Tag Archive for: San Diego County District Attorney

DA Files Criminal Charge in 101 Ash St. Case

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that former City of San Diego volunteer real estate advisor, Jason Hughes, 55, has been criminally charged with conflict of interest for his role in receiving millions of dollars in connection with two lease-to-own deals commonly known as Civic Center Plaza and 101 Ash Street. During a hearing on Thursday, Hughes pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of conflict-of-interest law, Government Code section 1090, and agree to pay $9.4 million in restitution to the City of San Diego, the amount he was secretly paid for the two transactions.


The plea agreement comes after Superior Court Judge, Kenneth So, who was presiding over the criminal investigation aspects of this case, in the last few days made the decision to move the case forward through mediation with all parties, including the City Attorney’s Office, aimed at a global resolution that would serve the interests of justice. Judge So’s expertise and knowledge of the case, stemming back to his authorization of the DA’s search warrants in October of 2021, allowed the case to move rapidly towards this decisive conclusion. Today’s San Diego City Council action clears the way for the criminal case to proceed under the judge’s direction, civil suits to be vacated and full criminal restitution to be paid.

“In many cases, conflict of interest cases result in only civil or administrative remedies,” DA Stephan said. “But in this egregious case, it was important to attain a measure of criminal liability and make certain that restitution be required via a criminal case and not left to chance in civil court. The message we are sending is clear: whether you are in an elected position, a public employee, a contractor, or an appointed volunteer, if you personally profit from contracts related to a government position, you will be held accountable for violating this public integrity law.”

The plea concludes an extensive criminal investigation by the District Attorney’s Office which included 1.6 terabytes of information and millions of pages of evidence. The intense scrutiny this case received will hopefully strengthen systems of checks and balances within the City of San Diego and other government entities and reinforce the importance of strict adherence to conflict-of-interest laws. The extensive work done by City Attorney Mara Elliott’s office in the civil litigation involving the same primary violation of conflict-of-interest laws as the criminal case— especially the content of the thorough depositions— provided significant support for the DA’s criminal investigation and prosecution.

“I want to thank the District Attorney team, led by our lead public integrity prosecutor, Leon Schorr, who invested so much time and expertise in this complicated case,” DA Stephan said. “In addition, members of local media outlets deserve recognition for their reporting, which helped reveal aspects of the case that otherwise might have gone unnoticed.”

In addition to Deputy District Attorney Schorr, the District Attorney team includes, Deputy District Attorneys Hector Jimenez, Martin Doyle, Fredrick Washington, and the many District Attorney Investigators who served search warrants and participated in the investigation. The DA team acknowledges the Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory whose extensive work on this complex investigation was critical, and the multitude of witnesses who sat for interviews, provided documentation and explained their involvement.


Doctor who Sexually Assaulted Patients Sentenced to Prison

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced that defendant Leng Ky, 43, a doctor who sexually assaulted four patients while they were under anesthesia, was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Ky pleaded guilty to three counts of sexually assaulting an unconscious victim and one count of sexually battery by restraint on January 26, the day his trial was set to begin.

“This Defendant used his position of trust as a doctor to sedate and sexually assault his victims, betraying his medical oath and traumatizing his patients,” DA Stephan said. “Thanks to the thorough investigation by law enforcement and the work of our prosecution team, this predator disguised in a white coat was brought to justice and will serve a lengthy prison sentence.”

The defendant in this case, an anesthesiologist with ties to numerous local medical care facilities was also operating a pain management clinic in Escondido in 2020. The four victims, women ranging from 19 to 32 years old, sought treatment from the defendant from 2015 through 2020 for a variety of serious medical conditions. In each case, the defendant would suggest treatments that required the victims to be placed under heavy anesthesia. He would then administer drugs such as Ketamine and Propofol, making the victims unconscious.

The victims would sometimes wake up during the treatments to find the defendant sexually assaulting them. The defendant would continue to administer drugs putting them under again. When the victims would raise concerns about their memories, the defendant assured them it was just a result of hallucinations from the drugs. One victim remembers the defendant whispering in her ear “I know you like this” while sexually assaulting her. Due to the effects of the drugs, the victims were unable to move or even talk when they would wake up and find the defendant violating them. The victims’ mothers and husbands would be sitting in the waiting room while the defendant sexually assaulted their loved ones in his treatment room.

The defendant was arrested by the Escondido Police Department and United States Marshals in March 2020, bringing an end to his medical practice and his ability to victimize others.

Deputy District Attorney Ben Barlow prosecuted this case.

DA Joins School Threat Assessment Conference

The FBI and the DA’s Office recently held a school threat assessment conference to improve on the current regional School Safety Protocol. See what was discussed, in this video.

DA Developing New Homeless Shelter Bed App

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that her office is addressing the intersection of homelessness and crime by leading the effort to develop technology that can quickly locate suitable shelter beds for individuals experiencing homelessness, improving on the process that’s currently in place.

The proposed technology would mobilize a more efficient county response, providing access to comprehensive and centralized information about the capacity, quantity, and availability of shelter beds and services across the county. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted today to clear the way for the DA’s Office to work with Tech Soup and its subsidiary, Caravan Studios, to move forward with the technology development phase of the application that would implement the community design vision already developed.

“We believe this investment in technology to support communication and coordination of homeless services will be the first-of-its kind in the nation, and will be grounded in transparency, equity and data,” said DA Stephan. “Previously it could take up to 10 days to connect someone with a homeless shelter bed and by the time service providers reach back out to someone on the street, they’re often gone. With this app that connection can happen in minutes.”

The DA’s Office currently supports a similar effort to address the needs of victims of crime needing shelter through the Safe Shelter Collaborative. Sheltering agencies that provide resources to survivors of human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault can use an app to find shelter beds quickly for those attempting to escape violence.

Leveraging the positive outcomes of the Safe Shelter Collaborative and expanding this model to include all homeless populations will allow the county to maintain real time and accurate data regarding shelter use and availability and help to inform policy decisions regarding future needs and investments to better address homelessness. The app will also allow service providers, healthcare providers such as emergency room personnel, outreach teams and law enforcement to filter requests for shelter beds, allowing a better shelter match for someone who may have a pet, a child, is LGBTQ+, is elderly, or has physical disabilities, for example.

“Homelessness is a regional issue requiring innovative and collaborative solutions. Thank you to District Attorney Summer Stephan for bringing forward this proposal, which would result in another tool in our arsenal, connecting people with the resources they need and providing informative data to help us assess the root cause of housing insecurity,” said San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. “The County must continue to search for and create long-term solutions to prevent, and ultimately, help San Diegans end their homelessness.”

“Our county has taken a bold approach to address the homelessness crisis currently impacting our communities by implementing innovative and creative ways of providing shelter and support,” said Nora Vargas, Chairwoman, San Diego County Board of Supervisors. “Today, with equity and confidentiality as our top priorities, we are adding one more means of ensuring we connect residents experiencing homelessness to shelter and a bed faster than ever before.”

In November 2022, the DA brought together dozens of stakeholders from the homeless outreach and support space to solicit input on opportunities for technology to address issues and problems associated with access to shelter for people experiencing homelessness in San Diego County. The resulting recommendations produced a community design that will serve as the basis for development of the shelter bed finder app.

“I appreciate the community coming together and rolling up their sleeves. Ultimately, this is being designed and informed by the people who are working on the front lines of homeless outreach and support, leveraging their experience,” DA Stephan said. “At the moment, some agencies are literally coordinating the search for a shelter bed using sticky notes. It’s our hope that participation in the app will be robust, making it a game changer in our community.”

Development of the app is anticipated to take about six months, with expanded participation among various stakeholders occurring within a year.

The DA’s Office recently released new data about the intersection of crime and the county’s population of persons experiencing homelessness. Multiple sources of credible data indicate that this vulnerable population is growing faster than the availability of housing and services. Two years of District Attorney data shows individuals who are experiencing homelessness become involved with the justice system as victims and offenders at higher rates than the rest of the population. The overdose rate for people experiencing homelessness is 118 times higher than the general population. We also know that being a victim of domestic violence, child abuse and human trafficking drives homelessness especially for women and children on our streets.

“Homelessness is a humanitarian and public safety crisis that many in our community are working on at every level. Addressing this crisis clearly requires multiple solutions and we believe this new app will be a game changer and support other ongoing positive efforts,” DA Stephan added. “We appreciate the support for this initiative from the Board of Supervisors, in particular Chair Nora Vargas and Past Chair Nathan Fletcher.”

In March 2022, the DA proposed a 3-prong approach to address the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness who intersect with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. This was a follow up to the DA’s 2019 Blueprint for Mental Health Reform: Addressing the Intersection of Mental Health, Homelessness and Criminal Justice in San Diego County. Development of this new app is the first ‘prong’ in the DA’s proposal.

Solana Beach Woman Sentenced for Killing Stepfather

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that defendant Jade Janks, 39, who was convicted by a jury on December 21 of first-degree murder, has been sentenced to 25 years-to-life in prison.

Hours after she picked up the victim from a medical care facility, Janks drugged and strangled Tom Merriman, 64, to death on New Year’s Eve 2020 because she found nude photos of herself on his computer. Merriman was the co-founder of the education and research nonprofit Butterfly Farms, which had a half-acre vivarium in Encinitas.

“This was a complex case that our prosecution team along with law enforcement worked tirelessly on to prove the premeditated nature of this killing,” DA Stephan said. “Although today’s sentence will not bring back Mr. Merriman, it is a measure of justice for his family after a long ordeal.”

While Merriman was recovering on December 23, 2020 at a medical care facility in Encinitas, Janks went his home to tidy up when she accidentally bumped his computer mouse and discovered hundreds of nude photos of herself on his computer. She reached out to a friend who said he could help “fix” her problem. On December 31, Janks picked up her stepfather after he was discharged and gave him several pain pills and sleeping pills.

She texted her friend, the fixer, that she “just dosed the hell out of him” and was bringing Merriman home. But the fixer never showed up, causing Janks to panic and send a flurry of text messages, including:

  • “He’s waking up. I really don’t want to be the one to do this.”
  • “He is waking up and I really need help.”
  • “I am about to club him on the head as he is waking up.”
  • “It’s going to be Weekend at Bernie’s.”

Later that evening, a friend of Janks’ arrived, and Janks confessed that she drugged, suffocated, and strangled Merriman and needed help putting his body in his bed to make it look like an overdose. The friend said he couldn’t help, left and called police reporting what Janks said and letting them know they should look for Merriman.

The San Diego Sheriff’s Department contacted Janks and looked for Merriman but couldn’t find him anywhere in his home or her residence. As they were finishing their search of the premises, detectives looked under a pile of trash in Merriman’s driveway and found his body buried underneath it. The San Diego Sheriff’s Department conducted an extensive investigation—interviewing dozens of witnesses, examining terabytes of data, and testing numerous pieces of evidence for DNA—that ultimately solved the case and led to a first-degree murder conviction.

Deputy District Attorneys Jorge Del Portillo and Teresa Pham prosecuted this case.

Meet Our Community Justice Champions

As we close out Black History Month, we want to take a moment and recognize the recipients of our DA Community Justice Champion Awards, for their extraordinary service and dedication to promoting just and safe communities:

Roosevelt Williams III, CEO of Young Black & In Business, is a DA Community Justice Champion for making significant, innovative, and impactful change on his community and the lives of minority owned businesses and entrepreneurs. He has been a good public safety partner in building bridges of trust with the community and using economic development tools to uplift and empower his community to create an environment for safer communities and prosperous quality of life for all.

Carla Crudup, Treasurer and Program Lead of Broadway Heights Community Council, is a DA Community Justice Champion for stepping up for her community and keeping the organization running in the wake of great loss, when the beloved founders of BHCC, Robbie and Barbara Robinson passed away. She has led the community in keeping the community events going, educating the youth on Black History, and recently unveiling the bust of Dr. Shirley Weber.

Precious Jackson Hubbard, Bell Middle School Principal, is a DA Community Justice Champion because she is a passionate educator focused on uplifting vulnerable youth through her work at Bell Middle School and as a member of the Board of Directors for San Diego Youth Services.

Meet DA Investigator Steve Hutchinson

In honor of Black History Month, which is celebrated throughout the month of February, the DA’s Office is featuring stories of employees and their contributions to our community. Meet District Attorney Investigator Steve Hutchinson, who is currently assigned to the Special Operations Unit, where his main duties include reviewing officer-involved shootings and following up on hate crimes. Steve has been with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office for approximately seven years. Read more about what inspired Steve to pursue a career in the DA’s Office, below.

Why did you choose a career at the DA’s Office?

“I came to the District Attorney’s Office after spending 32 years at the San Diego Police Department. During those 32 years, I’ve seen the ‘enforcement’ side of the criminal justice system, and being African American, I have seen some of the injustices and unequal treatment served on Black and Brown people outside AND inside of the organization. Once my eyes were opened, I spent the remainder of my career identifying and addressing those issues.

Now at the District Attorney’s Office, I get to see the ‘prosecution’ side of the criminal justice system. It is equally important to me to identify and address, within my assigned duties, the issues of anyone who feels that they were not treated fairly or equitable.”

Why is Black History Month important to you?

“As I appreciate the fact that during the month of February, the contributions of African Americans to this great country are highlighted, recognized, and applauded; the fact of the matter is that these United States of America was built, literally, on the backs of African Americans. However, it saddens me that in this day and age, in prominent states in this country, the true history of Blacks in America is being suppressed and not allowed to be taught in schools for fear of hurting the feelings of some students. History IS history, which cannot be changed. Including the GOOD and BAD. But, if we don’t as a country, teach our country’s TRUE history, we WILL be doomed to repeat it. BLACK HISTORY IS HISTORY and should be told and recognized EVERY day, month, and year.”

Two Men Sentenced for Organized Retail Theft

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that 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.

Both defendants Ernesto Louis Cruz, 27, and Jordan Guzman Lopez, 27, who pleaded guilty to robbery and grand theft charges, were sentenced to three years and eight months in state prison.

“This prosecution and prison sentence should serve as a warning that we’re holding organized retail theft crime rings accountable for the harm to retailers, their employees and community who are often traumatized by these crimes,” said DA Stephan. “Unfortunately, this is another example of ‘smash and grab’ robberies that have been on the increase in the past five years. Organized criminal rings steal large amounts of goods from businesses of all types and sizes with the intent to resell them, particularly through unregulated online marketplaces. A recent change in the law will bring a much needed fix to outdated state and federal laws that allow the unregulated sale of stolen goods online and provide little recourse to stop repeat offenders.”

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 thefts across California. Stephan participated in two national discussions to strategize ways to stop organized retail crime last year: one roundtable discussion with the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National District Attorneys Association, and a national virtual panel discussion with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Beginning in 2019, with the passage of California’s Organized Retail Theft Law (PC 490.4), the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office began a partnership with the California Highway Patrol’s Organized Retail Theft team of special investigators. Since that time, several 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, allowing prosecutors to hold the defendants more accountable for the breadth and history of their crimes.

Deputy District Attorney Steven Nguyen, from the DA’s Economic Crimes Division, prosecuted this case. The DA’s Economic Crimes Division is responsible for prosecuting a wide variety of wrongdoing, including complex fraud, organized retail theft, cybercrimes, real estate fraud, consumer, and environmental protection crimes.

Meet Paralegal Elyse Emge

In honor of Black History Month, which is celebrated throughout the month of February, the DA’s Office is featuring stories of employees and their contributions to our community. Meet Paralegal Elyse Emge who started her career at the DA’s Office in April of 2022. Prior to coming to the DA’s office, Elyse worked as a Child Support Officer at the Department of Child Support Services. Read more about what inspired her to pursue a career at the DA’s Office, below.

Why did you choose a career at the DA’s Office?

“I have always had a passion in the criminal field. I moved from Pennsylvania to California in 2018. From 2016 – 2017, I worked for the York County DA’s office as a Confidential Secretary and Extraditions Coordinator. In 2017, I was recruited by the State and went to work for the Governor’s Office of General Counsel as a Criminal Justice Specialist. In this role, I handled statewide extraditions, interstate compacts, and worked on capital cases post appeals.

I went through and witnessed a lot in my adolescence. These hardships instilled in me a desire to do what I could to work against injustices; to advocate for those who need a voice; and to do what I can to ensure the process is fair and transparent. It’s important that those responsible are held accountable for their actions and/or get the help they need.

I’d have to say the favorite part of my job is the shared sense of camaraderie amongst my colleagues. We’re working towards the same goal. I also feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself. It’s a humbling experience.”

Why is Black History Month important to you?

“Black History Month, like many months of recognition, are important because they bring awareness to the continued struggles of marginalized people. It’s important to bring awareness and remember the history of where we, as a people, have come from; to see where we are now; and continue to grow and learn from that history. It’s also important to teach the true, unadulterated facts of our past so we do not repeat those mistakes.”

Meet Administrative Paralegal Mary Dickerson-Shaw

In honor of Black History Month, which is celebrated throughout the month of February, the DA’s Office is featuring stories of employees and their contributions to our community. Meet Mary Dickerson-Shaw who is an Administrative Paralegal for the Chief of Insurance Fraud and Workplace Justice Division and has been with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office for 15 years. Read more about what inspired her to pursue a career at the DA’s Office, below.

Why did you choose a career at the DA’s Office?

“It was a dream come true when I received the offer of employment with the Office of the District Attorney to join the crimefighting family. I have been employed with the agency for 15 years and find my career in public safety valuable.

In working as the Chief’s Administrative Paralegal, I have experienced the opportunity of being cross-designated and working on clandestine operations prosecuted under state and federal jurisdiction. My role is to focus on the orderly administration of the division by acting as the repository for confidential personnel, grant budget, audit findings, and other division documents. I find it gratifying in serving as a liaison for the Division Chief and Assistant Chief with law enforcement members, task force and community outreach partners, vendors, and contractors. In addition, I am assigned to finding fugitives that fail to appear for proceedings, conducting criminal background checks, arrest warrant and restitution recovery tracking and helping with the development of the monthly General Management System reports to include special projects.

As a survivor of assault, I valued the help, appreciated the guidance, and was comforted in the commitment to my safety received from the prosecutor and team during the process of bringing my attacker to justice. I continue to find it comforting in volunteering and supporting victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Employment in a field uplifting and protecting those that are often shammed and silenced was and is still my passion.”

Why is Black History Month important to you?

Black History Month is an opportunity to concentrate on a lineage of a mixed and diverse people riddled by a history of slavery, struggle, racism, persistence, and accomplishment. A continued engagement with Black, Afro-Puerto Rican and Afro-Cuban History is vital as it lends to context for the present.

As a mixed raced woman, I find it extremely important in this climate of division and uncertainty to embrace the pride of my heritage in its entirety and focus on understanding the beauty, inclusivity, and contributions of my ancestors.

Black History Month is a time to build relationships, appreciate identities, celebrate differences, and have conversations relating to the past, present, and beyond.”