Murder suspect who represents himself granted access to police reports

POMONA — An alleged gang member acting as his own attorney in a murder case will have access to police reports and other legal documents in his case, a judge ruled today.

Prosecutors had previously sought to withhold such documents from Rodney Coronel Perez because they feared witnesses might be harmed if the documents, called “discovery” in legal parlance, were obtained by the accused killer.

Perez, 30, of Asuza, is accused in the execution-style shooting death of Roberta Romero, who was killed May 11, 2009 in Pomona.

Prosecutors believe Romero, 24, was targeted because she testified against a high-ranking member of the Azusa 13 street gang who was convicted of four murders and sentenced to death.

When Perez’s request to act his own attorney was granted Nov. 19, Deputy District Attorney Ian Phan asked that discovery documents be kept from Perez and instead given to a defense private investigator.

But on Tuesday in Pomona Superior Court, Phan seemed to soften his stance, noting that the California Penal Code allows access to such documents for defendants who represent themselves.

Before giving police reports and other documents to Perez, Phan told Judge Tia Fisher that he will redact addresses and other contact information for witnesses in the case and for Romero’s family members.

Asked if he feared witnesses might be harmed as a result of Perez obtaining the documents, which number more than 2,000, Phan said, “There’s always that potential.”

“That’s why the information is redacted,” he added.

A Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office committee is set to meet Wednesday to debate whether prosecutors should seek the death penalty against Perez and his co-defendant, Ramiro Juan Alvarez, Phan said.

Alvarez, 24, of Azusa, is accused of aiding and abetting Perez in Romero’s killing.

According to court testimony from a woman who witnessed Romero’s killing, Perez and Alvarez targeted Romero because she testified against Ralph “Swifty” Flores.

Flores was an enforcer for Azusa 13 who was convicted in 2008 of murdering four people between 1999 and 2004.

According to a transcript of testimony in his preliminary hearing, Flores shot and killed 16-year-old boy in Azusa who he’d never met because the boy was black.

Flores’ other victims included a member of a rival street gang, a woman he wrongly suspected of providing information about his gang to police, as well as a gang associate who refused to transfer ownership of her car, which the gang wanted to sell to raise money for a defense attorney for one of its members.

Doughnut shop owner sentenced for ivory smuggling

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Pictured: Ivory seized from Chau’s doughnut shop in Claremont (photo courtesy U.S. Attorney’s Office).

LOS ANGELES – The owner of a Claremont doughnut shop was placed on probation and fined nearly $4,000 on Monday for smuggling ivory from endangered African elephants.

Moun Chau, who owns Pixie Donuts on Base Line Road and lives in Montclair, pleaded guilty in April to charges that he purchased elephant tusks from a man in Thailand.

According to a summary of Chau’s case contained in his plea agreement, Chau made four separate ivory purchases on eBay in September and October 2006. He spent about $2,500 on the purchases.

At Chau’s sentencing in Los Angeles federal court, U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder said she believes Chau is very unlikely to reoffend.

“The court believes the sentence is sufficient, but not overly harsh,” Snyder said.

Chau was placed on probation for two years, fined $3,800 and ordered to pay a $100 court fee. The first $2,000 of his fine was due immediately, with the balance to be paid in $100 monthly increments.

Chau faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and up to $250,000 in fines.

Chau declined to speak during his sentencing. He and his attorney also declined to comment after the hearing.

In Chau’s indictment, prosecutors accused the seller, Samart Chokchoyma, of declaring in customs forms that a package of ivory sent to Chau was a “gift” containing “toys.”

After receiving the elephant tusks, Chau carved the items in the back of his doughnut shop, according to investigators.

Man convicted in gang shooting sentenced to 19 years

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RANCHO CUCAMONGA — A man accused of shooting two people at a party in Montclair pleaded guilty on Monday to attempted murder and another felony as part of a plea bargain that carries a 19-year prison sentence.

Victor Salvador Talamantez, 35, was arrested March 28 for allegedly opening fire the previous night outside a party in the 4600 block of San Jose Street where he and a group of people were denied entry.

One of the bullets fired by Talamantez struck a 17-year-old girl in the chest, passed through her body, and struck the girl’s 21-year-old brother-in-law in the shoulder, police said at the time of the incident.

Talamantez entered his pleas in West Valley Superior Court as part of a plea bargain in which prosecutors agreed to dismiss three felonies against Talamantez.

Judge Mary E. Fuller then sentenced Talamantez, an alleged gang member, to 19 years in state prison.

The night of the shooting, Talamantez and a group of people walked past a party thrown by people they didn’t know and tried to enter the home.

They were told they couldn’t come inside, and an argument between the two groups ensued, police said.

When people from each group claimed membership in a gang, Talamantez opened fire, according to police.

Talamantez was arrested the morning after the shooting at Philadelphia Street and Pipeline Avenue in Chino.

Upland man takes plea bargain in threats to grandparents

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — An Upland man accused of holding a knife to his grandfather’s neck has pleaded no contest to a felony assault charge as part of a plea bargain that carries probation and a possible four-year prison sentence.

Jack Clifford Eckman, 22, was originally charged with five felonies and a misdemeanor for allegedly harassing his grandparents. The alleged harassment peaked June 30 when his alleged threat against his grandfather.

Eckman was in custody Monday when he entered his plea in West Valley Superior Court as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

The agreement calls for Eckman to be placed on probation for three years. If he violates his probation, he could be sentenced to four years in prison.

Prosecutors agreed to dismiss all but one felony charge against Eckman.

Judge Donald G. Umhoffer allowed Eckman to be released from custody at the end of the hearing in exchange for a promise that he appear in court Dec. 22 for his sentencing.

Eckman was arrested for a June 30 incident at his grandparents’ home in the 300 block of South Greentree Road in Upland, where he used to live.

During his visit he demanded belongings he claimed he had left there. When his grandparents disputed his claim that he had left belongings there, an argument escalated until Eckman allegedly took out a knife.

According to a police report contained in his court file, Eckman held the knife over his head and walked within two three feet of his grandmother.

“I should kill you,” he said, according to the report.

He later held the knife to his grandfather’s throat and threatened to kill him, according to the report.

Cooley concedes California attorney general race

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Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif.–Republican Steve Cooley conceded the California attorney general’s race to Democrat Kamala Harris on Wednesday, giving Democrats a sweep of all statewide offices and ushering in the first woman and first minority elected to the post.

With only 150,000 votes remaining to be counted three weeks after Election Day, there aren’t enough outstanding votes for Cooley to overtake Harris, said Cooley’s political consultant, Kevin Spillane.

Harris, the San Francisco district attorney, is up by 51,000 votes, a half-percentage point margin, in the closely fought north-south battle between the prosecutors from California’s two most prominent cities. Cooley is Los Angeles County district attorney.

Spillane said Cooley called Harris on Wednesday morning to congratulate her.

In a statement issued by her campaign, Harris said she would wait to make a victory declaration until a news conference next week, after counties complete their final vote counts.

“Harris thanks district attorney Cooley for a spirited campaign and looks forward to working together on the critical public safety challenges facing California,” she said.

Harris, 46, replaces Democrat Jerry Brown, who gave up the office in his successful bid for governor.

The rising Democratic star, the daughter of a black father and a mother from India, won backing from President Barack Obama and was named one of the nation’s most inspiring women by Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine. She counts Barbra Streisand, DreamWorks co-founders David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, and actress Reese Witherspoon among campaign contributors.

The race also drew national attention because of California’s size and its ability to influence national policy. During his tenure, Brown sued the federal government over former President George W. Bush’s refusal to accept state laws on auto emission standards. Obama moved to set national standards this year, partly as a result.

Harris ran as a reformer who began alternative tough-love programs in San Francisco for drug offenders and parents whose children miss too much school. Prosecutors and lawmakers should attack the underlying social problems that lead to crime as well as the criminal, she said.

She said her priority as attorney general will be fixing California’s revolving-door prison system. The state needs to be smarter on crime in an era of budget cutbacks and crowded prisons and jails, she said during the campaign.

She also made environmental protection a keystone of her campaign, drawing a contrast with Cooley’s reluctance to oppose a November ballot initiative that would have delayed implementing California’s landmark 2006 global warming law. The measure failed.

Harris’ win was hailed by gay rights supporters. Harris, like Brown and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said she would not defend Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure outlawing gay marriages. The law was recently overturned by a federal judge, and Harris said she won’t push to reinstate what she believes is an unconstitutional violation of civil rights.

She prevailed despite negative publicity from two San Francisco controversies.

The attorney general’s office took over the investigation of tainted evidence blamed on an employee in the San Francisco police crime lab. She also had to make changes in her office after admitting her prosecutors failed to research and disclose police officers’ criminal or disciplinary histories to defense attorneys.

Both revelations forced the dismissal of hundreds of criminal cases and jeopardized thousands more.

In a statement issued by his campaign, Cooley, 63, noted that he won more votes than any other Republican running for statewide office in California, and blamed the state’s blue Election Day landslide for his inability to win. Spillane blamed a poor showing by Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and Cooley’s inability to raise enough money for statewide television ads.

“It is unfortunate that someone who is a non-partisan non-politician could not overcome the increasingly partisan tendencies of the state, even for an office that by its nature necessitates a non-partisan approach,” Cooley said in his statement.

Harris won despite Cooley’s attempt to portray himself as tougher on crime. He was backed by law enforcement groups and national corporations that capitalized on Harris’ personal opposition to imposing the death penalty, notably her refusal to seek the death penalty for the killer of an undercover San Francisco police officer in 2004.

Like Brown, Harris promised to put her own views aside and enforce the state’s capital punishment law as attorney general.

Cooley has built a national reputation by prosecuting high-profile cases, including those involving fugitive film director Roman Polanski and Michael Jackson’s doctor. He said in his statement that he plans to serve out the remaining two years of his term as district attorney, finishing his career in the office where he began 37 years ago.

Spillane, however, said Cooley hadn’t ruled out a bid for a fourth term as district attorney nor a future run for statewide office.

Accused killer to represent himself in court

POMONA — An alleged gang member accused of murdering a woman who testified in a gang case was granted permission by a judge today to act as his own attorney.

Rodney Coronel Perez, 30, could face the death penalty for allegedly shooting and killing 24-year-old Roberta Romero last year in Pomona.

Prosecutors believe that Romero, of Azusa, was killed on May 11, 2009 because she testified against a high-ranking member of the Azusa 13 street gang who was convicted of four murders and sentenced to death.

Before Judge Tia Fisher relieved Perez’s attorney and placed Perez in control of his case, she warned him of the difficulty of representing himself.

“I think that that’s a bad choice,” Fisher told Perez in Pomona Superior Court. “… It would certainly be against my advice.”

Perez told Fisher he has no legal training and has never acted as his own attorney in prior criminal cases. He said his highest education level is 11th grade. He also said he completed one semester at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut.

Perez’s former attorney, Antonio Bestard, said after the hearing that Perez was adamant about representing himself.

“He feels he can represent himself better,” Bestard said. “He said he just wants to do this.”

Though Perez became his own attorney today, Fisher denied him access to legal documents in his case.

Deputy District Attorney Ian Phan, Perez’s prosecutor, argued that Perez should not have access to documents such as police reports because of the potential harm to witnesses. He noted that Perez is accused of murdering a gang witness.

Fisher said that Perez’s former attorney would be ordered to give his documents to a private investigator, who would be prohibited from sharing copies with Perez.

Perez said he needs the documents to mount a defense, and asked to make a formal motion for access to the documents. He is set to return to court Nov. 30 to ask Fisher for access to the documents.

Also on Nov. 30, Perez is expected to bring a letter to court for a committee of Los Angeles County deputy district attorneys who will decide whether to seek the death penalty against Perez and his co-defendant.

The committee is set to meet Dec. 1, Phan said.

Ramiro Juan Alvarez, 26, is charged with murder for allegedly aiding and abetting Perez in Romero’s killing.

Former church administrator pleads no contest to embezzlement

CHINO — A former administrator at Calvary Chapel Chino Hills has pleaded no contest to embezzling money from the church.

Farrukh Ahmed, 48, entered his plea Thursday in Chino Superior Court as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors that carries a nine-month jail sentence.

Ahmed’s plea bargain also calls for him to be placed on probation for three years and to pay $25,000 in restitution to the church. The Ontario resident is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 20.

Ahmed was arrested in December by San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies who accused him of embezzling about $750,000 from the church between 2006 and 2009.

Deputy District Attorney Will Wooten said that Ahmed is required to repay only $25,000 because prosecutors felt they would have been unable to prove the embezzlement was as extensive as church officials believed.

“What they believed he had taken and what we could prove were two different things,” Wooten said.

Ahmed, who has been free on bail since his arrest, must surrender to authorities Jan. 7 to begin serving his jail term, according to his plea agreement.

His attorney, Jackie-Lynn Adams, did not return calls seeking comment today.

Authorities name suspect in four 1990 cold case killings

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Pictured (from top): Alfredo Prieto, Stacey Siegrist and Anthony Gianuzzi.

Riverside County sheriff’s detectives today named a prolific killer from Pomona as a suspect in the unsolved slayings in 1990 of four people from Ontario and Montclair.

Investigators from the department’s Cold Case Unit identified 44-year-old Alfredo Prieto as the killer through DNA testing that was completed last month, according to a news release.

Prieto’s DNA was found at the Rubidoux crime scene where the bodies of a young couple — Stacey Siegrist, 19, and Anthony Gianuzzi, 21 — were discovered by a jogger on May 5, 1990.

Siegrist, of Montclair, and Gianuzzi, of Ontario, were each shot twice. Siegrist was also sexually assaulted, according to the news release.

Through ballistics testing, investigators discovered that the weapon used to kill Siegrist and Gianuzzi was also used in the double slaying in June 1990 of Ontario residents Lula Farley, 71, and her husband Herbert Farley, 65.

A gunman — believed to be Prieto — shot and killed Lula Mae Farley in an alley behind an Ontario supermarket where she and her husband were collecting recyclables, according to 1990 news coverage. Herbert Farley was abducted and later found shot to death in Rubidoux.

Prieto, identified by authorities as a Pomona Northside gang member, has been linked to nine killings in California and Virginia between May 1988 and September 1990, according to the news release.

He was sentenced to death in 1992 for the Sept. 2, 1990 rape and murder in Ontario of 15-year-old Yvette Woodruff. That case is “going through the appellate process,” the news release said.

Three years ago he was convicted of murdering two people in 1988 in Virginia, a crime that investigators linked to him through DNA evidence.

Last week a jury in Fairfax County, Virginia recommended Pietro be put to death for the murders of Rachael Raver and Warren Fulton III, both 22. A judge may impose the sentence Dec. 16, according to the Washington Post.

Sgt. Scott Brown said that even if Prieto is charged in Riverside County, it’s unlikely he will return to California to be prosecuted.

Authorities in Virginia have said they will likely execute Prieto within five to seven years if the death penalty is imposed, and will not release him to California if his appeals here are still pending, Brown said.

Authorities in Virginia believe Prieto killed two other people there in the late 1980s. He has not been charged in connection with those killings.

Abduction and killing

Siegrist and Gianuzzi were last seen together the evening of May 3, 1990. Two days later, a jogger discovered their bodies along a dirt service road in Rubidoux near the intersection of Canal and Alta streets.

According to the news release, Siegrist was sexually assaulted and shot in the side of her head and the back of her neck.

Gianuzzi’s wrists and feet were bound, and he had been shot in the back of the head and the back of the neck, according to the news release.

Detectives submitted evidence to a Texas laboratory this year that had been recovered from Siegrist’s body. Testing showed that the evidence contained Prieto’s DNA, according to the news release.

Detectives said they will seek murder charges against Prieto for Siegrist and Gianuzzi’s killings. It’s unknown when the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office will reach a decision in the case, according to the news release.

Siegrist’s family members released a statement this afternoon reacting to the identification of a suspect in Siegrist’s killing.

“We are relieved to know one of the persons involved has been caught,” the statement said. “However, closure is something families of murder victims will never have.

“Stacey was so full of life and so loved by her family. She had a lot of life left to live, that’s the real tragedy: a young person taken away before they’ve even had a chance to live.

“To have a loved one taken in such a brutal way has been too much to bear. No family should ever have to deal with that. The pain we’ve suffered is tremendous and never ending.

“You try to live with it, but it’s always there. All we have left of Stacey are our memories. Her smile, her laugh, we will never forget her and we will always miss her.

“Our heartfelt thanks and appreciation goes out to the Riverside (County) sheriff’s Cold Case Unit for their diligence with this case and hearts go out to the families of the other murder victims. To any other families that are going through this, don’t ever give up hope.”

Investigators believe one or two other people were involved in Siegrist and Gianuzzi’s killings, and urge anyone with information about the case to contact sheriff’s Investigator John Powers at 951-955-2777.

Ambushed in Ontario

On June 2, 1990, Lula Mae and Herbert Farley were ambushed by at two men as they foraged for cans behind a now-closed Alpha Beta supermarket on Mountain Avenue in Ontario.

Three witnesses told police that one man shot and killed Lula Mae Farley as the other man punched Herbert Farley inside the couple’s car.

The car then sped away with Herbert Farley and the two attackers inside, according to archived news coverage of the case.

Two hours later the car was found abandoned in Mira Loma. Herbert Farley’s body was not found until four days later. He had been shot to death and dumped in Rubidoux.

Six weeks after the killings, Steven Richard Valdez of Ontario, then 19, was charged with murdering the couple. The prosecution was dropped after a key witness was inconsistent in identifying Valdez as the shooter.

Ongoing investigation

Brown said that Riverside County sheriff’s detectives will soon visit Prieto in Virginia to try to interview him about his suspected killings in California, as well as other potential crimes.

Brown said Prieto’s motive in many of the cases in unclear, and can only be understood by investigators if stated by Prieto himself.

“Prieto is the only one that car reveal this to us,” Brown said.

Alfredo Prieto: A bloody trail

Source: Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and news archives.

May 10, 1988: DNA evidence has linked Prieto to the rape and shooting death of Tina Jefferson, 24, in Arlington, Virginia. Prieto has not been charged.

Dec. 3, 1988: Rachael Raver and Warren Fulton III, both 22, were shot to death in Reston, Virginia. Raver was also sexually assaulted. Prieto has been convicted of murdering Raver and Fulton, and a jury this month recommended he be put to death. A judge may impose the sentence Dec. 16.

Sept. 2, 1989: Manuel F. Sermeno, 27, was shot to death and discovered inside a burning car in Prince William, Virginia. Ballistics testing has linked Prieto to the case, but he has not been charged. Authorities in Virginia have said he’s unlikely to be prosecuted if sentenced to death for Raver and Fulton’s killings.

May 5, 1990: Stacey Siegrist, 19, and Anthony Gianuzzi, 21, were found shot to death in Rubidoux. Siegrist was also sexually assaulted. The couple had last been seen two days earlier and their car was discovered in Montclair. Riverside County sheriff’s investigators announced Tuesday that Prieto’s DNA was recently found on evidence from the crime scene.

June 2, 1990: Lula Farley, 71, and her husband Herbert Farley, 65, were ambushed by two men as they collected recyclables behind a supermarket in Ontario. Lula Farley was shot to death, and Herbert Farley was abducted and later found shot to death in Rubidoux. Prieto has been linked to the case through ballistics testing.

Sept. 2, 1990: Prieto and two other people kidnapped three people in Ontario during a burglary. Prieto sexually assault and fatally shot Yvette Woodruff, 15. The other two men sexually assaulted the other two women, then tried to kill them by repeatedly stabbing them. The women survived the attack. All three men were convicted and Prieto was sentenced to death.

Former school employee sentenced for illegal sex

POMONA — A former Pomona Unified School District employee was taken into custody this morning at the conclusion of his sentencing for having sex with a 17-year-old girl.

Benjamin Chavez, 40, was sentenced to six months in jail by Judge Mike Camacho in Pomona Superior Court.

Chavez, of Pomona, pleaded no contest to a felony last week as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Prosecutors accused Chavez, who worked as a security guard and baseball coach at Garey High School, of having sex with the girl in September at the Lemon Tree Hotel in Pomona.

Gang member pleads no contest to extortion

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — A 57-year-old Chino Sinners gang member pleaded no contest today to charges that he tried to extort a $1,000 gang “tax” from a parolee who had recently moved to Chino Hills.

Ruben Johnny Gonzales’s plea was entered in West Valley Superior Court as part of a plea agreement that carries a 20-year prison sentence, Deputy District Attorney Carlo DiCesare said.

Because Gonzales had two strike convictions, he faced a potential sentence of 39 years to life if convicted at trial, DiCesare said.

“It’s his record, plus he’s trying to collect money for the gang,” DiCesare said.

Gonzales is scheduled to be sentenced on January 10.

Gonzales was arrested in April after a recent parolee told San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies that Gonzales stalked him demanding that he “pay or play” — either participate in gang activity or pay $1,000 for living in Chino Sinners gang territory.

The parolee had recently moved to Chino Hills from Arizona, where he served a prison sentence for burglary, according to a police report contained in Gonzales’s court file.

As part of his parole program, the man was required to attend drug treatment classes at a parole office in Pomona.

During one of the sessions, Gonzales asked the man where he was living. When the man told Gonzales he lived in Chino Hills, Gonzales then made his demand for gang participation or payment.

The man told deputies that he refused because is not a gang member. Yet Gonzales persisted, and even came to the man’s apartment twice and demanded payment.