Tag Archive for: elder abuse

DA Weekly News Update with DA Summer Stephan 06-06-24

In this week’s DA News, District Attorney Summer Stephan talks about filing murder charges in a Fentanyl overdose death case and an important educational outreach campaign to protect kids in San Diego County.

Photo of gavel and scales of justice.

Woman Convicted in Elder Theft Case is Sentenced

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that a woman who illegally took possession of an 89-year-old victim’s house and refused to vacate it has been sentenced to two years formal probation and 150 hours of community service. The sentence was handed down this afternoon in San Diego Superior Court downtown.The defendant, Asfar “Benny” Shamlou was also ordered to stay away from the property and victims in this case. The victim’s family is currently in the process of regaining possession of the home.

“This defendant took advantage of an elderly woman in poor health and was brought to justice by our DA Real Estate Fraud team,” said DA Stephan. “Elder abuse comes in many forms. Our office pursues justice on behalf of seniors and works to hold defendants like this accountable for preying on some of the most vulnerable in our community.”

In this case, the victim, who suffers from dementia, had a stroke in 2018 and moved into a nursing care facility. Shamlou, 67, whose website indicates she has a background in finance and real estate investments, identified the Carmel Mountain Ranch home as being vacant and delinquent on property taxes. She illegally moved into the home in early 2021. When confronted by the victim’s family, she told them she had paid the back taxes and that she now owned the home. Shamlou threw away all of the owner’s possessions and even remodeled the home.

The defendant was charged with five felony counts including theft from an elder, burglary, grand theft of personal property, and vandalism. She was convicted of all criminal counts by a jury in December of 2023.

This case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney John Dunn who is the lead prosecutor in the DA’s Real Estate Fraud Unit. Suspected fraud or other real estate related crime can be reported to the District Attorney here.

DA Issues Warning After Elderly Woman is Scammed Out of $200,000

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced criminal charges today against a man for his role in a scam that targeted an elderly San Diego woman who was convinced to pay over $200,000 in cash to the thieves over several weeks. Zhi Gao, a 22-year- old resident of San Gabriel, CA, was arrested Thursday evening when he went to the victim’s home to pick up a cash payment from her. He has been charged with attempted grand theft, attempted receiving stolen property, and resisting an officer in the performance of their duties. Gao is believed to be part of a larger theft ring and a courier for the criminal network.

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“We are alerting our community about the most common and current scam that is stealing precious life savings from our seniors,” DA Stephan said. “This egregious case of financial elder abuse is a compelling reminder to seniors and their families to be aware of the warning signs of a scam and reach out for help. These ruthless scammers targeted a vulnerable elderly woman through a sophisticated fraud scheme. The case should also serve as a warning to scammers who are running such criminal enterprises that we’re working together in a first-of-its-kind Elder Justice Task Force and having increased success in tracking them down and putting them behind bars.”

The victim, a 65-year-old woman with significant health issues, fell victim to two of the most popular scams that law enforcement is encountering. The first, was a “tech support scam.” The victim’s computer froze and then a pop-up message from Microsoft appeared on her screen providing a phone number to call to fix her computer. The victim called the phone number and the scammer, pretending to be from Microsoft, solicited an initial $120 from the victim to fix her computer.

After believing she was dealing someone from Microsoft, the scam shifted to the “banking scam.” The scammers contacted the victim again pretending to be from Chase Bank claiming there was now fraud on her account and that all the money in her bank accounts was at risk. The scammers told her to pull money out of her existing bank accounts so that the money could be secured in a safe account while the fraud division investigated the case for her.

Over the last few weeks, the victim made several withdrawals of between $20,000 and $30,000, ultimately losing more than $200,000 of her life savings. The victim’s family was doing routine checks of her financial accounts when her children noticed the suspicious activity and reported the case to the San Diego Police Department. Police worked with the victim and her family to set up another cash pickup at which point Gao was taken into custody when he arrived at her residence to pick up the package.

The scammers are part of a transnational criminal network that use couriers to pick up money from victims of elder scams. Several times a week, couriers come into San Diego County to collect funds from elderly victims who are scammed out of their life savings. In the past several months, dozens of scammers have utilized ride share companies such as Uber and Lyft to pick up fraudulently obtained funds while other suspects such as Gao appear to be working directly for the criminal syndicates. Couriers most commonly pick up money from victims and deliver it to another person in the network, or they convert the cash to cryptocurrency and send it out of the country. In most cases, once the money is sent by the victims, it cannot be recovered.

“The increase in tech support scams targeting our most vulnerable citizens is alarming,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy. “The FBI is committed to working with our federal, state, and local partners to bring to justice anyone caught defrauding our elder population.”

The case is being investigated by the San Diego FBI Elder Justice Task Force (EJTF) which is comprised of the DA’s Office, FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Adult Protective Services, The Law Enforcement Coordination Center (LECC), and local law enforcement agencies. Working together, the task force has created systems to connect the dots of financial elder abuse crimes in San Diego and hold perpetrators accountable.

Last year, the task force identified 1,800 reported victims of financial scams, representing about $49 million in losses for San Diego County. Authorities believe the number is much higher since many victims do not report their losses. Of grave concern is that the trend of losses is increasing. In 2023 so far, reported losses have already exceeded $75 million.

The District Attorney’s Office is warning the public that if you or anyone you know is contacted by someone claiming to be from company or law enforcement agency asking you to withdraw large sums of cash, wire money, purchase gift cards or use cryptocurrency, it is a scam. Stop communicating immediately and talk to your family members before sending any money. In addition, do not ever let anyone install remote access software on your computer or devices. Scammers always tell their victims that loved ones will be in danger, money will be lost, or that someone will get in trouble if they speak up and talk to anyone about the scam.

If you or somebody you know has been the victim of any fraud or scam, please report the case to your local law enforcement agency and to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at https://www.ic3.gov/ If you are concerned and suspect anyone you know may be the victim of any type of elder abuse, you can make a referral to Adult Protective Services by calling 1-800-339-4661.

 

Prison Sentence for Defendant Who Pushed Man into Freight Train

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that defendant Ryan Rukstelis, 27, was sentenced this week to 15 years-to-life in prison for a random attack that killed an elderly man at the Old Town Transit Station. Superior Court Judge Rachel Cano handed down the sentence on Thursday.

The victim, 68-year-old Martin Andara, was on his way to work at a Ralph’s supermarket in Pacific Beach at about 6:00 a.m. on New Year’s Day in 2022. After exiting the trolley and walking toward a connecting bus at the station, Rukstelis is seen on surveillance video walking ahead of Andara then slowing and stopping to wait until he is even with the victim. Rukstelis suddenly attacked Andara for no reason, punching him and pushing him directly into a freight train that was moving past them. Andara suffered severe head trauma causing almost immediate death.

“This random, chilling attack took the life of a man who was loved by his family, friends and colleagues,” said DA Stephan. “It is a tragic case that was solved by excellent police work and brought to justice by the Elder Abuse Unit in our office.” 

Police analyzed surveillance footage at various train stations throughout the county and determined that Rukstelis was at a trolley station in Mission Valley hours before the attack earlier that morning. Surveillance footage captured him attempting to remove a broken front panel of a vending machine. Fingerprints were lifted from the inside of the vending machine panel, matching those of Rukstelis. Investigators arrested Rukstelis three days after the attack.

Rukstelis pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on June 30. Deputy District Attorney Scott Pirrello prosecuted this case.  

Prolific Thieves Sentenced

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today two thieves, known for traveling throughout San Diego County to find elderly victims to prey upon, have been sentenced to local custody and to prison after being convicted of robbery, attempted residential burglary and theft from an elderly person.

The defendants – Daniel Miclescu and Simona Paun – are a husband-and-wife team who targeted three victims last August and September, pretending to sell jewelry before forcefully stealing one victim’s Rolex watch and another victim’s purse containing $850 in cash. The third victim was able to prevent the thieves from accessing her home by quickly slamming the door once the defendants tried to force their way in. She had rebuffed the sellers the previous day in a Mira Mesa parking lot, and they followed her home, unbeknownst to her.

“These type of traveling thieves have been prolific in San Diego County, around California and across the country for the past two years and often approach victims in parking lots at local shopping centers or within residential neighborhoods, in upscale rental vehicles,” DA Stephan said. “Let this prosecution and sentencing be an example to would-be thieves that we will not tolerate these organized criminal acts.”

The defendants are part of nationwide ring involving hundreds of suspects. In a typical case, the suspects contact a victim in a parking lot of a shopping center or while they are out for a walk in their neighborhood. The conversation begins with the suspects asking for directions or telling the victim they were robbed and need assistance. Many times, the suspects say they are from Dubai and need help getting back home. Once the victims begin talking to the suspects and letting their guard down, the suspects use distraction and sleight of hand techniques to steal necklaces, watches, rings, and cash. In some cases, when the suspect is unsuccessful, force is used to steal the jewelry.

The San Diego Police Department is committed to solving these crimes and holding the perpetrators accountable. In the past nine months, detectives have arrested 13 subjects in San Diego and other counties in Southern California, and numerous more suspects are currently under investigation and arrests are pending.

“This is an excellent example of law enforcement partners working together to hold criminals accountable,” said Chief David Nisleit. “We will continue these efforts to protect our communities against these brazen crimes.”

Since the start of 2021, San Diego law enforcement have received more than 75 reports of similar thefts and attempted thefts involving dozens of suspects. Most of the crimes occur in shopping center parking lots and the series disproportionally targets the elderly and significant number of Asian victims in the Mira Mesa neighborhood and in National City.

To avoid being victimized, immediately walk away if approached by anyone offering jewelry. Remain in contact with other people or witnesses if possible and create distance between yourself and anyone offering jewelry, including their vehicles as suspects may attempt to grab jewelry and speed away. If contacted in a parking lot, ensure that you are not being followed when you drive away.

Please report aggressive parking lot jewelry sales to store employees or police.

Miclescu, who was sentenced to four years in state prison and Paun, who received one year of local jail plus probation, pleaded guilty on December 9. Deputy District Attorney Scott Pirrello handled this case.

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.