Oregon man arrested in brutal cold case rape, murder of 6-year-old Bay Area boy expected to be jailed

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 05:45

The man suspected of killing a 6-year-old Vallejo boy in 1987 is expected to be booked into Solano County Jail Wednesday or Thursday and face a murder charge, with special circumstances, Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams said.

Speaking at a Tuesday morning press conference in her office’s law library in Fairfield, she recounted some of the previously published details of Fred Marion Cain III’s Sept. 18 arrest near Medford, Ore., news that gained statewide attention after the release of a press statement Thursday and a Reporter story posted online later in the evening.

She also provided new information about the case not mentioned in last week’s prepared statement, including the name of the victim, Jeremy Floyd Stoner, who, according to the criminal complaint filed last week, was killed on or about Feb. 21 in Solano County.

REALTED: Suspect arrested in brutal 1987 rape, murder of 6-year-old Vallejo boy

Additionally, Abrams cited previous felony convictions against Cain —  who today is 69, white-haired and bearded — in Contra Costa County Superior Court on May 22, 1979. He was found guilty of sodomy, rape by the use of an intoxicating substance, burglary, and first-degree burglary.

As she spoke throughout the 25-minute press conference, the DA’s Office provided an enlarged, 14-by-20-inch color photo of Stoner, smiling and clad in a gray Mickey Mouse T-shirt, perched on a tripod mount to the left of her lectern.

Abrams also noted she reinstated the Cold Case Unit in her office after being first elected in 2014 and credited new DNA analysis and two cold case investigators, Steve Howisey and Kevin Coelho, for “working tirelessly” to solve a case she described as “every parent’s worst nightmare,” adding that Stoner’s death “wracked the whole community” of Vallejo.

Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams talks about the arrest of Fred Cain III in the 1987 cold case murder of six-year-old Vallejo boy Jeremy Stoner. Cain was currently living in Oregon and is being brought back to Solano County and arraigned later this week. (Chris Riley/The Reporter)Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams talks about the arrest of Fred Cain III in the 1987 cold case murder of six-year-old Vallejo boy Jeremy Stoner. Cain was currently living in Oregon and is being brought back to Solano County and arraigned later this week. (Chris Riley/The Reporter) 

Howisey, she said, “took another look at the case” in October 2022, obtaining evidence that showed a match for the initial suspect in the case, Shawn Melton, who, after a trial and retrial, with juries unable to reach unanimous verdicts, was released from custody and eventually exonerated.

So investigators determined DNA could lead to another suspect, and it led to Cain, who, Abrams said, was initially interviewed after the killing, on March 3, 1987, but was not taken into custody.

In response to a question of how Cain’s DNA was obtained, she declined to specify, saying she did not want to divulge details at this time, to protect the integrity of the case, but would emerge during a preliminary hearing.

“DNA is such a powerful and important tool,” said Abrams. “It can solve crimes and exonerate people.”

At one point, she said Melton died some years ago at age 38 “without knowing he was exonerated.”

Cain, she said, “did know the child” and was not living in Vallejo at the time of the killing.

Howisey and Coelho, with members of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, arrested Cain at his home in Central Point, just north of Medford on Interstate 5 and, Coelho said, was “compliant” with officers’ commands.

A former Vallejo police officer, Coelho described the investigation as “very lengthy,” recalling that the case has been “talked about for years” by Vallejo officers and others, adding that he “took a personal interest in this case.”

In last week’s press statement, Abrams noted Stoner was abducted near his home in Vallejo. Four days after he went missing, his body was discovered on Sherman Island in Sacramento County. An autopsy revealed that the boy had been sexually assaulted.

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Fielding a question during the press conference, she declined to provide details about how Stoner was killed.

She did, however, provide additional details about why Melton initially was named as a suspect in the case and arrested. She said Melton walked into the Vallejo Police Department and appeared to have his own investigative service and provided information, as Abrams explained last week, “only the person responsible for the child’s death would know.”

Cain, after his arrest, waived extradition, Abrams said, and will be transferred to Solano County Jail to face a murder charge with, according to the criminal complaint, special-circumstance allegations of kidnapping, sodomy, and a lewd and lascivious act on a child under 14.

.A check of Jackson County Jail records on Tuesday showed Cain was not in custody in Medford, the county seat.

On Tuesday afternoon, Abrams told The Reporter that, given the charges against Cain, he “is eligible for the death penalty at this time, but we will not make the final decision until after the preliminary hearing is concluded.”

Categories: Local News

Prep volleyball roundup: Notre Dame-Belmont, San Ramon Valley, Branham, Campolindo among Tuesday’s winners

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 05:45
No. 10 Notre Dame-Belmont 3, Notre Dame-San Jose 0

In the battle of Notre Dames, the Belmont school came out on top in a 3-0 victory (25-17, 25-13, 25-21) on the same day it broke into the Bay Area News Group rankings. 

Gia Rivera had 16 kills, nine digs and two aces, and Jessica Ai had a whopping 37 assists to go with five aces. Adrianna Agresti had 18 digs and two aces, and Karly Bordin chipped in nine kills and 12 digs. 

Notre Dame-Belmont has enjoyed a stellar September, notching victories over ranked teams in Palo Alto and Sacred Heart Prep. NDB also defeated 14-3 Santa Cruz 2-1 in a tournament and dropped a tight 3-2 decision to 20-4 Folsom last week.

No. 11 San Ramon Valley 3, Granada 1

After dropping two consecutive matches to St. Francis and Archbishop Mitty, the Wolves have rebounded with three straight victories in East Bay Athletic League play. On Tuesday night, SRV defeated Granada 3-1 (25-12, 25-14, 22-25, 25-17).

Lucy Chertock, a junior outside hitter, had 20 kills, two aces and 14 digs, while senior Maddie Connelly had 10 kills and two blocks. Setter Audree Vasconi had 34 assists and seven digs. The Wolves are now 14-4 with a 6-1 record in league play. 

Branham 3, Evergreen Valley 0

Branham improved to 5-0 in league play and snapped a three-match losing streak with a sweep (25-10, 25-15, 25-8) at Evergreen Valley. Giselle Paedon led with 12 kills, Andra Enache had seven kills and Brianna Dalzochio had five kills. 

Enache also led the team with thee aces, and Rebecca Sung and CC Bonnard each had two aces. Sung chipped in three blocks, a number Dalzochio tied for the now 11-6 Bruins. 

Campolindo 3, Northgate 1

Campolindo got back to .500 and improved to 6-0 in Diablo Athletic League competition after defeating Northgate 3-1 (25-10, 25-11, 26-28, 25-19).

Setter senior Rachel Andre played the entire match and had 12 digs to lead the Cougars. Senior Hanna Bjornson had 21 kills and 13 digs, and fellow outside hitter Mia Wallach had 14 kills, six aces and 13 digs. Kate Brown had five aces and sophomore middle blocker Ava Rogers had six kills in the fourth set to clinch the victory for Campolindo, which improved to 11-11. 

Miramonte 3, Acalanes 1

After surrendering the first set to Acalanes, Miramonte won the next three games (12-25, 25-20, 25-23, 25-23) to pull even with Acalanes in the DAL standings at 4-2. 

Outside hitter Sena Hens had 11 kills, and Amanda Roach and Sadie Symonds each had four kills for the Matadors. Maddie Yun led the team with 12 assists, and coach Leslie Ray said senior libero Nicole Tuszynski led all passers with a 2.2 serve receive percentage. 

Capuchino 3, South San Francisco 0

Capuchino rolled past South San Francisco in straight sets (25-19, 25-15, 25-23) as coach Allen Lau said team captain Alessia Perez held “down the fort with great settings, servings and dumping.” He said middle hitter Arianna Moreno and OH Maya Canas were both key contributors, as was freshman Alexa Tajeldin, who he said had “a number of kills that helped the team out a lot.” 

South San Francisco also had some solid performers. Nevaeh Davidson had a team-high five kills, Audrina Lopez led the team with 20 service receptions and Aryana McCormick had a team-high four blocks. 

Pittsburg 3, Heritage 0

The Pirates handled their Bay Valley Athletic League rivals Heritage in a sweep (25-16, 25-20, 25-17). Junior outside hitter Niamiah Moreno led Pittsburg with 10 kills and five aces. Ashlynn Kondra had three aces and three blocks, and senior setter Kieli Fox had nine assists and 13 digs. Malia Fonongaloa had five kills and four digs, and Diana Willingham led the Pirates with 10 assists. 

Aragon 3, Sequoia 0

Aragon won its third consecutive game and improved to 5-1 in PAL Bay competition with a sweep against Sequoia. Sophie Rubinstein spiked 17 kills and Kathleen Suayan had 17 digs. Hunter Kwan set up teammates for 20 assists as the Dons won its fifth straight league game. Aragon will play a match against ranked Burlingame later this week. 

Saratoga 3, Santa Clara 1

It took Saratoga four sets (25-22, 25-16, 20-25, 25-14) to put away a feisty Santa Clara team. Santa Clara coach Martina Carrillo said sophomore Naomi Hunt had eight kills and four aces, and junior Dania Gizaw also had eight kills and contributed five aces. Junior Evonne Bergman had three kills and served up two aces. 

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Live Oak coach Tait Rafat said his team leaned upon five senior starters to sweep Hill ( 25-19, 25-19, 25-17). Ana Saulala and Anna Guenet at outside hitter; setter Maya Rafat, MB Mara DeFrancisco and Chiara Rocchio at liberó all played big roles as Live Oak improved to 6-3. He also said that sophomore Ava Chapman and freshman Brooke Ledwith each contributed to Live Oak’s second win in BVAL play. 

Hayward 3, San Lorenzo 2

The Farmers trailed by two sets at one point but rallied for the thrilling victory to get back to .500. Coach Alisa Parsons said “the entire team bound together to get the job done. While there are standouts, this was by far a team effort.“

Kailee Dela Cruz made key passes in her first varsity game, and freshman Breanna Lamas had several huge digs to keep Hayward alive. Outside hitter Makayla Asoy moved to setter in the third game, and Parsons said that gave the team new energy.

Senior Emi Licea was a consistent force with digs, aces and kills, and fellow seniors Rosalynn Jimenez and Evalynn Jimenez were both steady in the middle with kills and blocks. 

Harker 3, The King’s Academy 0

Harker earned its eighth victory of the season with a dominant win over The King’s Academy (25-20, 25-21, 25-21). Keira Chang led the way with 12 assists, and right behind her was Brooke Kubose with nine assists. Junior libero Norah Mehanna served up six aces. Divya Bhupathi had eight kills, and Juhi Madala had nine in a stellar all-around win for the Eagles. 

Categories: Local News

49ers mailbag: Can Brock Purdy keep avoiding turnovers?

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 05:40

SANTA CLARA — Not even a 3-0 start for the 49ers can quell all concerns from their fan base, which relayed some via social media for this Week 4 mailbag:

Will Jake (Brendel) and Purdy fix those botched snaps? (@matty__maff)

Look, at least Purdy recovered those fumbles, on the first snap after halftime at the Rams and on the second snap after halftime against the Giants. The ball is definitely bouncing the 49ers’ way, especially in the red zone:

— Week 1: Purdy traps the ball under his backside after a J.J. Watt sack at the Steelers’ 13-yard line.

— Week 2: A red-zone snap deflects off motion-man George Kittle’s thigh and redirects to Christian McCaffrey for a short run. Also, a Deebo Samuel fumble harmlessly goes out of bounds, and, later, Talanoa Hufanga intercepts a fourth-quarter pass that ricochets high off Fred Warner’s helmet.

— Week 3: The 49ers breach the red zone when a Purdy pass deflects off Samuel and into the hands of Ronnie Bell for a 15-yard gain at the Giants’ 18, setting up a touchdown and a 17-3 lead.

What parts of Purdy’s game do you expect to regress as the season wears on? (@FowleBall15)

He has not had a pass intercepted this season, part of a streak spanning 190 passes to the New Year’s Day win at Las Vegas. He’s also never had two passes intercepted in a game, and he’s never lost a regular-season game. Mr. Irrelevant has become Mr. Invincible.

Are Brock’s overthrows an adjustment to new mechanics (from his injury repair) or miscommunication? (@edjr04)

It’s a question he answered after his three overthrows Sept. 17 in Los Angeles: “No, I don’t think so. We’ve hit those deep balls at practice. It comes down to that when the bullets are flying, make accurate throws, don’t overthrow, don’t underthrow, and be on point. That’s what you have to do as a NFL quarterback and I take that on myself.”

Is Aiyuk gonna be out or not? (@dian.vega7)

Indications are that Brandon Aiyuk will not miss more than last Thursday’s game because of the shoulder injury he played through in Week 2 at Los Angeles. After he practiced Monday, he said he’s feeling really good, and that may have also been the case a week ago but the plan was for him to rest him in the 30-12 home-opening win over the Giants.

Is Kyle Juszczyk being under-utilized? (@tysnaps)

It always seems that way, in terms of not getting the ball in the hands of such a versatile player. He has zero targets, after averaging two per game (and 1.6 receptions) since 2017, and he just got his first carry this season (averages 0.5 carries per game as a 49er). The perennial Pro Bowl fullback’s main role is to block for the NFL’s No. 3-ranked run game. He is still playing 52 percent of the offensive snaps, which is about his norm since 2017 (63% in 2017, then 49%, 43%, 56%, 50%).

Do you think Dallas got exposed against the Cards? (@jr__925)

I think on any given Sunday … What the Cowboys’ first loss of the season showed was their defense missed cornerback Trevon Diggs (ACL tear in Thursday’s practice). Dak Prescott’s late interception, on third-and-goal from the 6, showed he still hasn’t mastered late-game scenarios (see: January 2022 wild-card playoff finish to the 49ers). What the Cardinals showed was some moxie – especially on defense — for their first win under coach Jonathan Gannon and quarterback Joshua Dobbs.

Why will people underestimate Arizona? Mobile quarterback and they moved the ball real easily on Dallas’ defense? (@ronshizzle)

Dobbs, a month after being traded from Cleveland, indeed played a big role in Sunday’s upset over the Dallas Cowboys. It was his first win in seven NFL seasons, and the first for coach Jonathan Gannon, formerly the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive coordinator (see: January’s NFC Championship Game.) Arizona’s offense ranks 12th in scoring, 18th in total yards, but sixth in rushing with James Conner, who has a knack for scoring on the 49ers.

Assessment of the right side of the O-line? (@bk49r)

It looks relieved when T.J. Watt is not on the other side of the ball. Right tackle Colton McKivitz and right guard Spencer Burford are entrenched as starters, so any growing pains should prove worthwhile. Count on Micah Parsons to weigh in on all that Oct. 8 when the Cowboys visit. By the way, when pressure does come from Purdy’s right side, he’ll roll left, where he seems unusually comfortable for a right-handed thrower.

There is a ton of back and forth about Purdy and where he ranks among QBs. Doesn’t it come down to what teams are willing to pay for him and how many teams would be in line to do so? (@neuwb)

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He ranks No. 1 in Kyle Shanahan’s mind right now, which is all that counts for years to come (see: Shanahan contract extension that was announced Friday). Contractually, Purdy is not eligible for his own raise via an extension until after his third season. So he’s roughly a $1 million bargain on the cap until 2025, which is $54 million under Joe Burrow’s annual bill for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Who will be the most famous attendee at Sunday’s game? (@skiswm)

Taylor Swift already came through Levi’s Stadium two months ago. Among the 49ers Faithful’s celebrity club: Miss Universe 2012 Olivia Culpo (Christian McCaffrey’s fiancé), actor Jeremy Renner, comedians Rob Schneider and Al Madrigal, 2001 Playmate of the Year Brande Roderick, and musical artists E-40, Saweetie, P-Lo and Taylor Eigsti, the latter of whom I met on a 49ers’ trip to Seattle about 20 years ago and he’s since become a Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist.

Will our fans brawl again? (@dgnrg22)

Print it on a T-shirt: “Make touchdowns, not war.”

Categories: Local News

2 Marin council meetings disrupted with bigoted comments

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 05:37

Public commenters at recent council meetings in Larkspur and Tiburon have disrupted the proceedings with racist or antisemitic remarks.

The incidents both occurred during meetings on Sept. 20. At the Tiburon meeting, two speakers made bigoted statements during online public comments about the town’s climate plan. One denied the existence of the Holocaust, while the other made slurs and threatened violence against Jews.

At the Larkspur meeting, during the public comment period on the city’s communications team, two public commenters made racist and antisemitic slurs, laughed and repeatedly used white supremacist phrases.

The incidents are part of a pattern of racist and antisemitic disruptions at public meetings throughout the Bay Area, said Marc Levine, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s regional office. Other sites include Walnut Creek, Sacramento and Sonoma County, he said.

“Public meetings across the country are under attack by white supremacists. They are coordinating and victimizing public meetings,” said Levine, a former state assemblyman who represented Marin. “They’re not happening in isolation and it’s very important to understand that. These are coordinated attacks by these extremists to peddle in hate and stoke fear.”

Holli Thier, a councilmember from Tiburon who is Jewish, said the attacks were even more reprehensible because they happened between the holy holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

“We invite and we need all of our elected officials and residents to stand with us and not be silent in the face of hate and discrimination,” Thier said. “I lost family in the Holocaust. I think we really have to speak out and make sure that something like that can never happen again.”

Sky Woodruff, Larkspur’s city attorney, said during the council meeting that it was the third such disruption. He said the city has rules of decorum to limit profanity, but noted “all members of the public have a full fair and equal opportunity to be heard.”

“Hate speech is protected by the First Amendment,” he said. “We do have to allow these comments to occur.”

Some expressed concern that the comments could come from anyone and anywhere because of teleconference meetings.

Larkspur City Manager Dan Schwartz called the statements “awful.”

“It was really jarring for all of us,” Schwartz said. “We do condemn this, but frankly I am dismayed that court rulings say that this is somehow protected First Amendment speech. I don’t think this is what the First Amendment was written for. I’m so disappointed in the court system.”

Levine plans to speak about the issue Wednesday with the Marin County Council of Mayors and Councilmembers and share tips for responding to extremist disruptions at public meetings. Tactics include sign-in and participation requirements, barring threatening conduct, time restrictions and requiring written comments.

“We don’t want hateful rhetoric to take over public spaces and we just recognize that violent language does not occur in a vacuum,” Levine said.

Elected officials in Larkspur and Tiburon condemned the comments.

Larkspur Mayor Gabe Paulson said, “I think what is so disruptive about it is the element of surprise. As a council we definitely condemn it.”

Jon Welner, a councilmember in Tiburon, said it was “disappointing and disheartening to hear these vile anti-Jewish comments during the council meeting.”

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“I was pleased the council was able to respond promptly and decisively,” he said. “Tiburon is a warm and welcoming community. There is no place for hate in our town.”

Councilmember Isaac Nikfar called antisemitism, hate speech and racism “unacceptable.”

“I also believe that it is my responsibility as an ally to the Jewish community to stand up to antisemitism in all forms,” Nikfar said.

Jack Ryan, mayor of Tiburon, said he was “shocked” by the comments.

“I personally condemn this targeted hate,” he said. “And as a public entity, we have some work to do to try to prevent hate speech from tainting the public political process. Luckily, there are resources available, as this hate virus is not unique to Tiburon.”

Between 2021 and 2022, California had a 41% rise in antisemitic incidents, from 367 to 518, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Tyler Gregory, chief executive officer of the Jewish Community Relations Council, said the meeting disruptions would likely proliferate, just like the spate of antisemitic flyers that were distributed throughout the Bay Area over the last year.

“The more we can do to explain this is a small coordinated effort of people who know their First Amendment rights and are trying to get a rise out of us, the better and more measured our responses will be,” Gregory said.

Categories: Local News

Editorial: At long last, FCC is restoring net neutrality protections

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 05:30

At long last, the 32-month circus featuring Congress and the Federal Communication Commission is over.

The swearing in Monday of Anna Gomez as the fifth FCC commissioner breaks the agency’s 2-2 deadlock on issues, allowing chair Jessica Rosenworcel to take steps to restore net neutrality rules that were rescinded under then-President Donald Trump.

Rosenworcel on Tuesday announced that she will move to reverse the rules that bar internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, recreating an open internet that is essential for innovation and economic growth and fostering the next generation of tech entrepreneurs. It’s a concept backed by tech pioneers such as Tim Berners-Lee and Vincent Cerf since the beginning days of the internet. They believed that the future of innovation, freedom of speech and democracy in America depends on strong, enforceable net neutrality rules.

The American people agree. Polls show that net neutrality is supported by 75% of the population. That includes President Biden, who  made restoring net neutrality a key element of his campaign.

Biden nominated Gigi Sohn to replace Commissioner Ajit Pai, who resigned the day Trump left office. But Senate Republicans blocked Sohn’s confirmation for more than two years, claiming that her “radical” views disqualified her. Sohn’s so-called radical views consisted of her calling Fox News “state-run propaganda” during the Trump administration and her service as an Electronic Frontier Foundation board member, which defends digital privacy, free speech and innovation. Senate Republicans’ real problem with Sohn was her position as a top aide to former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, who was rightly credited with installing the toughest net neutrality laws in U.S. history.

Biden withdrew Sohn’s nomination in May and then nominated Gomez, a telecommunications attorney who had worked for the FCC in several positions for 12 years. She had also been a vice president for federal and state government affairs for Sprint Nextel.

The current FCC rules allow broadband providers such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Comcast a free rein that allows them to rake in billions while serving as kingmakers. They have the power to pick winners and losers online by charging content providers and users higher rates for faster service. Pai argued that would allow the broadband powers to hire more people, invest in network improvements, making for a “better, cheaper” internet. That didn’t happen. If it had, Biden wouldn’t have had to announce on June 26 a plan to invest more than $40 billion to deliver high-speed internet in places where there’s either no service or service is too slow.

Pai’s rescinding of net neutrality laws left a checkerboard of rules and regulations by various states across the nation.

Rosenworcel reportedly wants the FCC to vote in October on new net neutrality laws. Creating a level playing field for the tech industry’s newest wave of entrepreneurs can’t happen too soon.

Categories: Local News

Home sales stay stuck in limbo for fraud-linked San Jose housing complex

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 05:30

SAN JOSE — Housing sales still languish in limbo at a San Jose residential complex that’s one of the properties engulfed in a vast Bay Area real estate fraud case that arose after hundreds of investors were swindled.

The Almaden, a 91-unit San Jose project of condominiums for sale, has yet to complete any purchase transactions, according to court papers filed in connection with a fraud case brought against real estate executive Sanjeev Acharya and his company, Silicon Sage Builders.

Acharya and Silicon Sage Builders developed the San Jose housing development, which is located at 1821 Almaden Road in San Jose’s Almaden-Clara Filice district.

The sluggish pace to complete The Almaden complex contrasts sharply with a similar housing development in Fremont that also was developed by Acharya and his firm.

While the San Jose residential development remains unfinished, most of the units in the 93-unit Fremont housing project have been sold, a court filing shows.

The San Jose and the Fremont housing projects were both part of Acharya’s and Silicon Sage’s Bay Area real estate empire, which imploded in the face of fraud allegations and a criminal case brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The SEC accused Acharya of fraud, claiming he bilked hundreds of unwitting investors, many of them people of South Asian heritage, out of more than $100 million. Silicon Sage’s properties were shoved into court-ordered receivership in the wake of the criminal accusations.

Court-appointed receiver David Stapleton has been updating a federal judge supervising the criminal case against Acharya regarding the progress to unwind the legal thickets that have entangled Acharya’s real estate projects.

The latest update included details about the progress on both the Fremont project, which is owned by an Acharhya affiliate called Osgood LLC; and the San Jose housing development, which is owned by 1821 Almaden LLC, also an Acharya-linked entity.

“The condominium project owned by Osgood LLC is complete, with 64 units having closed escrow, five in escrow, and 24 still being marketed for sale,” the court papers filed by the receiver’s attorney stated. The Fremont project is located at 42111 Osgood Road.

It appears Osgood LLC’s completed sales, as reflected by grant deeds, are higher than what is reflected by the court documents, which were current through the end of June.

Osgood LLC has completed the sale of 79 condos from December 2022 through Sept. 25 of this year, according to this news organization’s review of the grantee-grantor index posted by the Alameda County Recorder’s Office.

It’s a different pace for the San Jose housing development on Almaden Road, the court papers show.

“1821 Almaden LLC owns a condominium project in San Jose that remains under construction, although it is nearing completion and is about 85% complete,” the court papers state.

As of the end of March, the San Jose project was 80% complete. The receiver gave no estimate for the project’s completion date.

Condo sales at both the San Jose and the Fremont projects are crucial because it’s possible the proceeds from the transactions could be used to help defrauded investors recoup at least a small portion of the money they lost.

Oakland-based PG&E demanded that the San Jose project’s electrical system be completely revamped to meet the utility’s requirements.

Other significant work must be completed as well, the court papers stated.

“The storm drain system needs extensive corrections due to work that was deficiently installed pre-receivership. This has slowed the pace of the perimeter,” the receiver stated in the court filing.

The state Real Estate Department has also issued a final approval in late July for the form that the San Jose project’s purchase agreements must take.

The state agency’s approval regarding the purchase agreement forms is a key milestone in the efforts to sell the condos in the 91-unit San Jose development.

“1821 Almaden LLC can start the marketing of the remaining units,” the court papers stated.

Categories: Local News

Santa Cruz author Nina Simon makes bestseller list with debut novel

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 05:27

SANTA CRUZ — When Nina Simon’s mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in 2019, she began taking care of her. The process, as well as their shared love of murder mysteries, became the basis for Simon’s debut novel, “Mother-Daughter Murder Night.”

The story of a real estate mogul who is diagnosed with cancer and works with her daughter and teenage granddaughter to solve a murder in Elkhorn Slough was released Sept. 5, the same night Simon attended a book launch at Bookshop Santa Cruz. As it turned out, the book was also on the cusp of making waves nationally. It made the New York Times Best Seller list, was singled out by Reese Witherspoon as her book club pick for the month of September and has even been optioned for a potential adaptation.

Simon, who had previously served as executive director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History and published two nonfiction books, was thrilled to see the book doing so well so quickly.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” she said. “I would say it is overwhelming in all ways.”

The success was not something Simon anticipated throughout the process of writing “Mother-Daughter Murder Night.” In fact, she was told it was a long shot that it would make the New York Times Best Seller list, but in its second week, it ended up debuting at No. 14 on the hardcover fiction list.

“My book came out in a week where Stephen King had a new book out,” she said. “There were a lot of heavy hitters with big books coming out. I feel like this whole story has been such a long shot, the fact that I wrote this book when my mom got sick, the fact that we got to the finish line and my mom is doing well. To me, it’s both unbelievable and extraordinary, but it’s in keeping with the extraordinary path that this story has been on since the beginning.”

Simon said she is grateful for the support she has gotten from her local community and the word of mouth that sparked curiosity among readers.

“There were more sales in Week 2 than in Week 1, which is pretty unusual,” she said. “It means that people not only heard about the book, they came out to support it, they told their friends about it, they got copies for others. It’s very exciting and very humbling.”

One likely sales driver was its inclusion in Reese’s Book Club, a project started by Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon in 2017 that highlights a different book by a female author each month. The club has a track record of turning its selections into bestsellers, and its parent company, Hello Sunshine, has produced adaptations of many of its picks, including a film version of Delia Owens’ “Where the Crawdads Sing” and a TV adaptation of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s “Daisy Jones and the Six” for Amazon Prime.

“Mother-Daughter Murder Night” was named as Reese’s Book Club’s pick for September.

“This fun and gripping whodunit follows a grandmother-mother-daughter trio as they try to solve a murder in their coastal town,” wrote Witherspoon. “I can’t wait to hear what you think about this cozy mystery.”

Simon said she first learned of the book’s inclusion over the summer and was excited about what it would mean for “Mother-Daughter Murder Night.”

“We knew that that meant a lot more readers were going to be able to learn about it and connect with it,” she said.

“Mother-Daughter Murder Night” has also been optioned by Kapital Entertainment for a possible adaptation. Simon said it had been optioned a few months ago, but the writers’ strike put it on the back burner. With the Writers Guild of America reaching a tentative agreement with Hollywood studios, it means the process is now moving again.

“I’m excited that they’re interested in adapting it,” she said. “It really matters to me that the producers have read the book and really connected with the story.”

Simon even said producer Aaron Kaplan attended a book promotion she did in Los Angeles. Although she said that approximately 1% of books that are optioned ever reach the production stage, she is hopeful because of Kaplan and Kapital Entertainment’s track record of productions, which has included “The Neighborhood” for CBS, “A Million Little Things” for ABC and “Santa Clarita Diet” for Netflix. Should it ever be adapted, Simon said she would support whatever creative decisions are made.

“They are professionals, writing and constructing projects for movies and TV,” she said. “I want to be supportive of that project, I want to cheer for them, I want to be helpful however I can be, but it’s not my dream to write the adaptation or to become a Hollywood writer. It’s my dream to write novels, and I would be extremely lucky and grateful if this ever became something.”

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Simon was really pleased with the turnout at the Bookshop Santa Cruz event, which had a standing-room-only crowd and many people she has known over the years, including past colleagues and gym buddies.

“It felt like a really warm community hug for the book and just an amazing way to start this wild journey that this month has been,” she said.

Simon will be doing another event 7-8 p.m. Oct. 3 in the Ow Family Community Room of the Capitola Branch Library, 2005 Wharf Road. To register, visit Santacruzpl.libcal.com/event/11292841.

As for why she feels the book has resonated with readers, Simon believes the murder mystery aspect is a big part of it, but she also has gotten messages from readers with family members battling cancer who found the book very touching.

“One reader said that they felt the book was a lifeboat for them and their family as they’re dealing with a cancer journey,” she said. “That’s just such an honor for me to hear because I wrote this book to be a source of comfort and joy and escape for me and my mom, and hearing from readers that it’s doing that for them is so powerful.”

Simon also likes that the book shines a light on the Monterey Bay.

“I’m just so thrilled that a local book is getting this kind of national attention,” she said. “I hope it brings a lot of people interest and curiosity about Elkhorn Slough and about Monterey Bay. It’s just another reason I feel proud to live in this beautiful place.”

For information on the book, visit Motherdaughtermurdernight.com/.

Categories: Local News

Scottish officials approve UK’s first drug consumption room intended for safer use of illegal drugs

Seattle Times - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 05:25

Scottish authorities have approved a multimillion pound drug consumption room.
Categories: Local News

What you should know about the second Republican debate and the race for the 2024 nomination

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 05:25

The first Republican presidential nominee debate Aug. 23 had about 13 million viewers. The second debate is Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley.

Here’s a look at the political race for the Republican nomination.

On Aug. 9, Former President Donald Trump stated in an interview on Newsmax that he would not pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee, one of the requirements to qualify for the debate. He has not changed his position and will not be at the second debate.

The second debate will be hosted by Fox Business, Rumble and Univision. It will be moderated by Stuart Varney, Dana Perino and Ilia Calderón. Trump has said he will create his own simultaneous TV event.

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley spar at length over foreign policy and support for Ukraine during the first Republican presidential primary debate, at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. A new group, Republicans for Ukraine, is encouraging GOP support for Ukraine ahead of the next presidential debate in Simi Valley. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley spar at length over foreign policy and support for Ukraine during the first Republican presidential primary debate, at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. A new group, Republicans for Ukraine, is encouraging GOP support for Ukraine ahead of the next presidential debate in Simi Valley. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times) 

Here’s how long each of the Republican candidates spoke at the first debate (in minutes):

  • Mike Pence 12:26
  • Vivek Ramaswamy 11:38
  • Chris Christie 11:37
  • Ron DeSantis 10:01
  • Nikki Haley 8:20
  • Tim Scott 7:57
  • Doug Burgum 7:50
  • Asa Hutchinson 7:24
  • 6 p.m. Wednesday, Fox Business
  • November, Miami, time TBA

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An NBC News poll — conducted Sept. 15-19 — shows Trump expanding his national lead in the Republican presidential nominating contest to more than 40 points over his nearest competition, and it has Biden and Trump deadlocked in a hypothetical rematch more than a year before the general election.

A recent Washington Post-ABC poll shows Joe Biden trailing his presidential predecessor Donald Trump by 10 percentage points. The poll has been questioned by leaders on the left.

You can find the most recent Republican polling figures here.


The 2024 Republican presidential nominee will be selected by delegates to the Republican National Convention, which will take place in Milwaukee from July 15-18. The Democratic National Convention is Aug. 19-22, 2024, in Chicago.

In 2024, there are an estimated 2,467 delegates: 2,363 pledged delegates and 104 unpledged delegates. To win the nomination, a presidential candidate must receive support from a majority of delegates — an estimated 1,234.


There are three primary methods used to allocate Republican delegates, which means to bind them to vote for a certain candidate on at least the first ballot at the national convention.

Proportional: States using this method allocate their delegates proportionally to the candidates based on the statewide vote.

Winner take all: States using this method allocate all their delegates to the candidate who wins the primary or caucus.

Hybrid: Those that combine other methods.


“Receipts” is a broad term referring to all money that goes into a campaign account, including contributions by individuals, dividends or interest on loans or investments made by the campaign, transfers of money from other political committees, and offsets to a campaign’s expenditures in the form of rebates or refunds. The contributions column reflects individual donations to a campaign. “Disbursements” is a term for campaign spending.

Here’s how it breaks down for the Republican candidates for the 2024 election so far:


How did each president fare during their term? Here’s the approval rating during Trump’s and Biden’s presidencies:

You can find the latest presidential approval ratings at Gallup.com.

Sources: The Associated Press, The Washington Post, Democratic National Party, Democratic National Committee, BallotPedia, Fox News, Gallup, Federal Elections Commission, Real Clear Politics

Categories: Local News

Largest California school district ends COVID vaccine mandate for staff

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 05:23

The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education voted 6 to 1 on Tuesday to rescind its two-year-old COVID-19 vaccine mandate for staff, saying it is no longer needed to assure safe in-person learning.

Boardmember George McKenna cast the sole dissenting vote, saying he believes that science still supports the need for the COVID-19 vaccine in today’s environment.

The COVID mandate went into effect on Oct. 1, 2021 and over time led to the termination of more than 600 employees who refused the vaccine and did not qualify for medical or religious exemptions.

Staff who were placed on unpaid leave because they refused to follow the mandate may be invited to return under the conditions of their leaves. Staff who departed the district or were reassigned to a virtual classroom are eligible to apply for an in-person position.

At the time the mandate was enacted, many praised the bold action to protect students and staff from the spread of the virus, and some 97% of employees met the deadline for getting vaccines.

“I do not regret what we did for one moment, not 30 seconds, not one tiny bit” said Board President Jackie Goldberg during Tuesday’s meeting. “The highest death rates in the country were in states where there were no vaccine requirements.”

LAUSD Board President Jackie Goldberg speaks during a ceremony at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Monday, May 22, 2023, honoring LAUSD high school seniors who have experienced homelessness or housing insecurity who will be graduating. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)LAUSD Board President Jackie Goldberg speaks during a ceremony at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Monday, May 22, 2023, honoring LAUSD high school seniors who have experienced homelessness or housing insecurity who will be graduating. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG) 

But some staff and community members saw the mandate as an attack on people’s medical freedom and were outraged by the ultimatum that staff either get vaccinated or lose their jobs.

Several former employees and activist organizations filed lawsuits against the district seeking to repeal the vaccine requirement.

The LAUSD board’s resolution to rescind the measure does not refer to any legal action, and instead points to the winding down of city, state and federal emergency health declarations and to COVID-19’s transition to an endemic disease that is here to stay but no longer a pandemic.

“This was a necessary requirement and it was adopted so that schools could reopen safely based on information that was known then, verified then,” said LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “COVID-19 is now in an endemic phase. It has entered the state of stability and increased predictability that comes usually with other viruses such as RSV and the flu.”

“Today, I am recommending before this board the rescission of the LAUSD vaccination requirement,” he said. “It is a decision based on scientific knowledge and current conditions, nothing more, nothing less.”

Nevertheless, parties involved in legal battles against the district see the board’s decision as a big win.

“This is a huge victory,” said Leslie Manookian, founder of the Health Freedom Defense Fund, which alongside the California Educators for Medical Freedom, and six LAUSD employees filed a lawsuit against the district’s mandate in October 2021. The lawsuit is pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“They fired all of these people who have dedicated their lives, their careers to helping educate children,” she added. “Why do they care so little about the hundreds and hundreds of employees who have a different opinion about this shot than LAUSD’s management?”

In a separate lawsuit, more than 20 former school police officers allege that they were improperly terminated after filing for religious exemptions to reject the mandate. In the complaint, the former employees asked for compensatory damages, and to repeal the mandate.

Francis Calderon, a former early learning teacher at Willow Elementary School who refused the vaccine, said she was excited that the board was considering repealing the mandate.

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Calderon was reassigned to an online classroom in fall 2021 and then terminated at the end of the academic year after working for LAUSD for 15 years.

“It was a very horrible experience,” she said. “It was hard on me and for my family, the gap in my income went on for several months.”

Calderon was part of a group of current and former employees who staged a protest outside LAUSD’s district headquarters in April 2022 demanding to be allowed back in the classroom. They were responding to Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s plan to address teacher vacancies by assigning about 400 employees – some lacking teaching credentials – to classrooms.

Now, more than a year later, Calderon has a job in another school district and is not sure she wants her former position back.

“I really feel like I was discriminated against not just by the district, but also by colleagues who were very mean to us (unvaccinated employees),” Calderon said. “I don’t feel like I’m excited like ‘oh my god we can go back,’ because we’ve been through a lot.”

Categories: Local News

Bill to stop California school textbook bans signed by Gov. Newsom

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 05:21

Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill intended to prevent conservative school boards from banning textbooks on the basis of how they portray minorities and LGBTQ people.

“From Temecula to Tallahassee, fringe ideologues across the country are attempting to whitewash history and ban books from schools,” Newsom, a Democrat, said in a news release in a not-so-subtle dig at Florida Gov. and GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis.

“With this new law, we’re cementing California’s role as the true freedom state: a place where families — not political fanatics — have the freedom to decide what’s right for them,” Newsom said Monday, Sept. 25.

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblymember Corey Jackson, D-Perris, said in the release that it “is the responsibility of every generation to continue the fight for civil and human rights against those who seek to take them away.”

“Today, California has met this historical imperative and we will be ready to meet the next one,” Jackson added.

The bill, AB 1078, requires school boards to approve learning materials that “accurately portray the contributions of people of all genders and the role and contributions of Latino Americans, LGBTQ+ Americans, and other ethnic, cultural, religious, and socioeconomic status groups.”

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School boards defying the mandate would risk losing state funding. Conservatives opposed AB 1078, saying it infringed on local control and parents’ rights to determine what their children learn in school.

Jackson’s bill followed several attempts by school boards earlier this year in California’s conservative enclaves to ban textbooks they saw as sexually explicit or divisive. Some said the bans sought to erase LGBTQ history and truthful lessons about race in America.

In Temecula, the school board rejected an elementary social studies curriculum with supplemental materials that referenced the late LGBTQ civil rights leader Harvey Milk. Two board members called Milk a “pedophile.”

Newsom threatened to send textbooks to Temecula and, using AB 1078’s provisions, fine the Temecula Valley Unified School District if the board did not approve the curriculum. The Temecula school board eventually adopted it.

In Murrieta, the school board in April rejected an 11th-grade social studies textbook. Some board members said it contains elements of critical race theory and negatively portrays former President Donald Trump.


Categories: Local News

Opinion: Why California courts must weigh in on Trump’s eligibility

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 05:15

Contrary to how some have misrepresented the letter my colleagues and I sent to California Attorney General Rob Bonta, we are not asking to “unilaterally strike (Donald) Trump’s name” from the ballot.

We are instead requesting the public official who has the legal standing to quickly ask the courts to rule on the very serious question of Trump’s ballot appearance, given the plain language — as well as historical and legal precedence — of Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, for which Trump, my colleagues and I all swore allegiance to.

The U.S. Constitution is clear: No person who has sworn to uphold it and participated in insurrection shall again hold public office.

At least eight former public officials in U.S. history, including one New Mexico State Commissioner in 2022, have been disqualified from the ballot based on Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Disqualification does not require conviction because the 14th Amendment sets a clear qualification for holding public office: that a previously sworn public official not have participated in insurrection or rebellion against our country.

All Americans witnessed Trump order an army of his supporters to the U.S. Capitol, as well as his inaction to stop the insurrection, on Jan. 6, 2021.

I wish to see the Supreme Court of the United States issue an opinion on the question of Trump’s eligibility, but the disastrous effects of doing so late next year well into the election require that someone with standing bring forth the question in haste.

Trump continues to spread the lie that the 2020 election was rigged and stolen from him, despite more than 60 court cases refuting his false claims.

Many Republican Party voters believe Trump’s lies because they believe in our institutions: They believe that if Trump in fact did commit insurrection, or sedition, or treason, against our country that he, like others, long ago would have been held to account.

Unfortunately in this case, our system of justice is slow, but the California Attorney General has the power to speed it along.

The time is long due for the judicial system to show its teeth and protect our great Republic from the domestic enemy within.

If the courts decide to remove Trump from the ballot, as they should, it will be because of the fact we all witnessed his insurrection on Jan.6, 2021, and their action to do so should inspire confidence in our United States Constitution and the Rule of Law.

Assemblymember Evan Low, D-Campbell, represents District 26 in the California Assembly. 

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Categories: Local News

California infectious disease doctor charged with sexually assaulting 9 male patients

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 05:05

A Newport Beach infectious disease doctor is facing criminal charges after authorities allege he sexually assaulted nine male patients under the guise of medical examinations.

Dr. William Thompson IV — a 56-year-old Huntington Beach resident who specializes in treating members of the LGBTQ community — has been charged with more than a dozen felony counts, including sexual penetration by means of fraudulent representation of professional purposes, sexual battery by fraud and forcible oral copulation.

A half-dozen of Thompson’s patients reported that they had learned the procedures he performed on them were allegedly not medically necessary, and were sexual assaults, according to a news release by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

“Many of Dr. Thompson’s patients depended on him to provide life-saving care and he exploited those vulnerabilities for his own sexual gratification,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, because of his specialized area of practice, Dr. Thompson put the very patients he was supposed to treat with professionalism and dignity, in a situation where they may have felt they had no other choice but to be subjected to sexual abuse in order to receive the treatment they needed to continue to live.”

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Thompson was arrested at his medical practice in Newport Beach on Wednesday following a joint investigation by the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Newport Beach Police Department. Along with his general practitioner services, prosecutors say Thompson is affiliated with Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian.

Thompson previously admitted to misdemeanor DUI charges after he was arrested driving with a blood alcohol content of .38 — far above the .08 legal limit — at 9:30 a.m. in April 2021, the DA office added.

If convicted of the new charges, Thompson faces up to 55 years to life in prison. He is scheduled to appear in court for an arraignment on Nov. 2. In the meantime, he is out of custody on a $100,000 bond, court records show.

It wasn’t immediately clear from court records if Thompson has retained an attorney.

Authorities are asking anyone with additional information, or who believes they may have been a victim, to contact Newport Beach detectives at 949-644-3682 or to make an anonymous tip at 1-800-550-6273.


Categories: Local News

California man who spent 28 years in prison is found innocent of 1995 rape, robbery and kidnapping

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 05:01

LOS ANGELES — A man who spent nearly 30 years in prison for kidnapping, robbery and rape has been declared innocent and freed, Los Angeles County prosecutors announced Tuesday.

DNA testing helped exonerate Gerardo Cabanillas in a 1995 attack on a couple sitting in a parked car in the city of South Gate, the county district attorney’s office said in a statement.

Cabanillas’ case was reexamined by the Conviction Integrity Unit of the DA’s office, and last week a judge reversed his conviction, found him factually innocent and ordered his permanent release.

“I extend my deepest apologies to Mr. Cabanillas for the miscarriage of justice and the failure of our criminal legal system,” District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement.

Cabanillas was convicted in 1996 and spent 28 years in prison. He confessed to being one of two armed men who approached the couple, forced the man out and drove the woman to an abandoned house where both raped her.

Another couple in a car in the same area were robbed two days later, authorities said.

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Victims of the attacks were told of his confession and identified Cabanillas from photo lineups. But they later expressed doubts in court and said they were pressured into identifying him, according to the California Innocence Project at the California Western School of Law, which represented Cabanillas.

DNA testing on the rape kit showed that two other people committed the assault, the group said in a statement.

No other suspects were ever arrested, although one man later confessed to committing one of the crimes, the Innocence Project said.

“False confessions are one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions in the United States,” interim director Alissa Bjerkhoel said in a statement. “Police are permitted to lie to suspects, including promises of leniency if the person confesses. That is exactly what happened here and, if it was not for the DNA evidence, Gerardo would have spent the rest of his life in prison.”

“We are thrilled for Gerardo and his family that the truth has finally set him free,” she said.


Categories: Local News

Single family residence sells for $3 million in Palo Alto

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 05:00
3980 Bibbits Drive - Google Street View3980 Bibbits Drive – Google Street View

The property located in the 3900 block of Bibbits Drive in Palo Alto was sold on Aug. 24, 2023. The $3,000,000 purchase price works out to $1,747 per square foot. The house, built in 1957, has an interior space of 1,717 square feet. This single-story home offers a capacious living environment with its four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Inside, a fireplace enhances the ambiance of the living area. In addition, the home features an attached one-car garage.

These nearby houses have also recently been sold:

  • In March 2023, a 1,255-square-foot home on East Charleston Road in Palo Alto sold for $2,470,500, a price per square foot of $1,969. The home has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms.
  • On Gailen Avenue, Palo Alto, in November 2022, a 2,325-square-foot home was sold for $3,025,000, a price per square foot of $1,301. The home has 5 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms.
  • A 3,073-square-foot home on the 700 block of Charleston Court in Palo Alto sold in June 2023, for $4,000,000, a price per square foot of $1,302. The home has 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms.


Categories: Local News

Three Californians found guilty of laundering $2.5 million in Target gift card scam

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 04:59

A jury convicted three San Gabriel Valley residents on Tuesday, Sept. 26, of conning older adults of more than $2.5 million by persuading them to buy Target gift cards under false pretenses.

Blade Bai, of El Monte; Bowen Hu, of Hacienda Heights; and Tairan Shi, of Diamond Bar were each found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Tuesday.

Bai, 35, was also found guilty of an additional charge of conspiring to commit money laundering, which he committed after being freed on bond in the initial case.

The scheme involved various overseas telephone scammers who lied to victims to persuade them to buy Target gift cards to fix nonexistent problems, which included posing as law enforcement officers or government employees and claiming the victims’ identities had been stolen or warrants had been issued for the victims’ arrest, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. The scammers convinced their victims that money in the form of Target gift cards was necessary to remedy the problems.

Another tactic employed by the scammers involved tricking victims into responding to tech support emails posing as well-known companies and claiming there were problems relating to the victims’ financial accounts.

After buying the gift cards – typically in increments of $500 – the victims were then asked to read the card numbers and access codes over the phone to the scammers.

Bai, Hu and Shi obtained more than 5,000 gift cards from a group of unknown persons in China that called itself the “Magic Lamp,” often on the same day fraud victims had purchased the gift cards.  They then sold the gift card information through the online messaging application WeChat.

The defendants also used WeChat to coordinate the distribution of gift cards to “runners,” who used the gift cards at Target stores in Los Angeles and Orange counties to purchase electronics, other gift cards and other various items, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Yan Fu, 60, of Chino Hills, pleaded guilty in September 2022 to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Fu, who was one of the “runners” in this conspiracy, is serving a 20 month-sentence in federal prison. Fu was also ordered to pay $48,073 in restitution.

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The defendants and their co-conspirators sought to conceal the fact that the gift cards had been originally funded with fraudulent proceeds, and were estimated to have laundered more than $2.5 million in gift cards between approximately June 2019 and November 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Bai was arrested on a criminal complaint relating to the scam in November 2020 and was released on bond. Bai then became involved in another money laundering conspiracy involving Target gift cards days after his release and was arrested again in February 2022 on a superseding indictment. He has remained in federal custody since the arrest.

Hu, 28, and Shi, 29, were taken into custody after Tuesday’s verdict.

The three defendants will return to court for their sentencing hearing on Jan. 26, 2024, and will face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for each money laundering conspiracy count.


Categories: Local News

California youth football coach arrested on child abuse charges after 14-year-old opposing player hurt in brawl

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 04:56

A youth tackle football league player suffered an apparent concussion and a coach of an opposing team was arrested as a result of a melee on Saturday, Sept. 23, in Murrieta, the Police Department said Tuesday.

Police were called to the field at Vista Murrieta High at about 5:40 p.m. because of an altercation among players, coaches and parents, a news release said.

“During the investigation, officers determined a coach, Eibylardo Funes, had struck a 14-year-old player from the opposing team. The victim sustained an injury to his eye and exhibited symptoms of a concussion,” the release said.

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Funes, 50, was arrested on suspicion of child abuse with possible great bodily injury and battery, the release said. He was booked into Cois M. Byrd Detention Center in French Valley and was released after posting $35,000 bail.

He has no documented criminal record in Riverside County.

Police say the investigation is continuing and asked witnesses not already interviewed to call Officer Meyer at 951-461-6882.

The league is not affiliated with the Murrieta Valley Unified School District, police said.


Categories: Local News

Southern California tops wildfire risk rankings as insurance gets harder to find

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 04:53
Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters fight a wildfire burning on the north side of CA-134 and CA-2 freeways, slowly backing towards homes in Glendale, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. The brush fire erupted near the border of Glendale and Eagle Rock and shut down the 134 Freeway in both directions, according to the Glendale Fire Department. (Lucas Dovarganes via AP)Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters fight a wildfire burning on the north side of CA-134 and CA-2 freeways, slowly backing towards homes in Glendale, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. The brush fire erupted near the border of Glendale and Eagle Rock and shut down the 134 Freeway in both directions, according to the Glendale Fire Department. (Lucas Dovarganes via AP) 

Three Southern California counties have the nation’s highest wildfire risks – and getting insurance to protect property is getting harder to find.

A report from First Street Foundation says a growing number of Americans are finding it difficult to afford insurance on their homes, a problem only expected to worsen because insurers and lawmakers have underestimated the impact of climate change.

The report said the nation’s top spot for wildfire risk is Riverside County. Its risk equals destruction of 1,612 structures worth $1 billion per year in today’s conditions. That will grow to 2,336 worth $1.5 billion in 30 years.

No. 2 was Los Angeles County with expected annual losses of 1,450 structures worth $1 billion growing to 2,272 worth $1.6 billion in 30 years. Next in teh ranking was San Bernardino County, 801 structures worth $484 million at risk growing to 1,290 worth $768 million in 30 years.

The report says states such as California, Florida and Louisiana – all prone to wildfires and damaging storms and flooding – are likely to see the most dramatic increases in premiums. But the fire that destroyed the Hawaiian community of Lahaina on Aug. 8, as well as the historic flooding that happened in Vermont and Maine in July, are examples of events that could drive up insurance costs for homeowners in other states.

“If you’re not worried, you’re not paying attention,” said Bill Dodd, a California state senator whose district includes the wine-country counties devastated by the LNU Complex fires in 2020.

First Street estimates, factoring climate models into the financial risk of properties in its report, that roughly 39 million properties — roughly a quarter of all homes in the country — are being underpriced for the climate risk to insure those properties.

“Some places may be impacted very minimally, but other places could see massive increases in insurance premiums in the coming years,” said Jeremy Porter, head of climate implications at First Street and a co-author of the report.

First Street, a New York-based non-profit, has been a to-go researcher on the financial implications of climate change for years. Their research is used by Fannie Mae, Bank of America, the Treasury Department and others for understanding the potential risks to properties.

There are several signs that climate change is taking its toll on the insurance industry. The U.S. homeowner’s insurance industry has had three straight years of underwriting losses, according to credit rating agency AM Best. Losses for the first half of 2023 totaled $24.5 billion, which is roughly what was lost in all of 2022.

“(Climate change) is a problem that is already here,” said Todd Bevington, a managing director at the insurance broker VIU by HUB. In his 30 years of doing insurance, he said “I’ve never seen the market turn this quickly or significantly.”

Price of paradise

Skyrocketing insurance costs are a serious concern for the small town of Paradise in Northern California, which was nearly wiped out by a deadly 2018 wildfire that killed 85 people.

Jen Goodlin moved back to her hometown from Colorado with her family in 2020, determined to help in the town’s recovery. They began building on a lot they had purchased, and moved into their new house in October 2022. In July, she was shocked to receive notice that the family’s homeowner insurance premium would be $11,245 — up from $2,500.

“Our insurance agent said, ‘Just be thankful we didn’t drop you,’ and I said, ‘You did, you just dropped me,’” she said.

Goodlin, a former dental hygienist who is now executive director of the nonprofit Rebuild Paradise Foundation, said hundreds, if not thousands, of people are being hit by these rate hikes in a town being built with updated fire-safe building codes and little if any fuel to burn. She knows a homeowner whose premium is now $21,000 for a newly constructed home.

Law enforcement officials search through rubble from the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. (Randy Vazquez/Bay Area News Group)Law enforcement officials search through rubble from the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. (Randy Vazquez/Bay Area News Group) 

Record numbers of Americans are now insured through state-affiliated “insurers of last resort” like California’s FAIR Plan, or Louisiana or Florida’s Citizens property insurance companies. These programs were designed to insure properties where private insurance companies have refused to insure or the price for private insurance is too expensive.

Goodlin will soon be one of those homeowners. She said she’s in the process of transitioning to the FAIR Plan.

The number of homeowners covered by California’s FAIR Plan was 268,321 in 2021, almost double what it was five years before. That figure has almost certainly increased in the last two years, experts say. In Florida, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. now has 1.4 million homeowners’ policies in effect, nearly triple in five years.

In some cases, policymakers have bound the hands of insurance companies, leading to an underpricing of risk. For example, the most a California insurance company can raise a homeowner’s premium by law each year is 7% without involving a public hearing, a process that most insurers want to avoid. Those policies, along with the increased chance of catastrophic events, have led insurers like State Farm and Allstate to either pull out of the California market or pause underwriting new policies.

As a result, California’s FAIR plan, which was created 50 years ago as a temporary stopgap measure for those impacted by riots and brush fires in the 1960s, is now the only option available to homeowners in some ZIP codes.

“We’ve got to find a way to get insurers to get back into the market, to take people out of the FAIR Plan so that we can reduce the risk there,” Dodd said.

Dodd was one of the key lawmakers trying to negotiate a bill in the final weeks of the state’s legislative session to address the issue. But all sides failed to reach an agreement.

There are likely to be more insurance market failures in the future, Porter said, as more insurers simply refuse to underwrite policies in certain communities or go property by property. Comparisons to the National Flood Insurance Program, which is now $22.5 billion in debt, have become common.

Repricing of risk

Even the backstop programs are buckling under tremendous losses. Louisiana’s insurer of last resort, Citizens, raised its rates for 2023 by 63.1% statewide to cover higher costs.

This summer, reinsurance companies such as Swiss Re and Munich Re raised their property catastrophe reinsurance premiums in the U.S. by an average of 20% to 50%. Reinsurance brokerage firm Guy Carpenter & Co. said it was the highest increase for reinsurance rates since the year after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

“It’s a global problem. Virtually every geography is seeing a repricing of risk,” said Lara Mowery, global head of distribution at Guy Carpenter, in an interview.

Reinsurers step in to help cover losses resulting from a catastrophe, so regular insurance companies do not take on all of the risk. In one example of a typical reinsurance contract, a $20 million contract could require the insurance company to cover the first $10 million in claims and the reinsurer to pick up the other $10 million.

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Mowery added that many reinsurance firms now have resources dedicated to studying the impact of climate change on how to price catastrophes.

There have been other factors impacting the insurance industry as well. Inflation has made the cost of repairing homes pricier and home prices remain near record levels. A labor shortage means getting damaged homes repaired may take longer, requiring insurers to pay for temporary housing for policyholders longer.

In short, an industry whose business model is calculating risk based on what happened in the past is increasingly unable to do so.

“You can no longer rely on 100 years of wildfire data to price risk when the unprecedented has happened,” Mowery said.

While the intensity of wildfires, floods and storms can vary from year to year, the trend lines in these models point to more wildfire activity as well as more intense storms, all likely to result in more catastrophic amounts of damage that insurance companies will have to cover.

Factoring in climate models and acres estimated to be burned, First Street estimates that by 2050, roughly 34,000 homes will burn down because of wildfires every year. That’s roughly the equivalent of losing the city of Asheville, N.C., every year.

Going forward, it may become more necessary for potential homebuyers to look at the cost of insuring the property they are looking at before locking in a mortgage rate, due to the potential for significant rate hikes in the future.

“It used to be homeowner’s insurance was an afterthought when you are looking at buying a property. Now you’ll really need to do your research into what risks there may be in that property in the coming years,” Bevington said.

Southern California News Group reporter Jonathan Lansner and AP reporters Adam Beam Janie Har contributed to this report.

Categories: Local News

2 women file claim against California county in deputy’s sextortion case

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 04:52

Two women who said they were sexually extorted by a Riverside County sheriff’s correctional deputy who was charged with 18 felony counts spoke out on Tuesday, Sept. 26, shortly before their attorneys filed a claim against the county seeking unspecified damages.

Christian Phillip Heidecker, 32, was booked on Sept. 15 at the Cois M. Byrd Detention Center in French Valley. He has been charged with four counts of a detention officer engaging in sex with an inmate, four counts of extortion, four counts of a public official seeking a bribe, three counts of sexual penetration under color of authority and three counts of dissuading a witness.

The Sheriff’s Department, in announcing Heidecker’s arrest, said there were four female victims.

Heidecker pleaded not guilty to all charges on Sept. 20. He remained in custody Tuesday in lieu of $1 million bail. He is next due in court on Oct. 2. He has resigned from the Sheriff’s Department.

Heidecker was formerly assigned to the Riverside Alternative Sentencing Program at the Coordinated Custody Management Unit in Banning.

The claim is a legally required precursor to a lawsuit.

The two women, who declined to provide their names, spoke outside the government center in Riverside. One is 34 years old and the other is 27.

“We want other victims to come forward and not be scared of the Sheriff’s Department,” said the 34-year-old.

“We just want justice,” said the 27-year-old. “I want every other girl to not be afraid.”

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One of their attorneys, Denisse Gastelum, said Heidecker sent the women sexually explicit photos of himself and demanded similar videos from the two women. Heidecker would dangle promises that the women, who were not in jail but were wearing ankle monitors, could spend more time away from home or with their families in exchange for sex, Gastelum said.

The attorney also took issue with $1,000 settlement agreements that both women accepted from the county. Gastelum said the county was attempting to force the women to “keep their mouths shut” about Heidecker.

County spokeswoman Brooke Federico said Gastelum is wrong about the agreements.

“Pre-litigation settlements do not contain non-disclosure language,” Federico said. “In fact, as this specific case involves an ongoing criminal investigation, these women may testify in a criminal trial. To characterize any pre-litigation settlements as an effort to buy silence is a clear mischaracterization. It is not uncommon to seek settlement prior to litigation to avoid the time and expense for both sides associated with lawsuits.”

Federico said the county has received the claim and that officials are considering their next steps.


Categories: Local News

Huge fentanyl bust: How California sheriff’s investigators caught one of their own

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 04:49

When Jorge Alberto Oceguera-Rocha placed a call over his cell phone on Sept. 16 and drove from his home in Banning to a residence in Victorville, he likely had no idea that Riverside County sheriff’s investigators were listening to his every word and watching his every move.

But they were.

Several hours later, a court document says, Riverside County sheriff’s correctional deputy Oceguera-Rocha was in handcuffs, investigators having seized from his car 104 pounds of potentially deadly fentanyl pills that the Sheriff’s Department said he was trafficking for a drug cartel in Mexico.

Oceguera-Rocha, 25, on Monday pleaded not guilty to charges of possession of narcotics for sale and transportation with the intent to distribute narcotics, both felonies, along with a sentencing enhancement of possession of a firearm while in the commission of a felony. The Banning resident, who had been assigned to the jail in that city, faces a maximum of 10 years in custody if convicted as charged, the District Attorney’s Office said.

Oceguera-Rocha was being held at John Benoit Detention Center in Indio in lieu of $5 million bail. A hearing on the bail has been set for Oct. 31. His attorney has not returned a phone message seeking comment.

A sheriff’s investigator filed a document in Superior Court asking a judge to make Oceguera-Rocha prove that if he attempts to make bail, the money came from a legal source.

“The Mexican Cartel is one of the largest criminal enterprises worldwide and is responsible for the vast majority of all narcotics trafficking within the United States,” the investigator wrote in his declaration regarding a felonious source of bail. “In addition to the mass amounts of narcotics, the Mexican Cartel and its various members have access to a near infinite amount of currency. Oceguera-Rocha conducts narcotics-related activity in concert with the Mexican Cartel and due to the nature of this relationship, it is presumed that Oceguera-Rocha has access to large quantities of narcotics as well as currency.”

The term “Mexican Cartel” does not refer to a specific cartel, but instead serves as an umbrella term for criminal drug organizations operating in Mexico, Sgt. Wenndy Brito-Gonzalez, a sheriff’s spokeswoman, said in response to an inquiry Tuesday night.

The document says the department began investigating Oceguera-Rocha this month and investigators obtained a judge’s permission to tap his cell phone.

On Sept. 16, they intercepted a phone call during which Oceguera-Rocha said he was going to travel to a narcotics stash house in Victorville, the document said. Investigators went to Banning, where around 1 p.m. they found Oceguera-Rocha driving his gray Honda Civic. They recognized the car from previous surveillance.

Oceguera-Rocha arrived at the Victorville home around 3 p.m.

“When he arrived, he placed a telephone call to a family member … and informed him that he has arrived. Simultaneously, the garage door on the residence opened and Oceguera-Rocha pulled into the garage. The garage then closed,” the document says.

It wasn’t immediately known if the family member is a target in the investigation.

About 10 minutes later, the garage door opened, and Oceguera-Rocha got in the car, pulled out of the garage and left. Deputies followed as he drove back to Banning.

As Oceguera-Rocha neared County Line Road on the 10 Freeway in Calimesa, a narcotics interdiction deputy pulled him over. A drug-detecting K9 alerted deputies to the odor of narcotics. In the trunk, the document says, deputies found four trash bags containing square-shaped packages wrapped with cellophane.

Inside the packages were blue, fentanyl-laced M30 pills — almost 520,000 of them, the document says.

Fentanyl, an opioid many times more powerful than morphine and heroin that can legally be prescribed in extremely small doses, has fueled an epidemic harmful to drug users unaware that the pills they’ve acquired contain a lethal dose of the drug.

“The quantity he was in possession of at the time of his arrest is enough to kill approximately 2 million people,” the investigator wrote.

Deputies also seized a Glock handgun that is registered to Oceguera-Rocha, the document says.

He was read his rights and declined to make a statement, the investigator wrote.

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Bail for Oceguera-Rocha was initially set at $1 million. But the investigator wrote that Oceguera-Rocha traveled to Mexico several times in the past few months to visit family and that authorities considered him a risk to flee back across the border.

“The set bail schedule is not sufficient for keeping him in custody and safeguarding the public,” the investigator wrote before the bail was increased to $5 million.

The Sheriff’s Department then sought federal charges against Oceguera-Rocha, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to file them. That office declined comment.

When that happened, Oceguera-Rocha was released on Sept. 20 because authorities were not going to be able to arraign him within the time required by law. But the Sheriff’s Department re-arrested Oceguera-Rocha that same day.

Categories: Local News