LOS ANGELES >> Federal officials on Wednesday arrested the owner and two manager of a chain of four schools, including one in Alhambra, on charges of running a “pay-to-stay” scheme officials allege helped hundreds of foreign nationals remain in the U.S. as foreign students without attending classes.
A federal grand jury returned a 21-count indictment against the three defendants Tuesday, U.S. Department of Justice spokesoman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement. The involved schools are the Likie Fashion and Technology College in Alhambra, Prodee University/Neo American Language School in Los Angeles; Walter Jay M.D. Institute, and Educational Center in Los Angeles; and the American College of Forensic Studies in Los Angeles.
“Given the implications for national security and public safety, we will move aggressively to target individuals who compromise the integrity of our nation’s immigration system out of greed and self-interest,” HSI in in Los Angeles Special Agent in Charge Claude Arnold said. “Simply put, those who exploit the benefits of the student visa program can expect to get a lesson in criminal justice.”
The schools were authorized by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations to sue Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status for academic and languages students, Mrozek said. The school-issued forms, known as form I-20, made students eligible to obtain F-1 student visas allowing them to remain in the United States.
The schools’ enrollees paid up to $1,800 “tuition” for six months of enrollment, Mrozek said. The schools collected as much as $6 million per year in purported tuition payments.
But HSI officials who made an unannounced visit to Prodee University’s main campus in 2011 investigators to Prodee University’s main campus found only three students attending a single English class, although records indicated more than 900 students were enrolled at the university’s two campuses, Mrozek said. Another inspection the same day as the American College of Forensic Studies turned up a single student sitting in one religion class, officials said. Federal records reflected that the school should have had more than 300 active students.
His investigators also found dozens of purported foreign students, primarily from South Korea and China, who originally entered the U.S. to attend other schools, but transferred to the Prodee Network, Mrozek said. “These students lived across the nation, indicating that they were not actually attending classes at Prodee or the other schools,” he said.
School network owner Hee Sun Shim, 51, of Beverly Hills, who is also known as Leonard Shim and Leo Shim, is charged in the indictment along with alleged co-conspirators Hyung Cham Moon, 39, of Los Angeles, also known as Steve Moon, and Eun Young Choi, 35, of Los Angeles, also known as Jamie Choi, according to the DOJ.
All three are charged with conspiring to commit immigration fraud, Mrozek said. Shim is also charged with 13 counts of use or possession of an immigration document procured by fraud, three counts of encouraging illegal residence and two counts of money laundering.
Moon and Choi are each accused of one count of use or possession of an immigration document procured by fraud.
HSI officials planned to immediately seek withdrawal of the schools’ Student and Exchange Visitor Program certification, Mrozek added.
Any students enrolled at the involved schools were advised to contact SEVP representatives at 703-603-3400 for further instructions, officials said. Information is also available online at the SEVP page of ICE’s website at www.ice.gov/sevis/whats-new.
PASADENA >> Police jailed an Alhambra man Saturday on suspicion of raping an intoxicated coworker in Pasadena last month, police said.
Rene I. Flores, 29, was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail Sunday at the Pasadena Police Department’s jail pending his initial court appearance, Los Angeles County booking records show.
Police arrested him Saturday morning at the workplace the suspect and alleged victim share in Rosemead, Pasadena police Lt. John Mercado said.
The alleged rape took place the night of Feb. 20 after Flores and the victim, a woman in her early-20s, had gone out for drinks with coworkers, he said.
“She started feeling sick while she was out drinking,” Mercado said.
Flores took the woman home, then sexually assaulted her while she was “highly intoxicated” and “not coherent,” the lieutenant said.
The woman promptly reported the crime to police, who have been investigating ever since, he said.
PASADENA >> An Alhambra man died after being thrown from his SUV in a solo-vehicle crash in Pasadena early Sunday.
The victim, initially described as a man in his 20s, died at Huntington Hospital shortly after the 1:15 a.m. rollover crash on Oak Knoll Avenue just north of Old Mill Road, Pasadena police Lt. John Mercado said.
The man’s name was not available Sunday pending positive identification and notification of family, coroner’s Lt. Fred Corrall said.
The lone older-model, mid-size SUV involved in the crash overturned, ejecting the driver, Mercado said. The vehicle did not strike any other vehicles or objects.
Paramedics rushed the badly injured man to the hospital.
“He underwent emergency surgery,” Mercado said. “Due to massive internal injuries he did not survive surgery.”
The cause of the crash remained under investigation by Pasadena police.
SAN GABRIEL VALLEY >> Crashes brought traffic on the 10 Freeway to a halt in Alhambra and Baldwin Park late Friday, officials said.
The first crash involved as many as four vehicles and was first reported just after 9 p.m. on the eastbound 10 Freeway at Garfield Avenue, according to California Highway Patrol logs. One of the involved vehicles became “fully engulfed” in flames following the crash.
Officials shut down all eastbound lanes of 10 Freeway for about 45 minutes as they cleared wreckage from traffic lanes, CHP Officer Alex Rubio said.
Officials reopened all but the right-hand lane of eastbound traffic about 9:50 p.m.
Another three-vehicle crash reported in the eastbound lanes of the 10 Freeway in Baldwin Park prompted authorities to shut down traffic lanes at Francisquito Avenue about the same time, officials said.
The Baldwin Park crash, reported about 8:45 p.m., prompted authorities to shut down the three right-hand lanes of the eastbound 10 Freeway, according to the CHP. The closure was expected to remain in effect beyond 10 p.m.
No information was initially available regarding the extent of injuries involved in either crash.
ALHAMBRA >> Police are seeking a man armed with either a rifle or shotgun who carjacked a man in a residential Alhambra neighborhood earlier this week.
The victim arrived home in the 1800 block of South Stoneman Avenue about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to Alhambra police Sgt. Jerry Johnson. He parked along the street and began removing items from the passenger side of the 2013 Nissan Altima when the carjacker approached on foot, brandishing a rifle or a shotgun.
After making a statement the victim didn’t understand, “The suspect entered the the car and started it using the ‘push to start’ button,” Johnson said.
The victim still had the car keys, so the car was only capable of driving for a short time before shutting off automatically, Johnson said. The car was found abandoned several hours later in East Los Angeles.
Police said the victim was not hurt. A detailed suspect description was not available.
RIVERSIDE >> A former Alhambra High School assistant principal who was accused of molesting a two former students, including one who confronted her in a phone call and posted the conversation online, pleaded guilty Friday to three counts of child molestation involving two victims, authorities said.
Andrea Michelle Cardosa, 41, reportedly pleaded guilty to three counts of committing lewd acts on a child under 14 in Riverside Superior court. The charges stemmed from the molestation of two female students at middle schools in Riverside and Perris. The alleged Riverside crimes took place between 1997 and and 2001, and the alleged Perris crimes took place in 2009 or 2010.
She faces up to maximum sentence of 10 years, eight months in prison. Sentencing was scheduled for Feb. 9.
She was initially charged with 16 felony counts related to child molestation and could have faced life in prison if she had been convicted as charged, prosecutors said.
Cardosa resigned from her position as an administrator at Alhambra High School shortly after her first victim posted the telephone confrontation on YouTube in January of 2014, but before her arrest in early February of 2014, officials said.
The video confrontation, in which Cardosa apparently incriminates herself, went viral after it was first posted by a 28-year-old woman who alleged she was molested by the Cardosa for six years, beginning when she was a 12-year-old student at Chemawa Middle School in Riverside.
Following the release of the video, a second woman, 18, came forward and alleged she also had been molested by Cardosa in 2009 and 2010 while a student at Tomas Rivera Middle School in Perris.
Prior to entering her plea Friday, Cardosa was being held in lieu of $5 million bail.
– From staff and wire reports.
MONTEREY PARK >> A California Highway Patrol investigation into a crash between Alhambra and Monterey Park fire trucks last year that sent one of the engines careening into a dim sum restaurant, resulting in 15 injuries, has determined the Alhambra Fire Department truck was at fault for the collision.
The crash occurred shortly after 3 p.m. on April 16 at Garfield and Emerson avenues. Both trucks were responding to a report of a house fire in Monterey Park with emergency lights and sirens activated, officials said. The agencies often cooperate with each other in responding to emergencies.
The large truck’s collided in the intersection, sending the Monterey Park engine hurtling into the Lu Dumpling House. Four pedestrians who were walking in front of the restaurant were injured, one of them critically, authorities said. Six people inside the restaurant were also hurt, along with six firefighters.
A summary of the investigative findings released by the CHP Thursday states that the Alhambra fire engine’s driver drove unsafely just prior to the collision.
The Alhambra engine was southbound on Garfield Avenue at about 15 mph when it entered the intersection through a red light about the same time as the Monterey Park engine entered the intersection through a green light while heading east on Emerson Avenue at about 25 mph, according the CHP statement.
“The Alhambra fire engine failed to ensure the intersection was safe to enter against the red signal light,” according to the statement. “ Due to Alhambra fire engine’s unsafe operation, the front of Alhambra’s fire engine collided into the front of Monterey Park’s fire engine.”
No charges were to be filed in connection with the crash, CHP officials said.
The Alhambra engine was driven by 46-year-old Alhambra Fire Department Firefighter Bryan Butler. Monterey Park Fire Department Firefighter Nicholas Lima, 31, was at the wheel of the Monterey Park fire engine, according to the CHP.
Alhambra City Attorney Joseph Montes said 22 civil claims have been filed in connection with the crash. He declined to comment on the CHP findings.
“We’ve received the report. We’re in the process of analyzing and reviewing it,” Montes said. “We have pending litigation and in light of all that we are not in a position to make any further comment at this time.”
— Staff Writer Stephanie Baer contributed to this report.
PHOTO by Walt Mancini
ALHAMBRA >> Police discovered a methamphetamine lab inside an Alhambra apartment Friday, officials said.
Officers checking up on an elderly man at the request of his landlord found the clandestine drug lab about 1:40 p.m. at an apartment in a complex at 110 N. Chapel Avenue, Alhambra police Sgt. Jerry Johnson said.
A landlord asked police to check on the apartment after not hearing from it’s elderly resident for several days, the sergeant said. “He was very concerned.”
Police went to the apartment and found “large pots filled with foul-smelling chemicals” throughout, Johnson said. No one was at the home, and the apartment did not appear as if anyone lived there.
Officials evacuated nine people from nearby apartments as they summoned a hazardous materials crew and a California Department of Justice team specializing in meth lab clean-up, Johnson said.
Preliminary testing confirmed the operation was a methamphetamine lab, he said.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the lab, or whether the elderly man police were initially sent to check on was involved, police said. The resident still had not been found Friday evening.
No suspects were in custody as the investigation continued, Johnson said.
The evacuated residents were allowed to return to their homes about 6:30 p.m., Johnson said. The clean-up process continued Friday night.
ALHAMBRA >> A three-time convicted felon from Los Angeles pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges stemming from the stabbing of an Alhambra man during an argument over a woman earlier this month, officials said.
Isaias Casillas, 41, is charged with assault with a deadly weapon in for the alleged Dec. 4 attack at the victim’s home in the 2900 block of Montezuma Avenue, according to Alhambra police and Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials.
Casillas went to the victim’s home about 3 p.m. and the two men became involved in a fight, officials said.
“At this time motive appears to be disrespect of a girlfriend,” Alhambra police officials said in a written statement.
“While victim is in his front yard washing his car, suspect Casillas approaches victim with a gun in his hand pointing it at victim,” according to the police statement.
Casillas then began punching the victim in the head and face.
Casillas did not fire the gun, but pulled out a pocket knife and started stabbing the victim, police said.
The knife wounds , described as lacerations to the head area, were not considered to be life-threatening, Sgt. Jim Hammond said. The victim declined to be taken to a hospital by paramedics.
Police arrested Casillas in connection with the incident the following day.
Casillas and his alleged victim were acquainted with one another, Hammond said.
“ At this time motive appears to be disrespect of a girlfriend,” according to the police statement.
District attorney’s officials said Casillas was previously convicted of grand theft in 1996, possession of methamphetamine in 2000 and vehicular manslaughter in 2004.
Police also described Casillas as a gang member.
The vehicular manslaughter conviction stems from a crash in which Casillas struck a car in La Puente containing four teenagers heading home from Knott’s Berry Farm on Oct. 4, 2003. Nathaly Baustista, a 14-year-old West Covina High School freshman, died in the crash. A teenage boy suffered brain damage.
Casillas fled the scene and was arrested a short time later, prosecutors said.
Casillas pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, as well as felony hit-and-run, in January of 2004. He received a 7-year prison sentence.
If convicted as charged in the stabbing case, Casillas faces up to 16 years in state prison, district attorney’s officials said. He is scheduled to appear in Alhambra Superior Jan. 5 for a preliminary hearing setting. He was released from jail early Saturday after posting $110,000 bail, records show.
BOOKING photo of Isaias Casillas, 41, of Los Angeles courtesy of the Alhambra Police Department.
ALHAMBRA >> A Rosemead man pleaded not guilty to murder Thursday following the fatal stabbing of a Monterey Park man last month, officials said.
Angel Octavion Garcia, 18, is accused of fatally stabbing Alhambra Parks and Recreation Department employee Edward Mendoza, 35, Oct. 14 in a parking lot in the 1700 block of Potrero Grande, near Arroyo Drive, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said.
He entered his plea in Alhambra Superior Court, where he was ordered to return Jan. 9 for a preliminary hearing setting, Los Angeles County district attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
“There are no indications the two men knew each other,” according to the statement. A motive for the slaying has not been released.
Mendoza called 9-1-1 to report he had been stabbed, Lt. John Corina of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said. Investigators have declined to release further details of the 9-1-1.
Paramedics rushed Mendoza to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where he died from his injuries.
“Soon after the incident, a person came forward to police and identified Garcia as the assailant,” according to the district attorney’s office statement.
Mendoza had worked a part-time recreation leader for the Alhambra Parks and Recreation Department since 2001, city officials said. Most recently, he served as a children’s football referee at Almansor Park in Alhambra.
Recently, Ray said Mendoza was refereeing football for the children at Almansor Park, 800 S. Almansor St. in Alhambra.
Sheriff’s investigators arrested Garcia Oct. 18, according to Los Angeles County booking records. He was being held in lieu of $1.025 million bail.
Loved ones have created a memorial video in tribute to Menoza at www.eddiemendoza.org.