Tag Archive for: District Attorney

25-year-old Man Charged in Downtown Crime Spree

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that Christopher Torres, 25, has been charged with three counts of attempted murder, four counts of assault with a deadly weapon, one count of robbery, two counts of attempted robbery, one count of making a criminal threat, and one count of battery in connection with an early morning rash of attacks in downtown San Diego on Monday.

“This terrible violent attack on innocent people is another example of unacceptable criminal conduct that is making people who live and work in downtown San Diego experience fear for their safety,” DA Stephan said. “Unfortunately, many of these cases intersect with persons experiencing homelessness as perpetrators or victims of these violent attacks. We will not tolerate this conduct and we will enforce the rule of law against anyone who harms our community.”

Torres was arraigned in San Diego Superior Court and pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he faces 21 years to life in prison plus an additional 26 years. A preliminary hearing in this case has been set for February 7.

“I’m proud of the swift and complete investigation by San Diego Police Department and the work by the DA team, that will ensure justice is obtained in this case,” DA Stephan said. “Public safety is the guiding light of the District Attorney’s Office, and our priority is making sure San Diego continues to be one of the safest urban counties in America.”

Deputy District Attorney Shane Waller is handling this case.

 

Man who Brutally Murdered Wife and Sister-In-Law Sentenced

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that defendant Juan Carlos Ortega, 38, who was convicted by a jury on December 21 of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of child endangerment likely to produce great bodily injury and one count of arson, has been sentenced to two life terms without the possibility of parole plus 26 years to life in prison.

In 2018, Ortega fatally stabbed his wife Veronica Soto Ortega, 30, and her sister Ana Gabriela Soto, 26, as the couple’s children slept nearby.

“The brutality with which this defendant killed the two victims is horrendous and is sadly a disturbing example of what can happen when domestic violence escalates,” DA Stephan said. “A specialized DA prosecution team worked tirelessly to bring this case to justice, and we are grateful for the jury verdict and sentence in this case. Every year there are more than 17,000 reported incidents of domestic violence with an average of 13 women killed per year by their intimate partner. We will keep fighting to reduce the gut wrenching damage of domestic violence in our community.”

On August 9, 2018, Ortega watched his estranged wife’s apartment in Escondido and waited to enter until just after 3 a.m. Once inside the home, he attacked his wife, stabbing her in the neck twice, then slashed his sister-in-law’s throat, stabbed her in the chest and shot her. He then continued stabbing his wife until she died. After killing his wife, he locked his two children, ages 4 and 5, in a nearby bedroom and covered his wife with a blanket. He stuffed his sister-in-law’s body into the back of his wife’s SUV and drove off, tossing out Soto’s cellphone along the way.

At Country Club Drive and Kauana Loa Drive, just east of Escondido, Ortega poured lighter fluid over Soto’s body, set it on fire, then walked back to his vehicle, which he left at a Park & Ride in San Marcos.

Deputy District Attorneys Patricia Lavermicocca and An Dang prosecuted this case.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, take the first step today to protect yourself and your family and call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233(SAFE) for help and referrals to local resources. Call 9-1-1 if in immediate danger.

DA Reaches Out to Immigrant and Refugee Communities

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that her office is conducting new outreach to immigrant and refugee populations in the county with the goal of allaying fears about reporting a crime and encouraging cooperation with law enforcement if someone is a victim or witness to a crime. According to the County’s Health and Human Services Administration, approximately 21.5% of the county’s population are immigrants, including refugees.

“My office is committed to keeping every child, adult and senior safe from crime in San Diego County and that includes our large immigrant and refugee communities. It is understandable that if you are a refugee from another country, a documented or an undocumented immigrant, there may be uncertainty about reporting a crime to law enforcement,” said DA Stephan. “We want to ease the fears that people in these communities have and encourage them to contact local law enforcement and cooperate with the DA’s Office if they, a family member, or friend become the victim of a crime. We will not ask their immigration status, which is the law in California, and we have services that can help them.”

So far, the DA’s Office has printed cards in English, Spanish, Farsi and Ukrainian, which encourage refugees and immigrants, whether undocumented or documented, who are victims or witnesses of a crime to report the incident to law enforcement. Police departments, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office are only concerned about the details of the crime, not an individual’s immigration status.

The San Diego District Attorney’s Office does not, in accordance with California law, report immigration status and does not tolerate any actions intended to interfere with or retaliate against potential crime witnesses.

San Diego County Supervisor Nora Vargas, who represents District 1, said the outreach is needed as the county’s immigrant population is significant and constantly evolving.

“Regardless of their immigration status, all residents in our county should feel safe about accessing the justice system if they are a victim, witness, or otherwise harmed by a crime — it is their right,” said Vice Chair Nora Vargas, San Diego County Board of Supervisors. “I’m proud to work in collaboration with the District Attorney’s Office and our Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs on this effort to widely distribute information cards to remind refugees and immigrants that they will not be asked about their immigration status when reaching out for assistance to law enforcement.”

Local data provided to the County Refugee Coordinator by local resettlement agency partners shows there were 3,715 refugee arrivals in San Diego County during fiscal year 2021/2022 from 29 countries. The DA is working in conjunction with the San Diego County Office of Refugee and Immigrant Affairs, which is distributing the printed cards to non-profit organizations and other groups that provide aid and resources for immigrants.

“It is essential for immigrant and refugee populations to feel safe and supported in their community,” said Lucero Chavez Basilio, Director of the County Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, Department of Homeless Solutions & Equitable Communities. “We will distribute these cards in the community to help ensure all county residents know their rights and understand they have access to resources that can help protect them and their families, without fear of repercussions or unintended consequences and regardless of immigration status. Reiterating this message is an important step in creating a just, sustainable and resilient future for everyone.”

The DA has also produced videos in English and Spanish which feature DA Stephan and Cardinal Robert McElroy. The videos are being posted on social media and shared by Catholic Charities, through its extensive network, to connect with these vulnerable populations and assure them that their status should not stop them from reporting a crime or seeking victim services. Catholic Charities has programming that works to facilitate an effective and memorable transition experience for refugees through an integrated provision of services: resettlement, employment, acculturation, case management, and health.

“The safety and security of the immigrant and refugee communities is close to the heart of God, and we are blessed that here in San Diego County, a person reporting a crime against themselves or their family or friends will find justice and protection without in any way endangering their immigration status or right to continue to live in this community,” said Cardinal McElroy.

Anyone who has been a victim of a crime and needs assistance can call 619-531-4041. A District Attorney Victim Advocate will speak with you ad determine how we can assist you. Program services are provided free of charge, and there is no legal citizenship requirement to receive assistance. More about the DA’s Victim Services Division can be found here.

NakedWines.com Settles Consumer Protection Lawsuit

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that Nakedwines.com, Inc. settled a consumer protection lawsuit alleging that Naked Wines violated provisions of California’s Automatic Renewal Laws. As part of the settlement, Naked Wines entered into an injunction prohibiting future violations of renewal laws and, without admitting liability, agreed to pay $650,000 in civil penalties and costs.

The lawsuit was filed in San Diego Superior Court by the District Attorneys for San Diego, Alameda, Napa, Shasta, and Sonoma counties. The prosecution team alleged that Naked Wine’s “Wine Angel” program failed to adequately inform consumers that they were enrolling in a subscription that would charge $40 a month that members could use to purchase select wines. The prosecution team also alleged that the company’s “Wine Genie” product – an automatically-renewing monthly subscription for pre-selected wine shipments – similarly failed to comply with automatic renewal laws. In addition, the complaint alleges that both programs’ post-payment acknowledgments did not have all the requisite disclosures mandated under the law, and that their cancelation processes failed to supply an easy-to-use mechanism to stop recurring charges.

“California’s strict automatic renewal laws are designed to ensure that consumers are not misled when signing-up for subscription-based services or product deliveries,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “This is another example of our consumer protection team working successfully with their counterparts across the state to achieve compliance with these important laws.”

The settlement is the latest in which the San Diego County District Attorney has participated as part of its ongoing effort to ensure that businesses offering automatically renewing subscriptions or shipments of product comply strictly with the state’s automatic renewal laws.  Further, since July, amendments to the law require that merchants offering automatically renewing subscriptions or shipments of product online must now make certain that:

  • Consumers can cancel online.
  • Consumers who wish to cancel online have access to a prominently displayed direct link in the customer account or a pre-formatted email that the consumer can use to cancel.
  • The consumer can cancel immediately.
  • Companies can no longer require consumers to engage further steps, such as answering questions or completing surveys as a condition of cancelation, or otherwise make it difficult to complete the cancelation process.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor entered a final court judgment on the parties’ stipulated settlement on October 6, 2022.

Naked Wines cooperated with the prosecution team and has taken 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 Unit handled this case for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.

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.