their abuser and describe the horrors they have faced in front of complete strangers,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “Thanks to volunteers like Janet and her dog, Wellington, victims find the courage to go through the court process and have an incredible extra layer of support.”

Janet and Welly’s work begins before the victim or witness reaches the courtroom. They meet the victim or witness in the waiting room and sit with them for many hours during interviews, keeping them comfortable with activities that involve the dog. In court, Janet and Welly accompany the victim or witness to court, sitting at the feet of the witnesses as they testify.

The San Diego County Attorney’s Office was one of the first prosecution offices in the country to use a therapy dog in 2007, and officially established the Court Dogs Program in 2009. The program has grown to include 13 dogs, each with an experienced volunteer, the dog owner, who leads the dog. Learn more about the Dogs for the Court program at this video .

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In the Photo: SDPD Officer Archie Buggs. His killer was granted parole.

Officer Archie Buggs’ Killer Granted Parole

In spite of the DA’s office’s vigorous and compelling arguments against it, the State Board of Parole has granted parole to Jesus Cecena, 57, who killed a San Diego police officer in 1978. Officer Archie Buggs, 30, , was shot four times after he stopped a car driven by Cecena, a gang member in the Skyline neighborhood who was 17-years-old at the time. Cecena fired five times at Buggs, then paused, walked toward the fallen officer and fired a final bullet into his head at point-blank range. The officer died on the street, his hand still on his service revolver. [TWEET THIS]

The Parole Board hearing was held this morning at Valley State Prison near Fresno, California and lasted nearly five hours. The Board announced its decision after deliberating for about 30 minutes.  This was Cecena’s 17th parole hearing which included a discussion of his criminal record, psychiatric factors, parole plans, and statements by representatives of the victim’s family.

California Governor Edmund Brown will receive the case within 120 days for review. The District Attorney’s Office immediately released a statement saying it will urge the governor to reverse the parole grant in the strongest terms possible.

“While we understand the factors considered by the Parole Board, we’re extremely disappointed in its decision to send a cop killer who still lacks honest insight and remorse into this atrocious crime back into the community. He continues to be unpredictable and dangerous,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “Given the gravity of the crime and its impact upon the officer’s family and our community, we believe he is not suitable for release. The District Attorney’s Office will strongly urge the Governor to once again reverse this grant of parole in the interest of public safety.”

In the last four years, Cecena was granted parole three times (in 2014, 2015 and 2017) and each time Governor Brown reversed the grant, after the San Diego County District Attorney filed objections. Cecena’s parole also continues to be opposed by San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit and the San Diego Police Officers Association.

Cecena was convicted of murder and was sentenced to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole on August 22, 1979. Because Cecena was 17 at the time he killed Officer Buggs, his sentence was reduced to a seven years-to-life term in March of 1982. Cecena’s unstable social history continued during his incarceration; he received more than 10 violation reports for misconduct while in prison. [TWEET THIS]

[RELATED: SDPD Officer Archie Buggs Dedication Ceremony]

Local Students Design Interactive Game App

Local Students Design Interactive Game App

District Attorney Summer Stephan joined e3 Civic High and the Art Institute of California today to announce that a group of high school students mentored by the DA’s Office has created an innovative mobile phone app designed to inspire youth to make good choices. As part of their participation in the DA’s Youth Advisory Board, students at e3 Civic High researched and designed the app to address issues faced by young people such as addiction, crime, education and peer pressure. They chose an app platform so the outreach would be accessible and appealing to their peers, and because it is an easy way for students to learn about the consequences of their choices. [TWEET THIS]

The LifeMap app – a game about choices – was born out of a discussion in 2016, when students on the Youth Advisory Board at e3 Civic High began examining quality of life and educational issues they saw in their communities. Players in the game are given the option to make choices based on five scenarios involving issues such as dropping out of high school, graffiti tagging, poverty, and more. The game takes the player through various trolley stops through downtown, Barrio Logan and Belmont Park. Students designed and created the app with assistance from the Art Institute of California San Diego campus, which assisted with computer programming. It is currently available on Apple and Androidmobile devices by searching Life Map DAYAB.

“It’s not easy being a kid these days and these students have created a unique and engaging way to connect with their peers about real life issues,” DA Summer Stephan said. “The students who are Youth Advisory Board members across San Diego County are helping us connect with issues affecting youth and give our office a perspective that helps us in our mission of preventing crime and strengthening public safety.”

The students unveiled the mobile app today at e3 Civic High in downtown San Diego along with the schools’ administration, faculty, and parents.

Elder Abuse

“Our scholars are being challenged to become the civic leaders of today and make a positive impact on the quality of life for all citizens, especially their peers,” said e3 Civic High’s CEO, Dr. Helen Griffith. “The expert mentorship provided by their involvement in the Youth Advisory Board is the catalyst that is training them to change our world. We applaud DA Summer Stephan for her leadership to ensure that our youth are seated at the table of transformation.”

Students researched each topic included in the game to come up with questions and answers.

“I learned so much more working with my peers than working alone during the creation of this game,” Youth Advisory Board member Anna Phounsavath said. “I hope this game is useful for other young people in that it gets them to think about the choices they make and how they affect other people.”

The first DA’s Youth Advisory Board was created in 2008 as a unique partnership between the DA’s Office and area high school students. Currently, the advisory board consists of students from Lincoln High School and e3 Civic High. Previously the board had students from Mira Mesa and Scripps Ranch high schools. Over the years and with adult support and guidance, students have produced impactful outreach and awareness campaigns that have earned a regional Emmy Award and the Diversity Youth Leadership Award from the City of San Diego’s Human Relations Commission. Through their perspective, the groups educate the community and the DA’s Office about current issues affecting young people and work to create positive change in the community in an effort to reduce crime. Each advisory board includes a diverse group of students from both high schools.

The students will be taking the game app to classrooms across the county, as well as and youth-centered organizations, along with information about resources that are available to help students succeed. [TWEET THIS]

Principals, youth directors and community leaders interested in this new game app and the related outreach campaign may request a presentation from the YAB by visiting their website at www.SanDiegoDAyab.com.

Governor Signs Law Tripling Fines for Those who buy Underage Sex

Governor Brown signed into law a bill sponsored by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, AB 2105 (Maienschein), which increases fines or penalties awarded in civil actions for commercially sexually exploited children. The new law allows for triple the damages that defendants would otherwise be liable for where the conduct is 1) directed at minors, 2) minors suffer physical, emotional, or economic damage, or 3) the defendant knew or reasonably should have known that the sex victim was a minor. The bill adds children to the class of people already protected and allowed to seek civil penalties or damages under the Civil Code Section 3345 (disabled persons and elders).  [TWEET THIS]

“This new law aims to be another deterrent for those in our community who would exploit children and pay for sex with a minor. It also provides funding for rehabilitation of sex trafficking victims so they can move past the pain and trauma they experience,” DA Summer Stephan said. “We have a duty to protect the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society and this bill holds individuals who would commit this kind of criminal conduct more accountable.”

There is an alternative damage provision for instances where damages cannot be proved, or where the alternative damage provision would be greater. In those instances, the defendant is liable for no less than $10,000 and no more than $50,000 for each commercial sex act.

“In San Diego alone, sex trafficking is estimated to be an $810 million a year industry and we can see that criminal sanctions are not enough to stop these reprehensible enterprises,” Assembly member Brian Maienschein said. “AB 2105 protects children from sex predators looking to make money off their suffering. It also provides a base statutory civil penalty of $10,000 to be awarded to minor sex trafficking victims. This new law deters child sex purchasers and provides a source of funds for the rehabilitation of victims of commercial sexual exploitation.”

Human trafficking is a $150 billion global industry, and the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. California has the highest number of human trafficking incidents reported by the National Human Trafficking Hotline. In San Diego, the Human Trafficking Task Force works to rescue the girls and boys who are being sold for sex and trafficked across San Diego County. The most common form of sex trafficking includes entrapping children into prostitution for the financial benefit of gangs. Recruitment happens in schools and online through social media and gaming apps.

The University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University released a joint study that estimates there are anywhere from 3,000 and 8,000 victims trafficked each year in San Diego, which generates more than $800-million each year for human trafficking criminal enterprises.

If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking call the human trafficking hotline at 888-37-37-888, or text “BeFree.”

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