So Cal businesses accused of selling cosmetic contact lenses without prescriptions; some lenses tainted with dangerous bacteria

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LOS ANGELES >> Federal prosecutors charged 12 people and businesses this week with selling illegal and potentially dangerous cosmetic contact lenses, including some contaminated with a virulent strain of bacteria capable of blinding wearers, authorities said.
The charges stem from an investigation into the sales of cosmetic contact lenses without prescriptions in the weeks leading up to Halloween dubbed “Operation Cat Eyes,” Assistant United States Attorney Amanda Bettinelli said.
“The goal was to protect consumers in advance of Halloween,” Bettinelli said.
Cosmetic contact lenses used to change the wearer’s eye color have been growing in popularity, officials said. They range from subtle color changes to ornate designs. But while contact lenses are illegal to sell without a prescription, non-presciption, or “misbranded,” lenses have been increasingly popping up in beauty salons and costume stores.
“They’re so easily available, and they can do horrific injury to your eye in a short period of time,” Bettinelli said.
1108_NWS-SGT-L-LENSES1Without being properly fitted to each individuals eyes, contact lenses have the potential to cause abrasions, lesions and other serious injuries, Bettinelli explained.
There are no guarantees regarding the quality of the lenses or the conditions in which they are manufactured, which are sometimes “filthy,” she said. And in some cases, the lenses and the fluid they are stored in have been found to be contaminated with dangerous pathogens.
Mike Honabach, 45, of Highland is accused of selling lenses contaminated with a “particularly insidious” strain of bacteria at a booth at the recent Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona called Halloween and Party Discounters Inc., Bettinelli said.
Lenses seized from the booth in September, sold under the brand name “I Color Complete,” were found to be contaminated with the bacteria Bacillus cereus, the prosecutor said. No injuries had been directly linked to the contaminated batch of contact lenses.
“The Bacillus cereus bacterial strain can cause severe infections that, even with prompt treatment, can lead to blindness,” U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
Honabach is charged with introducing adulterated devices into interstate commerce, receipt of bacteria-adulterated contact lenses and sale of misbranded products. Honabach’s supplier, Intertrade Imports Inc. of Jacksonville, Florida, along with Intertrade manager Eunju Kang Savvidis, 53, of Jacksonville, are charged with introducing adulterated devices into interstate commerce, Mrozek said.
1108_NWS-SGT-L-LENSES2Eight other people and businesses are names as defendants for allegedly selling misbranded contact lenses to undercover investigators in the series of cases resulting from “Operation Cat Eyes.”
Doris Owusa Ansah, 53, of West Covina, who owns Sunset Beauty Salon in West Covina, is charged with selling misbranded contact lenses; CKL Fashion, Inc., a Corona company that operated a business called “T-Shirt Mart in Glendale, along with manager Young Kim, 51, of of La Cresenta is accused of selling misbranded contact lenses; Jung Rae Jo, 60, of Cerritos, who owns Fashion Young in Westminster, is accused of selling misbranded contact lenses; Halloween Superstore in Glendale, as well as owner Zinaida Khrimyan, 25, of Glendale and manager Patrick Abedi, 30, of Glendale, are accused of selling misbranded contact lenses; and Hong Kong-based Aspirational International Inc. is accused of selling misbranded contact lenses online.
All 12 people and businesses are scheduled to appear for arraignment hearings in federal court in Los Angeles Dec. 9, Mrozek said. If convicted, each defendants faces a maximum penalty of one year in federal prison and for each count, along with a $100,000 fine for individuals and $200,000 fine for corporations.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Consumer affairs took part in the investigation.

PHOTOS courtesy of the U.S. Department of Justice

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UPDATED: Brush fire erupts near Brand Library Park in Glendale

GLENDALE — Firefighters responded from both ground an air after a brush fire ignited in the hills above Brand Library Park in Glendale and grew to 50-acres in size, officials said.
The fire was reported just before 12:30 p.m., according to a dispatcher at the Verdugo Fire Communications Center.
A third-alarm was called as firefighters from various area agencies, with the aid of fire-fighting aircraft, attacked the flames.
By 3 p.m., the fire had grown to 50 acres in size, according to Glendale city spokesman Dan Bell.
No evacuations were ordered or expected, however firefighters were taking positions to protect structures, officials said.
No home’s were considered “directly threatened” by the fire, however Glendale Fire Department Battalion Chief Thomas Propst said homes along Allen Avenue and Thurber Place were potentially in the path of the fire’s travel.
Two hikers called for help to report they were stranded by the fire, Glendale Fire Department Battalion Chief Thomas Propst said. Firefighters ended up finding and rescuing a total of five hikers in two separate groups from the area and assessed them for possible dehydration, Bell said. No additional hikers were believed stranded in the area.
About 100 firefighters on the ground and five airships continued fighting the flames Sunday afternoon.

- Brian Day and Brenda Gazzar

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Glendale men accused of planting skimmer at Sierra Madre gas station

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Police arrested two Glendale men, including one already under investigation by the U.S. Secret Service, after they were caught installing a skimming device on a gas pump at a Sierra Madre gas station early Saturday, authorities said.
Edvard Martirosyan, 27, and Aram Manasaryan, 22, were arrested shortly before 3 a.m. outside the Valero gas station, 4 N. Baldwin Ave., Sierra Madre police officials said in a written statement. They’re accused of several felony charges for allegedly trying to install the device in order to capture credit card numbers of unsuspecting customers.
The U.S. Secret Service, which has already filed a separate case against Martirosyan, is spearheading the investigation into the two suspects, officials said.
The arrests came after police officers were responded to an alarm at the gas station.
“The officers’ quick response to the alarm call allowed us to catch the suspects in the act,” 0608_NWS_PSN-L-SKIMMER2Sierra Madre Police Chief Larry Giannone said. “Officers were on scene within one minute of being dispatched to the call and caught the suspects as they were attempting to leave.”
In the suspects’ car, police found other skimming devices, laptop computers, counterfeit credit cards and other tools used to break into gas pumps, officials said.
Martirosyan was out of custody on bond in his pre-existing federal case when he was arrested along with Manasaryan Saturday, officials said. He was arrested in August in connection with an alleged identity theft ring operating skimmers at gas stations in and around the San Fernando Valley.
The incident was the second time in recent weeks police have investigated possible tampering at the gas station.
Police cautioned the public to be wary late last month after learning someone had tried to break in to the gas pumps at the Valero station May 23, police said.
But station owner Edgar Artenyan said an expert had examined the pumps and determined no customer information had been compromised in the crime, which was thwarted by an alarm.
It was unclear if Martirosyan and Manasaryan were also suspected in the May incident.
Officials again asked customers of the station who purchased gas at the pumps using a credit or debit card between May 22 and June 6 to watch their financial accounts for suspicious activity, “just to be on the safe side,” according to the police statement.
“At this point, we cannot be 100 percent certain that some personal information was not captured,”
According to county booking records, Martirosyan and Manasaryan were being held in lieu of $500,000 bail each at the Pasadena Police Department’s jail pending their initial court appearances.

PHOTOS of Edvard Martirosyan (top) and Aram Manasaryan (below) courtesy of the Sierra Madre Police Department.

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Four cited for providing alcohol to minors during Glendora sting

GLENDORA — Police and California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control officials cited four people this week who purchased alcohol for minors during a “shoulder-tap” sting operation, authorities said Wednesday.
The operation took place Saturday at business throughout the city, Glendora police Cpl. Shawna Celello said in a written statement.
The four adults who purchased alcohol for underage decoys working with police face a minimum penalty of a $1,000 and 24 hours of community service if convicted, Celello said.
“Under the program, a minor under the direct supervision of a peace officer will stand outside a liquor or convenience store and ask patrons to buy them alcohol,” Celello said. “The minor indicated in some way he or she is underage and cannot purchase the alcohol.”
Funding was provided by a grant from the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control through the department’s Grant Assistance Program.

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Body found beaten to death in Angeles National Forest identified as missing Glendale man

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST — Human remains found in a shallow grave in the Angeles National Forest earlier this month have been identified as those of a missing Glendale man who was beaten to death.
The body found Jan. 19 near mile marker 2.72 of Big Tujunga Canyon Road was that of Nicholas Carter, 25, of Glendale, Lt. Mike Rosson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said Wednesday.
An autopsy determined he had been beaten to death, the lieutenant added.
“We’re treating it as a homicide,” Rosson said.
Carter went missing sometime between Jan. 4 and 7, officials added.
No information regarding a suspect or motive in the slaying was available, and nothing detectives found in the man’s background indicated a reason someone would want him dead, Rosson said.
“He looks like a pretty normal person who had a job,” the lieutenant said.
Detective unearthed Carter’s remains after returning to the site of a Jan. 8 excavation.
A hiker had discovered what appeared to be a shallow grave with streaks of blood nearby, Rosson said.
Inside the grave, only a bag of animal remains was found, sheriff’s officials said.
But detective returned to the area Jan. 19 after tests indicated animal remains were not the only thing in the area.
“Once we confirmed that the blood in the area was human, we felt we needed to go back there,” Rosson said.
Carter’s remains were found several hundred yards from the site of the initial shallow grave.
It appeared he had been dragged past the site of the first grave, leaving a blood trail, though the animal remains were not believed to be related to the slaying, Rosson said.

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Pasadena, Arcadia firefighters take part in oil refinery training

EL SEGUNDO — Pasadena and Arcadia firefighters joined Verdugo Fire Academy recruits over the weekend to practice fighting oil and gas fires at the Chevron Oil Refinery in El Segundo.
The training took place Saturday and Sunday and made use of a “training prop” at the Chevron refinery, Verdugo Fire Academy Chief Sam DiGiovanna said.
About 45 recruits from the Verdugo Fire Academy took part in the training, alongside academy instructors, four firefighters from Pasadena and four from Arcadia, the chief said.
The training provides valuable skills that become necessary whenever dealing with a fire involving gas, oil and valves, he said, such as when a tanker truck caught fire on the Pomona (60) Freeway in Montebello in December of last year, destroying the Paramount Boulevard bridge.
“The recruits get some great training, and so do the firefighters,” DiGiovanna said.
Recruits trained by the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale staff fire departments throughout the San Gabriel Valley and Southern California.

PHOTO courtesy of the Verdugo Fire Academy

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Family, friends continue search for Megan Di Piazza, 33, missing woman from Montrose

The Glendale Police Department has now issued a bulletin seeking clues in its search for Megan DiPiazza, 33, missing since last Sunday. Here’s what the flier says:

Megan DiPiazzaThe Glendale Police Department is asking for the public’s help in locating Megan Sue Dipiazza. She was last seen on the evening of November 11, 2012. A note was discovered “saying goodbye to her family.” Megan has a history of depression.

There is no indication of foul play. No suspicious activity has been identified. The Police Department would like to speak with Megan Dipiazza. The family is concerned for her welfare and has been working closely with the Police Department.

Last week a police spokesman said he believed DiPiazza was in the company of “people”. On Monday a second spokesman recanted that statement. Meanwhile, DiPiazza’s friends continue to search for her or her car, a “2013 Gray Toyota Scion.” The car has license plates of 6XJR885, but those plates may not be attached, according to Glendale PD.
Megan DiPiazza car

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UPDATE: Alhambra man accused of molesting boys he babysat

GLENDALE — A young Alhambra man has pleaded not guilty to allegations of molesting 8-year-old and 3-year-old Glendale brothers he babysat over the course of eight months, authorities said.
Jordan Liu, 19, appeared in Glendale Superior Court Monday to answer to eight charges of child molestation, court officials said.
The allegations came forward as the children’s mother was discussing the ongoing child molestation investigation at Pennsylvania State University, police said.
He was arrested Nov. 22 after the older boy told his mother 11 days earlier that he’s been sexually assaulted by Liu, who the family had hired as a babysitter through the Website “Sittercity.com,” Glendale police officials said in a written statement. “The suspect provided babysitting services and took the child on outings at least once a month for the past eight months.”
The boys’ mother did not suspect any inappropriateness involving Liu when she began discussing a news story about the ongoing child molestation investigation at Pennsylvania State University as a form of educating her 8-year-old son and raising his awareness, according to the police statement.
“The mother soon learned that her 8-year-old son had been victimized by the babysitter,” the statement said.
After launching an extensive investigation, detectives found evidence of sexual abuse of both the 8-year-old boy and his 3-year-old brother.
Sittercity.com has been cooperating with detectives, officials added. In addition to Sittercity.com, Liu also advertised his services on another similar Website, “Care.com,” according to Glendale police.
Sittercity.com’s Website features the slogan, “We focus on safety, so you can focus on finding the right fit.”
“Sittercity was deeply saddened to learn of this situation,” Sittercity spokeswoman Mary Schwartz said in a written statement. “As soon as it was brought to our attention, we terminated Mr. Liu’s account and notified anyone who may have had contact with him about the termination.”
“Sittercity takes safety very seriously,” Schwartz said. “Each caregiver who registers on Sittercity is pre-screened to verify his (or) her identity and the caregiver’s information is checked against state sex offender registries. “In addition, we allow members to run background checks on the site through LexisNexis. Background checks include identification verification and a national criminal search of local, state and federal criminal records.”
Before advertising with Sittercity.com, sitters must acknowledge a pledge to “put safety first,” and “be professional and uphold my commitments,” according to the Website.
Because of the ongoing investigating, Schwartz said, Sittercity.com deferred all further comments to police investigators.
While police were unaware of any additional victims tied to Liu, “the investigation indicates he may have conversed with over 100 parents through the web service, but it is unknown how many actually may have hired him as a babysitter,” the police statement said.
After pleading not guilty Monday, Liu was ordered held in lieu of $2.7 million bail, police said.
He’s due in Burbank Superior Court Jan. 5, when a date for his preliminary hearing will be selected, court officials said.
Liu faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted as charged.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Glendale police at 818-548-3106.

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Traffic stop leads deputies to 10 pounds of meth

GLENDALE — Sheriff’s deputies assigned to the Crescenta Valley and Altadena sheriff’s stations arrested two men Wednesday after allegedly finding 10 pounds of methamphetamine during a traffic stop in Glendale, authorities said.
Noe Virgen and Jose Pelayo — both 24-year-old Van Nuys residents, were booked on suspicion of possession and transportation of narcotics for sales, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Larry Landreth said.
The arresting deputies were members of the sheriff’s Community Oriented Policing, or COPS, bureau, Landreth said.
They spotted the car about 12:45 p.m. and pulled it over on the 5 Freeway near Colorado Street for having tinted windows, he said.
Deputies searched the car with the consent of Virgen and Pelayo and found the methamphetamine inside a backpacks, the lieutenant
Landreth said the ten pounds of methamphetamine seized had an estimated value of more than $140,000, and likely more.
“It’s a good find,” Landreth said. “It’s good to get that much (methamphetamine) off the street.”
The investigation will be continued by sheriff’s narcotics detectives, he added.

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American Heat

In wake of increased violence between outlaw motorcycle gangs, Palm Desert is prepping for a weekend orgy of motorcyclists to descend on the Riverside County Community, according to the Desert Sun:

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Palm Springs Police Chief David Dominguez told merchants this week that while there have been recent incidents around the state between rival motorcycle gangs, he does not expect violence during this weekend’s event.

“They (the motorcycle groups) have let us know they are coming and they just want to have fun,” Dominguez said.

Earlier this year, Dominguez warned the City Council that he was concerned about rising incidents among the Mongols, Vagos and Hells Angels motorcycle gangs.

He said this week that there is always a chance that something could happen, but his department will be prepared.

There will be a heavy presence of uniformed officers throughout the weekend, as well as volunteer and off-duty law enforcement officers who will be in town showing off their own bikes, Dominguez said. Burke said he will also have security on hand to ensure a family-friendly event.

“I think we will be fine,” Dominguez said.

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