A Whittier man accused of stealing a pharmacist’s identity and working as an unlicensed pharmacist in the Los Angeles area for more than a decade, for the second time, appeared in court on Thursday.
Benito Plascencia, 58, faces six felony charges and one misdemeanor charge in the case, California Department of Consumer Affairs spokeswoman Joyia Emard said in a written statement.
“Investigators found that since 2001, Plascencia has worked at numerous pharmacies using the name and license number of a licensed pharmacist without the licensed pharmacist’s knowledge,” Emard said. “To gain employment, Plascencia used a falsified driver license, pharmacist license and social security card that were issued in the name of the licensed pharmacist.”
He pleaded not guilty to the charges at an Aug. 7 arraignment in the Van Nuys branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in an email.
During an appearance in court on Thursday, a preliminary hearing in the case was set for Sept. 7, she said.
Plascencia had previously been busted in 2007 for a similar scheme, authorities said.
“Plascencia was alleged to have impersonated three doctors and was also alleged to have impersonated the same licensed pharmacist he is currently charged with impersonating,” according to Emard.
He pleaded “no contest” to a single count of identity theft and was sentenced to jail time, as well as ordered to pay restitution, DCA officials said.
“He was also ordered not to be involved in any manner with the selling of prescribed medications in a pharmaceutical-like business or other business involving prescribed medicines,” Emard said.
But Plascencia allegedly did not heed the warning and continued impersonating the pharmacist to get jobs and prescribe drugs he was not licensed to distribute.
“To gain employment, Plascencia used a falsified driver license, pharmacist license and social security card that were issued in the name of the licensed pharmacist,” Emard added.
After an investigation concluded Plascencia was up to his old tricks, the DCA’s Chatword Field Office Investigation and Enforcement Unit issued a warrant for his arrest in May, officials said.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents arrested Plascencia on July 31 as he was crossing from Mexico into California at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
He’s been charged with felony counts of false personation, identity theft, counterfeiting a seal, theft of identifying information with a prior conviction for identity theft and two counts of forgery related to identity theft, as well as a misdemeanor charge of false representation as a pharmacist.
Plascencia held a pharmacy technician license since 1994, but it was revoked following his 2007 conviction, according to DCA officials. He has never applied for or received a pharmacist license.
DCA officials declined to say which Los Angeles-area pharmacies Plascencia worked at, “because they are victims in this case,” Emard said in an email.
According to county booking records, Plascencia was being held on $70,000 bail at the North County Correction Facility in Castaic pending trial.
Investigators suspect there may be additional victims of Plascencia’s alleged fraud who have yet to be identified. Anyone with information, or who may have employed Plascencia, is asked to contact DCA Investigator Scott Vredenburg at the DCA’s Chatsworth Office at 818-885-2000.
PHOTO of Benito Plascencia courtesy of the California Department of Consumer Affairs
SOUTH PASADENA >> Police in South Pasadena arrested a man and woman from Bakersfield on suspicion of stealing packages, mail, credit cards and other items on Wednesday.
Corey Ryan Bihm, 26, and Lauren Helstrom, 29, were booked on suspicion of residential burglary, grand theft, conspiracy and identity theft, according to South Pasadena police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
Police were first summoned to a Vons market at 1129 Fair Oaks Avenue about 5:30 p.m. for a report of shoplifting, South Pasadena police Cpl. Craig Phillips said in a written statement.
“During the shoplifting investigation, officers found dozens of Amazon packages not addressed to either subject inside the vehicle,” Phillips said. Police soon confirmed the packages, valued at $2,700, has been stolen from the front porch of a home in Arcadia.
The suspects’ rental moving van was littered with “bags full of mail,” as well as dozens of stolen credit cards and many items with price tags still attached, according to Phillips. Police determined some of the mail had been stolen in South Pasadena and Arcadia.
Officers also recovered methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia from the suspects, he said. The moving van used by the suspects was later determined to have been stolen.
According to booking records, Bihm was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail pending his initial court appearance. Booking information for Helstrom was not available Thursday afternoon.
PHOTOS courtesy of the South Pasadena Police Department
PASADENA >> What began as a traffic stop for failing to display license plates late Wednesday led to the recovery of a stolen car, the seizure of a cache of alleged identity theft-related materials and netted three arrest, authorities said.
The bust took place about 7 p.m. after an officer pulled over a car for having no license plates at Peoria Street and Raymond Avenue, Pasadena police Lt. Pete Hettema said.
“Further investigation revealed the car was stolen,” he said.
A search of the car turned up “numerous instruments of ID theft,” including credit card readers, computers, fraudulent tax returns and documents in the names of other people, according to Hettema.
Police jailed Philip Laurel Marmolejo, 28, of Pasadena and Noelia Gaeta, 39, of Duarte on suspicion of crimes including identity theft, the lieutenant said. Joseph Anthony Camerano, 30, of Pasadena was being held on a parole violation stemming from a previous conviction.
None of the defendants are strangers to jail cells, according to Los Angeles County Superior Court records.
Marmolejo pleaded “no contest” to a single count of ID theft in March of 2016, while another ID theft charge, two counts of burglary and one count of grant theft by credit card fraud were dismissed. He was sentenced to a year in jail, but released less than four months later in June of 2016.
He was also convicted of being under the influence of drugs in 2010, and of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor in 2007, court records show.
Gaeta also has a lengthy criminal history, including convictions for false personation of another person, vehicle theft and driving on a suspended license in 2015, being under the influence of drugs in 2014, petty theft in 2013 and possession of stolen property in 2011.
Camerano, who remains on parole, was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and felony hit-and-run in 2009. Charges of murder and attempted murder were dismissed. He received a prison sentence of 17 years. It was not clear Thursday when he was paroled.
Camerano was also convicted of burglary in 2005.
According to county booing records, Marmolejo was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail pending his initial court appearance, while Gaeta and Camerano were being held without bail.
SAN GABRIEL >> Police arrested a man Sunday as he tried to cash a fraudulent check for thousands of dollars at a an Gabriel bank, officials said.
Wen Cong Huang, 39, who has addresses listed in San Gabriel and Alhambra, was booked on suspicion of forgery, possession of “precursors to identity theft” and providing false information to police following his arrest about 12:40 p.m. at the East West Bank branch inside of the 99 Ranch Market, 140 West Valley Blvd., San Gabriel police Sgt. Rebecca Gomez said.
Bank officials notified police that Huang was trying to cash a fictitious check, she said. Officers arrived at the bank branch and took Huang into custody before he left.
In addition to the fraudulent check, Huang was in possession of identifying documents for several other people, Gomez said.
He has a previous conviction in March of 2016 for forgery, for which he was placed on three years of formal probation, Los Angeles County Superior Court records show. In that case, which was first filed in 2013, eight additional charges, including burglary, possession of ID theft documents and false impersonation, were dismissed.
Four days later, Huang was convicted of receiving stolen property and being under the influence of a controlled substance, records show. He was sentenced to one day in county jail and three years of summary probation.
Huang was being held without bail pending his initial court appearance, according to Los Angeles County booking records.
SAN MARINO >> San Marino police jailed a San Gabriel man this on suspicion of identity theft, mail theft and other crimes after catching him with a car filled with hundreds of pieces of stolen mail, checks, identification cards, credit cards, and other identity-theft related materials, police said.
Joseph Kamel, 40, was being held in lieu of $250,000 bail Saturday following his arrest on Thursday evening, according to San Marino police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
Investigators had been seeking Kamel after he and his car were seen in connection with at least two mail or package thefts in the city dating back to May,San Marino police Sgt. Robert Matthews said.
After spotting Kamel driving through the city, an officers summoned backup and followed him into the 1500 block of Oak Knoll Avenue in Pasadena, where they pulled the car over and detained Kamel without a struggle, police said. He was alone in the black, 2011 Chevrolet Camaro.
“A subsequent investigation revealed Kamel to be in possession of a U.S. Postal service master key, hundreds of pieces of mail addressed to individual persons and businesses across Los Angeles County, over 100 checks that were addressed to other victims, banking statements, U.S. Passports, California Identification cards and Driver Licenses, credit card encoding and skimming devices, and ledgers containing personal and banking information of many other potential victims,” Sgt. Timothy Tebbetts said in a written statement.
Some of the people whose information was recovered from Kamel’s car had already been the victims of identity theft, Matthews said.
It was yet to be determined whether the case would be turned over to federal officials for prosecution, though it appeared likely, Matthews said. Mail theft is a federal crime.
Thursday’s arrest was the latest in series of arrests by area police for alleged large-scale mail and identity theft schemes.
Police in South Pasadena arrested a Highland Park woman on Sept. 3 after finding her driving through town with a treasure trove of stolen mail, documents, mail keys and other theft-related items. Marisa Rae Delgado, 27, is facing federal charges in the case.
And San Marino police in May arrested a mother and daughter for allegedly driving around with stolen mail, a U.S. Postal Service master key and methamphetamine, police said at the time. Estela Castaneda, 48, of Huntington Park and Elizabeth Castaneda, 22, of Rosemead, also face federal charges.
The two San Marino cases appear to be linked, officials said. Kamel posted bail for Elizabeth Castaneda following her arrest in May, officials said. Their relationship was unclear Saturday.
Kamel is scheduled to make his first appearance Tuesday in the Alhambra branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court, records show.
PHOTOS courtesy of the
SOUTH PASADENA >> A Highland Park woman is facing federal charges after she was found driving through South Pasadena early Saturday with a treasure drove of identity theft-related items, including hundreds of pieces of stolen mail, stolen driver licenses, mailbox keys, blank credit cards and a credit card embossing machine, police said.
Marisa Rae Delgado, 27, was accused of mail theft, a federal offense, and other crimes, according to South Pasadena police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
She was speeding along the 110 Freeway when an officer pulled her over, South Pasadena police Cpl. Craig Phillips said in a written statement.
“The female driver was found to have an outstanding felony warrant for grand theft auto,” he said.
Police arrested Delgado and searched the rented BMW she was driving, which she told officers had been rented by her boyfriend.
“An inventory search of the rented BMW found over 200 pieces of U.S. mail not addressed to the driver, which officers believe to be stolen,” Phillips said. “Officers also found dozens of blank credit cards, a credit card embossing machine, multiple mailbox keys for multi-unit housing complexes, several stolen driver’s licenses and other tools commonly used to commit thefts.”
Delgado, who has previous arrests for auto theft and identity theft, was being held without bail pending her initial court appearance, police said.
PHOTOS: [ABOVE] South Pasadena police seized hundreds of documents belonging to other people and other identity-theft-related items during a traffic stop on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016. A Highland Park woman was arrested. [CENTER] Marisa Rae Delgado, 27, of Highland Park. [BELOW] South Pasadena police seized this credit card embossing machine, used to create fraudulent credit cards, along with hundreds of documents belonging to other people and other identity-theft-related items during a traffic stop on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016. A Highland Park woman was arrested. (Courtesy, South Pasadena Police Department)
SAN MARINO >> What began as a routine stop for traffic violation in San Marino early Saturday led police to discover a trove of stolen goods and identity theft-related materials and arrest two suspects, officials said.
Police on patrol about 12:50 a.m. pulled over a car for a traffic infraction at Huntington Drive and Virginia Road, according to San Marino police Sgt. Tim Tebbetts.
Officers soon determined that the driver, 29-year-old Jonathan Villanueva, had no driver license, the sergeant said.
His passenger, Charlene Gomez, 35, of Pasadena, was found to have “stolen mail, a stolen credit card, a forged check made out to her and burglary tools,” Tebbetts said in a written statement.
Villanueva was booked at the Alhambra Police Department jail on a misdemeanor allegation, according to Los Angeles County booking records, Bail was set at $100.
Gomez, who was booked on suspicion of theft of an access card, forgery, identity theft, possession of burglary tools and possession of stolen property, was being held in lieu of $20,000 bail at the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood pending her initial court appearance, records show.
Anyone with information, or who believes they may have been a victim of mail or ID theft, is encouraged to contact Detective Brian Wong at 626-300-0719. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.