DA Meets with Businesses in the County Aiming to Reduce Organized Retail Theft

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today pledged a renewed focus on fighting organized retail theft in San Diego County and holding thieves accountable. The DA met with ULTA Beauty loss prevention management and toured their San Marcos location which was hit last year by a team of thieves running an organized retail theft ring across Southern California. The San Marcos store was one of 21 ULTA Beauty stores targeted by one of the defendants who stole $127,000 worth of fragrances in just one month.

During their last incident in 2022, the group encountered San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputies who were waiting in the ULTA Beauty parking lot and took up pursuit.  A bicyclist was hit by the defendants’ car as they tried to avoid arrest. Eight bags of fragrances were found in the car with defendants. The defendants ultimately received sentences up to four years in state prison.

“We’re holding organized retail theft crime rings accountable for the harm to retailers, their employees and customers who are often traumatized by these crimes,” said DA Stephan. “Meeting with managers at stores in the county strengthens relationships and lines of communication that can help us build strong criminal cases to reduce this type of theft. We are committed to stop organized criminal rings from stealing large amounts of goods from small and large businesses with the intent to resell them, particularly through unregulated online marketplaces.”

The DA’s visit to the store is one of several being made at retail businesses in the county.  The National District Attorney Association and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) announced National Store Walk Month recently with the goal of local prosecutors and retailers coming together to strengthen relationships and open direct lines of communication. DA Stephan or Deputy District Attorneys from her office are also participating in store walks at Home Depot, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target, Walmart, and Lowes stores.

In addition, DA Stephan toured Sunny Perfumes last week in San Ysidro, a small business that has also been targeted by retail thieves. The owner, Sunil Gakhreja, says he’s spent thousands of dollars repairing smashed windows and adding metal shutters for security and has had to move his more expensive items to the back of the store, making it more difficult for thieves to steal them. He also says that in addition to the loss of inventory to theft, criminals have threatened and even attacked his employees.

The DA also announced the assignment of specific prosecutors who will handle all organized retail theft cases that are submitted to the DA’s Office in various jurisdictions. They will be focusing on stopping the organized theft crews and identifying the habitual offenders to try to assist large and small businesses who are struggling with the explosion of retail theft. The prosecutors will coordinate with stores to focus on the most serious offenders.

In a one-year period, the DA filed criminal cases involving organized retail theft against 77 defendants. In February of this year, two men were sentenced for a series of brazen organized retail theft crimes where multiple Sunglass Hut store locations were targeted, resulting in a reported loss of $238,847. Hundreds of pairs of sunglasses were stolen from nine Sunglass Hut store locations, some of which were targeted more than once.  The defendants also targeted other high-end stores, stealing more than $4,000 in shoes from Nordstrom Rack, more than $7,000 in merchandise from Bloomingdales, and over $6,000 in jackets from Burberry. The defendants were both sentenced to 44 months in state prison.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that external theft, which includes organized retail crime, is the primary driver of retail “shrink.” NRF’s National Retail Security Survey released earlier this year revealed that organized retail theft reached $94.5 billion in 2021, with retailers reporting an increase in violence and aggression associated with these crimes. The National Chamber of Commerce says 25 percent of small businesses report raising prices because of shoplifting and some retailers have been forced to shutter locations in response to rampant theft.

Meet Deputy DA Laura Palacios

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 through October 15, we are highlighting stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service. Meet Deputy District Attorney Laura Palacios.

Laura was born in South Lake Tahoe, California and grew up in Reno, Nevada, where she lived up until moving to San Diego for law school. Throughout high school and college she worked part-time and full-time jobs at restaurants. She became an intern at the DA’s Office during the summer of 2018, then she joined the Graduate Law Clerk program at the DA’s Office in 2019 and was officially hired as a Deputy District Attorney in January 2020. Laura is currently a Deputy District Attorney III in the Family Protection Division of the North County branch. As part of her current position, she is on the felony trial team and she vertically handles cases that are assigned to her, which range from domestic violence against family members or significant others, physical and sexual child abuse, and elder abuse.

In her spare time, she likes to try new restaurants around San Diego and be with her family. She likes being active and is currently training for her third marathon in December. She runs on the weekends and enjoys tennis, volleyball, cooking, doing crafts, and being a dog mom. She also serves on the board of the Deputy District Attorney’s Association where she oversees planning the events that are held by the association every year including Hail and Farewell, the New Deputy Happy Hour, and the Holiday Party.

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

“Being a prosecutor is one of the most fulfilling and purposeful jobs a person can choose. It is a job that is not easy, and can beat you down mentally and physically, but that is so rewarding because of the victims you help. I always wanted to be in a career that allowed me to use my voice to stand up for people who couldn’t or wouldn’t stand up for themselves. I wanted to be able to tell myself every day that I was doing the right thing and seeking justice for our most vulnerable population in family protection: children, the elderly, and those suffering in their own homes at the hands of their family members.”

What is your favorite part of the job?

“My favorite part of the job is the people I work with who make the hard subject matter manageable. The knowledge and mentorship I gain from my colleagues is invaluable and I am so grateful to be surrounded by people who are so good at their craft, and to be able to learn from them.”

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? Why is it important?

Hispanic Heritage Month to me is a celebration of our culture and a recognition that people from different backgrounds and cultures exist amongst each other. It’s important to me because I feel that being relatable and approachable is extremely important to our community and our victims. It is special being able to serve our Latino community and speak Spanish to victims and witnesses when they are going through the criminal justice system and experiencing trauma and uncomfortable situations. I feel great joy when someone asks me if I speak Spanish and I see a wave of relief come across their face. I feel like they can be comfortable and feel more heard and seen when we can show them we are their equal.”

Meet Paralegal Andrea Rios

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 through October 15, we are highlighting stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service. Meet Paralegal Andrea Rios.

Andrea was born and raised in San Diego, where she grew up in Chula Vista. She graduated from San Diego State University and obtained her Paralegal Certification from the University of San Diego. Prior to working at the DA’s Office, she worked at a private law firm that specialized in Business Law, Civil Litigation, Construction, Real Estate, Product Defect, Transportation and Wrongful Death claims. In March 2022, she joined the DA’s Office and is currently a Paralegal II in the Superior Court Division. Her job includes assisting with Preliminary Hearings and Felony Jury Trials by obtaining all supporting documents and evidence, communicating with victims/witnesses, as well as all law enforcement. She also assists in arranging travel and transportation for out-of-town witnesses/victims. Lastly, she provides trial support for the Deputy District Attorneys both in and out of the courtroom. “During my time at the DA’s office, I’ve also been fortunate to work with some great people, who have helped to develop my career,” she said.

In her spare time, Andrea enjoys attending concerts, traveling, watching baseball games at Petco Park, trying new restaurants in San Diego, and spending time with her friends, family, and her new little fur baby, a puppy named Simba.

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

“I always knew I wanted to work in law enforcement in some capacity, my father retired from SDPD after 32 years of service and he’s been a big inspiration.”

What is your favorite part of the job?

“My favorite part of the job is being able to help and find the missing puzzle piece to each case. Each case is unique with a different set of facts, and I am glad that I can help make a difference in serving justice, especially for our victims. It’s definitely very rewarding.”

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? Why is it important?

Hispanic Heritage Month is important to me because it’s a celebration of who I am. As a first generation American, I’m appreciative of the sacrifices my parents made to give my siblings and I access to better opportunities. It’s a time to learn about our roots, values, and accomplishments so that I can pass them on to my children in the future. It’s also a time to celebrate our amazing culture through art, music, dancing, and great food!”

HR Chief Honored by Japanese American Citizens League

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that the DA’s Chief of Human Resources and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has been awarded the Civil Rights Leadership Award by the San Diego Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). Jerrilyn “Jerri” Malana received the honor at the San Diego JACL’s annual awards gala on Saturday, October 7 at Sycuan Hotel & Casino.

Malana was recognized for her work on improving civic education and civic engagement in the community. She is the Chair of the Civic Engagement & Outreach Committee for the California Lawyers Association.  Malana is also an active member of the Civic Learning Partnership for San Diego County, which seeks to improve civic education in grades K to 12.  She is a former member of the statewide Power of Democracy steering committee, which promotes civic education initiatives.  Malana was also a founding Advisory Board member for the Academy of Law at Crawford High School in San Diego.

“Jerri Malana’s tireless work in the community to improve the lives and learning of students across the county focused on civic education, an essential building block to democracy, is impressive. She is well-deserving of this special award by the JACL— one of the oldest civil rights organizations in our nation,” said DA Stephan. “I’m very proud of Jerri’s civic commitment and we are very fortunate to have her providing outstanding leadership inside and outside our office.”

​Malana was the first Asian Pacific American attorney to serve as President of the San Diego County Bar Association, which is the region’s oldest and largest legal organization. She is a past President of Pan Asian Lawyers of San Diego. Malana served on the Board of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. She is a past member of the State Bar of California’s Council on Access & Fairness, which works on diversity and inclusion matters. Malana also served on the Executive Committee of the Bench-Bar Coalition (BBC) in California.

The mission of the San Diego Japanese American Citizens League is to actively advocate for universal civil rights and social justice. They do this through fostering cross-cultural awareness and understanding, as well as preserving and cultivating the heritage and legacy of the Japanese American experience in San Diego and the U.S.  The JACL is recognized for its dedication to the Japanese American community by supporting social wellness, providing cultural and educational programs for the youth, promoting communication between local Japanese American organizations, and responding to the needs, concerns, and ideas of the people in the greater San Diego region, who share a common bond of Japanese heritage.

Malana has been a Chief Deputy District Attorney at the DA’s Office since 2016. She serves as Chief of Human Resources and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and as Special Counsel. The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office is ranked #6 on Zippia’s “Best Government Companies to Work For” in San Diego.

Welk Resorts Will Pay Up To $ 5.5 Million To Settle Consumer Protection Lawsuit

Man Sentenced for Fatally Stabbing Teenager at Chula Vista House Party

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that a 19-year-old man who fatally stabbed a 17-year-old male at a house party has been sentenced to 12 years in state prison.

On August 10, 2023, James Mumper Jr. pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and admitted the allegation of personal use of a deadly weapon. Mumper additionally admitted three aggravating factors in the commission of this crime in connection with the stabbing that occurred   at the house party in Chula Vista. 

“We all grieve with the family for the loss of such a young life taken by senseless violence,” DA Stephan said. “We hope the family can find solace in the justice that was delivered through this prosecution.”

This case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorneys Alexis Lamprea and Garret Wong. 

Child Molester Who Fled to Asia Sentenced in Sex Abuse Case

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that a 73-year-old man who molested a 5-year-old victim at a church on the University of San Diego campus has been sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Chester Yang, who was extradited from Singapore with the help of Interpol and U.S. federal authorities, pleaded guilty in September to forcible lewd acts upon a child and admitted to his prior strike offense. He had previously been ordered to stand trial.

“Chester Yang has been held accountable for his crimes, despite fleeing almost 7,000 miles away,” DA Stephan said. “We will not stop pursuing justice, especially where it comes to those who sexually abuse children and this case demonstrated our commitment to reach out as far as Asia to stop them. Bringing justice took the unified efforts by an international and local team that assembled to bring this predator to justice including, the U.S. Marshals Service, Interpol, the San Diego Police Department’s Child Abuse Unit, and our own Deputy District Attorney Melissa Diaz and a team of District Attorney investigators.”

The day after Yang’s family was contacted by police, he fled to Taiwan, which would not extradite him back to San Diego. The U.S. Marshals service was instrumental in developing a relationship with Taiwanese authorities and ultimately getting them to alert the U.S. if Yang left Taiwan. In late May, Interpol alerted U.S. authorities that Yang flew to Singapore and Deputy U.S. Marshal Todd Loveless and the District Attorney’s Office quickly made arrangements to have Yang extradited to San Diego.

The District Attorney’s Office has a dedicated Extraditions Unit that brings fugitives from abroad or from other states to face criminal prosecution in San Diego and seeks justice for crime victims. International extradition is complex and varies from nation to nation with very specific legal requirements involving multiple agencies.

This case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Melissa Diaz, the Chief of the DA’s Family Protection Division.

Meet Legal Support Assistant Alejandra Monarrez Vargas

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 through October 15, we are highlighting stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service. Meet Legal Support Assistant Alejandra Monarrez Vargas, who has worked with us since 2017.

She was born and raised in San Diego. Before working at the DA’s Office, Alejandra was a food cart assistant at SeaWorld, and she promises that she made the best churros and popcorn in the park! She joined our office in 2017 as a Student Worker in the Sex Crimes and Human Trafficking Division. After a year, she was hired full-time and spent four years in the Economic Crimes Division – she likes to say they raised her!

Currently, she is a Legal Support Assistant III for the Case Issuing Unit in the North County Branch, where one of her main duties is training new hires on their tasks. Case Issuing is a very detail-oriented unit (the North County Branch reviews 1,400 reports per month!), so close one-on-one training is essential, and she is always happy to answer questions. She is also responsible for ensuring that her team processes their cases before their tight deadlines every day.

During her free time, Alejandra enjoys going to the gym, attends music festivals/concerts with friends, and plays around with her two huskies Lobo and Luna.

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

“My sister Gloria! She has been working for Juvenile Court since 2001. When I was in elementary school, she took me to the courthouse during ‘bring your family to work day.’ I got a tour of the courthouse, an explanation of how the criminal justice system works, and even got to take a picture on a judge’s bench with a robe and gavel! I became interested in exploring a legal career ever since.”

What is your favorite part of the job?

“Helping out my staff! My personal goal is to create a prospering work environment where employees are happy to come to the office. I genuinely enjoy figuring out new ways to make our office run smoother because in the end, it will benefit staff, DAs, and the public.”

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? Why is it important?

“Personally, Hispanic Heritage Month to me is about remembering the life values that come from my family. Growing up, we would take yearly vacations to a small town called Laguna Grande in Zacatecas, Mexico, where I learned how important community is. Everyone in town knew each other, had friendly manners, and was always willing to assist one another. I bring these values with me to the office in hopes of creating an inviting community just like Laguna Grande.”

DA Marks the Start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month

An average of 13 people are killed every year by an intimate partner in San Diego County. Today, the District Attorney’s Office joined the San Diego Domestic Violence Council, county officials and other social service agencies to launch the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month at a ceremony in Balboa Park. The event is meant to empower survivors, award those who work with victims and remember those whose lives were taken in domestic violence incidents during the previous year. This year, the event theme was “Let Today Be the Day You Move Forward!”

In 2022, 10 people were killed by a current or former intimate partner and there were four additional homicide victims, such as a family member, new boyfriend, or bystander, who died during domestic violence related incidents. In addition, five offenders committed suicide. See a list of domestic violence homicide victims not to be forgotten, here.

“In San Diego County, we are fighting every day to save lives from the destructive cycles of domestic violence,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “I want to thank the San Diego Domestic Violence Council and Claudia Grasso for the partnership in protecting families from violence. Domestic violence not only harms the direct victim but also has a devastating ripple effect on children, families, and communities. This is why at the DA’s Office we work every day to prosecute the offenders and provide resources to victims so they can safely leave their abusers and move on with their lives. Domestic Violence Awareness Month is one more chance to empower women, children, and survivors to know that there are resources to help them get out of a dangerous relationship.”

Each year there are more than 17,000 domestic violence incidents reported to law enforcement across San Diego County. Last year, the figure was 17,472 and the District Attorney’s Office filed charges in 2,393 domestic violence cases.

During the Balboa Park event, which included a resource fair and a candlelight vigil ceremony honoring homicide victims, Ivette Kuyateh, who lost her mother to domestic violence when she was a child shared her personal story.

“Events like these give us a platform to expose the darkness in our society and say the words that victims often can’t,” Kuyateh said. “Yet every advocate knows our work continues past the month of October. It is year-round. As long as people still ask, ‘why doesn’t she leave?’ we have work to do to educate others on the complexities behind the answer to this question.”

Also at the event, Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez, who is a marriage and family therapist, was named the new President for the San Diego Domestic Violence Council. The domestic violence council is a collaboration of organizations and community members who seek to reduce and prevent domestic violence. Partner agencies include the District Attorney’s Office, San Diego County Health and Human Services, the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department, and other law enforcement and social services agencies.

Over the last year, the DA’s Office coordinated trainings for hundreds of professionals across the county on domestic violence, firearm safety, stalking, and how to be more inclusive when working with victims.

“We are so proud of how the San Diego Domestic Violence Council has brought county organizations together to help connect victims with resources and support service providers with tools to consistently restore hope to those who have lost it,” said Claudia Grasso, the outgoing President of the SDDVC and Executive Director of One Safe Place: The North County Family Justice Center. “I am grateful to District Attorney Summer Stephan, who for my entire four-year term as SDDVC President, was a constant source of encouragement and support.”

If you or someone you know is being abused by a current or former partner, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) for confidential support and assistance planning for safety. More information and resources can be found on the DA’s website here. See the calendar and flyers of additional domestic violence awareness events that will take place throughout the month of October, here.

Ringleader in Prolific Residential Burglary Series Sentenced to Prison

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that the ringleader in a multi-county residential burglary series involving nine defendants, who stole more than $1 million in cash and jewelry, was sentenced for his role in the elaborate crime.

George Boozer, 48, was sentenced to 56 years in state prison today after pleading guilty in June to 72 criminal counts, including residential burglary and conspiracy to commit a crime. Boozer led the group of eight other defendants to burglarize 43 homes over 18 months, effectively terrorizing communities in their self-titled “minivan crew” operation.

“These criminals not only stole cash and valuables from the victims, but they also stole their peace of mind, their safety and their security,” DA Stephan said. “I’m proud of the police investigation and of our prosecution team for their outstanding work in obtaining justice.”

Co-defendant Devon Taylor, 43, will be sentenced on October 10. He pleaded guilty in July to 82 criminal counts, including residential burglary, conspiracy to commit a crime and delaying/resisting arrest. Taylor was an active participant, entering the victims’ homes, pepper spraying victim’s pet dogs and stealing property. Taylor and Boozer worked together to commit a longstanding series of serious crimes.

Co-defendant Lauren Patrick, 36, pleaded guilty to 18 counts of residential burglary and 18 counts of conspiracy to commit burglary on August 11, and will also be sentenced on October 10. She was an active crew member, who researched and cased affluent neighborhoods to target. Co-Defendant Reshaun Rollins, 20, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of residential burglary and 10 counts of conspiracy to commit burglary. He was an active participant and will be sentenced November 9. The remaining defendants are scheduled for preliminary hearing or trial in the coming months.

A task force was established to investigate this multi jurisdiction crew, who committed residential burglaries in other counties across the state of California. The crew utilized sophisticated measures to conceal their appearance and vehicles used to commit the offenses.

This case is being prosecuted by Deputy DAs Lucy Yturralde and Malak Behrouznami.

Meet DA Investigator Adolfo Lomeli

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 through October 15, we are highlighting stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service. Meet District Attorney Investigator Adolfo Lomeli, who has been working at the DA’s Office since 2013.

Adolfo was born in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, and grew up in Merced California. His dream has always been to work in public safety, but before he set off to pursue that dream, he was an entrepreneur in the bakery business.  Yes, Adolfo went from baking donuts to eating donuts! In order to reach his dream, Adolfo had to learn the English language, become a U.S. citizen, and get a college degree.

While attending the police academy in the late 90s, Adolfo worked for the Merced County DA’s Office as Assistant Investigator in the Family Protection Division for one year. During that year, Adolfo also served as Reserve Deputy Sheriff for Merced County for one year.  Adolfo worked 17 years with the Atwater Police Department and served in various assignments, from patrol, FTO, narcotics, range master, interpreter, and the detective’s bureau.

Adolfo joined the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office in 2013.  He served in the Family Protection Division at the Hall of Justice for nine years.  Adolfo was recently transferred to the North County branch in Vista, to ease the growing demand for Spanish speaking investigators. Adolfo is happy to assist the fast-growing Spanish speaking community in the north county. Occasionally, Adolfo also assists at the recently opened One Safe Place: The North County Family Justice Center in San Marcos.

Adolfo is married, has two daughters, one son, and two grandchildren. Most of his time is dedicated to spending time with his family. Together, they enjoy camping, fishing, going to the beach, and taking road trips.  Over the weekends, you’ll find Adolfo watching his grandchildren play baseball, working in his back yard, helping his son fix his car, or looking for yard sales.

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

“I chose a career in law enforcement because I wanted to help my community become a safer place to live. This profession has given me the opportunity to meet people from various backgrounds. I’m a people person, and I really enjoy hearing their stories. I honestly feel that working as a DA Investigator is the highpoint in any investigator’s career. Surrounded by skilled attorneys, paralegals, seasoned investigators, and caring victim advocates, creates the best setting to provide high quality services to our victims when they need it the most.”

What is your favorite part of the job?

“My favorite part of the job is when the offender gets a fair sentence, and the victim receives the necessary support to go on with his/her life. Amongst all the tragedy and loss, we inevitably see in our career, it’s very rewarding to see victims recover and regain confidence in themselves and in the justice system.”

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? Why is it important?

“Hispanic Heritage Month offers an opportunity for all of us to recognize the contributions and sacrifices people of Hispanic ancestry have made throughout history to bring progress and enrichment to this great nation. These contributions extend from sports, science, music, politics, and military. I think is very important to educate our children about the accomplishments of individuals like them. Hopefully one of these examples could serve as inspiration for them to pursue and achieve their own dream. ¡Si se puede!”