Metal theft bill advances

Metal thieves could soon face fines in addition to penalties.

A bill advancing through an Assembly committee aims to add a $100 fine for first-time offenders and $200 for a repeat offenders, in addition to the current penalties for theft.

The news comes as county firefighters had trouble extinguishing a fire at the home of a Hesperia man Wednesday because copper fittings were missing from all the hydrants on the block. Firefighters needed more time to bring in water to the location, and the fire caused significant damage to the home.

The metal theft bill, authored by Assemblyman John J. Benoit, R-Bermuda Dunes, received unanimous approval in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, Benoit’s office announced Wednesday.

The rising price of metals, such as copper, has become an invitation for thieves looking for a quick buck.

In San Bernardino County, metal theft has soared to account for one-third of property crimes, rising from an average of two incidents per month seven years ago to 10 thefts per week, according to the assemblyman. In neighboring Riverside County, more than 1,000 metal theft incidents were reported in 2007 resulting in $2.6 million worth of metal losses.

Currently, metal theft can be charged as grand theft, which carries a sentence of one year in jail, if a person steals an amount worth over $400, according to the California Penal Code. If the bill passes, revenue collected will stay in the local community for enforcement.

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Burkett petitioners charged with fraud

Riverside County prosecutors charged a pair of overzealous petitioners from Burkett Petition Management this week with elections fraud after investigators found they may have used names from a phone book and forged signatures.

Capping a two-and-a-half year investigation, authorities arrested Remi Janee Haynes, 22, of Gardena, and her former roommate Taralyn Maria Bentley, 27, of Azusa, on Wednesday, according to Riverside County Superior Court documents.

“It’s a process that everybody expects to be on the up and up,” explained Ingrid Wyatt, a spokeswoman for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. “They’re supposed to be out legitimately seeking these signatures. But unfortunately sometimes they try to cut corners.”

If Burkett Petition Management sounds familiar to you, it should.

Based in Arizona, Burkett was named in an investigation by prosecutors in San Bernardino County targeting more than 3,000 possibly fraudulent voter registration cards in March 2006. Bill Postmus, then-chairman of the county Republican Party and Board of Supervisors, noted the cards appeared to be filled out by the signature gatherers.

Burkett surfaced again later that month when the company was caught in a flap over voter registration guidelines for a petition regarding law enforcement in the city of Rialto. In each case in San Bernardino County, Burkett denied wrongdoing.

In the Riverside case, Haynes and Bentley submitted the falsified petitions to Burkett Petition Management, according to prosecutors. Burkett alerted the Secretary of State’s Election Fraud Investigation Unit in April 2005.

Eighteen months later, Riverside County prosecutors took on the probe for another year.

Haynes and Bently were charged on Mar. 26 with 26 counts including placing fictitious names on an initiative petition, filing a false document and perjury. If convicted, they could be sentenced up to 11 years in state prison, prosecutors said.

Both defendants are scheduled to appear in Riverside Superior Court on April 29.

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Jury integrity paramount in Mynisha retrial

Lawyers in the Mynisha Crenshaw homicide re-trial will begin picking jurors next week, a crucial element of the process that may have dogged the first trial in Rancho Cucamonga in fall 2006.

Three suspects are ready for trial, to be held in San Bernardino this time, in a brutal gang retaliation shooting that killed 11-year-old Mynisha and wounded her older sister.

In the retrial, jury selection couldn’t be more paramount after potential threats surfaced during the 2006 trial while court testimony was underway.

Prosecutors learned one of the jurors hailed from an area favorable to the street gang whose members were on trial, according to those close to the case. Defendant Sinque Morrison had identified a juror as being from the Grape, an area controlled by a Los Angeles street gang, in a telephone call from the jail, The Sun reported in October 2006.

In a separate instance, Sheriff’s deputies who control the inmate holding area at the courthouse found a kite, or a note passed among inmates, referencing jurors. Working on one of the jurors. Need you to have some new booties take care of that Ms. Davis business, maybe even at the courthouse, the note said.

Court officials, at the time, said no one on the jury was named Ms. Davis but the situation was enough to cause alarm. In response, Judge Shahla Sabet held a closed-court hearing to interview jurors one by one and assess any possible misconduct.

The jury eventually deadlocked on most of the charges against defendants Sidikiba Greenwood, Harold Phillips and Morrison, and prosecutors say they aren’t taking any chances with jury selection and safety in the second trial.

Considerations are being made to reduce chances of the situation from happening again, Deputy District Attorney Ron Webster explained this week. However, no details were revealed.

The three men, suspected members of the Pimps, Players, Hustlers and Gangsters street gang, are charged with Mynisha’s death and the wounding of her older sister in the November 2005 shooting.

San Bernardino Police say the gang was retaliating for the shooting death of one of its own members, four days earlier in the same area. Numerous rounds were fired into an apartment near Mountain Avenue and Citrus Street, where Mynisha and her family were eating dinner.

The girls were unintended victims.

Eight other defendants in the case have already taken plea bargains. A judge delayed defendant Michael Barnett Jr. from going to trial earlier this week after his lawyer asked for more time because of an illness.

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Mynisha re-trial in full swing

As fellow Sun staffer Robert Rogers reported this morning, the re-trial for suspects in the deadly Mynisha Crenshaw shooting is back in full swing before Judge Brian McCarville in San Bernardino Superior Court.

However, this time there’s only three defendants. McCarville granted defense lawyer Marsha Fitzgerald more time to recover from an illness, so defendant Michael Barnett Jr. gets to sit this one out. Going forward in the retrial are defendants Sidikiba Greendwood, Sinque Morrison and Harold Phillips.

On Tuesday, lawyers for each side argued the finer points of a statement defendant Harold Phillips gave to San Bernardino Police detectives after the shooting. Prosecutors have the difficult task of redacting portions of the statement that pertain to the other defendants, while trying to keep the meat of the statement intact.

A handful of family members for the defendants watched the slow and deliberate proceedings from the gallery.

McCarville had ruled Monday that portions of Phillips’ tape-recorded statement to Detective Gary Robertson would be admissable at trial, after defense lawyer John Aquilina argued that his client had not been properly Mirandized. The judge ruled that a Miranda advisal later in the interview and a signature from Phillips made portions of the interview usable by prosecutors.

Deputy District Attorney Ron Webster and the defense lawyers were about two-thirds of the way through the written statement by the mid-day break on Tuesday. They still have many other issues and motions to address, aside from jury selection, before they can begin the testimony phase.

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Casino bans strengthened in Assembly bill

Proposed legislation which makes it easier for tribal casinos to ban problem people from their premises is making its way through the state legislature, while a separate bill proposes to give elder abuse victims a stronger voice in court.

Riverside County’s top prosecutor Rod Pacheco is lending his support to Assembly Bill 2155 which allows for greater enforcement of tribal gaming bans, according to an announcement his office sent out Wednesday.

Under the current law, a person who has been banned from a tribal casino in the past must create a disturbance in order to be convicted of trespassing on the next visit. But Assembly Bill 2155, which was authored by Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, R-Cathedral City, closes the gap.

For those people who have been banned, simply re-entering the casino facility will be grounds for removal from the property, according to the new legislation. The bill is set to be heard next in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Pacheco called the legislation’s progress and support “a great advantage to our community,” in the statement.

A separate bill written by Senators Jim Battin, R-Palm Desert, and Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, proposes to allow elders and dependant adults who are testifying in abuse cases to have up to two support personnel with them while they testify. Pacheco is also supporting this bill, Senate Bill 1343, to give elder abuse and dependant adult victims a stronger voice in court.

SB 1343 has passed the state Senate with unanimous bipartisan support, according to Pacheco, and is now awaiting committee hearings in the Assembly.

The two bills are among 14 separate pieces of legislation that Pacheco’s office is sponsoring this year.

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