EL MONTE >> Coroner’s officials have released the name of a 21-year-old Riverside man who was fatally shot when two gunman opened fire on a parked car he was sitting in on an El Monte Street earlier this week.
Jose Manuel Valenzuela died at hospital shortly after Monday’s shooting, which also left another man critically wounded, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said.
The shooting took place shortly after midnight in a residential cul-de-sac in the 2600 block of Sastre Avenue, just north of Fern Street, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said.
Lt. David Coleman of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said Valenzuela and the surviving victim, a 29-year-old El Monte man, were rear passengers in a parked car with two other occupants when the attackers approached in another car.
Two gunmen exited the approaching car and immediately began shooting into the rear of the victims’ car, Coleman said.
No description of the shooters was available, nor was a description of their car, which investigators said was last seen speeding south on Sastre Avenue.
The victims’ companions drove them to Greater Community Hospital in South El Monte, Coleman said.
Valenzuela succumbed to his injuries about 12:30 p.m., Winter said. The other wounded man was hospitalized in critical condition. An update on his condition was not available.
No further details were released.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.
EL MONTE — Police plan to check drivers for sobriety and valid licenses during a checkpoint late Wednesday, officials said.
The checkpoint will be held from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. at an undisclosed location within El Monte, El Monte police Officer Bryan Tromp said in a written statement.
Funding for the operation is being provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety.
WEST COVINA >> A jury convicted an Oakland man Thursday of luring a teenage girl from home and forcing her to work as a prostitute throughout Southern California last year, as well as pimping a woman in El Monte in 2012, authorities said.
Rufus McNeely, 37, faces up to 30 years to life in prison when he returned to West Covina Superior Court for sentencing Sept. 17, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials.
He will also be required to registers as a sex offender for the rest of his life, district attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
The jury deliberated for less than three hours before finding McNeely guilty of human trafficking of a minor for a sex act, pandering by procuring a minor over the age of 16 and pimping, officials said.
“In September 2013, the defendant met a 16-year-old girl and lured her from her home in Oakland,” district attorney’s officials said in a written statement. “As they drove through California, McNeely made the teenage girl prostitute in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Ventura County.”
The girl eventually called authorities, and a multi-agency law enforcement task force arrested McNeely Oct. 2, 2013, in Claremont, according to district attorney’s officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
When McNeely was arrested, he was already the subject of an El Monte Police Department investigation for pimping a woman in that city in 2012, district attorney’s officials said.
“Based on McNeely’s involvement with the teen and new evidence, officials had enough to also charge him in connection with the previous crime,” according to the district attorney’s office statement.
Prior to his conviction, McNeely had been held in lieu of $325,000 bail, records show.
The Claremont and El Monte police departments took part in the investigation, along with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
LOS ANGELES — Federal authorities Wednesday arrested 18 El Monte Flores gang members and associates who used the former offices of the Boys & Girls Club as their hangout.
The 18 were among 41 people indicted by a federal grand jury last week on charges that include conspiracy, murder, drug trafficking, money laundering, and weapons violations.
Federal officials said the gang conducted illegal activities out of the Boys & Girls Club of America/San Gabriel Valley Club facilities on Mountain View Road.
“They used the club as a place where they would openly sell drugs and collect taxes,” said Vijay Rathi, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The gang also used the club, which recently held community meetings and hosted a car wash fundraiser for a Flores member who was murdered.
“It is very disturbing that a facility that is supposed to give boys and girls protection and a safe place could be used for that,” Mayor Andrew Quintero said.
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EL MONTE — A pilot and passenger walked away unscathed Thursday after making an emergency landing without a landing gear at El Monte Airport, authorities said.
Officials received word just before 7 p.m. that a small Cessna airplane with two people on board was in trouble as it approached El monte Airport, 4233 Santa Anita Ave., Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Ed Pickett said.
“Their landing gear failed, so they called an emergency,” Pickett said.
Firefighters rushed to the airport and prepared for the worst. But the plane touched down without injury to the pilot or passenger, despite the lack of a landing gear.
“It skidded off the runway. Everybody walked away,” Pickett said. The aircraft was damaged, but the extent of the damage was not clear.
EL MONTE >> A task force targeting auto theft and street racing issued more than 100 citations late Wednesday at a meeting of car enthusiasts along Valley Boulevard in El Monte, officials said.
Dozens of police officers, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, California Highway Patrol officers and other law enforcement officials took part in the enforcement operation, which took place Wednesday night at a shopping center parking lot along Valley Boulevard, just south of the 10 Freeway, El Monte police Sgt. Richard Luna said.
‘At least 115 vehicle citations were issued,” Luna said. “There were over 135 vehicle inspections done.”
The majority of tickets were issued for illegal vehicle modifications, such as exhaust systems, improper lighting and nitrous oxide boosters, Luna said.
A man was arrested after officials discovered the engine in his car was stolen, he said.
The operation was carried out in response to complaints emanating from the parking lot, which police said has recently become popular with car enthusiasts. It was spearheaded by the multi-agency Taskforce for Regional Autotheft Prevention.
“For the past several weeks, groups of people have congregated there on Wednesday nights,” Luna said. “The vehicles are modified and have several changes to them for the purpose of racing.”
Complaints include revving engines, as well as drinking and drug use, the sergeant said.
Federal authorities arrested an El Monte woman and Pico Rivera woman Thursday on suspicion of filing fraudulent green card applications on behalf of immigrants, bilking some of them out of their life savings, officials said.
Claudia Arreola, 35, of El Monte, who own Los Angeles-based California Immigration Services, and her employee, 35-year-old Leticia Gutierrez of Pico Rivera, were taken into custody by agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations division, U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
A federal grand jury Tuesday indicted the women on six fraud-related counts, officials said.
Six victims are named in the indictment, however investigators suspect there are likely dozens more.
The defendants charged undocumented immigrants who were married to U.S. citizens as much as $24,000, claiming to be able to help them secure legal immigration status, Mrozek said. But they went on to submit fraudulent documents, such as fraudulent I-94 cards stating the clients, who came to the U.S. illegally, were in the country legally on visitors’ visas.
“Subsequently, investigators say when several of the foreign nationals sought refunds after they failed to receive ‘green cards,’ the defendants allegedly threatened to contact authorities and have the aliens deported,” according to Mrozek.
“Fraud scams run by so-called notarios threaten the integrity of the immigration process and offer false hope to desperate people,’ U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said. “The two women in this case victimized immigrants for years by giving the false impression that they could fix immigration problems.”
Additionally, “at least some of the victims in this case could have obtained green cards legally,” Special Agent in Charge for HSI in Los Angeles Clause Arnold said. “Instead, they placed their trust and, in many cases, their life savings, in the hands of individuals who were focused on enriching themselves rather than helping hopeful immigrants realize the American dream.”
The similarity between the acronym for Arreola’s business, CIS, and that of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS, “was no coincidence,” Mrozek added. Investigators found that money orders and cashiers checks issued to USCIS had been deposited into a bank account controlled by Arreola and Gutierrez.
The two defendants, among others, previously came under federal scrutiny in 2003 when they were sued by the government for allegedly providing immigration services in violation of California law, officials said. Under a settlement, they agreed not to engage in any illegal immigration consulting services.
They opened California Immigration Services in 2006.
If convicted as charged, Arreola and Gutierrez could each face up to 60 years in federal prison. They were scheduled to be arraigned Monday in federal court in Los Angeles.
EL MONTE — A motorcyclist from Whittier died Friday after a collision with a minivan in El Monte Friday afternoon, officials said.
The crash took place just after 2:30 p.m. at Lower Azusa Road and La Madera Avenue, El Monte police Lt. Michael Goodwin said.
The motorcyclist, 48, suffered major injuries in the crash, he said.
Coroner’s officials withheld the man’s name Saturday pending positive identification and notification of family members, officials said.
Paramedics took the man to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead about 11 p.m., El Monte police lt. Ben Lowry said.
The cause and circumstance of the crash remained under investigation.
Officials said the driver of the minivan appeared uninjured.
PHOTO by Phillip Casteneda
PICO RIVERA — Investigators seized well over five tons of illegal fireworks Thursday from a Pico Rivera neighborhood, authorities said.
Firefighters were first summoned about 12:50 p.m. to keep watch over the potentially explosive contraband, which was found in the 4700 block of Citrus Drive, Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Keith Mora said.
The fireworks were found at a business called Thomas Brothers Tube Bending, according to Lt. Christopher Williams of the El Monte Police Department, which spearheaded the investigation.
“Detectives received information about the illegal fireworks being sold at this location,” Williams said. “Once on scene, detectives discovered illegal fireworks inside a trailer and multiple storage containers.”
Police arrested two men, described as the business owner and an employee, but withheld their names Thursday as the investigation continued, Williams said.
The estimate of the amount of fireworks at the business continued to grow through the afternoon, as police and firefighters filled three trucks with fireworks, and began working on a fourth.
“We’re approaching five tons,” Williams said.
Police began their investigation in May, he added.
“Our concern is this, the operation was going on so long, and brazen,” Williams said.
Prospective illegal fireworks buyers stopped by the business as police continued working there.
“Detectives who are on scene are being approached by customers attempting to buy the illegal fireworks, while we are dismantling the operation,” he said.
In some cases, would-be customers approached detectives wearing informal police uniforms, Williams said.
Officials expected to remain at the business well into the afternoon as investigators and firefighters loaded up the fireworks to take them to secure, secret location.
Only fireworks designated “Safe and Sane” are permitted in Pico Rivera, as well as El Monte, during the Independence Day holiday.
The fireworks seized Thursday did not meet that standard, Williams said. “This is all the illegal, dangerous stuff, non-State Fire Marshal approved.”
PHOTO courtesy of the El Monte Police Department
Police suspected drunken driving in connection with a crash that left a man critically injured early Saturday in El Monte, authorities said.
The two-vehicle smash-up took place about 2:30 a.m. at Valley Mall and Santa Anita Avenue, El Monte police Lt. Ben Lowry said.
Initial investigation indicated a Scion being driven by an allegedly intoxicated woman ran through a red light, colliding in the intersection with a Toyota SUV, the lieutenant said.
The driver of the Scion, whose name was not available pending medical treatment and booking, suffered injuries not believed to be life-threatening in the crash, Lowry said. Her passenger, described only as a man, was critically injured.
It’s an ongoing investigation, but drunk driving is suspected,” Lowry said.
A woman who was driving the Toyota SUV complained of pain, but was not believed to have suffered major injuries, Lowey said.
The intersection remained shut down until about 8 a.m. as police investigated the scene.