Hacienda Heights man among those arrested in federal sting targeting sales of endangered species

A Hacienda Heights man is among six Southern Californians indicted Wednesday following a federal sting targeting online sales of endangered species.
Rene De La Peza, 42, of Hacienda Heights, is accused of selling the skin of a jaguar, which is an endangered species, to an undercover agent for $15,000, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rupa Goswami said.
Jaguars, the largest cat found in the Americas, has been on the endangered species list for four decades, officials said. If convicted as charges, De La Peza faces up to a year in federal prison.
Five other defendants have been indicted in Southern California through “Operation Wild Web,” Goswami said.
Nationwide, the bust netted 131 arrested in the United States, and seven internationally, the prosecutor added.
Operation Wild Web was designed to disrupt the trafficking of illegal wildlife on the Internet,” U.S. Attorney’s Office Thom Mrozek said in a written statement. “Across the United States, the Wild Web task force conducted more than 150 undercover purchases of endangered wildlife over the course of two weeks last August,” Mrozek added.
Items sold ranged from bear skins to parts from Javan eagles, officials said.
While the trade of endangered animals and their parts is not new, Goswami said the growing online market is now increasingly flooded with the illicit items.
“The ease and the anonymity of the Internet allows these sales to increase,” she said.
Also indicted in Southern California Thursday were:
*Hanna Karim, 44, and his wife Margarita Licomitros, both of Huntington Beach, on suspicion of selling a Sumatran tiger pelt
*Michael Roy McIntire, 59, of Encino, on suspicion of selling three protected birds — a canvasback, a cinnamon teal and a mallard
*Rodrigo Macedo, 29, of Hesperia, on suspicion of selling two protected Western Scrub Jays
*Lewis Keister, 42, of Los Angeles, on suspicion of selling a pair of seal fur moccasins, as well as a Native American doll believed to be made from whale bone and a bag made of seal fur
De La Peza and the other defendants were ordered to appear in federal court for arraignment Aug. 8.
“Hopefully, (Operation Wild Web) will help keep endangered animals safe in the wild,” Goswami said.

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Two women, man killed in apparent murder suicide in Hacienda Heights

Two women and a man were found fatally shot inside a Hacienda Heights home Wednesday in what investigators initially believed to be a murder-suicide.
The names of the dead women and man were not released pending positive identification and confirmation that family had been notified, Lt. Dave Dolson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau. He described all three as being between their 50s and 80s.
Neighbors described the victim as an elderly husband and wife who lived in the home, along with another family member they often cared for who suffered from Alzheimer’s.
A 9-1-1 call reporting a shooting just after 9 a.m. brought deputies to the home on Ladysmith Street at Flatstone Avenue, Capt. Tim Murakami said. Once they entered the home, deputies found the bodies of two women who had been fatally shot, as well wounded man.
“We believe we have a murder-suicide situation,” Dolson said, but added that the investigation remained in its early stages.
“Because it’s so early in the investigation, I don’t want to emphatically make that determination,” he said.
One of the women, who made use of a wheelchair, was found fatally shot in a bedroom, Dolson said. The other woman’s body was discovered the home’s living room.
The wounded man, who was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after the shooting, was found in the backyard of the home, Dolson said.
Two guns — a shotgun and a handgun — were found near the wounded man, sheriff’s officials said.
There were no signs an intruder had been inside the home, and no outstanding suspects were being sought, Murakami said.
It appeared Wednesday that at least one 9-1-1 call reporting the shooting came from inside the home, Dolson said. The caller had a male voice, but it was unclear if it was the suspected shooter who placed the call.
A neighbor who identified himself only as Joe said he was awakened by arguing prior to the shooting.
“I heard arguing since 7 a.m.,” he said. “It was loud.” But he added he could not make out what was being said.
About two hours later, the neighbor said he heard what sounded like two gunshots.
Joe said he found it hard to believe his neighbor could be responsible for the deaths of his wife and the second woman, whom he described as the man’s daughter-in-law.
“I can’t imagine. The kindness that he had,” he said. “They were very good neighbors. They were a nice old couple.”
The couple remained active, and the husband could often be seen working in his garage, Joe said.
And every time Joe greeted his neighbor, he said the man had the same response: “Another beautiful day.”
Neighbors said the man and wife had lived in the home for five decades, and they were shocked to learn of the violence that unfolded inside their home early Wednesday.
“I can’t believe it,” said neighbor Julie Minjarez. “They were a nice family.”
Minjarez added that she walks by the home daily and has never seen any sign of trouble.
“They were very active people,” Minjarez said, adding that they often went on vacation in a motor home.
“They seemed outgoing and lively people.”
Tom Watts, a teacher at a local elementary school, noticed helicopters hovering over Hacienda Heights and went to check on his parents after learning there was an incident unfolding near their home.
He described the couple that lived in the home as “very friendly,” and “very talkative.”
“They enjoyed camping,” Watts added.
But in a conversation Watts said his father had with the man who lived at the home about three weeks ago, the man mentioned he was depressed.

Staff photos by Watchara Phomicinda

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Hacienda Heights church arson suspect ordered to stand trial

POMONA – A judge Thursday ruled there is sufficient evidence to order a parolee accused of torching the sanctuary of a Hacienda Heights church sanctuary to stand trial for the alleged crime.
After listening to a summary of the evidence during a three-day preliminary hearing, Pomona Superior Court Judge Robert Martinez ordered Gregory Yusuke Shiga, 35, of Hacienda Heights, back to to court for a hearing on May 2, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said.
He’s accused of setting an April 16, 2011, fire that destroyed the sanctuary of St. John Vianney Catohlic Church, 1345 Turnbull Canyon Road. Several other church-owned buildings were also destroyed in the blaze, which caused an estimated $6.5 million worth of damage.
A motive in the alleged arson has not been released. No one was hurt in the fire, though several church personnel who present on the church campus at the time.
Shiga is to be tried on all four charges with which he has been charged, which include aggravated arson, arson of a structure, possession of flammable material and second-degree burglary, officials said.
If convicted as charged, he faces a minimum sentence of 10 years to life in state prison.

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UPDATED: Overheard statement leads to lockdown, search at Los Altos High School in Hacienda Heights

HACIENDA HEIGHTS — School police and sheriff’s deputies found nothing suspicious as they searched Los Altos High School Wednesday after a student reported overhearing other students possibly talking about a gun in a campus bathroom.
The incident began about 8:45 a.m. Wednesday at the school, 15325 E. Los Robles Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Vic Sotelo said.
“A student who was in one of the restrooms overheard two other students that were in one of the bathroom stalls saying, ‘it’s loaded,’” the lieutenant said. The student did not report seeing a gun.
The student reported the incident to administrators, who then checked the bathroom but found no one inside, Sotelo said.
Sheriff’s deputies assisted officers from the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District in locking down the school and looking for the student who made the alarming statement, as well as any weapon on campus, Sotelo said.
Several buildings on the campus were being checked, and both students and classrooms were searched with the help of a police dog.
Officials searched each of the school’s more than 2,000 students, sheriff’s Sgt. Desiree Rodriguez said.
The lockdown was lifted about 3 p.m., and parents were advised to park at nearby St. John Vianney Church, 1345 Turnbull Canyon Road, to pick up students. They were told they must be listed on the students’ emergency contact card and have photo identification.
“The students and the staff are safe and we had immediate law enforcement response,” school district Superintendent Barbara Nakaoka said.
In addition to district police officers, “I believe we had probably 125 sheriff’s deputies there,” she said.
Parents of students were notified of the incident via automated phone calls as well as the district’s web and Facebook pages.
Though nothing dangerous was discovered in the end, Nakaoka said, “We have to take everything seriously.”

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Robbery reported near ATM in Hacienda Heights

HACIENDA HEIGHTS — A person was robbed while visiting an ATM Saturday, officials said.
The crime was reported shortly before 5 p.m. in the area of Hacienda Boulevard and Newton Street, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. John Suh said.
The robber, described only as a Latino man brandishing a black semi-automatic handgun and obtained about $300 from the victim before fleeing, officials said.

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La Puente woman accused of DUI following head-on crash in Hacienda Heights

HACIENDA HEIGHTS — A La Puente woman was behind bars Saturday on suspicion of drunken driving in connection with an early-morning head-on crash that sent six people to the hospital, authorities said.
Samantha Rey Rodriguez, 21, was booked on suspicion of felony drunken driving in connection with the 12:19 a.m. crash on Countrywood Avenue near Colima Road, according to California Highway Patrol officials and county booking records.
Rodriguez was at the wheel of a 1994 Acura Legend that slammed head-on into a 2006 Honda Civic being driven by a 66-year-old La Puente woman, CHP Officer Monica Posada said.
Six people were treated for injuries ranging from minor to moderate, Posada said, though it was not immediately clear which car or cars the injured people were riding in.
Rodriguez was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail pending her initial court appearance, records show.

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Crash involving spilled swimming pool chemicals snarls 60 Freeway traffic in Hacienda Heights

HACIENDA HEIGHTS — A two-vehicle crash involving spilled swimming pool chemicals prompted a Sig Alert on the Pomona (60) Freeway early Thursday, officials said.
The incident was reported just after 7 a.m. on the westbound 60 Freeway near Azusa Avenue.
No major injuries were initially reported in the crash between a large pickup truck and another vehicle, however four to five gallons of an undetermined swimming pool chemical the truck was hauling spilled into the roadway, California Highway Patrol Officer Ed Jacobs said.
Officials treated the spill cautiously and shut down the three right traffic lanes, though a hazardous materials crew was not called in, he said.
All traffic lanes were reopened about 9 a.m.

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Hacienda Heights stabbing victim found on bus

A bleeding man on a bus turned out to be a stabbing victim Friday night.
Sat. Dan Jackson of the sheriff’s Industry Station said someone on the bus noticed the 48-year-old transient bleeding and called the station at 8:10 p.m.
Deputies stopped the bus in front of the Puente Hills Mall, 1600 N. Azusa Ave. in Industry.
Jackson said the man, who was stabbed in the stomach, told deputies the attack happened in a parking lot in the 1100 block of Hacienda Boulevard in Hacienda Heights.
But the man won’t give the name and description of the suspect and didn’t say what led to the attack, according to Jackson.
He said the man was in stable condition at Los Angeles County USC Medical Center.

- Ruby Gonzales

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Two Hacienda Boulevard gas stations robbed with 5 minutes

HACIENDA HEIGHTS — Two gas stations within a mile of each other were robbed within a span of about five minutes Friday, and detectives were looking into whether the same suspects were involved.
The first of the robberies was reported about 2:15 p.m. at an Arco gas station at Hacienda Boulevard and Three Palms Street, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Arthur Scott said.
A robber entered the store and acted as if he was going to buy a soda and a pack of cigarettes when he lifted his shirt to display a black handgun and demanded cash from the register, the lieutenant said. After obtaining several hundred dollars, the robber fled.
Deputies described him as a Latino man, 25 to 30 years old, about 5 feet 5 inches tall, 160 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. He wore a black T-shirt, tan pants and sunglasses.
About five minutes later, a second robbery was reported just under a mile to the north at a Chevron Station at Hacienda Boulevard and Tetley Street, Scott said.
A man pretended he was going to buy a bottle of water and a pack of cigarettes prior to the crime, the lieutenant said.
“When the employee opened the (cash) drawer to assist another customer, he grabbed the money and ran out the door,” Scott said.
He was spotted getting into a white, newer-model, Toyota Camry with paper license plates and a waiting getaway driver, Scott added.
Officials described the robber in the second crime as Latino, 30 to 35 years old, about 5 feet 9 inches tall, 190 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. He had black hair and brown eyes, and wore blue jeans a blue shirt.
Anyone with information was asked to call the sheriff’s Industry Station at 626-330-3322.
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UPDATED: Multi-car crash reported on 60 Freeway in Hacienda Heights

HACIENDA HEIGHTS — A crash involving a half-dozen cars, including a Los Angeles police car, sent four people to the hospital and prompted the closure of several lanes of the westbound 60 just east of Hacienda Boulevard early Thursday.
The crash took place just after 9:30 a.m., according to California Highway Patrol logs. In addition to the carpool and two left lanes, the westbound 60 Freeway offramp to Hacienda Boulevard was also shut down for more than an hour after the collision.
The cause of the crash remained under investigation, however involved were an unmarked LAPD Ford Crown Victoria, a flatbed tow truck, a Chrysler PT Cruiser, a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, a Toyota Sienna minivan and a Toyota Solara sedan, CHP officer Eduardo Martinez said.
The PT Cruiser was wedged beneath the tow truck, he said. A woman inside of it was taken to a trauma center as a precaution, however her injuries did not appear severe, the officer said.
Two men and a woman who were inside the Silverado were also hospitalized with apparently minor injuries, Martinez said. No other injuries were reported.
Two other minor two-car crashes occurred in the same area as a result of the aftermath of the first crash, but neither involved injuries, officials said. One of the drivers involved in one of the secondary crashes fled the scene of the minor collision.
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