LOS ANGELES — Prosecutors charged a Hacienda Heights man Thursday with nine felony counts for practicing law without a license and bilking four immigrant clients out of thousands of dollars, officials said.
Michael John Hernandez, 57, surrendered at Los Angeles Superior Court, pleaded not guilty and promptly posted $145,000 bail, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Shiara Davila-Morales said.
He’s charged with six counts of grand theft, two counts of unauthorized practice of law and one count of perjury by declaration, district attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
Hernandez previously practiced law in Florida but has never been a member of the State Bar of California, prosecutors said. But he ran a law office in Hacienda Heights where he claimed to specialize in immigration matters.
“The alleged offenses involve four victims and occurred between Jan. 1, 2011 and Dec. 31, 2013,” according to the district attorney’s office statement. “A loss of approximately $16,000 is attributed to the defendant.”
“Hernandez, who allegedly targeted individuals with immigration issues, purportedly engaged in a pattern of financial fraud against clients who paid for legal services which were not rendered,” the statement continued.
District Attorney Jackie Lacey said commended the prosecution team and had harsh words for those who would falsely portray themselves as lawyers.
“To betray the trust of these victims and cheat them out of hard-earned money is heartless,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said. “Any person practicing law without a license in Los Angeles County — especially those who target vulnerable immigrant populations — will be identified and vigorously prosecuted.”
If convicted as charged, Hernandez could face up to 10 years in county jail.
He was ordered back to court June 9 for a preliminary hearing setting June 9.
HACIENDA HEIGHTS >> Authorities and family members reached out to the public Wednesday to help track down a missing 66-year-old Hacienda Heights man who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
Victor Rubio was last seen Tuesday driving away from his home in the 1700 block of Park Lawn Road, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement. He was driving a gold, 2003 Honda Odyssey minivan with a California license plate number of 5DFY507.
“He suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and has not made contact with his family,” according to the sheriff’s department statement. “The family is asking for the public’s assistance in locating Mr. Rubio.”
He was described as Latino, 5 feet 9 inches tall, 210 pounds, with gray hair and brown eyes. He has a 4-inch vertical between his neck and shoulder blades, as well as a 12-inch horizontal scar on his stomach.
Anyone with information was asked to contact detectives Velasquez or Abraham of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau Missing Persons Detail at 323- 890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Crim Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
HACIENDA HEIGHTS >> A gunman wearing a business suit fled empty-handed late Thursday following a failed robbery at a Rite Aid Pharmacy, authorities said.
The would-be robber entered the pharmacy, 2060 S. Hacienda Boulevard, and began walking around the business, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Raymond Enriquez said.
He then made his way to the pharmacy counter, where he pulled a small, silver semi-automatic handgun and pointed it at a female employee.
He told the woman to stand in front of him, but she instead fled from him, grabbed a telephone and notified fellow employees to lock the front doors, the lieutenant said.
The gunman unsuccessfully tried to hop the pharmacy counter before making his way back to the store’s main entrance, Enriquez said.
The armed man escaped after ordering an employee to open the locked front door, Enriquez added.
Officials described the failed robber as a Latino man in his 40s or 50s, with salt and pepper hair, wearing a gray suit with a tie and round-framed glasses.
He was last seen getting into a white, 2000s-model Toyota sedan with a waiting driver. The car headed north on Hacienda Boulevard.
Prosecutors have filed felony charges against a 21-year-old Hacienda Heights woman accused of speeding through a red light and striking two pedestrians in a La Habra crosswalk before leading police on a high-speed chase.
Caroline Sujin Kim is charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, hit and run causing permanent injury or death and evading police while driving recklessly in connection with the Oct. 25, 2013 incident, Orange County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
A scheduled arraignment last week was postponed to March 26 at the Orange County Superior Court’s North Justice Center in Fullerton, District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Roxi Sotomayor said. Kim, who had remained free pending the trial process on $100,000 bail, is yet to enter a plea in the case.
Officials allege Kim drove a Cadillac sedan at high speed down Whittier Boulevard shortly before 9 p.m. on Oct. 25.
“She is accused of illegally driving through a red light at the intersection at Rigsby Street and crashing her car into two pedestrians,” according to the district attorney’s office statement.
Sandra Ceballos, 38, of La Habra suffered major injuries, district attorney’s officials said.
“The force of the collision (threw Ceballos) onto the hood and roof of the vehicle before falling into the roadway,” according to the district attorney’s office statement. “She was pronounced dead approximately one hour later due to the injuries she sustained in the crash”
A second woman crossing the street with Ceballos, described as 43 years old, was also struck by the Cadillac and suffered minor injuries, La Habra police officials said.
After hitting the victims, Kim is accused of failing to stop and render aid,” the district attorney’s office statement said. “She is accused of fleeing the scene.”
A witness soon called police in Whittier to report spotting and following the hit-and-run driver, Whittier police Lt. Steve Dean said at the time.
When officers tried to pull over Kim on Colima Road, she sped off, leading police on a chase at speeds as high as 90 mph.
Kim ran through several more red lights before ultimately crashing into a parked car at Countrywood Avenue and Pepper Brook Way in her hometown of Hacienda Heights, police and prosecutors said. Officers then took her into custody.
If convicted as charged, Kim could face up to 13 years and 8 months in state prison.
A Pomona jury convicted a former ice-skating coach Tuesday of molesting a teenage boy and a young girl while living in Hacienda Heights and Downey.
Donald James Vincent, 30, who lived in Torrance when arrested in January of 2013, was ordered to return to Pomona Superior Court Feb. 21 for sentencing, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
“He faces multiple life sentences in state prison,” according to the statement.
The jury deliberated for less than one day before finding Vincent guilty of one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child, two counts of lewd acts upon a child, two counts of forcible lewd acts on a child, and five charges relating to sex acts with a child under 10, according to the D.A.’s office.
The charged crimes took place between 2007 and 2011 , while Vincent was living in Hacienda Heights and Downey, D.A.’s officials said.
The charges were related to students he coached at Paramount Iceland in in Paramount, though he also worked at at least six other ice skating rinks throughout Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange counties in the 7 years leading up to his arrest, according to District Attorney’s and Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials.
They included the East/West Ice Palace in Artesia; Glacial Gardens in Lakewood; Norwalk Ice, which has since closed; Skating Edge Ice Arena in Harbor City; Anaheim Ice in Anaheim; and Ice Town Riverside in Riverside.
Detectives from the Sheriff’s Special Victim Bureau initially jailed Vincent in connection with the molestation of a male student while he was between 12 and 15 years old, Lt. Carlos Marquez said. The molestation came to light two years later when the victim told a friend at a youth camp of the molestation and was persuaded to tell authorities.
At the time of his arrest, officials encouraged any additional victims of Vincent to come forward. And one did, additional charged were later filed in connection with violent acts of molestation against a girl younger than 10 years old.
Vincent remained in custody in lieu of $6 million bail pending trial, officials said. Once convicted, he was ordered held without bail pending sentencing.
HACIENDA HEIGHTS — A man was found shot in the front yard of a Hacienda Heights home early Sunday, officials said.
The shooting was reported about 4:50 a.m. in the 1800 block of Charlemont Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Robert Craton said.
The shooting victim, a Hacienda Heights man in his 20s, was taken to a hospital for treatment, the lieutenant said.
He suffered a single gunshot wound to the “upper torso” and was listed in stable condition Sunday afternoon. Deputy Bob Boese said.
The circumstances of the shooting were unclear. A black, four-door vehicle was seen fleeing the shooting scene, but no description of the person or people inside was available.
The investigation was being handled by detectives from the sheriff’s Industry Station.
A man carjacked two drivers and attacked one of them with a bottle before being arrested late Friday, authorities said.
Markkis Porsche Sonier, 24, of Long Beach was booked on suspicion of carjacking and assault with a deadly weapon following his arrest, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials and county booking records.
The series of crimes began about 8:50 p.m. in the parking lot of Denny’s restaurant, on 7th Avenue near the 60 Freeway, Sgt. Michael Mileski said.
“The suspect told the victim he had a gun and demanded his vehicle,” Mileski said. The victim complied, and the carjacker sped off in the man’s Dodge Neon.
Minutes later, Sonier abandoned the Dodge nearby at Turnbull Canyon Road and Gale Avenue in Industry, Mileski said. He then turned it attention to a woman with a Lexus sedan in a parking lot.
“He assaulted her with a bottle,” Mileski said.
The woman was struck in the head, Sgt. Greg Taylor said in an written statement. She was treated by paramedics for minor injuries.
The suspect then fled in the woman’s car, which was spotted by deputies just around the corner, officials said.
“As Industry station deputies were responding to area of the first carjacking, the suspect nearly collided into a patrol car,” Taylor said. “Realizing that the vehicle that nearly collided into them could possibly be related to the carjacking which had just happened, deputies conducted a traffic stop and detained the driver without incident.”
Sonier was already on probation for assault, Taylor added.
According to booking records, Sonier was being held in lieu of $185,000 bail pending his initial appearance Tuesday in West Covina Superior Court.
HACIENDA HEIGHTS — Details continued to emerge Friday regarding a hydrogen-hauling big rig that erupted into flames on the 60 Freeway in Hacienda Heights, however the total destruction of the truck made it impossible to determine the exact cause of the fire, officials said.
The blaze in eastbound traffic lanes near Hacienda Boulevard drew a massive emergency response and forced the closure of both directions of the 60 Freeway for more than six hours, California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles County Fire Department officials said.
The driver of the truck, a 39-year-old San Bernardino woman, escaped from her burning big rig unscathed, CHP Officer Joe Zizi said.
Officials intended to impound the charred truck, which displayed logos of the company Praxair, and thoroughly examine it to determine exactly what caused the fire, officials said. The truck was based out of Ontario.
“Unfortunately, the entire cab of the truck was burned to the ground,” he said. But officials suspected the fire was related to an engine problem.
With not enough truck left to examine, “We have to take the driver’s word for it that there was a pop in the engine,” Zizi said. Fire officials confirmed that the fire originated in the front section of the cab.
“(The driver) was able to get out before it got fully engulfed,” Zizi said. “The tried to get the fire extinguisher, but couldn’t get to it because of the flames.”
But the driver was able to quickly inform authorities that the truck contained 4,000 pounds of highly flammable compressed hydrogen gas, he said.
“The heat of the engine fire impinged on the trailer, and caused the pressure release piping to leak,” Zizi said. A pressure valve melted, and two pipes began leaking hydrogen gas, which ignited.
“There was 3 to 4 feet of flames coming from the hydrogen tanks,” Zizi said. “Fortunately, it wasn’t compromised completely.”
Fire Capt. Scott Miller said firefighters took a “defensive” stance as they poured water on the burning tractor-trailer for several hours. Even after the flames were extinguished, firefighters continued hosing down the tanks to make sure they had cooled entirely.
Officials allowed all of the remaining hydrogen to vent from the tanks before moving the big rig.
And although the big rig fire snarled traffic throughout the area and tied up emergency personnel for hours, “In a worst-case scenario, it could have been very terrible,” Zizi said. “Everybody did a great job.”
New York-based Praxair has a “satisfactory” rating with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The company consists of 749 drivers, and has better-than-average safety statistics in all categories.
PHOTO courtesy of the L.A. County Fire Department
HACEINDA HEIGHTS — A big rig believed to be hauling compressed hydrogen cylinders caught fire on the 60 Freeway in Hacienda Heights Thursday afternoon, prompting authorities to shut down both directions of the freeway.
The fire was reported just before 2:50 p.m. on the eastbound side of the freeway near Hacienda Boulevard, according to California Highway Patrol logs. The truck was hauling long cylinders believed to contain compressed hydrogen
Firefighters pumped water onto the fire from a distance, and CHP officers kept traffic well away from the burning big rig, diverting motorists off at nearby exits.
Eastbound traffic was initially being diverted at the Seventh Avenue offramp, however officials ultimately closed eastbound traffic all the way back to the 605 Freeway, CHP Officer Patrick Kimball said. Westbound traffic was being diverted of the 60 Freeway at Azusa Avenue, creating a mile-long buffer between the fire and freeway traffic.
The fire was largely extinguished by 4 p.m., however authorities still considered the trailer to pose a risk of potential explosion, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said.
“Where we stand right now, we’re still cooling the tanks, letting the tanks vent into the atmosphere,” Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Scott Miller said shortly before 4:30 p.m.
Once the tanks were emptied, he said, officials hoped to start working to move the scorched remains of the truck and reopen the freeway.
No injuries were reported in connection with the fire, Miller said.
Deputies were preparing to evacuate homes if necessary along residential streets, particularly those just south of the truck fire.
It was unclear how long the freeway would remain closed as a result of the fire.
PHOTO courtesy of the Los Angeles County Fire Department
HACIENDA HEIGHTS — Deputies arrested a man and woman Wednesday after they abandoned a stolen car and fled into a Hacienda Heights neighborhood, authorities said.
An automated license place reader alerted deputies that a car heading north on Hacienda Boulevard through Hacienda Heights had been reported stolen Monday in La Habra, Sgt. R. Thurlo of the sheriff’s Industry Station said.
A sheriff’s helicopter quickly arrived overhead and deputies on board watched a man driving the car and a female passenger abandoned the vehicle on La Subida Drive, just west of Hacienda Boulevard, and flee on foot, the sergeant said.
Deputies set up a search perimeter and soon found the driver down in a nearby wash area, Thurlo said. He was arrested without a struggle and taken to a hospital for treatment of a foot or ankle injury apparently suffered as he fled into the wash.
The female suspect was found hiding in some nearby bushes and also arrested without a struggle, Thurlo said. Both were expected to be booked on suspicion of auto theft.
Their names were not available Wednesday pending the booking process.
PHOTO courtesy of the sheriff’s Industry Station.