Tag Archive for: San Diego County District Attorney

New Task Force Has Early Success Focusing on Chronic Crime Among the Homeless

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, City Attorney Mara Elliott, and San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit announced successful felony prosecutions today stemming from a recently-formed task force to address the issue of chronic criminal offenders within the unhoused population in the City of San Diego. The San Diego Accountability Renewal and Community Health Task Force (SD ARCH) was formed late last year to focus on criminal offenses most negatively impacting unhoused individuals and surrounding communities. These offenses include repeated drug sales, drug use, theft and vandalism.


Four defendants have been convicted and sentenced in connection with the task force’s work. They include Frederick Johnson, 59, who was arrested for possession of methamphetamine for sale after officers found an ounce of methamphetamine plus an additional 13 vials of the drug in his van. Johnson was later re-arrested after he failed to appear in court and officers found more meth and five cell phones in a tent he was living in at Linda Vista Park.

In a second case, defendants Della Infante, 59, Angel Bernardo Reyes, 55, and Ramon Julio Byars, 44, were all convicted of sales of a controlled substance after undercover officers repeatedly bought methamphetamine from them. In the months prior to the incidents, there were more than 21 narcotics-related crime cases and over 25 arrests and citations for narcotics related incidents in the area around Sports Arena Blvd.

“It is unacceptable to allow blatant and repeated criminal activity to continue unabated without consequences,” said DA Stephan. “Offenders who commit the types of crime negatively impacting residents, business owners and other unsheltered individuals are a small but active percentage of the homeless population. Our goal is not to simply incarcerate members of that community but, instead, compel them to accept the treatment and services they need and thus, assist them in ending the cycle of crime and homelessness.”

“San Diegans have the right to expect us to use our powers as prosecutors wisely, focusing our resources of the most serious crimes, such as drug trafficking,” said City Attorney Elliott. “The progress we are announcing today reflects our commitment to that approach.”

“The San Diego Police Department is committed to addressing crime on our streets, particularly when it involves drug activity,” said Chief Nisleit. “The SD ARCH Task Force brings together a collective group to make an even greater impact. We are proud to be a part of this task force that will hold criminals accountable, provide resources to those in need and reduce crime in our communities.”

Two years of data show the overdose rate for people experiencing homelessness is 118 times higher than the general population. Being a victim of domestic violence, child abuse and human trafficking are found to high factors contributing to a person becoming homeless— especially for women and children.

“If we want our community to improve, we can’t allow open-air drug markets to rule homeless encampments,” DA Stephan said. “Unhoused people are already vulnerable and to further keep them in the clutches of addiction is cruel.”

“I want to strongly support the statement from our District Attorney that we cannot and will not allow open air drug markets on the streets of our city,” said Elliott. “Those experiencing homelessness or suffering from addiction are entitled to our compassion, but that does not give anyone a license to commit crimes in our community. We take drug offenses very seriously in San Diego because drug offenses often lead to the commission of more serious crimes.”

The SD ARCH Task Force is comprised of representatives from the District Attorney’s Office, City Attorney’s Office and San Diego Police Department and it meets at least once a month.


Political Consultant Jesus Cardenas Sentenced on Grand Theft Charges

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that defendant Jesus Cardenas, 41, has been sentenced to 45 days in work furlough, 135 days in home detention and two years formal probation for committing two felony counts of grand theft. Should he violate the terms of his probation, Cardenas could be ordered to serve up to two years and eight months in custody. Cardenas pleaded guilty to fraud related to funds obtained from the federal Paycheck Protection Program and the state Employment Development Department. Cardenas acknowledged cheating the U.S. government out of $176,000 in COVID-19 relief funds which he laundered and used to pay for personal expenses. He also unlawfully applied for over $26,000 in unemployment benefits.

As part of his probation, Superior Court Judge Rachel Cano ordered Cardenas must submit to search and seizure, must operate any business legally and comply with all rules and regulations of such business including being licensed, paying taxes, and comply with any campaign finance laws. He must also pay back the full amount of the funds he stole including $176,227 to the Small Business Administration joint and several with the co-defendant Andrea Cardenas, $26,700 to the Employment Development Department, and an amount to be determined to the Franchise Tax Board.

“Our dedicated prosecution team conducted a thorough investigation resulting in the service of 27 search warrants to examine financial and email accounts,” DA Stephan said. “They uncovered and proved that Cardenas had engaged in multiple fraud schemes over several years. In these types of cases, we often rely on the public, the media, or people who suspect wrongdoing to report potential public integrity crimes to our office so we can investigate. Members of the public, and members of local media outlets like La Prensa deserve recognition for their reporting, which helped bring this case to light.”

Cardenas began operating a political consulting firm called Grassroots Resources in 2016. In 2019, Grassroots Resources began acting as a payroll service for one of their clients, Harbor Collective, a marijuana dispensary. In early 2021, Grassroots Resources was being pressured to pay off debts including money owed to TMC Direct, a political mailing company.

In February 2021, Cardenas filed for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan from the Small Business Administration via PayPal. He misrepresented multiple items on the application, including: that Grassroots had 34 employees, when in reality these 30 of these individuals worked for Harbor Collective; that they were not engaged in activity illegal under federal law (marijuana dispensaries are not legal under federal law); that they were not a business engaged in political consulting; and that the loan funds would be used to cover payroll expenses. The loan was approved for $176,227.

On May 3, 2021, the $176,227 of PPP loan funds were deposited into a Grassroots Business account. Over the course of the next two weeks, the money was transferred between two different Grassroots accounts. From there, Cardenas used the PPP funds to pay off multiple personal expenses including $21,000 owed to American Express and he transferred $35,000 to his sister’s personal Wells Fargo account where much of it was used to pay of campaign debt she owed.

In a separate fraud scheme, in 2020, Cardenas unlawfully applied for unemployment benefits and received $26,700 from the Employment Development Department. He misrepresented on applications that he was not working and not receiving any income. However, his political consulting business was fully operational during that election year, handling the campaigns of multiple candidates and other entities.

This case was prosecuted by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office Public Integrity Unit. Team members included Deputy District Attorney Chandelle Boyce, Deputy District Attorney Hector Jimenez, Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr, District Attorney Investigator James Hawksley, District Attorney Investigator Justin Bostic, and Forensic Accountant Kevin Boyne. The investigation was also assisted by the Department of Homeland Security COVID Fraud Unit.

DA Investigators Join Shop With A Cop

This past weekend, 15 DA Investigators spent a day with 15 elementary school students at SeaWorld and went shopping at Target as part of the annual Shop with a Cop event for the holidays. Watch how the fun day unfolded in this video.

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.


Veterans Recognized at the DA’s Office

Did you know the DA’s Office employs more than 60 veterans? On this Veterans Day, we honor their service and take a look at how their military experience informs how they approach their work to protect public safety in San Diego County. Watch more in the video below.

International Fraud Awareness Week

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan is encouraging the public to report suspected fraud this week during International Fraud Awareness Week. Insurance Fraud is the second-largest economic crime in the U.S. and costs California residents about $15 billion a year. To combat this problem, the District Attorney, in conjunction with the California Department of Insurance, is shining a spotlight on this issue to minimize the impact of fraud by promoting anti-fraud awareness and education.

In 2022, the DA’s Insurance Fraud and Workplace Justice Division filed criminal charges against 202 defendants and obtained 171 convictions for various insurance fraud offenses. As a result of these convictions, nearly $30 million in restitution was ordered for victims, including individuals, insurers, and state agencies.

“Committing fraud is a serious financial crime that affects seniors, workers, employers along with business owners and corporations,” DA Stephan said. “When insurance prices spike because of unscrupulous actors and legitimate businesses can’t compete because of fraudulent businesses violating the law, or when employees are left vulnerable without the benefits they are entitled to, ultimately insurance fraud is felt by everyone.”

If you see, hear, or know of an insurance fraud scam happening in your area, please contact the DA’s Office through the Insurance Fraud hotline at (800) 315-7672 or at sdconnect@sdcda.org, or contact the California Department of Insurance at (800) 927-4357. To report fraud related to real estate, you can contact the DA’s Real Estate Fraud hotline at (619) 531-3552. To report any other type of fraud or criminal activity, please contact your local law enforcement agency.

The Insurance Fraud and Workplace Justice Division is dedicated to eradicating insurance fraud, whether it relates to workers’ compensation, automobile insurance, life insurance, or fraud in the healthcare industry. It also prosecutes other crimes uncovered during insurance fraud investigations, including wage theft, tax evasion and even labor trafficking.

The Insurance Fraud and Workplace Justice Division also does outreach campaigns throughout the year, including during the month of November to coincide with Fraud Week. The campaign consists of digital, print, radio, television, DMV offices, transit stops, bus and trolley interiors as well as billboard advertisements to raise awareness about worker’s compensation fraud and auto insurance fraud and how to report it. Attached are some examples of the print outreach campaign.

You can watch the worker’s compensation Fraud public service announcement here in English and Spanish. The auto insurance fraud PSA can be seen here. Funding for this outreach campaign comes from anti-fraud grant programs administered by the California Department of Insurance.

The DA’s Economic Crimes Division is responsible for prosecuting a wide variety of wrongdoing, including computer intrusion, identity theft, investment scams, embezzlements, real estate matters, counterfeit goods, environmental crimes and the theft of public assistance funds. The division also acts to protect consumers and businesses by successfully filing numerous civil cases to prohibit unfair business practices within the marketplace.

Examples of the types of crimes that the Insurance Fraud and Workplace Justice Division prosecutes are:

  • Workers’ Compensation Provider Fraud – When medical and legal providers, including doctors, chiropractors, and lawyers are paying or receiving kickbacks for referrals, billing for services not rendered or overbilling for services provided.
  • Workers’ Compensation Premium Fraud – When a business misrepresents its true payroll, the type of work it performs, or conceals employee injuries to pay lower workers’ compensation premiums. One of the most common premium fraud schemes occurs when employers pay employees in cash without reporting that cash payroll to the Employment Development Department and their insurer. This activity results in $7 billion in lost revenue each year and evasion of approximately $6.5 million in payroll taxes annually. Frequently, employers who commit premium fraud also engage in other crimes, including wage theft, tax evasion, and labor/human trafficking.
  • Workers’ Compensation Applicant Fraud – When employees fake or exaggerate work injuries to collect workers’ compensation benefits, or when employers make false statements to deny benefits to injured workers.
  • Uninsured Employers – Every business in California is required to have workers’ compensation insurance to cover its employees in the event of a workplace injury. These cases are especially important because if an employee is injured at work and their employer does not have workers’ compensation insurance, the employee may have no recourse to get required care and benefits.
  • Auto Insurance Fraud – Fraudulently obtaining payment on an auto insurance policy based on false information such as inflated or faked damages, staged collisions, false claims of vehicle theft and arson. This fraud costs consumers billions of dollars each year in the form of higher insurance premiums.
  • Disability and Healthcare Fraud – This involves fraudulent medical and disability claims and policies, including medical providers who fraudulently bill insurance companies or who divert medications for personal use or sale. Healthcare fraud increases medical costs for everyone.
  • Life and Annuity Fraud – Unscrupulous life insurance agents and others who seek to steal the savings of victims through power-of-attorney abuse, securities fraud, and fraudulent claims on legitimate policies. These scams often target senior citizens, and the impact is life-altering, since seniors do not have the time or opportunity for financial recovery.
  • Workplace Justice Violations – We have developed an innovative approach to the prosecution of wage theft, wage and hour violations, meal and rest break abuses, unfair business practices, tax evasion, and labor trafficking.

In 2022, the Economic Crimes Division filed criminal charges against 177 defendants and obtained 228 convictions. Additionally, from those convictions, defendants were ordered to pay over $4.4 million in restitution.

This division also pursued civil enforcement actions against various businesses for unfair competition or environmental violations. In 2022, the Consumer Protection and Environmental Protection Units completed over a dozen major civil enforcement actions resulting in injunctions to stop the unlawful business practices and statewide monetary relief that included millions of dollars in civil penalties, costs and restitution.

Some examples of the types of cases that the Economic Crimes Division prosecutes are as follows:

  • Real Estate Fraud – This type of crime involves various fraudulent real estate transactions and/or schemes such as the submission of forged loan applications; fraudulent transfers of title of real property; recordation of fraudulent real estate documents; home equity sale contract fraud; and mortgage foreclosure consultant fraud.
  • Computer and Technology Crimes High Tech Task Force (CATCH) – This Unit prosecutes high-technology criminals engaged in crimes where technology is the prime instrumentality of the crime, or where technology is the target of the crime, such as; theft facilitated by technology, theft of technology resources, network intrusions, online harassment and stalking, as well as providing technical and investigative assistance to local law enforcement agencies with respect to digital forensics.
  • Identity Theft – These crimes usually involve criminals acquiring key pieces of someone’s identifying information to impersonate them and commit numerous forms of fraud which include taking over the victim’s financial accounts, opening new bank accounts, purchasing automobiles, applying for loans, credit cards, and social security benefits, renting apartments, and establishing services with utility and phone companies.
  • Complex Theft – These crimes commonly involve embezzlement or investment scams. Embezzlement is the fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been entrusted. Instead of using the company’s payroll system or checking or credit card account for legitimate company business, the individual uses these accounts to steal by directing the money to his or her own accounts or to pay for personal expenses. Grand theft schemes take many forms but include scams where the perpetrator misleads individuals about an investment opportunity and instead the uses the money to support the perpetrator’s lifestyle.
  • Consumer Protection – These cases generally involve a business or an individual taking advantage of consumers. These cases can range from a business failing to warn a consumer that their credit card will be billed on an ongoing basis to a business using scanners that charge an amount over the advertised price to building contractors operating without a license. These cases also include other unfair business practices such as misleading product labeling or false advertising.
  • Environmental Protection – These cases generally involve businesses that violate rules relating to the environment such as hazardous waste disposal, underground storage tank regulations and clean air act statutes.

“If you know of fraud being committed, report it because it’s important to hold accountable those who would break the law,” DA Stephan said.

For information and resources about International Fraud Awareness Week, visit www.FraudWeek.com.

DA Meets with Businesses in the County Aiming to Reduce Organized Retail Theft

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today pledged a renewed focus on fighting organized retail theft in San Diego County and holding thieves accountable. The DA met with ULTA Beauty loss prevention management and toured their San Marcos location which was hit last year by a team of thieves running an organized retail theft ring across Southern California. The San Marcos store was one of 21 ULTA Beauty stores targeted by one of the defendants who stole $127,000 worth of fragrances in just one month.

During their last incident in 2022, the group encountered San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputies who were waiting in the ULTA Beauty parking lot and took up pursuit.  A bicyclist was hit by the defendants’ car as they tried to avoid arrest. Eight bags of fragrances were found in the car with defendants. The defendants ultimately received sentences up to four years in state prison.

“We’re holding organized retail theft crime rings accountable for the harm to retailers, their employees and customers who are often traumatized by these crimes,” said DA Stephan. “Meeting with managers at stores in the county strengthens relationships and lines of communication that can help us build strong criminal cases to reduce this type of theft. We are committed to stop organized criminal rings from stealing large amounts of goods from small and large businesses with the intent to resell them, particularly through unregulated online marketplaces.”

The DA’s visit to the store is one of several being made at retail businesses in the county.  The National District Attorney Association and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) announced National Store Walk Month recently with the goal of local prosecutors and retailers coming together to strengthen relationships and open direct lines of communication. DA Stephan or Deputy District Attorneys from her office are also participating in store walks at Home Depot, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target, Walmart, and Lowes stores.

In addition, DA Stephan toured Sunny Perfumes last week in San Ysidro, a small business that has also been targeted by retail thieves. The owner, Sunil Gakhreja, says he’s spent thousands of dollars repairing smashed windows and adding metal shutters for security and has had to move his more expensive items to the back of the store, making it more difficult for thieves to steal them. He also says that in addition to the loss of inventory to theft, criminals have threatened and even attacked his employees.

The DA also announced the assignment of specific prosecutors who will handle all organized retail theft cases that are submitted to the DA’s Office in various jurisdictions. They will be focusing on stopping the organized theft crews and identifying the habitual offenders to try to assist large and small businesses who are struggling with the explosion of retail theft. The prosecutors will coordinate with stores to focus on the most serious offenders.

In a one-year period, the DA filed criminal cases involving organized retail theft against 77 defendants. In February of this year, two men were sentenced for a series of brazen organized retail theft crimes where multiple Sunglass Hut store locations were targeted, resulting in a reported loss of $238,847. Hundreds of pairs of sunglasses were stolen from nine Sunglass Hut store locations, some of which were targeted more than once.  The defendants also targeted other high-end stores, stealing more than $4,000 in shoes from Nordstrom Rack, more than $7,000 in merchandise from Bloomingdales, and over $6,000 in jackets from Burberry. The defendants were both sentenced to 44 months in state prison.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that external theft, which includes organized retail crime, is the primary driver of retail “shrink.” NRF’s National Retail Security Survey released earlier this year revealed that organized retail theft reached $94.5 billion in 2021, with retailers reporting an increase in violence and aggression associated with these crimes. The National Chamber of Commerce says 25 percent of small businesses report raising prices because of shoplifting and some retailers have been forced to shutter locations in response to rampant theft.

DA Marks the Start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month

An average of 13 people are killed every year by an intimate partner in San Diego County. Today, the District Attorney’s Office joined the San Diego Domestic Violence Council, county officials and other social service agencies to launch the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month at a ceremony in Balboa Park. The event is meant to empower survivors, award those who work with victims and remember those whose lives were taken in domestic violence incidents during the previous year. This year, the event theme was “Let Today Be the Day You Move Forward!”

In 2022, 10 people were killed by a current or former intimate partner and there were four additional homicide victims, such as a family member, new boyfriend, or bystander, who died during domestic violence related incidents. In addition, five offenders committed suicide. See a list of domestic violence homicide victims not to be forgotten, here.

“In San Diego County, we are fighting every day to save lives from the destructive cycles of domestic violence,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “I want to thank the San Diego Domestic Violence Council and Claudia Grasso for the partnership in protecting families from violence. Domestic violence not only harms the direct victim but also has a devastating ripple effect on children, families, and communities. This is why at the DA’s Office we work every day to prosecute the offenders and provide resources to victims so they can safely leave their abusers and move on with their lives. Domestic Violence Awareness Month is one more chance to empower women, children, and survivors to know that there are resources to help them get out of a dangerous relationship.”

Each year there are more than 17,000 domestic violence incidents reported to law enforcement across San Diego County. Last year, the figure was 17,472 and the District Attorney’s Office filed charges in 2,393 domestic violence cases.

During the Balboa Park event, which included a resource fair and a candlelight vigil ceremony honoring homicide victims, Ivette Kuyateh, who lost her mother to domestic violence when she was a child shared her personal story.

“Events like these give us a platform to expose the darkness in our society and say the words that victims often can’t,” Kuyateh said. “Yet every advocate knows our work continues past the month of October. It is year-round. As long as people still ask, ‘why doesn’t she leave?’ we have work to do to educate others on the complexities behind the answer to this question.”

Also at the event, Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez, who is a marriage and family therapist, was named the new President for the San Diego Domestic Violence Council. The domestic violence council is a collaboration of organizations and community members who seek to reduce and prevent domestic violence. Partner agencies include the District Attorney’s Office, San Diego County Health and Human Services, the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department, and other law enforcement and social services agencies.

Over the last year, the DA’s Office coordinated trainings for hundreds of professionals across the county on domestic violence, firearm safety, stalking, and how to be more inclusive when working with victims.

“We are so proud of how the San Diego Domestic Violence Council has brought county organizations together to help connect victims with resources and support service providers with tools to consistently restore hope to those who have lost it,” said Claudia Grasso, the outgoing President of the SDDVC and Executive Director of One Safe Place: The North County Family Justice Center. “I am grateful to District Attorney Summer Stephan, who for my entire four-year term as SDDVC President, was a constant source of encouragement and support.”

If you or someone you know is being abused by a current or former partner, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) for confidential support and assistance planning for safety. More information and resources can be found on the DA’s website here. See the calendar and flyers of additional domestic violence awareness events that will take place throughout the month of October, here.

Ringleader in Prolific Residential Burglary Series Sentenced to Prison

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that the ringleader in a multi-county residential burglary series involving nine defendants, who stole more than $1 million in cash and jewelry, was sentenced for his role in the elaborate crime.

George Boozer, 48, was sentenced to 56 years in state prison today after pleading guilty in June to 72 criminal counts, including residential burglary and conspiracy to commit a crime. Boozer led the group of eight other defendants to burglarize 43 homes over 18 months, effectively terrorizing communities in their self-titled “minivan crew” operation.

“These criminals not only stole cash and valuables from the victims, but they also stole their peace of mind, their safety and their security,” DA Stephan said. “I’m proud of the police investigation and of our prosecution team for their outstanding work in obtaining justice.”

Co-defendant Devon Taylor, 43, will be sentenced on October 10. He pleaded guilty in July to 82 criminal counts, including residential burglary, conspiracy to commit a crime and delaying/resisting arrest. Taylor was an active participant, entering the victims’ homes, pepper spraying victim’s pet dogs and stealing property. Taylor and Boozer worked together to commit a longstanding series of serious crimes.

Co-defendant Lauren Patrick, 36, pleaded guilty to 18 counts of residential burglary and 18 counts of conspiracy to commit burglary on August 11, and will also be sentenced on October 10. She was an active crew member, who researched and cased affluent neighborhoods to target. Co-Defendant Reshaun Rollins, 20, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of residential burglary and 10 counts of conspiracy to commit burglary. He was an active participant and will be sentenced November 9. The remaining defendants are scheduled for preliminary hearing or trial in the coming months.

A task force was established to investigate this multi jurisdiction crew, who committed residential burglaries in other counties across the state of California. The crew utilized sophisticated measures to conceal their appearance and vehicles used to commit the offenses.

This case is being prosecuted by Deputy DAs Lucy Yturralde and Malak Behrouznami.

Homeless Court: A Model for the Nation

Since the start of the first Homeless Court in San Diego in 1988, the program has been a model for the nation and out-of-state visitors come to observe on a regular basis. See why, in the VIDEO below.

More details, HERE.