Tag Archive for: District Attorney

DA Brings Fight Against Organized Retail Theft Rings to the National Stage

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for a virtual panel discussion on Thursday to strategize on ways to stop organized retail crime, which has spiked significantly in the past five years. This theft is perpetrated by organized criminal rings that steal large amounts of goods from businesses of all types and sizes with the intent to resell them, particularly through unregulated online marketplaces.

During the event, DA Stephan discussed the importance of building partnerships with businesses and law enforcement similar to the strong collaboration that we have in the San Diego Organized Retail Crimes Alliance (ORCA), keeping employees and shoppers safe, and closing loopholes in laws that fail to bring accountability for serial theft and organized crime.

“I appreciate the U.S. Chamber of Commerce inviting us to join them to shine a light on this public safety issue that is wreaking havoc on small and large businesses and making employees and customers feel unsafe,” DA Stephan said. “We were also able to share best practices from San Diego County on holding these organized crime rings accountable while fighting to fix outdated state and federal laws that allow the unregulated sale of stolen goods online and provide little recourse to stop repeat offenders.”

In a recent San Diego case, two thieves were prosecuted for 42 felony counts of looting, grand theft, and burglary for breaking into ULTA Beauty, Nordstrom Rack and other stores during nighttime hours.

DA Stephan has taken a tough stance against organized retail thieves and is continuing to explore additional ways to hold these criminals accountable amid high-profile smash and grabthefts across California. Stephan participated in a similar roundtable discussion earlier this summer with the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National District Attorneys Association.

Beginning in 2019, with the passage of Californias Organized Retail Theft Law (PC 490.4), the San Diego DAs Office began a partnership with the California Highway Patrols Organized Retail Theft team of special investigators. Since that time, a number of successful prosecutions have occurred. Crews of thieves coming to San Diego from other parts of the California have been prosecuted in a single case for all crimes they committed against retail stores up and down the state.

National retail groups estimate retail theft losses to be in the tens of billions of dollars each year. Locally, San Diego County has not yet seen any of the larger smash and grab” incidents, but instead thefts are increasingly carried out by organized crews of thieves who are traveling around the state and hitting store after store of whatever they specialize in or whatever is in demand like fragrances, tools and electronics. Law enforcement is arresting some thieves who are San Diego residents but say at least half of them are not local residents and only come to San Diego to steal.

Habitual Offender Who Took Advantage of Deficiencies in the Law Sentenced

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that 32-year-old defendant Craig Blas, a repeat criminal offender, has been sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to a number of felony counts including possession of fentanyl for sale with an allegation of being personally armed with a firearm; possession of methamphetamine for sale with an allegation of being personally armed with a firearm; possession of a firearm by possessor of controlled substance; possession of a firearm by a felon; person prohibited from owning or possessing ammunition and resisting an officer.

In the period of two years, Blas has been arrested and released 12 times for a range of criminal conduct, including possession with intent to sell fentanyl, possession of a firearm by a felon and evading an officer with reckless driving.

Recent changes in the law, including Propositions 47 and 57, which reduced certain crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and awarded increased custody credits and/or early release for non-violent crimes, has resulted in some defendants serving less time in custody than they would have otherwise served. In addition, the emergency bail schedule instituted during the COVID-19 state-declared emergency, which was designed to minimize the number of people in custody, had the similar result of allowing some offenders to remain out of custody while their cases awaited final disposition. The emergency bail schedule is no longer in effect thus allowing habitual offenders like Blas to remain in custody.

“The time has run out on this habitual criminal who took advantage of weakened laws and emergency orders to continue to commit crimes and harm his community,” DA Stephan said. “That is why he stands convicted of every charge and the Judge is appropriately sentencing him to prison. We need to continue to fight against the loopholes and deficiencies in the law that are being used by repeat offenders to their own advantage.”

On May 7, Escondido Police officers were patrolling a high crime area when they saw Craig Blas and recognized him as having an active warrant. The defendant attempted to run from officers, but they were able to apprehend him as he fled. Officers found a 9 mm magazine sticking out of his back pocket, three fentanyl pills, a pistol red dot optic aiming device and $736 cash. Officers saw the defendant throw an item in the driver’s seat of the car with which they had seen him walking around. Upon looking, they discovered on the driver seat a fanny pack containing a loaded ghost handgun, 36 grams of methamphetamine and 235 M30 fentanyl pills. A loaded 9mm magazine with eight 9 mm rounds were on the floorboard next to the gun. In the trunk were drug paraphernalia and another 3.6 grams of fentanyl.

One Safe Place– The North County Family Justice Center

We provide free support services all under one roof to anyone who has experienced family violence, child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, hate crimes, elder abuse, human trafficking, violent loss, or other crimes. At One Safe Place—the North County Family Justice Center— we provide comprehensive help in a safe and judgment-free environment that empowers people to move forward with their lives. Visit www.OneSafePlaceNorth.org for more information.

DA Warns Against Price Gouging for Baby Formula

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan is warning businesses and scammers not to take advantage of consumers by price gouging for baby formula during the ongoing shortage brought on by supply chain issues. Stephan says her office is accepting reports of price gouging for potential investigation and prosecution. On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order establishing protections against price gouging for families struggling to access safe and affordable baby formula, clearing the way for prosecutors to file criminal charges.

“We want county residents to know that we stand ready to protect their consumer rights under the law and we won’t let people looking to cash in by taking advantage of families in need,” DA Stephan said. “We take violations related to price gouging very seriously and encourage consumers to report suspected price hikes that they believe may be illegal.”

The Governor’s order generally prohibits selling infant formula at a price that exceeds, by more than 10 percent, the price of the formula charged by the seller on February 17, 2022. Violators of the order are subject to criminal prosecution that can result in a fine of up to $1,000 and/or by imprisonment up to six months. Violators are also subject to civil enforcement actions including civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation, injunctive relief, and mandatory restitution.

You can report suspected price gouging (in English or Spanish) to the District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit at (619) 531-3507 or at consumer@sdcda.org

Resources for Parents

  • Parents should not use recalled formula. Return recalled formula to the store or call the manufacturer of the recalled formula at 800-986-8540 for a replacement.
  • Parents struggling to find baby formula should visit healthychildren.org.
  • More information and resources can also be found in the California Department of Public Health’s Consumer Alert and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Fact Sheet on the baby formula shortage.
  • Families using benefits through the California Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program can find more information on the California WIC Infant Formula Availability webpage.
  • Before buying baby formula from any unfamiliar source, research the company’s reputation through the Better Business Bureau (BBB) at www.bbb.org. For more information about potential scams related to the baby formula shortage, visit the BBB website here.

The District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit is a sub-unit of the Economic Crimes Division. The unit is composed of Deputy District Attorneys, Investigators and Paralegals dedicated to protecting consumers and law-abiding businesses from fraudulent or unfair business practices.

When appropriate, the Consumer Protection Unit will investigate consumer complaints. These complaints typically involve businesses within San Diego County that are involved in unfair or illegal practices.

 

Grand Jury Indicts 11 in Connection with Violent PB Antifa Incident

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that a criminal grand jury has returned indictments against 11 individuals in connection with violent criminal acts committed during a demonstration in Pacific Beach on January 9, 2021. Charges handed down by the grand jury against the defendants include conspiracy to commit a riot, use of tear gas, assault with a deadly weapon, and assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury. In lieu of a preliminary hearing, the grand jury heard testimony over 13 days and delivered the unsealed indictment on May 23, 2022. The defendants have been indicted on 29 felony counts.

The defendants arraigned in court today include Alexander Akridgejacobs, 31; Jesse Merel Cannon, 31; Brian Cortez Lightfoot Jr., 25; Christian Martinez, 23; Luis Francisco Mora, 30; Samuel Howard Ogden, 24; Bryan Rivera, 20; Faraz Martin Talab, 27; Jeremy White, 39 and Erich Louis Yach, 38. If convicted, the defendants face a wide sentencing range from probation to prison. Defendant Joseph Austin Gaskins, 21 will be arraigned on June 20.

According to the grand jury indictment, “the defendants are all affiliated with Antifa. A group of the defendants originated from the Los Angeles area and the remaining defendants are from San Diego County. Antifa uses force, fear, and violence to further their interests and suppress the interests of others. The objective of this conspiracy was to incite and participate in a riot.”

The indictment goes on to say that “on or about January 2, 2021, Antifa supporters posted on social media calling for “counterprotesting” and direct action in response to a scheduled political demonstration in Pacific Beach on January 9, 2021. The defendants and other uncharged coconspirators confirmed their support and participation by showing up in Pacific Beach on January 9, 2021, dressed in black clothing, and armed with weapons and protective gear.”

The overt acts listed in the indictment detail the level of violence and planning committed by the defendants, including:

  • Throwing a wooden lawn chair at a victim and striking her
  • Striking a victim with a baseball bat
  • Striking a victim with a flagpole
  • Attacking victims with tear gas
  • Assaulting a victim with a stun gun

The 10 defendants who were arraigned today pleaded not guilty and a status hearing was set for August 8 at 2 p.m. in Department 102.

2022 Citizens of Courage Awards

Take a few minutes to feel inspired: Watch the full Citizens of Courage Awards, an inspiring virtual event honoring ordinary citizens who showed extraordinary courage in the face of crime! San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan honored four brave local heroes this week at the San Diego County District Attorney’s 31st Annual Citizens of Courage Awards, held every year during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Once again, this event was held virtually on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.

“Today, we’re highlighting the extraordinary courage of victims and good Samaritans, who were placed in dangerous and trying circumstances,” DA Stephan said. “We’re also shining a light on the thousands of crime victims our DA team has the honor of serving every year and the importance of supporting victims’ rights.”

This year’s Citizens of Courage recipients include:

  • Eddie Michel – Eddie is a facilities supervisor at San Diego City College who came to the aid of a woman being sexually assaulted on campus. He put himself in danger to stop the attack.
  • Bruce Mezan – Bruce was riding his motorcycle when he was hit by a drunk driver and lost part of his leg. He now speaks out in the community about the dangers of driving under the influence.
  • Rosa Martinez – During a mas shooting at a fast-food restaurant, Rosa called 911, ran inside to locate her daughter and offered help to victims who had been shot.
  • Oscar Stewart – During the shooting at a local synagogue, Oscar, who was unarmed, protected hi wife, stepdaughter and other congregants in the prayer room by chasing after the shooter and scaring him away.

Watch their inspiring stories in the video.

 

DA Charges Juvenile Stabber with Hate Crime

Noting a rise in hate crime prosecutions and declaring that such crimes won’t be tolerated, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today announced her office is charging the 16-year old who stabbed another teenager in the back with one count of attempt murder, and one count of assault with a deadly weapon. Both counts carry hate crime special allegations, as well as personal use of a deadly weapon and personal infliction of great bodily injuries special allegations. Accountability in juvenile court is focused on rehabilitation and is handled differently than in adult court, and includes a range of sentencing options that the court can consider.

In court today, prosecutors put no facts on the record in court today. Juvenile proceedings are confidential, and the DA is limited on what information can be released publicly. The investigation into the incident and the potential criminal acts by other individuals involved is ongoing and additional charges could be filed in the pending criminal case. DA Victim Advocates are working to support the victim’s family and ensure their safety in the aftermath of the stabbing and initial stages of the criminal prosecution.

“Multiple aspects of this incident are appalling and as our investigation moves forward, we will be sure to hold everyone accountable for whom the evidence shows committed a crime,” said DA Stephan. “We’ve seen a disturbing increase in hate crimes, with the highest number being committed against persons who are Black. Anyone who commits these crimes will be held accountable under the law and I join the community in their outrage regarding such incidents. Our office is dedicated to not only prosecuting hate crimes and holding perpetrators accountable under the law. We also educate the public on what constitutes such a crime and how to prevent them while also delivering the message that they won’t be tolerated.”

Prosecuting hate crimes is a priority for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. The DA has nearly tripled the number of hate crime cases it has prosecuted in recent years, filing 21 cases in 2020 and 30 such cases in 2021.

In 2020, in response to reports of hate-related incidents aimed at the Asian community across the nation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the District Attorney’s Office announced a new online form and hotline where the public can report suspected hate incidents and hate crimes they’ve been a victim or witness to in San Diego County. The online reporting form can be found on the District Attorney’s website here. The Hate Crimes Hotline number is 619-515-8805. Individuals submitting information about a suspected hate crime will be contacted with information about the DA’s review of the report and any action that may be taken.

The public is reminded that hate speech in and of itself often does not rise to the level of a hate crime but is relevant as it could escalate to criminal behavior Hate crimes are often preceded by hate speech. By law, a hate crime is a criminal act committed against another person that is motivated by prejudice against that person’s race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Today, the court set a readiness hearing in the case for June 6 at 8:30 a.m. in Department 6 of the Juvenile Court.

DA Proposes Plan to Address Homelessness and Crime

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today released new data about the intersection of crime and the county’s homeless population and proposes a three-point plan to address it. Two years of District Attorney data shows that individuals who are experiencing homelessness become involved with the justice system as victims and perpetrators at dramatically higher rates than the rest of the population.