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DA to Appeal Parole Grant of Convicted Murderer and Former Pro Skateboarder

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that at a hearing on Tuesday, despite strong opposition by her office, the State Board of Parole Hearings granted parole to Mark “Gator” Rogowski, 55, who was convicted of rape and murder in 1992. Rogowski has been serving a sentence of 31 years-to-life for the murder of Jessica Bergsten. The victim’s family members are devastated by the decision and DA Stephan said her office will appeal to the Governor to reverse Rogowski’s release.

Rogowski was a nationally known skateboard personality from Carlsbad who rose to prominence in the 1980s. On March 21, 1991, he raped and murdered 22-year-old Jessica Bergsten and transported her body to a remote desert area, where her skeletal remains were found several weeks later.

“The family and friends of Jessica Bergsten deserve the continued promise of justice in this case,” DA Summer Stephan said. “Our office argued strongly against releasing this violent defendant. We handle hundreds of parole hearings each year, fighting when it’s appropriate to make sure dangerous criminals are not released and crime victims are given a voice.”

At the time of the murder, Rogowski’s girlfriend had broken up with him. In addition, skateboarding was changing from ramps to the street. Rogowski did not think he could do well on street skating and saw his lucrative career coming to an end. Rogowski was upset that his relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Brandi McClain, was also coming to an end. Bergsten was Brandi’s best friend. Rogowski hit Bergsten on the head with The Club (a steering wheel locking device), raped her and suffocated her in a surfboard bag. He confessed to the crime several weeks later.

The District Attorney’s Office argued at the hearing that Rogowski remains an unreasonable risk of danger to society. Two of the victim’s family members attended the hearing and provided victim impact statement regarding the effects of the crime upon their family and the unsuitability of the inmate for parole.

In December 2019, a panel of parole hearing officers found that Rogowski was suitable for release, but Governor Newsom reversed the decision in April 2020. The grant of parole came on the third try for Rogowski. He is currently incarcerated at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego.

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.

$18.8 Million More in Fines Paid to County in School Corruption Case

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced that an additional $18.75 million has been paid to the county as part of a Superior Court judgement for restitution and fines in connection with the A3 Charter School corruption scandal in which multiple defendants stole tens of millions of public-school funds in a massive fraud scheme. In all, 10 co-defendants in the case have pleaded guilty.

Sean McManus, 49, who was convicted of stealing more than $50 million in public funds, was ordered on May 16 to pay $18.75 million in fines by San Diego Superior Court Judge Fredrick Link. The figure is McManus’ portion of the previous $37 million ordered to be jointly paid by McManus and co-defendant Jason Schrock. McManus was also sentenced to four years in prison.

The transfer of funds to San Diego County, completes the $37.5 million in total fines. Additionally, $14 million in restitution has been paid to victims in kindergarten through 12th grade, which is being held in trust and administered by the San Diego Foundation. So far, $95 million has been recovered and distributed to the California State Treasury, with up to $90 million more to be distributed at the conclusion of the receivership.

Under a resolution passed unanimously by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors earlier this year, the fines imposed by the court related to this case will be earmarked and exclusively dedicated to programs that directly serve the needs of kindergarten through 12th grade students in San Diego County. The District Attorney’s Office is recommending the funds be allocated in the areas supporting educational equity and acceleration of learning, behavioral health needs, housing and food stability needs, mentorship, and other needs that allow children to thrive, all of which is consistent with Judge Fred Link’s order to the receiver.

“Due to the expertise and dedication of our public corruption team, led by Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr, this massive fraud case that bilked millions in public funds on the backs of students and parents was stopped and the perpetrators held accountable,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “I am grateful to our team for successfully prosecuting this case and recovering millions of stolen funds that will go back to supporting students. Judge Fred Link, who oversaw this entire case, made sure that the children of San Diego County would see justice by returning the stolen funds to programs that will help students succeed.”

McManus, the CEO and president of A3 Education, along with Jason Schrock and nine other defendants were indicted in May of 2019 on a several criminal counts including conspiracy, misappropriation of public funds, and conflict of interest.

Steven Van Zant, the former Mountain Empire Superintendent and owner of Ed Hive and Ed Collective, the back-office provider for A3 during much of its existence also pleaded guilty on May 16 to felony conspiracy to commit grand theft. He was sentenced to six months of home confinement and ordered to pay $500,000 in restitution and fines within 30 days. If he does not pay, he faces four years in prison. He is also ordered to complete three years of probation, which includes cooperating with the DA’s Office and the Receiver in recovering additional stolen funds held by third parties.

The case is one of the nation’s largest fraud schemes targeting taxpayer dollars intended for primary education. Schrock pleaded guilty to felony charges including conspiracy and conflict of interest. He has been on house arrest in his home in Orange County since he was arraigned. As part of the DA’s investigation, more than $240 million in assets and fraudulently acquired taxpayer funds is being recovered, representing one of the nation’s largest recoveries.

Prosecutors said a case of this magnitude, with foreign parties and compounded with the set back of the pandemic, could take a decade to see through trial and appeals, during which time hundreds of millions of dollars would have been unavailable to children for educational purposes. By coming to an early resolution and recovering all the funds, the DA’s office was able guarantee accountability under the law that puts money back into the system to help educate youth as intended.

The County is using these funds to provide an opportunity for smaller community-based organizations to begin promising new programs or to expand existing programs to improve educational outcomes and reduce inequities and disparities in our communities.

Proposals for the K-12 Youth Services Community Grant must focus on one or more of the following focus areas:

  • Educational Equity/Acceleration of Learning
  • Behavioral Health Needs
  • Housing, Food Stability, Poverty
  • Mentorship

Organizations interested in applying for a K-12 Youth Services Community Grant must apply by 5 p.m., Friday, June 3. Grants are expected to range from $50,000 to $250,000 to be utilized for up to a 12-month period.

For more information or to apply, visit sandiegocounty.gov.