New Deputy DAs Sworn In for 2024

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced the swearing-in today of a new class of 14 Deputy District Attorneys, who took their oath at the Superior Courthouse downtown. The members of the new class, who have diverse professional and personal backgrounds, bring an array of rich experience to the DA’s Office.

“I am very proud and excited to welcome the class of 2024 to our office,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “This is a group of professionals who not only bring a variety of skills and experience to our office, but also reflect the diversity in our community and who embrace our mission of pursuing fair and equal justice.”

The 2024 Class of Deputy Das includes top scholars, authors, advocates, and individuals who embody the mission and principles of the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.  The class speaks multiple languages among them, including Pakistani Urdu, Hindi, Persian, and Spanish. The class includes Eagle Scouts, worldwide children’s ministry coordinators, singers, US Soccer referees, NCAA Division One swimmers, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructors, soccer players, and travel enthusiasts.

One of the new Deputy District Attorneys, Pallavi Garg, who was born in Calcutta, India, and raised in Dallas, Texas, was a pre-med student until she learned about human trafficking.

“Realizing that gross indifference to humanity can still exist in a place like the United States changed my trajectory,” Garg said. “I knew I wanted to be a career prosecutor and fight against those who treat people like commodities. I have since worked in Miami as a prosecutor in Gangs and Human Trafficking. Once I moved to San Diego and met DA Summer Stephan and Deputy DAs in this office, I knew I had found my professional home. The opportunity to get up each day and do what is right for every person involved in a case is truly the most honorable work I could imagine doing.”

For Deputy DA Carys Davies, the annual service trips she took every summer since middle school to developing countries in Haiti, Kenya, Rwanda, and Honduras inspired her to pursue a career as a prosecutor.

“I had the opportunities to interact with women and children living in poverty; I knew I wanted to be an advocate for vulnerable victims who did not have a voice,” Davies said. “Having majored in Childhood Development combined with observing a Deputy DA conduct a direct examination of a rape victim in trial, motivated me to become prosecutor to come alongside vulnerable victims as they recount the worse day of their life and help give them a voice. The San Diego County District Attorney’s dedication to coming alongside vulnerable victims, fighting for justice for vulnerable victims, and supporting them whether charges were filed or not, drew me to this office.”

Only a few years ago, Alfredo Villegas started out as a Student Worker at the DA’s Office and now he is back as a Deputy DA.

“What inspired me to become a prosecutor at the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office was the opportunity to serve the community that I was born and raised in,” Villegas said. “Many of the people who inspired me to pursue a career in the law worked in this office and I feel a special sense of pride in being able to pursue justice and advocate for victims of crime in and outside the courtroom.”

Under the guidance of senior Deputy District Attorneys, the new prosecutors recently completed a three-week, intensive training to learn from over 80 experts, including staff from all walks in the office, about professionalism, trial advocacy, and culture, and what it means to serve as a public prosecutor in our richly diverse San Diego County. The new prosecutors will report to their assignments today across all branches and divisions of the District Attorney’s Office.

The San Diego DA’s Office has more than 1,100 employees, including a diverse group of 345 Deputy District Attorneys of which 201 are women and 144 are men.

San Marcos Man Sentenced to Prison for Killing His Mother with a Hammer

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that a 32-year-old San Marcos man, who pleaded guilty in October to the first-degree murder of his 68-year-old mother, has been sentenced to 31 years-to-life in prison.

In June 2021, Sean McCarthy broke into the home of his parents through the back sliding door and attacked is mother in her bedroom after his father left for work. Using a hammer, he beat his mother to death and stuffed her body into the trunk of her car in the garage then fled and set himself on fire in his own car in Escondido.

“This is a horrific case of murder and elder abuse that affects an entire family and the community in which the parents lived,” DA Stephan said. “When a life is taken by a family member, nothing can make the family whole again, but today’s sentence provides a measure of justice for the defendant.”

McCarthy survived the car fire but was left permanently disabled. In addition to first-degree murder, he also pleaded guilty to residential burglary. Deputy District Attorney Ben Barlow prosecuted this case.

Rapist Sentenced for Crimes Committed in 1999

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that defendant Mark Thompson Hunter, 66, was sentenced to 130 years-to-life in state prison for kidnapping and raping a teenage girl multiple times on February 17, 1999 in Escondido. Judge Robert Kearney handed down the lengthy sentence after Hunter was convicted by a jury in October of last year of seven felony counts including kidnapping, rape, and sodomy.

“The victim was 19-years old when she was brutally attacked by this defendant and put through a nightmare scenario,” said DA Stephan. “Justice was delayed, but thanks to investigators at the FBI, Sheriff’s Crime Lab, Escondido Police Department and District Attorney’s Office, who leveraged the power of modern DNA and never gave up, this rapist is now being held accountable for his crimes.”

The victim was approached around 8:30 p.m. at a gas station by a man asking her for directions. She agreed to show him the exact location by having him follow her car in his van. When the victim got to an area near Valley Parkway and Fig Street, the man waved her into a parking lot. The attacker then pulled her into his van and drove her to a dead-end street.

The victim fought back but was out matched by the attacker’s size and strength. She was raped multiple times and then released with the suspect taking off. Despite the attacker’s DNA being recovered by a forensic medical exam, available DNA testing at the time did not match any individuals in a statewide offender database. In 2020, a cold case team re-examined the DNA, and using genealogical DNA technology, investigators linked it to Hunter who was living in Hemet, California when he was arrested.

“Investigative genealogy techniques have truly revolutionized how law enforcement agencies can pursue justice,” said FBI San Diego Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy. “The FBI, along with our partners, have a steadfast commitment to the pursuit of justice for victims of crimes and their families. Technological advancements allow us to have more successful investigations, despite the passage of time.”

Familial DNA searching was pioneered in the U.K, helping in 2002 in what was believed to be the first conviction using the technique. In 2008, California became the first state in the U.S. to authorize the testing, and Colorado followed a year later. California has solved several cases using familial searching, including the so-called Grim Sleeper case in Los Angeles. A serial killer preyed on vulnerable women and eluded identification for decades until investigators matched crime scene DNA to the killer’s son, whose DNA was in an offender database.

In 2016, a 25-year-old cold case was solved after familial DNA testing provided investigators with key information that solved the murder of 84-year-old Angela Kleinsorge. The victim was found raped and murdered in her San Diego home in February of 1992.

Deputy District Attorney Claudia Plascencia prosecuted this case.

Fatal DUIs Spike Amid COVID-19

DUI Driver Sentenced for Hit and Run That Killed a 19-Month-Old Toddler

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that a defendant who drove drunk, struck and killed a 1-year-old child has been sentenced to 15 years-to-life in prison plus an additional four years in prison for fleeing the scene. Margarito Angeles Vargas, 47, was driving with a blood-alcohol level of more than double the legal limit on September 24, 2022, when he fatally struck the young girl as she crossed a residential street with her sisters and grandparents. A jury convicted Angeles Vargas on November 15, of second-degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, DUI causing injury, hit and run causing death, and driving on a suspended license. Judge Amador handed down the sentence in San Diego Superior Court.

On the day of the incident, the defendant was leaving a baby shower when he ran a stop sign and nearly struck a parked truck before barreling down the 3900 block of Redwood Street in City Heights. He struck the victim in broad daylight as her family was walking in an unmarked crosswalk.

Although residential surveillance captured the collision, none of the cameras clearly captured the driver’s face or his license plate. A witness chased after the defendant and confronted him. Eventually, the license plate information and cell phone video taken by the witness helped police locate the defendant and arrest him.

“DUI and drugged drivers have taken so many innocent lives this year and while every loss is devastating, the senseless DUI murder of a 1-year-old child is beyond deplorable,” DA Summer Stephan said. “It is also unconscionable that the driver fled the scene, but thanks to the courage and concern of the good Samaritan neighbor who witnessed the crime and recorded the driver and the license plate and provided the information to police, the defendant was brought to justice. Our specialized DUI homicide team worked with San Diego Police Department investigators to present the case to a jury in order to pursue justice. Let this be a warning that drinking and driving can not only take a life but can end with a life prison sentence.”

Because Angeles Vargas had been convicted of a DUI charge previously, he signed a form known as a Watson advisement. The purpose of the Watson advisement is to create a legal record that a defendant is aware of the dangers that DUI poses not only to oneself, but to others. If a person is involved in another DUI in the future, and that DUI leads to an accident that injures or kills someone, they cannot claim that they didn’t understand the consequences. Legally, this means that a defendant can be tried for second-degree murder in a circumstance like this case.

Deputy District Attorney Hailey Williams prosecuted this case.

4S Ranch Man Duped Friends in Ponzi Scheme; Additional Victims Sought

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced felony charges today against 52-year-old Rodolfo Villareal of 4S Ranch, who is suspected of engaging in a Ponzi scheme with
multiple victims he befriended.

Villareal was charged with two counts of securities fraud, three counts of grand theft and one count of forgery, for his role in stealing $282,500 from two victims. He pleaded not guilty today
at arraignment and was ordered to not solicit or receive money for investment or loan opportunities. If convicted, he faces a maximum exposure of 10 years and eight months in prison.

“Bilking people you developed a friendship with is betrayal and a serious violation of law that devastates victims emotionally and economically,” DA Stephan said. “If there are more victims of Mr. Villareal, we encourage them to come forward.”

Investors concerned that they may be victims of this defendant are encouraged to submit complaints at:

Villareal will next be in court on April 16 for a readiness conference.

This case is being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Tiffany Stewart.

DA Stephan Testifies Before Congressional Committee About Strategies to Fight Organized Retail Crime

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan testified in Washington, D.C. today before the House Sub-Committee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement and Intelligence, providing her perspective on the increasing crime of organized retail theft. At a hearing titled, “From Festive Cheer to Retail Fear: Addressing Organized Retail Crime,” DA Stephan discussed the scope of the problem in the U.S., the solutions being pursued by law enforcement and success stories in holding retail thieves accountable. Stephan appeared in her capacity as both San Diego DA and President-Elect of the National District Attorneys Association.

WATCH the DA’s full testimony, here.

DA Stephan told committee members there are three key challenges facing prosecutors across the nation who are working to fight organized retail theft:

The evolution of more sophisticated criminal networks. Organized retail theft is no longer just the work of isolated petty criminals. Instead, it has evolved into highly sophisticated operations, often conducted by well-organized networks and coordinated across multiple locations.

An inadequate legal framework. Existing laws and penalties in many states are not sufficient to deter or appropriately punish those engaged in organized retail theft. Many states including California have passed laws that increased the dollar amount of theft that qualifies as a felony and eliminated enhanced consequences for recidivist and habitual offenders.

The need for better coordination. In the past, the lack of coordination and information-sharing among retailers, law enforcement agencies, and other stakeholders has hindered the ability to combat organized retail theft effectively. A continued collaborative and multi-faceted approach is necessary to address this issue comprehensively.

Stephan pointed to laws in several states that raised the threshold of the value of merchandise stolen from retail stores in order to qualify for felony charges.

“Law enforcement and our retailers agree that the increase in retail theft-related incidents has been the direct result of changing laws and penalties for shoplifting,” DA Stephan said. “The message that these deficient laws send is that this is the wild west with no rules or accountability.”

The San Diego County DA’s Office has made prosecuting and preventing organized retail crime a priority. DA Stephan formed a specialized team of prosecutors and investigators to combat organized retail theft and work with businesses to build stronger cases.

Stephan praised Congress for passing the INFORM Act, which became law this year and requires online marketplaces, such as Amazon and eBay, to collect, verify, and disclose certain information from high-volume sellers and provide consumers with means to report suspicious activity.

“This is a step in the right direction to stop organized criminals from selling stolen goods on online marketplaces,” said Stephan said. “It removes the anonymity of the seller and makes it easier for law enforcement to find online sellers of stolen goods and prosecute them.”

Stephan also urged the passage of H.R. 895, the Combating Organized Retail Crime Act of 2023— which would expand federal enforcement of criminal offenses related to organized retail crime and establish an Organized Retail Crime Coordination Center within the Department of Homeland Security.

“The good news is that on both the national and statewide level, there is a commitment to stop organized retail crime. At least 34 states now have organized retail crime laws. It’s important that these laws include increased penalties for those involved in these criminal activities and provisions that enable law enforcement to better investigate and prosecute offenders,” DA Stephan said.

Stephan also relayed her experience to committee members of visiting stores targeted by retail thieves and talking to workers about the trauma and fear that they experience from these brazen crimes. In a recent study, retailers reported an increase in violence and aggression by the criminals committing these crimes. “This is not a victimless crime,” Stephan said.

Gang Boss Sentenced to Life Without Parole for Ordering Murder Hit While in Prison

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that defendant and criminal street gang boss Jesus Faraj, 45, was sentenced to life without the possibility parole plus 60 years for ordering an execution-style murder of 32-year-old Jimmy Khieu in February 2019.

On Super Bowl Sunday, 2019, Khieu was shot through the head and left for dead in a drainage ditch in the Fox Canyon neighborhood of San Diego. There were no initial suspects and an investigation ensued, leading to the arrest, charging, and convictions of Faraj and three other defendants who worked at Faraj’s behest to track and kill the victim.

“This defendant is a ruthless criminal who casually ordered a murder from his prison cell,” DA Stephan said. “This case demonstrates that gang violence has a long and far reach of destruction leaving wounds in our community that last a lifetime. We will never stop fighting to make neighborhoods safe from the scourge of gang violence.”

Faraj was the leader of one biggest criminal street gangs in San Diego. While in prison for nearly 20 years on other charges, he rose through the ranks of the gang. At the time of the murder, Faraj used mobile phones from a prison cell to routinely orchestrate criminal activity in San Diego. This included obtaining and distributing large quantities of drugs and guns to put onto the streets of what he considered his neighborhood in order to obtain money, power, and control of the neighborhood. He was feared by many and had loyal gang members ready to do his bidding on the streets.

Apart from the murder, Faraj demonstrably ordered assaults and kidnappings of other victims that were captured on video and introduced in the trial. Ultimately, the jury found that Faraj planned the murder of Jimmy Khieu, which was perpetrated by another longstanding gang member who pled guilty to first degree murder before the trial. This case highlights the commitment to violence and terror that gang leaders show and how much of an impact they have in our community, even while incarcerated.

On November 29, co-defendant and shooter Peter Burgos was sentenced to 29 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder with a gun and admitted the murder was to benefit the gang. Co-defendant Steven Chavez was sentenced to 17 years in prison on July 14 after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter to benefit the gang. Co-defendant Kristin Zarate was sentenced to 12 years in prison in October 2022 after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter to benefit the gang.

This case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Oscar Hagstrom with the support of his team.


Gang Member Charged in Shooting that Left Young Woman Paralyzed

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that an attempted murder charge has been filed against Juan Diaz Velazco, 19, in connection with a gang shooting that left an innocent 17-year-old female bystander paralyzed. Diaz Velazco is also charged with assault with a firearm and other gun charges. He was arraigned and pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he faces 72 years to life in prison. He is being held without bail.

The charges stem from an incident on October 28 in which gang members issued gang challenges to rivals outside of a high school party. Diaz Velazco fired the first shots which hit and paralyzed an innocent girl, who was a high school cheerleader. Diaz Velazco was ultimately apprehended after a multiweek extensive investigation conducted by the San Diego Police Department and District Attorney’s Office Gang Units.

“This case demonstrates the destructive consequences of gang violence on neighborhoods and people who want to live in peace,” DA Stephan said. “We will keep fighting to make our neighborhoods safe and hold criminals accountable.”

Diaz Velazco will be in court again on December 12 for a readiness hearing and on December 15 for a preliminary hearing.

This case is being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Kyle Sutterley.


Photo of a Judge's gavel and a gun.

Gang Member Sentenced in Shooting Death of Alpha Project Security Guard

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that defendant Johnny Hill, a member of a criminal street gang, was sentenced to 55 years to life plus an additional 26 years in prison in connection with a 2019 shooting that left one man dead and another injured.

Hill and co-defendant, Floyd Garrett, who will be sentenced on January 22, were found guilty by a jury of second-degree murder with a special allegation of personal gun use causing death, assault with a semi-automatic firearm, and being a felon in possession of a firearm on September 14.

“Our office will never stop fighting to make neighborhoods safe from violence,” DA Stephan said. “Ernest Buchanan Jr. was a beloved member of the Alpha Project family and his own family, and his life was mercilessly taken without justification. San Diego Police Department Detectives working with the DA Gangs Unit put this case together piece by piece in order to obtain justice for the victims and hold the offenders accountable. Although this sentence will not bring back Ernest Buchanan Jr., we hope his family finds a measure of justice in the jury verdict and sentence in this case.”

The Alpha Project homeless shelter, located at 1700 Imperial Ave., lies within territory claimed by ‘Crip’ criminal street gang sets and is an area primarily used for gang related drug sales and acts of violence. Over the past two years, San Diego Police have responded to 6,187 calls involving violence: notably, seven homicides, 298 robberies, 1,280 assaults and 1,800 violent disturbances.

In December 2019, Buchanan Jr., and Dorian Cunningham were security guards for the Alpha Project homeless shelter at 1700 Imperial Ave. On the night of the shooting, the men left in Buchanan’s truck to get a snack during their break. In the meantime, the defendants, members of a criminal street gang, arrived in the area in a white sedan. The City of San Diego’s Environmental Street Cameras and the Alpha Project’s surveillance system captured the defendants as they walked together to a dark alcove across from the shelter and waited. When the victims returned and parked their car, Cunningham walked into the administration trailer and Buchanan followed shortly after walking across Imperial Ave. Together, the defendants fired multiple rounds at Buchanan, and he died shortly thereafter at the hospital. Cunningham was grazed in the leg and did not sustain life threatening injuries. After the shooting, the defendants fled from downtown only six minutes after arriving.

This case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Matthew Carberry with the support of his team.

Defendants Charged with Running Illegal Dispensary Business

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced charges today against four defendants who were illegally selling and distributing products containing marijuana. Jose Delahoz, 55, and Valeria Rada, 42, have been charged with child endangerment, maintaining a place for marijuana to be sold, tax evasion, and possession of marijuana for sale. They were arraigned today in San Diego Superior Court. If convicted of all charges, they face probation up to eight years in prison. Diego Delahoz, 30, and Edgar Delahoz, 29, have been charged with maintaining a place for marijuana to be sold, tax evasion and possession of marijuana for sale. They both face up to four years and four months in prison if convicted of all the charges.

On Wednesday, law enforcement served search warrants at multiple locations that resulted in the seizure of over $1,100,000.00 of mislabeled product containing cannabis in various locations, including a home with young children.

“Illegal marijuana businesses that sell unregulated products are an underground economy that undercuts legal dispensaries who are following the law and undercuts the laws that protect children and teens from the potentially toxic effects of high THC cannabis,” said DA Stephan. “They also put consumers at risk because their products can pose a public health risk. Coordinating with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to hold individuals and these businesses accountable.”

The San Diego Police Department led the investigation, working with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, Chula Vista Police Department, District Attorney’s Office, and California Department of Taxation Administration.

The investigation focused on a store in Middletown, Canably, which is not permitted to sell marijuana but has been presenting itself as both a storefront and a distributor of products that contained THC, including thousands of edibles like gummies, peanut butter, beef jerky and 300 pounds of loose marijuana. Canably was selling and distributing cannabis and cannabis products within 1,000 feet of a school and residences. Over $2,000 in cash was seized and an initial review of store receipts showed a minimum of $4,000 of credit card sales were made in less than one day in the storefront. Additional searches were conducted in Rancho San Diego and Chula Vista at another smoke shops that purchased cannabis products from Canably.

The residence of Canably’s owners was also searched and 320 pounds of loose cannabis, $5658 in cash, more than 10,000 in concentrates and more than 5,000 edibles were seized. In total, more than $1,000,000.00 in cannabis product was seized from the home. The product was found in an attached garage converted into a workspace for the Canably business and a play area for the family’s three children, ages10 months, five years, and 14 years.

A shop called Elevated Smoke in Pacific Beach was also searched, resulting in a seizure of cannabis, a ghost gun, marijuana edibles and concentrates. The smoke shop had been selling edibles purchased from Canably and was operating within 1,000 feet of Pacific Beach Middle School.

“We’re being told by health professionals at Rady Children’s Hospital that they’re seeing an 800 percent increase in marijuana-related overdoses in children in recent years which is unacceptable,” said DA Stephan. “Edibles in particular pose a danger to young people who are being marketed to or find products like pot gummies and aren’t aware of the overdose danger. It is unconscionable that parents would store such a large amount of marijuana in an area accessible to their children.”

This case is being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Matthew Greco of the DA’s Narcotics Division.