PICO RIVERA — Officials are planning to check drivers for both sobriety and valid licensed during a checkpoint late Friday in Pico Rivera, authorities said.
The checkpoint will take place from 7 p.m. Friday to 3 a.m. Saturday at an undisclosed location within the city, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
Funding for the checkpoint is being provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Federal authorities arrested an El Monte woman and Pico Rivera woman Thursday on suspicion of filing fraudulent green card applications on behalf of immigrants, bilking some of them out of their life savings, officials said.
Claudia Arreola, 35, of El Monte, who own Los Angeles-based California Immigration Services, and her employee, 35-year-old Leticia Gutierrez of Pico Rivera, were taken into custody by agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations division, U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
A federal grand jury Tuesday indicted the women on six fraud-related counts, officials said.
Six victims are named in the indictment, however investigators suspect there are likely dozens more.
The defendants charged undocumented immigrants who were married to U.S. citizens as much as $24,000, claiming to be able to help them secure legal immigration status, Mrozek said. But they went on to submit fraudulent documents, such as fraudulent I-94 cards stating the clients, who came to the U.S. illegally, were in the country legally on visitors’ visas.
“Subsequently, investigators say when several of the foreign nationals sought refunds after they failed to receive ‘green cards,’ the defendants allegedly threatened to contact authorities and have the aliens deported,” according to Mrozek.
“Fraud scams run by so-called notarios threaten the integrity of the immigration process and offer false hope to desperate people,’ U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said. “The two women in this case victimized immigrants for years by giving the false impression that they could fix immigration problems.”
Additionally, “at least some of the victims in this case could have obtained green cards legally,” Special Agent in Charge for HSI in Los Angeles Clause Arnold said. “Instead, they placed their trust and, in many cases, their life savings, in the hands of individuals who were focused on enriching themselves rather than helping hopeful immigrants realize the American dream.”
The similarity between the acronym for Arreola’s business, CIS, and that of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS, “was no coincidence,” Mrozek added. Investigators found that money orders and cashiers checks issued to USCIS had been deposited into a bank account controlled by Arreola and Gutierrez.
The two defendants, among others, previously came under federal scrutiny in 2003 when they were sued by the government for allegedly providing immigration services in violation of California law, officials said. Under a settlement, they agreed not to engage in any illegal immigration consulting services.
They opened California Immigration Services in 2006.
If convicted as charged, Arreola and Gutierrez could each face up to 60 years in federal prison. They were scheduled to be arraigned Monday in federal court in Los Angeles.
PICO RIVERA >> A $5,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the capture and conviction of the driver who fatally struck a 25-year-old Pico Rivera man as he crossed Beverly Boulevard last week.
Christopher Ventura died after he was struck by two vehicles, one of which fled the scene, late June 16 along Beverly Boulevard near Abbeywood Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner’s officials said. His residence was listed at the coroner’s office as transient.
Ventura is survived by two daughters, including one who is now orphaned following the death of her mother from a medical issue last year,friends and family members said.
Officials said he was struck by an eastbound vehicle, which continued driving, before being struck by a second westbound vehicle, sheriff’s Detective Jose Marquez said.
A description of the hit-and-run vehicle was not available, the detective said.
“It’s going to have front-end damage,” Marquez said. A shard of headlight glass left behind at the scene led investigators to suspect the vehicle that struck Ventura was likely of an older model, but did not allow officials to narrow down a year, make or model.
The driver of the second vehicle remained a the scene and cooperated with investigators, according to sheriff’s officials.
A banner advertising the $5,000 reward, offered by a family friend, has been placed at the collision scene, along with candles, pictures, balloons, hand-written messages and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. The donor did not wish to be identified, saying he did not want to distract attention from the search for the hit-and-run vehicle.
In order to help the grieving family, a series of car washes are planned.
They are scheduled from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday at Flo’s Coffee Shop and Restaurant, 4597 Peck Road in El Monte; from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at McDonald’s, 15000 Whittier Boulevard in Whittier; from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Arco, 113 E. Arrow Highway in Glendora; from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Latin Skulls Tattoo Studio, 5036 Passons Boulevard in Pico Rivera; and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at EZ Auto Repair, 4625 Peck Road in Monte.
Anyone with information regarding the hit-and-run vehicle can contact Detective Marquez at the sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station at 562-949-2421. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
PICO RIVERA — Investigators seized well over five tons of illegal fireworks Thursday from a Pico Rivera neighborhood, authorities said.
Firefighters were first summoned about 12:50 p.m. to keep watch over the potentially explosive contraband, which was found in the 4700 block of Citrus Drive, Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Keith Mora said.
The fireworks were found at a business called Thomas Brothers Tube Bending, according to Lt. Christopher Williams of the El Monte Police Department, which spearheaded the investigation.
“Detectives received information about the illegal fireworks being sold at this location,” Williams said. “Once on scene, detectives discovered illegal fireworks inside a trailer and multiple storage containers.”
Police arrested two men, described as the business owner and an employee, but withheld their names Thursday as the investigation continued, Williams said.
The estimate of the amount of fireworks at the business continued to grow through the afternoon, as police and firefighters filled three trucks with fireworks, and began working on a fourth.
“We’re approaching five tons,” Williams said.
Police began their investigation in May, he added.
“Our concern is this, the operation was going on so long, and brazen,” Williams said.
Prospective illegal fireworks buyers stopped by the business as police continued working there.
“Detectives who are on scene are being approached by customers attempting to buy the illegal fireworks, while we are dismantling the operation,” he said.
In some cases, would-be customers approached detectives wearing informal police uniforms, Williams said.
Officials expected to remain at the business well into the afternoon as investigators and firefighters loaded up the fireworks to take them to secure, secret location.
Only fireworks designated “Safe and Sane” are permitted in Pico Rivera, as well as El Monte, during the Independence Day holiday.
The fireworks seized Thursday did not meet that standard, Williams said. “This is all the illegal, dangerous stuff, non-State Fire Marshal approved.”
PHOTO courtesy of the El Monte Police Department
PICO RIVERA — Authorities Wednesday released the name of a 25-year-old man who died after being struck by two cars, including one that fled the scene, while walking across Beverly Boulevard earlier this week.
Christopher Ventura died at the scene of the collisions, which took place shortly before 11 p.m. Monday along Beverly Boulevard, just east of Abbeywood Avenue, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Elissa Fleak said. No permanent address was listed at the coroner’s office.
Ventura was struck by an eastbound vehicle, which failed to stop at the scene, before he was struck by a second westbound vehicle, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said. The driver of the second vehicle remained at the scene and cooperated with investigators.
No description of the hit-and-run vehicle or driver was available Wednesday, as investigators reached out to the public for clues.
“Detectives are seeking the public’s help in locating the driver of the vehicle who fled the scene after the accident,” Detective Jose Marquez said in a written statement.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station at 562-949-2421. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
PICO RIVERA >> An elderly man was found fatally shot on the front porch of a Pico Rivera home Friday afternoon, and deputies cordoned off a neighborhood as they investigated whether the death was the result of suicide or a crime.
The shooting was first reported about 2 p.m. in the 3300 block of Whispering Palms, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Jacqueline Sanchez said.
The dead person was initially described as man in his late-70s or early-80s, Lt. Alex Villanueva said. Officials were still looking into whether he lived there.
According to initial reports broadcasted via radio by responding deputies, the person was found sitting in a chair on the front porch with a gunshot wound, and a gun was found with him. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
But deputies also noted several bullet holes in the front windows and door of the home, rousing their suspicions.
Officials evacuated adjacent homes, summoned detectives from the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau and were treating the home as a potential crime scene as the investigation continued Friday afternoon, officials said.
Deputies canvassed the neighborhood asking neighbors if they had heard or seen anything unusual as they prepared to look inside the home where the shooting occurred, Villanueva said.
Deputies were yet to enter the home where the shooting occurred Friday afternoon.
No further details were available.
A gunman shot and wounded two brothers near their Pico Rivera home Saturday afternoon, authorities said.
The wounded men, ages 22 and 26, were hospitalized in stable condition following the 2:20 p.m. shooting int he 5100 block of Lindsey Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Meyer said.
The brothers were standing in driveway near their home when a gray car, possibly a Chrysler 300, approached the scene, the lieutenant said. A detailed description of the driver was not available.
The vehicle stopped in front of the home and the gunman exited, Meyer said. There was a brief exchange of words, though it was not immediately clear what was said.
“The suspect produced a handgun and fired five to six rounds, striking both victims,” Meyer said. The 22-year-old man was struck once in the torso, while his older brother was struck several times in the mid-section.
A motive in the shooting was not clear, Meyer said.
PICO RIVERA >> A man died at the scene of an early-morning shotgun attack in a residential neighborhood Sunday, according to officials and a witness.
Joseph Richard Flores, 18, of Whittier died at the scene of the shooting, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Fred Corral said.
Few details were available regarding the fatal shooting, which Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said occurred about 12:40 a.m. in the 9200 block of Claymore Street, near Serapis Avenue.
“Detectives have learned that deputies from Pico Rivera Sheriff’s Station responded to a gun shot victim call, and when they arrived, they found the victim lying in the street suffering from multiple gunshot wounds,” deputies from the Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau said in a written statement.
Flores died at the scene.
No suspect description was known, officials said, and no further information was released.
Friend Bryan Vargas said Flores had just been dropped off on the street to visit when he was shot.
Vargas said he saw his friend down the street and he began walking over toward Vargas’s home. The friend said he went back inside the house.
As Flores reached the sidewalk along Claymore Street, Vargas said he heard a car pull up to him and someone get out.
An attacker asked him where he was from, a common gang challenge, and there was a brief exchange of words before the shooter opened fire, Vargas said. Vargas said he emerged from the home to find his friend shot in the face with a shotgun, and did not get a view of the killer or the vehicle.
Flores was not involved with gangs, Vargas said.
“He was a very good kid. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He always had a smile on his face,” he said. “I can’t believe it.”
The young man had a good sense of humor and spent much of his time with his girlfriend, Vargas said.
Four days before the fatal shooting, Vargas said he advised his friend not to walk to a relative’s home in the middle of the night because it was dangerous, but Flores couldn’t be persuaded otherwise.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.
PICO RIVERA >> A 31-year-old woman was fatally struck by a car late Friday after she stepped into it’s path on Rosemead Boulevard, authorities said.
The name of the woman was not released pending notification of her family, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner officials said. California Highway Patrol officials described her as a Los Angeles resident.
The fatal collision took place about 11:10 p.m. on Rosemead Boulevard, just north of Gallatin Road, CHP Officer Jennifer Cassidy said.
The woman had been walking northbound in the center median, just north of the median, and a 46-year-old San Gabriel man was driving a an Acura sedan north on Rosemead Boulevard in the left-hand lane, Cassidy said.
“For unknown reasons, (the pedestrian) stepped into the number one lane from the center median, directly into the path of (the Acura),” the officer said.
The driver was unable to avoid the woman and struck her, Cassidy said. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The driver was not arrested or cited as officers from the East Los Angeles office of the CHP continued their investigation.
NORWALK >> An alleged gang member accused of stabbing and seriously injuring his uncle in Pico Rivera, then stabbing and beating a former friend with a hammer in South Whittier two days later pleaded not guilty Thursday to a series of charges in connection with the December attacks, authorities said.
“Alfred Tapia was arraigned on two counts of attempted murder and one count each of mayhem and child abuse,” Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement. He is additionally accused of the sentence-enhancing allegation that the crimes were gang-related.
Tapia, 34, fled to Mexico where he was apprehended and returned to the United States last month to face prosecution. If convicted as charged, he could face life in prison as a third strike offender, district attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
The near-fatal stabbings and beating took place Dec. 3 at the home of Tapia’s uncle in the 8700 block of Olympic Boulevard in Pico Rivera, and Dec. 5 at the home of a former gang member and friend in the 10500 block of Nashville Avenue in South Whittier, Los Angeles County sheriff’s and district attorney’s officials said.
In the first incident, Tapia went to his uncle’s home, where the two men had a “disagreement over a personal matter,” according to the district attorney’s office statement.
Tapia stabbed his uncle several times in the back, inflicting serious injuries including a collapsed lung and a punctured liver, sheriff’s officials said. Further details regarding what the men argued about were not available.
Two days later, Tapia arrived at the home of his former friend, sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said.
“The man was home alone caring for his infant child,” according to the district attorney’s office statement. “Tapia chased the man outside and reportedly attacked him with a knife and hammer.”
Tapia’s second alleged victim suffered major injuries, including both stab wounds and blunt force trauma, Nishida said.
The charge of mayhem was filed due to injuries suffered by the second victim, Ardalani said. However prosecutors declined to describe the nature of the injuries.
Under California law, mayhem occurred when a person, “unlawfully and maliciously deprives a human being of a member of his body, or disables, disfigures, or renders it useless, or cuts or disables the tongue, or puts out an eye, or slits the nose, ear, or lip.”
Tapia was also being investigated in connection with the Dec. 6 stabbing of another relative in Chino, however he has not been charged in connection with the incident.
Tapia was scheduled to return to Norwalk Superior Court June 2 for a preliminary hearing setting, officials said.
PHOTO of Alfred Tapia courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department