LOS ANGELES >> A federal grand jury Thursday indicted a Rowland Heights woman, a former Hacienda Heights couple and two other defendants who are accused of running a $30 million pyramid scheme targeting Chinese communities on both coasts, authorities said Friday.
Wen Chen “Wendy” Lee, 53, of Rowland Heights; Cheong Wha “Heywood” Chang, 47, of Taiwan and a former resident of Hacienda Heights; Chang’s wife Toni Chen, 46; Dalian “David” Guo, 53, of Hyde Park, New York; and Chih Hsuan “Kiki” Lin, 50, of Los Angeles and La Vegas are each charged with 13 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy, U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
The five operated a Hong Kong-based company known as CKB, WIN169 Biz Solutions Ltd., CKB168 Ltd. and Cyber Kid Best Education Limited, officials said.
The company purported to run a profitable business selling online educational courses for children, “but in reality was a pyramid scheme designed to generate new revenue by adding new investors,” Mrozek said.
Prosecutors allege the defendants collected about $30 million from investors, primarily in Chinese-American communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City between 2011 and 2014. They kept about $6.5 million of the money for themselves and transferred the rest to others involved in the scheme, according to the indictment.
“We believe that over 1,000 people invested in CKB, though it is unclear how many of those people invested directly through the defendants charged in this case,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Goorvich said.
To lure investors into the scam, the defendants made numerous false promises and statements about CKB, which was not registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, authorities said.
All five defendants are expected to appear in court to enter pleas next month, Mrozek said. They were arrested earlier this month following the filing of a sealed criminal complaint, Mrozek said.
Lin, who is also accused in the indictment of threatening victims in order to collect funds and dissuade them from talking to authorities, is being held without bond, while the others have been freed on bonds ranging from $250,000 to $500,000. If convicted as charged, each defendant faces up to 265 years in federal prison.
ROWLAND HEIGHTS >> A woman died early Sunday after she was stabbed inside a Rowland Heights townhouse, and her sister-in-law has been arrested in connection with the slaying, authorities said.
The stabbing took place about 2 a.m. in the 1900 block of Batson Avenue, Los Angles County Sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
The victim was taken to a hospital where she succumbed to her injuries a short time later.
“According to witnesses, the victim was arguing with her sister-in-law inside their apartment,” according to Deputy Crystal Hernandez of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau. “During the argument, the sister-in-law — a female-Hispanic, 19 years old — stabbed the victim in the neck and then fled the location. The sister-in-law was located a short time later and taken into custody without incident.”
Detectives detained the suspect for questioning before ultimately arresting her on suspicion of murder, officials said. Her identity was not released Sunday.
POMONA >> A West Covina man received an eight-year prison sentenced Friday after admitting an arson spree targeting six San Gabriel Valley businesses late last year and early this year, officials said.
During what was scheduled to be a pretrial hearing in Pomona Superior Court, David Lin, 43, pleaded “no contest” Friday to five counts of arson of property and one count of arson of an inhabited structure, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani. The outcome was the result of a negotiated plea arrangement.
Judge Salvatore Sirna sentenced Lin to eight years in state prison and ordered him to register as an arson offender for life, officials said.
Lin was arrested Feb. 3 after investigators linked him to a series of seven arson fires that ignited primarily inside the bathrooms of San Gabriel Valley businesses since December, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. John Hanson said at the time. No one was injured in the fires, at least one of which caused thousands of dollars worth of damage.
The fires were reported in December at the Guppy House restaurant in Hacienda Heights, as well as the Rolling Wok restaurant in Rowland Heights.
Two more similar fires broke out in January at L & L Hawaiian Barbecue in Walnut and at Office Depot in Rowland Heights, investigators said. The final three fires were reported the day of Lin’s arrest at a McDonalds, a Del Taco and Ten Ren’s Tea Time, all in Rowland Heights.
A motive for the bizarre crime spree was not clear, prosecutors said. Officials described Lin as a former West Covina resident who had been living in his car at the time of the arsons.
PHOTO of Davin Lin courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
ROWLAND HEIGHTS >> Narcotics investigators seized $1.8 million worth of marijuana from two Rowland Heights homes and arrested six suspects during a bust Tuesday, authorities said.
Detectives developed information that a home in the 18600 block of La Guardia Street in Rowland Heights was being used to grow marijuana, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Detective T. Simpson said in a written statement. Deputies arrived to conduct a search later the same day.
“An elaborate marijuana grow system was discovered at the location where several thousand dollars in U.S. currency and 300 marijuana plants at various stages of growth were seized,” Simpson said. Equipment such as lights, filters and fans used to grow the marijuana and conceal its odor were also discovered.
Deputies arrested four men and two women at the La Guardia Street home, officials said. Their names were not released Wednesday.
A child at the home was placed into protective custody by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.
Information gleaned at the La Guardia grow house led detectives to another in the 1200 block of Lindengrove Avenue, Simpson said.
“Although no suspects were located at the residence, (sheriff’s) narcotics investigators seized 646 marijuana plants, also at various stages of growth,” the detective said.
“The investigation is ongoing and there is no additional information available at this time,” he said.
Nearby in Baldwin Park, a house fire led police to discover about 1,000 marijuana plants growing inside a home Tuesday evening, officials said. An El Monte man was arrested in connection with the grow operation.
Anyone with information was asked to contact Detective Simpson 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.
ROWLAND HEIGHTS >> Officials Sunday released the identity of a Walnut man found dead at the wheel of his car after suffering an apparent medical emergency and crashing into a residential front yard.
Steven Irving Fischer, 61, died at the scene of the incident, which was reported just after 9 p.m. Wednesday in the 19200 block of Windrose Drive in Rowland Heights, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Fred Corral said.
An autopsy had been performed, but Fischer’s cause of death was deferred pending the results of further testing, Corral said.
California Highway Patrol Sgt. Brian Axt said the driver had dropped off a passenger before the crash which was reported just after 9 p.m.
Fischer was traveling east when his 2000 Jaguar came to a stop in the middle of the road, then accelrated toward the curbline and ended up in a front yard, California Highway Patrol officials said.
There were no signs of trauma on the body, Corral said.
POMONA >> A 28-year-old Rowland Heights man was sentenced Tuesday to 26 years to life in prison for stabbing to death an ex-boyfriend in an industrial area in La Puente, authorities said.
Andres Aguirre was convicted June 2 of the first degree murder of Joseph Chacon of El Monte, whose body was found behind a business in the 15900 block of Old Valley Boulevard on Feb. 12, 2014, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said. The men had been involved in a previous relationship but were friends at the time of the stabbing.
Ardalani said Aguirre drove him to La Puente, Ardalani said. Chacon got out of the car to urinate when Aguirre followed after him and stabbed him in the chest and back.
The prosecution argued that Aguirre stabbed Chacon because he felt angered and disrespected by Chacon for taking phone calls while the men spent the evening together. Aguirre’s defense attorney, Louisa Pensanti said her client acted in what he believed to be self-defense.
“He wasn’t angry, he was fearful,” she said.
Chacon had on the phone with a man Aguirre believed to be involved with gangs, Pensanti said. Believing Chacon was arranging an attack of some kind, Aguirre stabbed him, Pensanti said.
Pensanti also disputed the prosecution’s assertion that Aguirre provided Chacon with a large amount of alcohol prior to the fatal stabbing. Pensanti said Aguirre brought only two beers with him, though Chacon drank more of his own alcohol. “He wasn’t plied with liquor,” Pensanti said.
The defense asked the jury to convict Aguirre of the lesser crime of manslaughter, but the jury sided with the prosecution and found Aguirre guilty of first-degree murder.
– Ruby Gonzales and Brian Day
HACIENDA HEIGHTS >> Tips from the public helped investigators identify and arrest a suspect they say has stolen more than $30,000 in collections from churches and a Buddhist temple in Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights, officials said.
Deputies arrested Carolos Montiel, 36, of Hacienda Heights about 9 p.m. at a home in the 3400 block of Glenmark Drive, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. David Infante.
Over a period spanning more than a year, he’s burglarized two churches and a Buddhist temple, making off with more than $30,000 from the collection boxes, Detective Charell Heard said.
Though he remained unidentified, investigators had his picture from surveillance cameras. Detectives released those imaged to the public Wednesday in hopes that someone would recognize and report the suspect.
Less than a day later, investigators had a name.
“Shortly after the interview and the suspect’s photograph were televised and posted on media web sites, anonymous community members identified the suspect as Hacienda Heights resident Carlos Montiel,” Infante said in a written statement.
After confirming Montiel as their suspect, deputies set up a surveillance and arrested him without a struggle Thursday evening, Infante said.
Detectives are asking the public’s help in identifying a serial burglary suspect they say has stolen more than $30,000 in collections from two churches and a Buddhist temple in Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights over the past two years.
The burglar has targeted collection boxes in each of the capers, Detective Charell Heard. She declined to discuss the specific dates and locations of the crimes as the investigation continued, but said that more than $30,000 in cash had been stolen in all.
The burglaries took place during daytime hours while the houses of worship were open to the public, officials said.
Officials described the burglar as a Latino man with “tribal band” tattoos on both of his legs and large tattoos on both his arms.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Heard at 626-330-3322.
PHOTOS courtesy if the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
COVINA >> Police stopped a driver for a traffic violation but ended up arresting his passenger after an officer spotted the suspect stealing money from his friend’s wallet during the traffic stop early Saturday, officials said.
Victor Hugo Rojas-Salgado, 22, of Rowland Heights was arrested on suspicion of petty theft following the unusual incident, which unfolded about 1:45 a.m. in the 200 block of West College Street, Covina police Sgt. Gregg Peterson said.
Two officers stopped a car, suspecting the driver may have been intoxicated, the sergeant said. The driver was ultimately found to be sober, but was issued a ticket for a traffic violation.
But while one officer spoke with the driver outside the car, Rojas-Salgado helped himself to $20 from his friend’s wallet and placed it in his pocket, Peterson said. Rojas-Salgado apparently didn’t realize the second officer was watching.
The officer asked the driver if his passenger should be taking money, and arrested Rojas-Salgado after the driver told them his friend did not have permission.
Rojas-Salgado was released with a misdemeanor citation, Peterson said.
PHOTO – Courtesy of the Covina Police Department
POMONA >> A jury convicted a Rowland Heights man Tuesday of fatally stabbing his ex-boyfriend, an El Monte man, to death in an industrial neighborhood in La Puente last year.
Andres Aguirre, 28, also known as Andres Aguirre Garcia, faces up to 26 years to life in prison when he returns to Pomona Superior Court July 7 to be sentenced for the Feb. 12, 2014, slaying of 27-year-old Joseph Chacon, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said.
The men had ended a relationship years prior to the stabbing but had recently reunited and become friends at the time of the killing, officials said.
On the night of the fatal stabbing, Aguirre picked up the victim at his Rowland Heights home, authorities said. “Aguirre provided Chacon with a large amount of alcohol and drove the victim to an isolated industrial area in La Puente,” district attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in a written statement.
The men ended up in a parking lot behind an insulation business owned by La Puente’s then-mayor, Charlie Klinakis, in the 15900 block of Old Valley Road in La Puente, Lt. Steve Jauch of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said at the time.
“At one point, the victim exited the car to urinate and Aguirre followed,” the statement said. “As the victim attempted to return to the car, Aguirre fatally stabbed Chacon in the chest and back.”
“Four of the five wounds were fatal or potentially fatal,” Deputy District attorney Lauren Guber said.
Chacon’s body was found by a passer-by a short time later.
Detectives arrested Aguirre two days later after he agreed to meet with detectives for an interview. He was the last person known to have seen Chacon alive.
As Aguirre’s story failed to add up, he confessed to stabbing Chacon, sheriff’s and district attorney’s officials said.
Chacon and Aguirre had been involved in a relationship, but broke it off in 2006, the prosecutor said. The men fell out of touch for several years, but began a friendship when they met by a coincidence on a bus in the year or so leading up to the deadly encounter.
Following his arrest, Aguirre told investigators that he became angry at Chacon because he believed Chacon was being a bad friend and disrespecting him by taking phone calls and making other plans while the men spent the evening together, Guber said. Aguirre also made mention of seemingly unfounded, irrational fears that Chacon or one of his friends would harm him, though Chacon never physically harmed or threatened Aguirre.
Aguirre told detectives his intention on the night of the killing was to “test their friendship,” Guber said. He brought the knife with him when he picked up Chacon, later admitting to investigators that if the night did not go well, the thought of killing his friend had crossed his mind.
Following his arrest, the killer then led investigators to a roadside in Walnut where he had buried the knife used in the killing, described as an ornamental sword-like knife with a blade about 10 inches long, Guber said. “He seemed to have driven it into the ground with a hammer.”
That confession was played as evidence for the jury during the trial, Ardalani said.
Following a five-day trial, jurors deliberated for less than a day before finding Aguirre guilty of first degree murder, along with the special allegation that he personally used a knife in the killing, the prosecutor said. In doing so, jurors rejected the defense’s position that Aguirre should be convicted of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, rather than murder.
“The jury worked hard. I think they came to the right decision, Guber said.