EL MONTE >> Police jailed a convicted felon from Walnut early Friday after recovering 3,300 marijuana plants, 308 pounds of finished pot, an ounce of methamphetamine and a loaded gun from a warehouse in El Monte, authorities said.
Brian Lee Skipper, 46, was arrested during the 7 a.m. raid at a commercial building at 2645 Merced Ave., according to El Monte police Sgt. Richard Luna. Investigators showed up with a search warrant, seeking an illicit marijuana-growing operation.
“Upon entry, police personnel located (Skipper) and numerous pieces of equipment and devices used for the cultivation of marijuana and concentrated cannabis,” Luna said in a written statement, “In addition, detectives located methamphetamine, a loaded firearm and surveillance and security equipment.”
Police also found “numerous types of hazardous chemicals” used in the production of concentrated cannabis, also known as “wax” or “honey oil.”
“As a result, the location was vacated and additional investigators from the L.A. Impact Narcotics Team and Los Angeles County Hazardous Materials responded,” Luna said. “An additional investigation was completed as well as a cleanup which rendered the property safe.”
Police also allege the grow operation was wired to bypass the electric meter and steal power from the grid.
Skipper was booked on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana, possession of marijuana for sales, operating a chemical drug lab, possession of methamphetamine for sale, being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and theft of utility services.
The seized marijuana and methamphetamine carry an estimated street value of $750,000, Luna said.
Skipper, a convicted felon who was on active probation, was being held in lieu of $75,000 bail pending his initial court appearance, according to police and Los Angeles County booking records.
Skipper just pleaded guilty in January of Possession of methamphetamine for sale and theft of utlities in a case first filed in 2014, according to San Bernardino Superior Court records. He also admitted a prior drug offense. Additional charges of cultivation of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sales were dismissed.
He was also convicted in San Bernardino County of domestic abuse in June of 2006, and of making criminal threats in 2001, records show.
In Los Angeles County, Skipper’s criminal history stretches from 1989 to 2011 and includes convictions for drug possession, assault and battery, an illegal weapon violation and driving on a suspended or revoked license.
Anyone with information is encouraged to contact El Monte police at 626-580-2100, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PHOTO of Brian Lee Skipper, 46, of Walnut courtesy of the El Monte Police Department
TEMPLE CITY >> Deputies seized about 400 marijuana plants and 15 pounds of harvested pot while carrying out a search warrant at a Temple City home early Thursday, officials said.
The bust took place Thursday morning at a home in the 5400 block of McCulloch Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
“(Deputies) recovered approximately 400 plants in various stages of growth and approximately 15 pounds of harvested marijuana,” the statement said.
The grow operation was complete with lighting, watering and ventilation systems, and the home was rewired to bypass the electrical meter, allowing the farmers to steal their power from Southern California Edison, according to the statement.
Officials reported no arrests in connection with the raid.
The operation took place one day after police in San Gabriel uprooted nearly 7,000 pot plants from a commercial building in their jurisdiction and arrested two suspects.
PHOTOS courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
SAN GABRIEL >> Police uprooted nearly 7,000 marijuana plants and arrested two men on Wednesday after raiding two separate indoor marijuana grow operations inside the same massive commercial building, officials said.
Investigators showed up with a search warrant about 7 a.m. at the 42,000-square-foot building at 100 S. South Gabriel Blvd., according to San Gabriel police Lt. Brian Kott. The building was formerly used as a major auto dealership.
Officers first discovered an illicit pot farm of about 4,200 plants inside a portion of the property formerly used for auto repairs when the structure was an auto dealership, the lieutenant said in a written statement. The operation was complete with artificial lighting, as well as “sophisticated hydroponic and ventilation systems.”
Phong Day Ung, 36, of Rosemead was found working at the grow operation and arrested on suspicion of cultivating marijuana, Kott said.
“As detectives continued their search of the property, another separate marijuana grow was found hidden inside a building directly under the main office at the northwest portion of the premises,” Kott said.
There were no visible entry points into the grow operation, save for a secret interior passageway to the upstairs office, police said. More than 2.600 pot plants were found growing inside several fabricated rooms inside the second grow site, where 34-year-old Yuntong Zheng of Monterey Park was arrested on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana as he returned to the scene as the investigation continued, Kott said.
It was not clear Wednesday whether the two marijuana grows were linked, or merely a coincidence.
Wednesday’s bust was the result of a two-week-long investigation spawned by an anonymous tip from a citizen, Kott said.
PHOTOS courtesy of the San Gabriel Police Department
POMONA >> A group of men carjacked a big rig containing more than half a ton of marijuana late Friday before leading police to an illicit marijuana grow at a Pomona home, police said.
Three men were arrested in connection with the carjacking, as well as on suspicion of cultivating marijuana and possessing pot for sales, according to Pomona police Sgt. Dennis Cooper. The victims of the carjacking were also ultimately arrested on suspicion of possession of marijuana for sales.
“Although the investigation is still ongoing, it appears this was possibly a prearranged meeting between both parties and a drug deal gone wrong,” Cooper said in a written statement.
The armed carjacking unfolded about 11:45 p.m. at Mission Boulevard and Sorrento Drive, the sergeant said. Officers found the just-stolen truck and trailer a short time later in the 700 block of Washington Ave.
“The suspects were observed by the police helicopter unloading the trailer and throwing large bags into the backyard of the residence,” Cooper said. “When Officers arrived and detained the suspects, they found that the trailer and bags contained approximately 1,200 pounds of marijuana.”
Police got a search warrant for the home and soon discovered 240 marijuana plants growing inside, he said.
Arrested on suspicion of carjacking and possession of marijuana for sales were Tyler Brian Holthouser, 25, of Pomona and Xavier Leroy Blackmon, 26, of Victorville, according to police and Los Angeles County booking records. James Holthouser, 34, of Pomona is accused of conspiracy to commit carjacking and possession of marijuana for sales.
The two carjacking victims — Timothy Alan Frerich, 39, of Redding and Dennis Young, 40, of Redding — were booked on suspicion of possession of marijuana for sales.
Tyler Holthouser, James Holthouser, Frerich and Young were being held in lieu of $100,000 bail each pending their initial court appearances, records show. Blackmon was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail.
Anyone with information can reach Pomona police at 909-620-2085. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
ALTADENA >> A man suffered burns to 40 percent of his body after an explosion and fire at an Altadena home being used to extract concentrated hash oil from marijuana, authorities said.
Deputies were first summoned to the 1800 block of E. Midwick Drive about 4:10 p.m. by reports of a person heard screaming, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
“When they arrived they saw a male adult badly burned and flames coming from the rear of a house,” according to the statement.
After Los Angeles County firefighters extinguished the fire and treated the victim, deputies discovered a large number of “containers and equipment” which they recognized as part of a manufacturing lab used to extract THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, from plants, authorities said. “Several windows of the house were blown out, possibly from an explosion.”
The process to extract concentrated THC oil, also known as “honey oil,” from marijuana plants often involves highly flammable liquids.
A Los Angeles County Fire Department hazardous materials team, sheriff’s narcotics detectives and U.S. Department of Justice officials investigated and decontaminated the scene in a process that lasted through 6 a.m. Saturday morning, officials said.
The badly burned man was taken to a hospital with severe burns covering about 40 percent of his body.
The man, whose name was not available, may face several criminal charges in connection with the alleged honey oil lab.
PHOTOS courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
COVINA >> Police uprooted about 1,000 marijuana plants from a Covina commercial building posing as an insurance agency on Friday afternoon, officials said.
Dashun Lin, 59, was arrested on suspicion of cultivating marijuana as police served a search warrant about 3 p.m. at the businesses, labeled Catano Enterprises Inc., 1055 W. San Bernardino Road, Covina police Lt. Ric Walczak said. Lin had a listed address in Baldwin Park, though it appeared he’d been living in the alleged front business.
Officers found about 1,000 mostly-mature marijuana plants inside the business, along with several pounds of processed marijuana, the lieutenant said.
The complex, seven-room operation included about 100 light ballasts and sophisticated electrical work, he added.
Police sought a warrant after an officer went to the area Thursday on a service call and noticed a powerful odor of marijuana emanating from the purported auto insurance agency, according to Walczak.
Upon looking up the business’ permit, the officer found that it was licensed with the city to operate as an auto dealership under the name, “Chronic Inc.” Chronic is slang for high-quality marijuana.
A tiny, sparsely furnished office separated the front door from a security door within the business, behind which the marijuana was growing, Walczak said. It did not appear that any legitimate business was taking place there.
Authorities suspected the pot-growing operation was set up some time in 2016.
According to county booking records, Lin was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail pending his initial court appearance.
PHOTOS courtesy of the Covina Police Department
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.