LOS ANGELES >> A state appeals court panel on Tuesday overturned a man’s life prison sentence without the possibility of parole for a marijuana deal that turned violent and left a 21-year-old man dead in Pasadena in 2013.
The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal found there was insufficient evidence against John Michael Piepoli Jr. to support the jury’s finding of a special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of a robbery for the Jan. 15, 2013, shotgun murder of 21-year-old Zane Goldstein of Pasadena.
The appellate court panel ordered the case against Piepoli to be sent back to the trial court for re-sentencing, but it was not immediately clear what sentence he would now face.
Piepoli is one of five men convicted of first-degree murder for the fatal shooting of Goldstein, according to Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Stefan Mrakich. He was convicted of murder in November of 2014, and the jury found true the special, sentence-enhancing allegation that the murder was committed during the coarse of a robbery.
The shotgun slaying occurred after the killers lured Goldstein and his brother to Holliston Avenue in Pasadena with a text message stating they wanted to buy marijuana from the brothers, according to Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Stefan Mrakich.
Peter Parra, 39, of Pasadena, Kevin Jessie Cabrera, 29, of North Hollywood, and Raymond Frank Conchas, 27, of Covina were each convicted in February of 2015 of first-degree murder, attempted robbery and conspiracy. The jury also found true the special circumstance of murder during a robbery, as well as the allegations that a shotgun was used in the crime and that the crime was gang-related.
Parra, Cabrera and Conchas each received sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus another 25 years to life in state prison, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office Ricardo Santiago said at the time. Their appeals are still pending.
The Goldstein brother’s fled in their car when the suspect’s pulled a shotgun on them during their meeting, but the killers chased them and caught up with them nearby at Maple Avenue and Chester Street. Parra fired through the windshield of the Goldstein brothers’ car, mortally wounding Zane Goldstein, who died two days later.
A fifth defendant, 21-year-old Ward Lacey IV of Pasadena,pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with the case in July of 2015 and was sentenced to 15 years in state prison, district attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
In their 28-page ruling, the justices found that Piepoli “did not plan the criminal enterprise that led to Zane’s death,” had no role in supplying any firearms and was not present at the scene of the attempted robbery or the Jan. 15, 2013, shooting of Zane Goldstein, who died two days later.
“Under the circumstances here, there was insufficient evidence as a matter of law that appellant was a major participant in the robbery,” the justices wrote.
Piepoli repeatedly told a police detective that he thought the plan was merely to scare Goldstein into turning over his marijuana and he wasn’t aware that Goldstein had been shot until he was informed the next morning by police, according to the ruling.
The justices, however, rejected the defense’s contention that Piepoli’s statements to police should have been excluded from his trial.
A fifth man, Ward Lacey IV, was sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.
During Piepoli’s trial, Deputy District Attorney Stefan Mrakich acknowledged that Piepoli was not at the crime scene, but told jurors that he was “equally guilty.”
Piepoli’s trial attorney, William Jacobson, countered that it was “a case that has nothing to do with robbery.”
The defense lawyer told jurors in his closing argument that it was “simply an attempted assassination” stemming from Goldstein’s alleged failure to pay a gang “taxes” for selling marijuana in its territory. He argued that his client was “never part of an agreement to commit a murder” and “never knew what the actual conspiracy was here.”
— By Brian Day and City News Service
SOUTH EL MONTE >> Sheriff’s investigators seized $1.5 million worth of marijuana and arrested two men during a raid at a South El Monte warehouse on Tuesday, authorities said.
Hokab Avagyan, 42, of South El Monte and Armen Begoyan, 41, of Los Angeles were booked on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana following the 11 a.m. bust in an industrial neighborhood in the 1000 block of Adelia Avenue, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials and booking records.
Deputies seized about 2,200 live marijuana plants, 40 pounds of “finished” marijuana and $10,000 in cash, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
“As part of an ongoing investigation into a potential illicit marijuana growing operation, members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Narcotics Bureau Northeast team served several search warrants in the 1000 Block of Adelia Avenue,” the statement said. “At the conclusion of the operation, a large complex illicit marijuana grow was discovered inside of a warehouse/business.”
Both Avagyan and Begoyan were released from custody Tuesday night pending their initial court appearances after posting $50,000 bail each, records show.
No further details were released Wednesday as detectives continued their investigation.
Anyone with information is asked to contact sheriff’s Sgt. McGee at (562) 324-5547. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
PHOTOS courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
PASADENA >> Police serving a search warrant at a Pasadena home this weekend discovered several pounds of marijuana, as well as the city’s largest single illegal fireworks seizure in recent history at more than 360 pounds, authorities said.
Stacy James Callum, 40, of Pasadena and Derrick Lamar Johnson, also known as Derrick Callum, 40, of Pasadena were booked on suspicion of felony marijuana possession and misdemeanor possession of illegal fireworks, according to Pasadena police officials and Los Angeles County booking records. The arrests took place about 6:30 p.m. Saturday at a home in the 1800 block of Navarro Avenue.
Officers arrived at the home with a warrant as part of an ongoing drug-related investigation, Lt. Vasken Gourdkian said. The search and arrests took place without incident.
“During the investigation, several pounds of marijuana was seized along with a large cache of illegal fireworks in excess of 360 pounds,” Gourdikian said. The specific amount of marijuana seized was not available.
“The category of the fireworks were dangerous and illegal to possess in the State of California and County of Los Angeles,” the lieutenant said in a written statement.
“This is the single largest seizure of fireworks within the City’s recent history,” according to Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez.
Last year, for example, police and firefighters confiscated a total of less than 100 pounds of fireworks during the entire Independence Day season. The task force will continue seeking out fireworks violators through Monday.
All fireworks are illegal in Pasadena.
According to county booking records, both suspect were released from jail Sunday pending their initial court appearances after posting $20,000 bail each.
WEST COVINA >> Police arrested three alleged burglars, as well as the resident, following an attempted break-in Wednesday at a house containing an indoor marijuana farm, officials said.
Police first responded to the home in the 1800 block of David Court about 1 p.m. when a neighbor reported a possible burglary in progress, West Covina police Lt. Jerry Pearman said. The witnesses reported seeing several people, one of them armed with a handgun, smashing windows and trying to get into the home.
Officers found and detained three alleged suspects in the area, Pearman said. They were arrested on suspicion of burglary, and detectives continued investigating the trio late Wednesday for possible additional charges.
The ultimate intentions of the suspects, had the crime not been interrupted by police, remained unclear.
Officers also arrested the home’s resident after finding about 30 marijuana plants growing inside the home, Pearman said.
It appeared many more plants had been recently harvested at the home, he added.
The suspects names were not immediately available.
EL MONTE >> An alleged burglary at an El Monte warehouse Friday afternoon led police to discover more than 1,500 marijuana plants and nearly 250 pounds of processed pot inside, officials said.
Police received a report about 2:25 p.m. that two burglars had broken into a warehouse at 2646 Strozier Avenue through a glass door, according to El Monte police Sgt. Richard Luna.
Officer soon found and detained 43-year-old Gale Berry of El Monte at the scene, he said. Officers searched the warehouse but did not find the second reported intruder.
“Further investigation determined that the burglarized property had been converted into an illegal marijuana cultivation operation,” Luna said in a written statement.
Detectives obtained a search warrant and ultimately seized more than 1,500 marijuana plants, “in various stages of growth,” along with 247 pounds of harvested pot, Luna said.
Berry was booked on suspicion of burglary, possession of burglary tools and possession of a controlled substance.
“It was determined that 2646 Strozier had been sub-let, and the responsible party is still to be determined,” Luna said.
According to Los Angeles County booking records, Berry was being held in lieu of $105,000 bail pending his initial court appearance.
Anyone with information is asked to contact El Monte police at 626-580-2114, or via email at email@example.com.
SCENE PHTOO/BOOKING PHOTO of Gale Berry, 43, of El Monte courtesy of the El Monte Police Department
DIAMOND BAR >> Deputies made five arrests Wednesday as they raided a concentrated cannabis “honey oil” lab at a Diamond Bar home, seizing about $85,000 worth of concentrated an unprocessed marijuana, $15,000 worth of liquid LSD and $6,000 in cash, authorities said.
Narcotics investigators from the sheriff’s Walnut-Diamond Bar Station carried out the raid about 1:30 p.m. at a house in the 200 block of South River Rock Road, deputies from the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Information Bureau said in a written statement.
“LASD narcotics detectives discovered an active honey oil marijuana extraction lab, where approximately one pound total of concentrated cannabis and unfinished cannabis product were seized,” according to the statement, “ The street value for the concentrated cannabis was estimated at approximately $15,000 and $70,000 for the unfinished cannabis product.:
Deputies also found and seized two one-ounce vials of a liquid form of the psychedelic drug LSD, valued at about $15,000, the deputies added. “Approximately $6,000 in currency was also seized.”
Three men and two women between 18 and 23 years old were arrested during the raid, officials said. Four of them live at the home.
Sheriff’s officials withheld the suspect’s names as the investigation continued Wednesday night.
Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff’s Walnut-Diamond Bar Station at 909-595-2264. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
PHOTOS courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
SAN GABRIEL >> Police arrested a man and woman and seized nearly 700 marijuana plants Wednesday when they dismantled an illicit indoor marijuana farm operating out of the back of a San Gabriel tailor business, officials said.
Reports of suspicious activity at New Craft Design Inc., 864 Commercial Ave., first attracted the attention of police, who paid a visit to the longtime business about 2 p.m., San Gabriel police Detective Lt. Brian Kott said.
Officers entered the open business and immediately smelled a strong odor of marijuana, he said.
Officers detained a man and woman who were inside the building and detectives obtained a search warrant for the business, Kott said.
The front portion of the business was operating as a tailor business, and had been doing so for several years, Kott said. But the building had been subdivided.
“The other part of the facility was an elaborate marijuana-growing operation,” the lieutenant said.
Police uprooted between nearly marijuana plants, in various levels of maturity, from two subdivided rooms within the building, he said. The business had also been outfitted with a hydroponic gardening system.
Peggy Mui Do, 62, and Phuong Day Ung, 36, were booked on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana, Kott said.
Do was in the front portion of the business when officers arrived, Kott said. Ung was detained after emerging from the subdivided pot farm.
Another woman not believed tied directly to the marijuana-growing operation was arrested after she showed up at the businesses during the investigation and was found in possession of a methamphetamine pipe, Kott added.
PHOTOS courtesy of the San Gabriel Police Department
COVINA >> Police raided a an illicit marijuana shop selling marijuana and pot-laced candy out of a Covina storefront Thursday, officials said.
A tip from the public first brought the attention of police to the commercial unit in the 400 block of West Badillo Street, Covina police Sgt. Gregg Peterson said.
The Covina police Special Enforcement Bureau launched an investigation and began staking out the business, Peterson said.
“They surveilled the location and determined that the location was possibly involved in the sales of marijuana,” the sergeant said.
Police went in to the business about noon to speak with the owner and immediately saw evidence of marijuana sales, he said.
The business owner, 40-year-old Juan Francisco Pacheco of Covina, was detained as police obtained a search warrant for the unit, Peterson said.
Police recovered a significant amount of marijuana, cash and marijuana-laced candy, some of which was still in the process of being manufactured, he said. A tally of the amount of drugs and money seized was not available late Thursday.
Police also seized a handgun from the business, Peterson said.
Pacheco was expected to be booked on suspicion of selling marijuana as well as possible weapon violations, however, the investigation was ongoing, Peterson said.
It was not immediately clear of the business was operating as a medical marijuana dispensary, though city law prohibits such businesses in Covina.
According to county booking records, Pacheco was released from jail Friday pending his initial court appearance after posting $25,000 bail.
PHOTOS courtesy of the Covina Police Department
MONTEBELLO >> Police seized more than 1,200 marijuana plants valued at more than half-a-million dollars Tuesday and arrested two men after raiding two commercial properties neighboring a Montebello school, authorities said.
Police arrested Nicholas Stone, 23, off North Hills and Artin Khudanyan, 32, of Glendale on suspicion of cultivating marijuana following the busts, which took place Tuesday afternoon and evening at two commercial units in the 3300 block of West Beverly Boulevard, Montebello police officials said in a written statement.
The illicit indoor farm was separated only by an alley from Eastmont Intermediate School, which had already let out for the day when police carried out the raid.
• VIDEO: A look at the pot farm in the Montebello building
An anonymous tip spawned the rapidly-developing investigation, Montebello police Lt. Andy Vuncanon said. Police then began a stake-out outside one of the two adjacent, unmarked business units.
“During the surveillance, we saw the suspects in or about the business complex,” the lieutenant said.
Officers stopped a car occupied by Stone and Khudanyan nearby shortly after 3 p.m. and detained them pending further investigation, Vuncanon said.
Investigators then obtained a search warrant for the first business.
“Once inside the commercial property, investigators identified a fully operational marijuana grow equipped with artificial lighting, ventilating fans/temperature control, an odor control system and soil/nutrients for the plants,” according to the police statement.
The rear portion of the business, where the marijuana was growing, was separated from the front by a metal security door, Vuncanon said.
But the investigators were not finished. The investigation led detectives to obtain a warrant to search the business next door as well, where officers uprooted another 500 to 700 marijuana plants, officials said.
“Once inside the (second) commercial property, investigators once again identified a fully operational marijuana grow equipped with same type of operation and set up as next door,” the police statement said.
Vuncanon described the setup as a “very sophisticated, very clean operation.”
According to Los Angeles County booking record, Stone and Khudanyan were both released from custody Wednesday pending their initial court appearances after posting $50,000 bail each.
PHOTOS: Nicholas Stone, 23, of North Hills [MIDDLE] and Artin Khudanyan, 32, of Glendale [BELOW] were arrested on suspicion of cultivating more than 1,200 marijuana plants in two commercial buildings in the 3300 block of West Beverly Boulevard in Montebello on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. (Courtesy, Montebello Police Department)
(Courtesy – Montebello Police Department)
DIAMOND BAR >> Deputies responding to a report of a possible burglary late Saturday led deputies to discover more than 1,000 marijuana plants growing inside a Diamond Bar home, authorities said.
Officials received a call just before midnight reporting a possible break-in at a two-story house in the 800 block of Rexford Court, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Byron Ward said.
Deputies found no intruder, but saw smoke emanating from the second floor of the home, Ward said.
Los Angeles County firefighters quickly extinguished a small fire, the sergeant said. Authorities found the home had been set up as an indoor marijuana-growing operation, “in excess of 1,000 plants.”
Arson was not suspected, he added. Officials were looking into the possibility the fire was sparked by an electrical issue.
No one was at the home, and no suspects were in custody Sunday in connection with the grow house, Ward said. The investigation was ongoing.
Anyone with information can reach the sheriff’s Walnut-Diamond Bar Station at 909-595-2264. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.