Thursday, January 28, 2016

DA's Office hosts Terrorism Liaison Officer Training by JRIC (Joint Regional Intelligence Center)


PICTURED LEFT: JRIC Instructor Hal Kempfer and SBDA Terrorism Liaison Officer Phil Suchowski at TLO Training Course at DA Headquarters on 01/27/16.

"The partnership between the public safety agencies in our region became very evident in San Bernardino on December 2, 2015," said Senior Investigator Phil Suchowski, who helped set up the training. "Our DA and our agency has remained committed to the Terrorism Liaison Officer Program and the expansion of those partnerships in the mission against terrorism. We are proud to have hosted this training with the Joint Regional Intelligence Center and to support all of our partners in the protection of our communities."

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hemet man arraigned on workers’ comp charges


SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – A Hemet man was arraigned on insurance fraud charges Thursday following an investigation conducted by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Workers’ Compensation Insurance Fraud Unit.

Raymond Chastain, 23, is charged with one felony count of Insurance Fraud.

On Oct. 26, 2012, Chastain filed a workers’ compensation claim alleging that he sustained injuries while performing his job duties as a worker for TPG Staffing.

“Our investigation revealed that Mr. Chastain failed to report additional earned income while receiving total temporary disability benefits,” said Senior District Attorney Investigator Rodney Tamparong, who is assigned to the case.

After obtaining an arrest warrant, investigators arrested Chastain at his place of residence in Nov. 2015. He was booked into the West Valley Detention Center on $50,000 bail.

This case is being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Scott Byrd.

If you suspect Workers’ Compensation Insurance Fraud or believe you are a victim of workers’ compensation insurance fraud in San Bernardino County, contact the District Attorney’s Office at DAWorkersComp@sbcda.org or call (909) 891-3523.

Monday, January 25, 2016

IN THE NEWS: Ontario man sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for killing girlfriend’s 2-year-old son


By Beatriz Valenzuela, San Bernardino Sun


RANCHO CUCAMONGA >> An Ontario man was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison Thursday morning for the beating death of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son while the man was caring for the ill child.

“I don’t wish physical harm to Michael Lucero, I don’t wish death on him,” said Cynthia Taccati, grandmother of Xzavier Taccati, the child Lucero was found guilty Sept. 21 of killing in April 2013, in a victim statement before the court. “But what I do wish for is that he never forget Xzavier. ... I want him to remember everyday why he was convicted.”

Taccati and her daughter, Xzavier’s mother Olivia Taccati, stood side-by-side in the West Valley Superior courtroom with a friend as Cynthia Taccati gave her victim impact statement. The three women held each other as Lucero, seated with his lawyers – one of whom is his father, Michael Lucero, Sr. — stared blankly and showed little emotion during the sentencing hearing.

A jury had deliberated for five hours before finding Lucero guilty of the crime, officials said.

Lucero was brought into the courtroom wearing a green jumpsuit — an indication he’s in protective custody — for the proceedings.

“Instead of planning his third birthday, we were planning his funeral,” Cynthia Taccati told the court.

“They say time heals all wounds. It doesn’t. It really doesn’t,” she said. “Pain is the only feeling left on most days.”

“I think evil came into our lives in the form of Michael Lucero,” Taccati said. “Xzavier would’ve been in first grade this year.”

Tears made her stop.

Taccati said Lucero’s sentence is nothing compared to the ones he hand-delivered to her and his mother, she said.

She added that she wants Xzavier’s picture to hang in his cell so the 22-year-old former Marine reservist could remember the little boy he killed, a little boy she and other family members said was full of life and always had a large smile and fistbump for everyone he met.

“I have never met a child so charismatic, unique, intuitive and happy,” said Xzavier’s godmother, Heather Maroj.

At trial, Deputy District Attorney Karen Schmauss presented evidence that Lucero took care of the boy while his girlfriend was at work, a situation that appears to have caused some tension. In the days leading up to Xzavier’s death, Lucero complained in text messages about having to clean up after the ill child when he threw up. He was also angry at the mother for staying at work later than he wanted her to, a reoccurring theme in their relationship.
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In April 2013, Xzavier was taken to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Ontario after he lost consciousness at his home in the 1100 block of East Philadelphia Street, according to police reports. He was later transferred to Loma Linda University Medical Center, where he died following emergency surgery.

Investigators determined the boy had been hit in the head and stomach, officials said. Dr. Frank Sheridan, the county’s chief medical examiner, testified that Xzavier suffered a skull fracture with a subdural and subarachnoid hemorrhage to the brain, causing his brain to swell, according to a statement from the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.

Sheridan testified Xzavier was either hit with a heavy object or had his head slammed against something. Xzavier also suffered a previous injury, a laceration of the pancreas and damage to his bowel, caused by blunt force from a strong blow to the abdomen.

It also came to light during the trial that Lucero had physically attacked and threatened Olivia Taccati.

According to the probation report, soon after Xzavier was taken to the hospital, Lucero told the young mother to tell police she had “punished him.”

Schmauss said she didn’t see “one speck of remorse” from Lucero during the trial.

Click here to read the full story.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Michigan man sentenced to 135 years in state prison for multiple counts of child sexual assault

Edward Thomas (Booking Photo)
A Michigan man was sentenced yesterday to 135 years to life in state prison for sexually assaulting his biological daughter.

After deliberating for less than one hour, a jury found 53-year-old Edward Thomas guilty last month of nine counts of Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child.

The charges stem from multiple incidents dating back to 1995 when the victim, Jane Doe, was approximately 5 years old. The abuse went on until she was approximately 15 years old, but Jane Doe never told anyone, including her mother, Lucy.

“Due to fears that there could potentially be more victims, Jane Doe was finally able to disclose the terrible abuse she endured for over ten years,” said Deputy District Attorney Morrissa Cardoza, who prosecuted the case.

When Jane Doe finally disclosed to her mom in 2013, Lucy wrote the defendant a letter confronting him about what Jane Doe told her, to which he responded by apologizing for everything and begging for forgiveness.

According to DDA Cardoza, the defendant was living in Michigan when the case came to light, so detectives from the Fontana Police Department flew out to interview him, and again, the defendant confessed. 

“However, he was unwilling to plead guilty because he was charged with aggravated sexual assaults, and he always maintained that none of the molestation was forcible,” DDA Cardoza said.

The victim, Jane Doe, is now 25 years old and proudly serving as an active member of the United States Army.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month


San Bernardino County’s fight against Human Trafficking began in early 2009, after District Attorney Mike Ramos answered a local news reporter’s plea to help young victims of child exploitation.

“He said he had heard enough of my harping for a leader to come forward in the campaign against child sexual abuse, so he decided to be that leader,” said San Bernardino County Sun staff writer Wesley G. Hughes.

In Feb. 2009, DA Ramos sent the following email to Hughes:

“… Wes, Thank you for keeping this issue on the front burner. We have been fighting this issue for months and you have noted my lawyers take this very serious. I had a meeting with all my staff involved including my Chief Deputies Friday and we are meeting with the Board Chairman today. I am going to use all my DA's resources to get all county government agencies involved.”

The following month, the first public meeting of the Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) took place and the county has been going strong ever since, tackling this problem at every level.

While there are several countywide agencies committed to combatting human trafficking, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office strengthened its zero-tolerance policy on human trafficking in Jan. 2013.

Following the premiers of a 45-min. documentary aimed at generating awareness about the sexual exploitation of minors in San Bernardino County, DA Ramos announced the formation of the Human Trafficking Vertical Prosecution Unit and the implementation of the “Stop the John” Project, in which the office posts online the names and photographs of those defendants convicted of solicitation in San Bernardino County.

In 2014, District Attorney Mike Ramos and Sheriff John McMahon also created the county’s first Human Trafficking Joint Investigative Task Force. The Sheriff provided the infrastructure and a Detective for the Task Force, and the District Attorney’s Office provided a Senior Investigator from our Bureau of Investigation. To date, the task force has made over 300 arrests and assisted 75 victims.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Supervising Investigator Jerry N. Villanueva receives 2015 Tristan D. Svare Vulnerable-Victim Advocate Award & Scholarship

Supervising Investigator Jerry N. Villanueva was selected by the California District Attorneys Association Elder Abuse Committee for this award, which was presented by Mike Ramos and Eve Wang (Tristan’s wife) at the National Elder & Dependent Adult Abuse Conference Dec. 1 in Anaheim.

Villanueva is being honored for his years of service, dedication and training, side by side with Tristan Svare, in developing our Elder Abuse prosecution unit prior to the creation of the Family Violence Unit. They were a great team and it is so very fitting that he was selected as the first recipient of this new, annual award in Tristan’s honor.
The following nomination was submitted to CDAA by Chief Mike Smith:

Recognize the name Lt. Colonel Charles Bussey? He was a proud; dedicated, and decorated military hero, remembered best in life as a member of the storied Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. Colonel Bussey was awarded The Silver Star Medal for gallantry in action; The Bronze Star for bravery; and The Purple Heart for wounds suffered in combat.

Fifteen years ago, Tristan Svare and Jerry Villanueva met Colonel Bussey. He was the victim of elder abuse! Colonel Bussey suffered dementia; was deeply in debt; had lost his home, and suffered financial and emotional abuse committed by a family member. He also fell victim to ineffective systems and services intended to help dependent elders.

It was the year 2000, when Tristan and Jerry Villanueva volunteered to become part of a newly created Elder Abuse Unit. The pair had not previously worked any cases together, but according to Jerry, he and Tristan hit it off at their first meeting.

“He had his role, I had mine,” said Jerry. “I told him he was clearly the brains on the team…we talked every day.”

Jerry was impressed with Tristan’s intelligence and vision of where the case should go – providing direction – respecting his investigator’s skills – yet guiding as the two learned every day.

What they learned – was that elderly victims were not well-served by the system. In fact, what they learned, according to Jerry, was that “the system was broken!” Local law enforcement did not have the training or any specialized units designed to help or investigate elder abuse crimes. Physical abuse went to a “Crimes Against Person Unit” – financial crimes went to a “Paper Unit” and anything in between seldom received any attention, or was referred to a county agency. The Public Guardian, Adult Protective Services, County Counsel, the District Attorney’s components, (including victim advocates, attorneys and investigators), various social services and local law enforcement were not effectively communicating or sharing. The elderly were also victims of a broken system, not effectively serving those in need.

The concept of a Multi-Disciplinary Team or “MDT” as it came to be known – began in a discussion about “needs” – but grew to become a “reality.” Largely through the efforts of Tristan and Jerry, professionals responsible for elderly oversight came together in San Bernardino County. Jerry recalled: “We wanted to start small, and figure it out, but it started with such great interest that at least twenty-five representatives attended our first meeting. Social Services at the time, received funding for closing cases, but they learned that most served with real problems in their systems, did not go away."

Jerry shared that there were too many examples of cases like Colonel Bussey – where the victim was moved from one location, or from one county to another, to avoid scrutiny and conceal the abuse from authorities. As Tristan and Jerry worked with involved participants in the MDT, they accepted where they could improve. They discovered where they were perhaps negligent. Bonds of common interests formed – the word spread – and an audience of professionals took notice.

Paul Greenwood, Deputy District Attorney and Head of Elder Abuse Prosecutors, San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, described (in part) Tristan Svare as follows: “He was champion of elder rights, and a tireless advocate who quietly, but effectively pursued justice in the courtroom on behalf of abused seniors….he unselfishly shared his wealth of experience with whomever came asking…Tristan was and will remain a pioneer in elder abuse prosecutions.”

Supervising DA Investigator Villanueva was also a pioneer – a pioneer in elder abuse investigations. He was Tristan’s investigator. He also was (and remains) a champion of elder rights, who unselfishly shared his wealth of experience with whomever came asking – and over the years- many came asking. They came from California – and across the nation. When Tristan passionately wrote the first MOU for stakeholders in protecting the elderly in San Bernardino County – Jerry prepared a list of duties and responsibilities for the District Attorney Investigator. When Tristan moved the agreement of the MOU to create the Elder/Dependent Abuse Inter-Agency Task Force, Jerry contributed to the extensive written guidelines for the law enforcement role.

He worked tirelessly to build the MDT into a cohesive group of agencies dedicated to the detection, investigation, and prosecution of those who preyed on the elderly. Noteworthy is that Jerry discovered during the course of a starvation case, that District Attorney Investigators had been mistakenly excluded from the law as “peace officers” entitled to records and documents maintained by the Department of Aging and Adult Services. Jerry contacted two members of the Assembly to address the problem. He provided corrective language, and as a result AB 255 was written to include District Attorney Investigators in California.

While Tristan’s experience and expertise was shared at CDAA from Napa to Newport Beach, Jerry’s investigative experience was shared in presentations to the California District Attorney Investigators Association (CDAIA) training at those same venues. In fact, Jerry became a recognized expert at the national level, instructing "Interviewing Techniques for Elders and Dependent Adults” not only to law enforcement, but to social service professionals, medical doctors, psychologists, nurses and others.

In the early days, Jerry and Tristan presented at a large gathering of mental health professionals from across the country at the Riverside Convention Center. The “Older Adults Mental Health Conference” brought wide attention to this team outside of the CDAA experience. As a result, Jerry became the conference keynote speaker in Bellevue Washington, “Making the Case for Justice-Investigating Crimes Against Elders and Vulnerable Adults” followed by an invitation to present “Protecting Vulnerable Adults” at an Adult Protective Services Conference held in San Antonio Texas. He was noticed by Dr. Nora Baladerian of the Disability, Abuse and Personal Rights Project & CAN/DO Project, and was asked to serve as an advisor on various projects to train first responders about interviewing disabled adults and/or elderly persons.

Over the years, and continuing today, Jerry is a sought after expert who is always available to provide assistance to those who ask, and his training remains available with Dr. Balderian on the national list server for elder abuse.

He has been recognized by his peers, supervisors, and local police chiefs for his steadfast commitment to train and help them be better in their response to elder crime. He was nominated for The Governor’s Award for Excellence in Peace Officer Training; acknowledged by CDAA, (along with Tristan) for a series of one-day workshops held in Sacrament, Fresno, and Costa Mesa when CDAA received a USDOJ grant from the Office of Violence Against Women to do programs and a DVD on Victims with Cognitive and Communicative Disabilities.

Described by many as resourceful, experienced, and knowledgeable, Jerry simply describes himself as “just part of the prosecution team.” As has been mentioned, his work is locally and nationally distinguished, and truly exemplifies quality public service and investigative excellence.

It has been said that a law enforcement officer is an ordinary person called upon to do extraordinary things. Although the comment speaks to a profession, doing “extraordinary things” puts into perspective the influences of Tristan Svare on the life’s work of Jerry Villanueva.


* Photos courtesy of Investigative Tech Mercedes Padilla

Monday, December 14, 2015

San Bernardino man sentenced to 180 years to life in state prison for sexually assaulting a child


SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.– A San Bernardino man who sexually assaulted a 9-year-old child was sentenced today to 180 years to life in state prison.

Last month, a jury found 39-year-old Daniel Mateen Jr. (pictured above) guilty of one count of Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child and three counts of Lewd Act Upon A Child.

According to Deputy District Attorney Jane Templeton, who prosecuted the case, the charges stem from multiple events that occurred in 2006.

It wasn’t until the victim was fifteen years old that she finally came forward, fearing that she would have to face the defendant again.

“Thanks to the courage of the young victim in this case, the defendant will be locked away for at least 180 years to life, and never have the chance to harm another child,” said DDA Templeton.

The San Bernardino Police Department was the investigating agency.

Former cheerleading coach pleads guilty to molesting girls on his squad

A Chino cheerleading coach was sentenced Friday to 18 years in state prison for molesting girls on his Pop Warner cheerleading squad.

Kristofer Bland (Booking Photo)
Kristofer Bland, 34, of Chino pleaded “no contest” to 13 felony counts, including one count of sexual penetration on a minor age 14 and 12 counts of lewd act on a minor aged 14 or 15. The 13 charges involved three girls on his squad.

Bland was a cheer coach with the Chino Pop Warner league, a non-profit football and cheering organization for children ages 5-15.

“The defendant is a true predator,” said Deputy District Attorney Karen Schmauss, who prosecuted the case. “He used his position as a cheerleading coach to win the trust and compliance of the girls under his care. His influence was so strong that some of the children whom he molested continue to defend him, because they love him so much.”

The mother of one of the girls called Chino police in Feb. 2014 after overhearing her discussing part of what Bland had done to her. The 14-year-old told police that Bland had committed acts of molestation on her while giving her a ride home from cheer practice. He had also told her that he had molested two other girls on the squad.

Bland admitted to police that he molested the 14-year-old. He also admitted to molesting two 15-year-olds on the squad. The crimes were committed over a span of five months between Aug. 2013 and Jan. 2014.

During the investigation, Bland was charged with molesting six additional girls on the team, aged 12 and 13. However, those charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.
At the time of his arrest, Bland was a private first class of the California Army National Guard in Azusa, working in intelligence analysis. His security clearance was pulled at the time of his arrest, and he will now receive a general discharge, other than honorable, according to his commanding officer.

The courtroom was packed with victims and their friends and family members, along with family members and supporters of the defendant.

The mother of the 14-year-old spoke at the hearing, stating, “I do not believe that he is sorry. I believe he is just sorry he got caught. Kristofer Bland is a sexual predator and threat to our community. I don’t know what the future holds for my daughter but I do know that as of today she will no longer be a victim of Kristofer Bland but a survivor of Kristofer Bland. She is the strongest and bravest person I know. I know she will not let this destroy her.”

District Attorney’s Gang Resistance Intervention Partnership (GRIP) celebrates graduation ceremony in San Bernardino City Unified School District

 

The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Gang Resistance Intervention Partnership (GRIP), in partnership with the San Bernardino City Unified School District, hosted another graduation ceremony for second and fifth grade students from Hunt Elementary School in San Bernardino today. 

“This is a proactive partnership between our educators and students that allows us to make a positive impact in the lives our children,” District Attorney Ramos said. “By effectively using time and resources today to teach our students, we can steer them away from the dangers and influences of gangs tomorrow.”

 

Chief of Victim Services Flerida Alarcon introduces the Special Victims K9 Unit. Both Lupe and Dozer and their handlers were on hand for the celebration  
 
  
  
  

Ontario man convicted of Workers’ Compensation Fraud

Miguel Contreras (Booking Photo)
An Ontario man was sentenced to 3 years’ probation and 120 days in jail Dec. 8 for committing workers’ compensation insurance fraud and stealing wages from his workers, both felonies. Miguel Contreras, 36, the former owner of Ontario-based National Drywall, Inc., was also ordered to pay his insurance carrier $262,535 in underpaid workers’ compensation insurance premiums.

According to Deputy District Attorney Michael Chiriatti, who prosecuted the case, during the course of the prosecution, Contreras’ workers were repaid $160,000.88 in stolen prevailing wages.

The conviction stems from a 2011 project in which Contreras was awarded the contract to install drywall at Joe Baca Middle School in Colton.

“Because this was a ‘Public Works’ project, Contreras was required to pay his employees the current prevailing wage,” Chiriatti said. “However, he employed two schemes to avoid doing so.”

One method required some of his workers to “kick back” a portion of their pay on a weekly basis in order to keep their jobs. The other required some workers to alter their time cards to falsely indicate that their primary job duties included “stocking/scrapping,” which was paid at a much lower prevailing wage, when in fact they were framing and hanging drywall, which was paid at a much higher prevailing wage.

While this theft of wages was occurring, National Drywall submitted false payroll reports to its workers’ compensation insurance carrier, ICW Group, which resulted in a fraudulent reduction of its insurance premium.Contreras was originally arrested on Oct. 23, 2014. A year later, on Oct. 23, 2015, Contreras entered pleas to workers’ compensation insurance fraud, and theft of prevailing wages, and admitted his conduct was subject to California’s white collar crime enhancement.

Underground Economy

In March 2015, the Little Hoover Commission issued a report highlighting the magnitude of California’s underground economy problem.An underground economy is one that includes activities that businesses try to hide from government licensing, regulatory, tax and law enforcement agencies, and is subsidized by businesses that otherwise would be legal operators but who are breaking the law to gain a leg up on their competition.

The Little Hoover Commission believes California’s underground economy is costing the State upwards of $10 billion in annual tax revenue, money that could be used for funding education, law enforcement, and infrastructure improvements, or reducing taxes and insurance premiums for Californians who play by the rules.

According to District Attorney Mike Ramos, the theft of prevailing wages and workers’ compensation premium fraud that took place in this case are the types of illegal activity that feed California’s underground economy.

“We will not tolerate employers who steal from their hard-working employees or break the law in order to gain an unfair advantage over their competitors,” Ramos said. “Our office will continue to ensure that all workers are protected and that the playing field is level for law-abiding businesses who wish to conduct business in San Bernardino County.”

Please PostIf you suspect Workers' Compensation Insurance Fraud or believe you are a victim of workers' compensation insurance fraud in San Bernardino County contact the District Attorney at DAWorkersComp@sbcda.org or call (909) 891-3523.