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.
San Gabriel Valley police officers will take on their fire department counterparts on the basketball court in Arcadia this weekend as the annual Battle of the Badges tournament returns bigger than ever to raise money for the Special Olympics.
The series of games will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday in the gymnasium of Arcadia High School, 180 Campus Drive in Arcadia, organizers said in a written statement. The cost of admission will be a “donation of your choosing,” and proceeds will benefit the Special Olympics Southern California.
In addition to the action on the court, there will be jumpers for children, refreshments, a SWAT demonstration, historical vehicles, a fire truck and gaming booths set up by Dave & Buster’s, Arcadia police Detective Walter Ashby said. An iPad Air will also be raffled off.
“One-hundred percent of the proceeds are donated directly to the Special Olympics,” he said.
San Gabriel police officers will take on San Gabriel firefighters at 10 a.m.; Alhambra police will play Alhambra firefighters at noon; El Monte police will take on Upland firefighters at 2 p.m.; Pasadena police will play Pasadena firefighters at 4 p.m.; and Arcadia police officers and firefighters will face off on the court at 6 p.m.
For more information, contact Detective Ashby at 626-821-2654, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
EL MONTE >> A Pomona Superior Court Judge sentenced an El Monte man to 50 years to life in prison Wednesday for sexually molesting his girlfriend’s young daughter in 2012, authorities said.
A jury convicted Miguel Angel Lomeli, 43, on April 4 of two counts of sexual intercourse or sodomy with a child 10 years old or younger, two counts of oral copulation or sexual penetration with a foreign object with a child 10 years old or younger, one count of forcible lewd act on a child and one count of an attempted lewd or lascivious act with a child under 14 years old, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
“The prosecutor said Lomeli dated the victim’s mother for a short time before moving into her home,” according to the district attorney’s office statement. “Evidence presented at trial revealed that Lomeli sexually assaulted the victim between June and November, 2012.”
El Monte police investigators arrested Lomeli Nov. 15, 2012, according to officials and Los Angeles County booking records. He remained in custody pending his trial, conviction and sentencing.
EL MONTE >> A steady stream of El Monte High School Lions stopped by a memorial in front of the campus Saturday to light candles and pay their respects to classmate Adrian Castro, who lost his life along with nine other people in a fiery bus crash in Orland while en route to tour his prospective college.
The 18-year-old El Monte High School senior is unaccounted after a FedEx truck collided head-on with a tour bus containing 44 Southern California high school students, three adult chaperones and a driver. His family members have said they’ve been informed he is among the dead, though officials identification through Glenn County coroner’s officials was pending.
Five students, the three chaperones, the bus driver and the truck driver all died following the crash. The bus was on a trip to bring underrepresented Southern California High School seniors to visit the campus of Humboldt State University.
Friends recalled Castro as a popular, outgoing and loyal young man as they lit candles, left flowers and wrote messages to the young man. Monster energy drinks, a baseball glove, beer, baseball caps and other mementos also lined the sidewalk in front of El Monte High School, where Castro played football and baseball.
“He had a very bright personality,” said Robert Medina, a junior who transferred this year from El Monte High School to Mountain View High School.
“He used to back everyone up,” Medina said. “His thing was, since we’re all Lions, we’re all a family.”
Though Medina said he and others initially held out hope for a miracle, that Castro would be found alive, he said he’s accepted that his friend is gone.
“He’s in a very better place,” Medina said.
Friend Bryana Ruiz, said Castro was a good friend.
“He was just a great student. Everyone loved him, everyone knew he was. Not because he was popular, but for what he was doing and what he wanted to accomplish in life,” Ruiz said. “We all just loved him and we’re all going to miss him a lot. He was always number one in our hearts.”
Some visitors at the memorial knew Castro well. Others had not met him, but nonetheless wanted to show their support for his family and their classmates.
El Monte High School freshman Andres Huerta stopped by to light a candle at the sidewalk memorial.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t get to know him,” he said. But he said he still felt compelled to visit the school Saturday, “to pay my respects to the family.”
“Lions stick together,” Huerta added.
— Staff Writer John McCoy contributed to this report.