Photo of Chief Deputy DA Jerrilyn Malana

Meet Chief Deputy DA Jerrilyn Malana

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are highlighting compelling stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service.

Meet Jerrilyn Malana, who serves as Chief Deputy District Attorney for Human Resources at the San Diego County DA’s Office, where she is responsible for the overall management of the human resources function for the office.  With approximately 1,000 employees, we are the largest legal employer in the County of San Diego and she and her team of HR professionals handle a wide range of areas including administration, recruitment, hiring, retention, performance management, leaves, compensation, payroll, HRIS, staff training, employee programs, etc.  Jerrilyn also serves as the office liaison to County Counsel’s Office on civil matters, and on District Attorney Summer Stephan’s executive team.

Why did you decide to work at the DA’s Office?

“I joined the DA’s Office as an opportunity to enter public service after spending many years in the private sector.  Prior to the DA’s Office, I was a shareholder (partner) at a global employment law firm for nearly 17 years.  I represented Fortune 500 clients and local businesses in all types of employment-related litigation including claims for discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, and wage & hour violations. My practice also included advice and training for employers to avoid employment-related claims.  However, throughout my career, I had made community service and giving back as priorities.  I viewed joining the DA’s Office as the perfect transition when I was looking to make a career change as the DA’s Office serves the public and has strong community outreach programs.  I had been very active with various bar associations and community organizations, and I had served as President of the San Diego County Bar Association.  So, over the years, I had the pleasure of meeting so many DDAs and learning more about the DA’s Office.  The mission and values of the DA’s Office really resonated with me.  I also knew that equity, diversity, and inclusion were priorities, and that was a great fit for me as I had been working on these issues in the legal profession for many years including with the State Bar of California.  Also, prior to becoming an attorney, I worked as an HR professional for several years.  So, joining the DA’s Office is really coming full circle for me.  I’m proud to support our dedicated and hardworking DA employees who serve the public and keep our communities safe.”

Why is AAPI Heritage Month important to you?

“AAPI Month is important to me as it celebrates the diverse history and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the growth and success of our communities and our nation.  It also provides positive and uplifting “visibility” to our diverse AAPI community.  The AAPI community represents multiple countries, ethnicities, and backgrounds; and we don’t belong to a monolithic culture.  Our diversity is beautifully represented in our unique cultures which can be celebrated by sharing our history, language, food, music, traditions, and so much more.  Moreover, through storytelling, the AAPI community can both be seen and heard.  By raising such visibility paired with advocacy, we can help to dismantle AAPI stereotypes and create change, which is so important in our current social climate.”

Read more stories for AAPI Heritage Month:

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

A New Sentence. A Second Opportunity.

As part of ongoing criminal justice reform initiatives, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that her office has ramped up efforts to review prison sentences, as authorized by a newer law, that may be unduly harsh and identify people who can safely be released from prison early and re-integrated back into the community. [TWEET THIS]

“Prosecutors have a duty to seek the truth and justice before, during, and after someone is convicted and that includes making sure that prison sentences are proportionate with the harm that the crime produced” DA Summer Stephan said. “This new law allows prosecutors to repair past inequities by looking back and correcting any unjust sentences and we are committed to doing while considering crime victims and public safety. It’s also important we continue to approach criminal justice reform initiatives like this lawfully and responsibly, making sure when someone is released, they’re set up to succeed when they come back to our communities.”

Recently, Rogelio Espinoza was the fourth defendant to be resentenced and released from custody. Espinoza, now 48, had been convicted of assault with a firearm and received a sentence of 29 years-to-life in prison. On April 27, a judge resentenced Espinoza to 13 years, allowing his immediate release from prison. Espinoza is the third person to be resentenced at the request of the District Attorney’s Office since a change in the law allowed DA’s to petition for resentencing.

The other person resentenced recently is Hector Contreras, 51, who was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and originally received 27 years-to-life in prison. He was resentenced to three years at a hearing on March 15 and was released after having served 24 years in prison.

Monday, May 3, a judge will resentence James Riveria, 84, who was convicted of a series of residential burglaries series in Rancho Santa Fe. Riveria received a sentence of 140 years-to-life and has served 25 years in prison.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office also announced it is partnering with the non-profit organization For the People to expand the number of cases it is considering for resentencing. To date, the prison sentences of more than 750 people have been identified for review. The DA’s newly reorganized Conviction and Sentence Review Unit (CASRU) is working with For the People to review these cases and others to determine if resentencing is appropriate in the interest of justice.This collaboration complements the District Attorney’s program, which was already in place and that accepts applications for sentencing review from incarcerated people themselves.

The increased focus on resentencing has been driven in part by recent changes in the law. Assembly Bill 2942 went into effect in 2019, allowing prosecutors to recommend resentencing and petition a judge to hear the matter. The San Diego District Attorney’s Office was the first in California to successfully use the new law. In 2019, 57-year-old Kent Williams was resentenced and released from prison. Williams had been sentenced to 50 years-to-life for burglary and car theft. Last year, Jonathan Simmons, 57, was released 21 years early after the DA’s Office, working with the Innocence Project on a resentencing petition. Simmons had been sentenced to 43 years-to-life for stabbing a homeless man in the neck during a drug deal.

The DA’s Office has filed additional petitions asking the court to resentence two additional individuals:

  • Gerald Jones, 44 plead guilty to a bank robbery with a firearm and agreed to a 30-year prison sentence. He has served about half of his term. Jones robbed a bank on Mission Gorge Road while wearing a Ronald Regan mask and armed with a gun.
  • Gary Kosta, 65 plead guilty to a commercial robbery series and received 50 years-to-life. He has served 24 years. Kosta robbed numerous businesses over the course of two months, simulating a weapon to gain cash from registers

As part of its commitment to reviewing sentences and to public safety, the District Attorney’s Office is also partnering with several local service providers and community leaders in San Diego County, including, San Diego Workforce Partnership, Second Chance, Pillars of the Community,  Community Development Corporation, Home Start, Family Health Centers of San Diego, Father Joe’s, Metro Community Ministries, Youth Empowerment, and Youth Aware, to assist with a smooth and successful transition from prison into the community for those whose release is granted by a judge. The DA’s CARE Center is involved as a re-entry specialist and the Public Defender, Sheriff’s Department and Parole will also play important roles in this endeavor.

DA Stephan embraced the opportunity to partner with For The People, believing that there are likely many incarcerated people who, in retrospect, were sentenced to more time than was necessary for their rehabilitation and debt to society. For The People provides a unique and specific expertise to District Attorney Offices to help them launch and implement DA-initiated resentencing policies through the advent of California’s DA Resentencing Law.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with DA Stephan, especially in light of the pandemic and the increased urgency to safely release people from prison and reunite them with their families” said Hillary Blout, Executive Director of For The People.

The office also receives recommendations for resentencing from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), applications from incarcerated people themselves, and referrals from the community. In some cases, Deputy DAs inside the office bring cases forward for resentencing.

DA Stephan has expanded and re-named her office’s Conviction Review Unit to include sentencing review, adding resources and relocating the unit under the DA’s Special Operations Division, ensuring increased separation and more independence.

The numbers of cases being considered continues to expand and go through the review process. After receiving a list recently of more than 750 cases from CDCR, the DA’s Office reviewed and narrowed it down to about 125. In partnership with For The People, we are starting with 40 cases for an in-depth review. Prior to the partnership with For the People, the DA’s Office had a running list of cases it was already reviewing, bringing the total number of cases currently under review to about 150.

The law recognizes that incarcerated people may have served sufficient time, have been adequately rehabilitated and, therefore, will be ready for a safe and law-abiding re-entry. In those cases, the District Attorney will recommend to a Judge under the law a recall and resentencing in the interest of justice. The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office welcomes applications for sentencing review and is committed to reviewing these requests in a fair, consistent, and transparent manner. [TWEET THIS]

Map of areas previously affect by civil gang injunctions in San Diego County.

District Attorney Removes All Civil Gang Injunctions Across County

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that her office has filed petitions in San Diego Superior Court to lift all 20 civil gang injunctions in place in San Diego County, effectively removing the names of all 349 individuals from the injunction lists. [TWEET THIS]

A Superior Court judge in downtown San Diego has signed orders dissolving four injunctions. One petition has been filed in South Bay and is awaiting judicial approval. In Vista, a judge has signed orders dissolving three injunctions. Twelve more are awaiting a judge’s signature.

Two injunctions were dissolved in San Diego after petitions were filed by the San Diego City Attorney. The District Attorney will send letters informing people their name had been purged from the lists.

“In listening to the communities we serve, I heard concern for the violence and harm that criminal organized gangs cause, but also that families are looking for more opportunities for healthy reentry for those who have turned their lives around,” DA Stephan said. “In our county, civil gang injunctions were put in place 10 to 20 years ago and for the most part had become stale, and in many cases, continue to cause hardships for people who have moved on and are trying to get a job or connect with relatives. We’ve worked closely with our law enforcement partners to evaluate the injunctions and determined they are not effective in protecting the public from a primarily younger group of individuals who are committing gang-related crimes in our communities.”

The Police Chiefs and Sheriff from every city and region of the County that had one or more civil gang injunctions in place worked with the DA’s Office on evaluating the current impact of collateral consequences in comparison with public safety benefits and supported this action while remaining committed to fighting violence: Sheriff Bill Gore, San Diego Police Chief Dave Nisleit, Oceanside Police Chief Fred Armijo, National City Police Chief Jose Tellez and Escondido Police Chief Ed Varso.

The civil gang injunctions were filed several years ago by previous DA administrations in various cities across the county, often in response to communities seeing a spike in gang-related violence. The injunctions are court orders restricting the most active and dangerous gang members from congregating with other known gang members, fighting, carrying weapons, and intimidation. However, no gang injunctions have been filed by the District Attorney’s Office in the past eight years and the oldest existing injunction dates back to 1997.

The DA’s removal of gang injunctions, in cooperation with the San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott’s Office, is consistent with the Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention’s recommendations and aligns with San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria’s recently released proposed police reform agenda.

“Gang injunctions are outdated, and do not serve their alleged purpose of protecting public safety. This is why I advocated to eliminate them as part of my police reform package,” Mayor Todd Gloria said. “I’m grateful for the work of the District Attorney and City Attorney to finally remove all civil gang injunctions. It is the right thing to do and gives hundreds of San Diegans an opportunity to live without the fear a stale accusation could hurt their chances for good paying jobs, education and housing.”

Two injunctions were dissolved in the City of San Diego on April 9.

“In 2019, my Office began working with the San Diego Police Department to remove from the City’s civil gang injunctions the names of individuals who no longer posed a public safety threat,” San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliott said. “I commend the District Attorney and Mayor for their commitment to dissolving these injunctions completely, and I’m proud to be a part of this effort.”

In March 2019, 332 people were removed from civil gang injunction lists following a careful review by the District Attorney’s Office, which worked to confirm individuals’ lack of recent criminal and gang activity. DA Stephan initiated the ongoing review, recognizing the dated nature of most of the injunctions and the potential problems that being on the list pose to those who are no longer affiliated with a gang or engaging in criminal activity.

In March 2020, another 33 people were removed from 11 injunctions and in December 2020, under revised criteria for removal 77 more names came off 19 injunctions. Nine individuals successfully petitioned for relief on their own.

Working with police departments across the County and the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, the DA determined that shutting down the gang injunctions completely did not pose a serious threat to public safety and took legal action to remove them.

When a civil gang injunction is issued against an individual, it remains in effect for a lifetime unless that person applies for removal and meets certain criteria. However, most people don’t know relief maybe available to them or how to go about requesting their name be removed. [TWEET THIS]

Poster of US Marshals Most Wanter: RJ McLeod

DA, US Marshals Announce up to $50,000 for Information on Former Marine Wanted for San Diego Murder

District Attorney Summer Stephan joined the U.S. Marshals Service today to announce that Raymond Samuel “RJ” McLeod, Jr., is now a 15 Most Wanted fugitive, and the first fugitive to make his debut on the U.S. Marshals Most Wanted List with a reward of up to $50,000 for information directly leading to his arrest. [TWEET THIS]

McLeod, 37, is wanted for the murder of Krystal Mitchell. McLeod is believed to be on the run in Central America or Mexico. His last reported location was in Guatemala in March of 2017, but he has also been spotted in Belize and in Mexico.

We’re not going to let this defendant run from justice and get away with murder,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “Now that the case has been elevated by the U.S. Marshals and the reward for information is increased, it’s our hope that someone will come forward so McLeod can be captured, returned to San Diego and held accountable for his brutal crime.”

“Raymond McLeod will be the first fugitive in history on our 15 Most Wanted list with an initial reward of up to $50,000,” said U.S. Marshal Service Director Donald Washington. “We want McLeod’s new status as a 15 Most Wanted fugitive and the $50,000 reward amount to be broadcasted far and wide. McLeod poses a significant threat to the public and must be brought to justice.”

On June 10, 2016, San Diego police officers responded to a 911 call of a woman not breathing inside an apartment in the 7600 block of Mission Gorge Road in San Diego. The woman, later identified as 30-year-old Krystal Mitchell from Phoenix, Arizona, was pronounced dead at the scene by medics. Detectives from the San Diego Police Department’s Homicide Unit responded to the scene and determined that Mitchell was last seen alive with her boyfriend (Raymond McLeod). Mitchell and McLeod, also from Phoenix, Arizona, had been in San Diego visiting friends.

McLeod is believed to have fled to Mexico after Mitchell’s death. The District Attorney’s Office has charged McLeod with murder and a warrant has been issued for his arrest. Authorities are withholding details of the murder but say there were signs of struggle at the murder scene.

The victim’s mother, Josephine Funes Wentzel, is a former police detective who has been instrumental in helping authorities search for McLeod. Wentzel has generated leads for law enforcement and helped spread word about the international manhunt on socialmedia.

“Catching McLeod will not bring my daughter back, but would prevent this monster from killing someone else’s mother, daughter or sister,” Wentzel said. “It would also mean that Krystal’s children can sleep at night, knowing he’s been stopped. McLeod has a history of extreme violence against women and even a small child. His tendency is to stalk his victims and strike when they least expect it. He is a ticking time bomb that could go off at any moment and I hope the public will take action and help us bring him to justice.” [TWEET THIS]

Official photo of Assistant District Attorney Dwain Woodley.

DA Appoints New Assistant District Attorney

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today appointed Chief Deputy District Attorney Dwain Woodley as her office’s new Assistant District Attorney, making him the first African American to hold the number two spot in the DA’s Office. Woodley takes over for ADA David Greenberg, who retired in March. [TWEET THIS]

“In every leadership position Dwain has held for the past 12 years in the DA’s Office, he has demonstrated exceptional judgment and outstanding management skills,” DA Stephan said. “Dwain treats everyone with dignity and respect, giving a voice to the entire team and to the People of San Diego County. His leadership focuses on both 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 look forward to working with 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 during the COVID19 pandemic.

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, the first appointment newly-elected DA Stephan made was elevating Woodley to Chief Deputy DA.

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. Dwain’s last assignment in the military was a staff attorney for Office of General Counsel at the National Security Agency (NSA). Dwain 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.

His appointment is effective immediately. [TWEET THIS]

Photo of Amazon logo

Amazon Agrees to Provide Clearer Pricing Information to Customers Due to Lawsuit

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that the DA’s Consumer Protection Unit, working with the Santa Cruz, Alameda, Santa Clara, Yolo and Riverside District Attorney’s offices, obtained a multi-million dollar civil judgment in a consumer protection lawsuit against e-commerce giant, Amazon.com. The District Attorney’s complaint alleges that some Amazon reference price advertisements were either misleading or potentially misleading, to consumers making purchasing decisions.

“When consumers shop online, they need to be able to trust that when a product is advertised as being a bargain, it truly is” DA Stephan said. “This judgment should remind retailers that the law requires them to provide accurate information so consumers can make informed purchasing decisions. Our Consumer Protection Unit continues to hold companies accountable and collaborate successfully with our prosecution partners across the state of California.”

Amazon.com commonly uses reference prices, often called “Was” or “List” prices, to advertise savings to consumers. For example, a product advertised at $19.99 adjacent to a reference price stated as “Was $29.99” or “List Price $29.99.” A “Was” price is the price at which Amazon previously offered the product. “List” price advertisements suggest to consumers the price at which the product is commonly offered or sold by another seller, supplier or the product’s manufacturer. The District Attorneys determined that there were issues with how Amazon determined these reference prices and whether words like “Was” or “List” were used in a manner that was misleading to consumers.

The Stipulated Final Judgment, entered by San Diego Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal on March 24, requires Amazon to make changes and revisions to its “List” and “Was” pricing disclosures to explain the way it determines and validates it reference prices. These changes and revisions include a hyperlink to provide consumers clear definitions of the meaning of “Was” and “List” price advertisements, so they understand the nature of the advertised savings. Additionally, as part of the settlement, Amazon will pay a total of $2 million in penalties, costs, and restitution to the state’s Consumer Protection Trust Fund. The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office will receive $300,000 in costs and penalties.

Amazon worked promptly and cooperatively throughout the District Attorneys’ investigation and has already implemented changes to its website and pricing algorithms consistent with the Final Judgment.

The case was handled by Deputy District Attorneys Colleen Huschke and Stephen Spinella of the DA’s Consumer Protection Unit. The DA’s Economic Crimes Division is responsible for prosecuting a wide variety of wrongdoing, including elder financial abuse, computer intrusion, complex identity theft, investment scams, embezzlements, real estate matters, counterfeit goods, environmental crimes and the theft of public assistance funds. The division also acts to protect consumers and businesses by successfully filing numerous civil cases to prohibit unfair business practices within the marketplace.

Photo of Judge's Gavel with white background

Murderer Released Under New Laws, Robs and Stabs Stranger

A murderer sentenced to 196 years-to-life in prison, who was released under Prop 57 and Senate Bill 1391 just four months ago, was charged today with a violent robbery after he allegedly took cash from a stranger and stabbed him in the back, causing his lung to collapse.

Dejon Satterwhite, 31, was arraigned in Superior Court today and charged with robbery with allegations of causing great bodily injury and using a deadly weapon. A judge ordered the defendant to be held on $2 million bail. If convicted of all the charges he faces up to nine years in prison.

On March 11, prosecutors say Satterwhite asked a man for money and offered to share heroin and methamphetamine with the stranger. When the defendant saw that the victim had a roll of money tucked in his socks, the defendant snatched all of the victim’s money and started to flee. When the victim pursued Satterwhite, he stabbed the victim in the back,  puncturing the victim’s left lung. When police arrived, the victim was blacking out from blood-loss.

In court today, Deputy District Attorney Jack Yeh detailed Satterwhite’s criminal history and previous conviction. When Satterwhite was 15-years old, he and three fellow gang members committed two drive-by shootings and a third shooting on Highway 163. Two people died and three others were wounded in the shootings. As a result, Satterwhite was convicted in adult criminal court of two counts of special circumstance murder and three counts of attempted murder. He was sentenced to 196 years-to-life in state prison.

While post-conviction hearings were taking place, Proposition 57 was passed in California, requiring transfer hearings for all defendants 14-years old and older to determine if they are inappropriate for juvenile court. Before this defendant could be brought to a transfer hearing, the legislature passed Senate Bill 1391, allowing transfer hearings only for those 16-years old and older. Since Satterwhite was 15-years old at the time he participated in the murders, he could not be transferred, and his convictions were changed into juvenile true-findings. As a result, he was released from custody in October of 2020.

Less than six months later, Satterwhite committed the alleged robbery.

“This defendant is an imminent danger to the community,” Deputy DA Yeh said in court. “He had proved this to be true when he participated in the 2004 murders and he demonstrated that he lacks the capacity to change when he allegedly robbed and stabbed a stranger, leaving him for dead.”

Approved by voters in 2016, Proposition 57 increased parole chances for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes and gave them more opportunities to earn credits for good behavior.

Satterwhite is due back in court on April 12 for a readiness hearing.

Screenshot of website Classmates.com

Classmates.com Settles Consumer Protection Lawsuit

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that PeopleConnect, Inc., the parent company for the popular social networking site, Classmates.com, agreed to pay $400,000 in penalties and costs and up to $150,000 in restitution as part of the settlement of a consumer protection lawsuit alleging that Classmates violated California’s Automatic Renewal Laws.  The lawsuit was filed by the California Auto Renewal Task Force (CART), which includes the District Attorney’s Offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties and the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office. [TWEET THIS]

The task force of local prosecutors alleged that Classmates’ online sign-up process failed to make certain statutorily required disclosures about its automatically-renewing subscriptions in a clear and conspicuous manner and failed to secure the consumer’s express prior consent, as required by law. The prosecution team also alleged that Classmates’ post-payment acknowledgment failed to supply a toll-free telephone number, email address or other timely and easy-to-use mechanism for cancelation – also a violation of the automatic renewal law – and that some consumers complained that it was difficult to cancel.

“Companies that offer subscriptions that renew automatically have a responsibility to adhere scrupulously to the law to ensure consumers are not misled and are making an informed choice about how to spend their money,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “This is another example of our consumer protection team working successfully with their CART colleagues to achieve compliance with these important laws.”

San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald L. Styn entered a final court judgment on the parties’ stipulated settlement on March 1, 2021.

The judgment requires Classmates to have full transparency with consumers about their automatically-renewing subscriptions.  The company must:

  • Clearly and conspicuously disclose its automatic-renewal terms;
  • Obtain the consumers’ affirmative consent to the terms through a separate checkbox or similar mechanism before charging for an automatic renewal or continuous service;
  • Email consumers a confirmation of the transaction after they pay which clearly includes the automatic-renewal terms and information on how to cancel; and
  • Allow consumers to easily cancel the subscriptions, including online, effective upon request.

Classmates cooperated with the prosecution team and is taking steps to ensure its web disclosures and processes comply with California’s Automatic Renewal Laws.

Deputy District Attorney Stephen M. Spinella with the Consumer Protection Division handled this case for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. [TWEET THIS]

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

Guilty Pleas in Massive Charter School Fraud

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that two defendants have pleaded guilty connection with the A3 Charter School scheme that siphoned more than $50 million from the State of California. The defendants pleaded guilty in San Diego Superior Court to a variety of felony criminal charges including conspiracy and conflict of interest and are assisting in the return of over $210 million in assets. The defendants’ prison sentences are up to the court and range up to ten years in prison.[TWEET THIS]

Sean McManus, 48, and Jason Schrock, 44, who operated and controlled 19 California charter schools as well as four business entities, were indicted by a grand jury along with nine other defendants in May of 2019 on a several criminal counts.

Today, McManus pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to misappropriate public funds and to stealing more than $500,000. McManus faces up to 10 years in state prison. Schrock pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to misappropriate public funds, one felony count of conflict of interest, and also to stealing over $500,000. Schrock faces up to nine years in state prison. McManus, an Australian national, entered his guilty plea remotely from Australia via Microsoft Teams. In his plea agreement McManus agreed to return voluntarily to the United States.

“With these guilty pleas, the defendants now admit they engaged in a devious, systematic public corruption scheme on the backs of students, their parents and the public that diverted millions of taxpayer dollars into their own pockets,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “This is one of the largest fraud schemes targeting education dollars for K-12 students in the nation. Unraveling this complex scheme came as a result of over a year of persistent and dedicated work by our team of prosecutors and investigators, who specialized in public corruption. This expert DA team will continue their work on this pending case to seek justice and make victims whole through restitution.”

The timing of the exposure of the potential abuses in the online charter arena has saved the state additional hundreds of millions of dollars even before the pandemic, as the case made school districts and the state aware of oversight concerns.

Sentencing is set June 18 at 9:30 a.m. Three co-defendants, who worked under McManus and Schrock at various charter schools, have already pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy and have been cooperating with prosecutors under their plea agreements.

As part of the plea agreement the defendants have agreed to transfer significant assets that resulted from their scam, including over $210 million in cash, 13 houses, and various shares in third party companies. The plea agreement will result in many millions of dollars to be used to support education in San Diego County and across California.

“This plea allows for a speedy end to what otherwise could have tied up money belonging to the school system for years,” DA Stephan said. “A critical part of obtaining justice in this case is the ability to recover restitution, which can support students whose needs were was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recovering over $200 million in restitution is one of the largest amounts related to education-targeted fraud in the nation. This was an extremely complicated case and our team from our Special Operations Division continues to do an amazing job holding the defendants accountable and helping school districts change the way they do business.”

The case is the result of a 235-page indictment, which was handed down by a grand jury in May of 2019 following a year-long investigation by members of the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office’s Public Corruption Team, including DA Investigators David Iorillo, Don Holmes and Vincent Giaime, as well as Deputy DA Leon Schorr, who heads the public corruption unit and Deputy DA Kevin Fannan. The grand jury spent six weeks hearing testimony from more than 70 witnesses including employees of the charter schools, parents, athletic coaches, various school district representatives, and county and state-level regulatory employees.

The investigation uncovered a massive scheme in which McManus and Schrock directed subordinates and co-defendants to open 19 charter schools in San Diego County and across California. These are collectively called “A3 Charter Schools” and include:

  • Valiant Academy San Diego
  • Valiant Academy Los Angeles
  • Valiant Academy Santa Barbara
  • CA STEAM San Bernardino
  • CA STEAM Sonoma
  • CA STEAM Sonoma II
  • CA STEAM Santa Barbara
  • Uplift California Monterey
  • Uplift California North
  • Uplift California South
  • Uplift California Santa Barbara
  • California Academy of Sports Science
  • California Academy of Sports Science Fresno
  • California Vanguard Fresno
  • University Prep
  • University Prep Fresno
  • University Prep San Bernardino
  • California Prep Sutter K-7
  • California Prep Sutter 8-12

McManus and Schrock knowingly collected public funds from students for “summer school” even though the students were part of pre-existing youth programs such as sports teams, camps, gyms, private schools both religious and secular, and private enrichment centers.  McManus and Schrock authorized small payments to these programs for student information (as low as $25 for each student’s identifying information). McManus and Schrock then defrauded the state of California by claiming these students were being served by the A3 Charter Schools and being taught public education from licensed teachers, when the children often had absolutely no relationship with McManus’ and Schrock’s operation.

McManus and Schrock knowingly manipulated state funding procedures to inflate the amount of money the State of California paid the A3 Charter Schools for each summer school student.  They backdated documentation and manipulated school calendars to falsely demonstrate that children were engaged in educational activities for the entire summer. The defendants switched students between different A3 Charter Schools, called “sister schools” to increase funding per student/per school beyond legal limits. They also knowingly manipulated invoices paid to themselves through private companies in order for the A3 Charter Schools to defraud the state of California into believing the A3 Charter Schools complied with their Funding Determination approved by the California State Board of Education granting them full funding.  The A3 Charter Schools earned as much as $4,000 for each summer school child when the child received relatively nothing in exchange.

McManus and Schrock knowingly evaded oversight by manipulating financial and programmatic information given to auditors. They also avoided oversight by using subordinate figureheads to apply for charter schools and represent themselves to government regulators as the CEO of the schools when McManus and Schrock controlled all decision making and finances.

Once the A3 Charter Schools had public funds from the state, McManus and Schrock transferred millions of dollars to private companies they owned and controlled under the guise of providing educational services to the A3 Charter Schools that were not provided.

This massive fraud case has exposed numerous discrepancies in the way funding is determined for public schools across the state of California, as well as the lack of oversight of schools.  These charter schools significantly adjusted their calendars to receive greater “per student” funding than traditional schools. They transferred students frequently, often without the consent of the student, to achieve more Average Daily Attendance (ADA) funding.

As part of the grand jury indictment, school districts like Dehesa were accused of not providing proper oversight, which allowed the charter schools to exist. Part of the landmark impact of this case is that school districts made change to avert fraud in the future through oversight and accountability. After this case came to light, the Dehesa Elementary School District made drastic changes to the way it operates and is becoming a leader on proper charter school oversight.

The District Attorney’s Office worked with the Court to appoint a receiver to manage the A3 Charter Schools and assets controlled by the defendants to preserve them for restitution. The receiver had the difficult task of assessing the viability of the schools and handling sensitive student files and ultimately decided to close the schools in June 2019. The receiver with assistance of the District Attorney’s office also sued six school districts involved in this case from across the state to require them to follow the law and return funds for not providing proper oversight. [TWEET THIS]

DA Investigator Christopher Everett is reunited with siblings he helped recover for the Child Abduction Unit.

Meet DA Investigator Christopher Everett

Meet District Attorney Investigator Christopher Everett, who has worked in law enforcement for 33 years. The first four years of his career began at the Los Angeles Police Department and then the San Diego Police Department, where he retired after 25 years. For the past five years, he has been working as an Investigator for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Child Abduction Unit, which is part of the Family Protection Division. To date, Christopher has helped recover 55 children.

Why did you decide to work at the DA’s Office?

“As I was approaching my retirement with the San Diego Police Department, I felt like I had more to offer the community and law enforcement,” he said. “It has truly been a blessing to work at the DA’s Office and have the opportunity to continue contributing to the San Diego County community.”

“Working in the Child Abduction Unit has been one of the most rewarding positions I’ve held in my 33-year law enforcement career.  In every child abduction case, the child experiences what I refer to as SEP (Sexual, Emotional and Physical Abuse).  In the worst-case scenarios, children become victims of human trafficking.  I know from experience that today’s victim becomes tomorrow’s suspect/defendant. The Child Abduction Unit has an opportunity stop the cycle of violence and change the entire trajectory of an abducted child’s life.  It’s why I remain committed to getting these children back to a safe environment.

While ALL of my cases have had an impact on me, the case which had the greatest impact was a case involving 14-year-old twin children (brother/sister). Their father used deception to get the children out of the US and take them to Iraq.  Once in Iraq, he refused to return the children. Because Iraq is a Non-Hague/Treaty country, the general consensus was there was nothing we could do to help the children. Knowing the children were suffering abuse at their father’s hand, I refused to give up.  Over 19 months, using creative investigative techniques, federal partnerships and help from the US and Iraq Military, I was able to get the kids back home. Although they are home safe, the road to emotional recovery for them both continues and won’t be easy.

This past Christmas, they sent me a family photo Christmas Card. Written on the card was ‘Our First Christmas! Thank You.’  Two weeks ago, I received an email from the family.  One of the twins applied to UC Santa Barbara and had been accepted. WOW, I thought. Just amazing!  Imagine if I hadn’t fought to bring them home? They would still be in that SEP environment.  I know that my work forever changed the trajectory of their lives for the better, and they have made an impression on me which I will never forget. Never Give Up!”

Why is Black History Month important to you?

“Black History Month is a time for highlighting the many accomplishments and contributions that African Americans have made to the scientific, educational and social justice fabric of our country. Black history matters to everyone, not just African Americans. Their accomplishments and challenges benefit all of humankind. I’m glad we celebrate and recognize Black History because to really truly understand our nation’s history, we all need to recognize and acknowledge the role of African Americans in that history.”

See their stories too:

Paralegal Nicole Runyon

Deputy District Attorney Sherry Thompson-Taylor

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dwain Woodley

Crime Prevention Specialist Danielle Fair

District Attorney Investigator Christopher Everett