San Gabriel man convicted in turtle smuggling scheme

LOS ANGELES >> A judge sentenced a San Gabriel man to two months in federal prison this week for trying to smuggle 46 turtles and tortoises to Hong Kong via the U.S. Postal Service last year, authorities said. Some of the animals died as a result of the failed scheme.
Kwong Wa Cheung, 36, was also sentenced to two years of supervised release following his prison sentence, two months of which will be served in a halfway house, U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement. U.S. District Judge John F. Walter also ordered Cheung to perform 500 hours of community service at an animal shelter and pay a $12,000 fine.
Cheung pleaded guilty in August to a felony county of mislabeling wildlife intended for foreign commerce, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Mitchell said. Five additional felony counts initially filed against Cheung were dismissed.
On Aug. 13 at the San Gabriel Post Office, Cheung tried to ship three boxes containing 26 Eastern box turtles and 20 African spurred tortoises, officials said. Both species are protected and illegal to transport overseas by international treaty and federal law.
“Cheung used a fake name and address on the packages, and declared that the contents of the packages were ‘toys,’” according to the statement. Because Cheung used a false name, the postal service refused to ship the package, but also could not locate Cheung to return the packages.
Officials found the animals after at least one of them died and began to emit a strong odor, Mitchell said. It was not clear how many reptiles died as a result of the failed shipment.
Investigators ultimately identified Cheung as the person who tried to mail the reptiles, which had an estimated market value in Hong Kong of more than $10,000, Mitchell said.

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Chino man gets 374 years to life in prison for spree of follow-home robberies targeting San Gabriel Valley women

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ALHAMBRA >> A judge sentenced a Chino man to 374 years to life in prison Thursday for a spree of follow-home robberies targeting lone Asian women throughout the San Gabriel Valley in 2011, officials said.
An Alhambra Superior Court convicted Jose Lewis Avila, 33, of nine counts of robbery, one count of assault with a deadly weapon, one count of dissuading a witness from reporting a crime and one count of child abuse. The 12 charges stem from a eight incidents in March and April of 2011, investigators said.
Three robberies, one of which involved two victims, occurred in Alhambra, officials said. Three of he robberies occurred in San Gabriel, one occurred in Arcadia and one took place in Monterey Park.
“The defendant targeted women driving alone,” according to the district attorney’s office statement. “Once the victims arrived at their homes, Avila accosted them and demanded their money and property. During each robbery, the defendant used a BB gun and covered his face with a bandana or mask.
But detectives managed to identify Avila the culprit in the crimes through surveillance video and credit card charges, officials said.
Additionally, Avila’s “unique” and “pretty” eyes helped victims point him out as their attacker, said Deputy District Attorney David Ayvazian, who prosecuted the case with Deputy District Attorney Gabriel Kim.
Avila was convicted of a similar string of crimes in 2005, Ayvazian said.
The assault with a deadly weapon charge was the result of Avila shooting one of his victims in the face with a BB gun during a robbery in Arcadia, officials said. He also threatened a witness not to contact the police, leading to the charge of dissuading a witness. And one of the robbery victims was holding a child in her arms during the crime, resulting in the charge of child abuse.
According to district attorney’s officials, the jury also found true special allegations that Avila used a deadly and dangerous weapon, the BB gun, in his crimes, and that he inflicted great bodily injury.

PHOTO of Jose Avila, 33, of Chino, courtesy of the Alhambra Police Department.

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Fire destroys home, commercial building in San Gabriel

SAN GABRIEL >> A large fire in San Gabriel destroyed a vacant home and a commercial building and sent one person to a hospital with smoke inhalation Thursday afternoon, authorities said.
Firefighters first responded about 1:40 p.m. to a report of a fire in the 500 block of West Norwood Place, San Gabriel Fire Department Division Chief Bryan Frieders said.
“When the first arriving companies got there, the house was fully involved with flames and smoke,” the chief said. The house was vacant.
The fire had also spread into an attached 2,500-square-foot commercial building, which was also believed to be vacant, Frieders said.
Firefighters declared a “second alarm,” bringing about 55 personnel to the scene.
An elderly neighbor was taken to a hospital in good condition after apparently becoming overwhelmed by smoke emanating from the fire, Frieders said.
Officials extinguished the flames in 37 minutes, he said. A portion of the roof of the burning commercial building collapsed during the fire, as well as a wall inside the house.
The house and commercial building were destroyed by the fire, Frieders said, and the value of the damage was estimated to be $600,000.
But firefighters managed to keep the fire from spreading to a second home situated only a few feet away from the first, as well as to a backyard aviary containing more than a dozen birds.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation, however investigators noted the structures have had reported issues with squatters in the past.
As firefighters worked to extinguish the Norwood Place fire, a second fire sparked at a nearby liquor store in the 1700 block of New Avenue, Frieders said.
The fire ignited inside the businesses electrical box, and ultimately caused about $30,000 to the store and its contents. It would have been much worse had firefighters not been so close when it started, Frieders said.
The cause of the liquor store fire also remained under investigation Thursday, though officials were looking into the possibility the electrical fire was caused by damage from the first fire, Frieders said. Both businesses are wired to the same electrical pole.

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UPDATE: Missing elderly San Gabriel woman found safe

SAN GABRIEL >> Police found a 79-year-old woman who went missing Thursday from her San Gabriel home, along with her pet poodle.
Police asked the public’s help Thursday afternoon in finding the woman, who disappeared Thursday morning from her home in the 900 block of South Palm Avenue, San Gabriel police officials said in a written statement.
“At approximately 11:00 a.m., (the woman’s) husband woke up and discovered she was not at the residence,” according to the police statement. Her poodle, cane and oxygen tank were also missing, leading her husband to believe she had gone for a walk.
“However, she did not return as expected and she is unfamiliar with the area,” the police statement said.
The woman was found about two hours later, safe and sound, at a local church, Sgt. Riki Nakamura said.
She had become lost while walking the dog and ultimately went to the church, where the waited for authorities, he said.

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La Mirada doctor faces up to 157 years in prison after drug dealing conviction

LOS ANGELES >> A doctor from La Mirada has been convicted of federal drug trafficking charges for the improper and illegal distribution of powerful painkillers, officials announced Friday.
A federal jury in Los Angeles convicted Dr. Andrew Sun, 78, of 14 counts of distributing controlled substances and three counts of money laundering for concealing the proceeds of his crimes, U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement. The conviction came after three days of trial.
Sun, who ran clinics in San Gabriel and East Los Angeles, faces up to 157 years in prison when he returns to court for sentencing Nov. 10, officials said.
His medical license was already probationary after he was targeted in a similar investigation in 2004. His license was suspended in late 2013.
Sun was ordered to appear at an Aug. 25 hearing in which the court will determine whether Sun must forfeit almost $350,000 in drug proceeds, officials said.
Sun turned himself in to authorities in April after being indicted by a indicted by a grand jury.
He was convicted of prescribing powerful drugs such as hydrocodone, also known as Vicodin, alprazolam, also known as Xanax, carisprodol, also known as Soma, and promethezine with codeine, which is used to make the street drug known as “purple drank” or “sizzurp.”
Through an undercover sting operation, investigators determined Sun “profited by prescribing addictive painkillers and other controlled substances to persons whom he believed were drug addicts, and thus that the defendant acted without lawful medical purpose,” according to court documents.
The doctor issues more than 24,000 for controlled substances, netting $1 million in cash between 2009 and 2012, according to the DOJ.
When undercover agents visited Sun seeking drugs, “Sun failed to conduct any physical examination and he sold prescriptions for $150 in cash — even when he believed he was writing the prescriptions for drug addicts,” Mrozek said.
The investigation was carried out by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the IRS, the California Department of Health Care Services and the Monterey Park Police Department.

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Rosemead man killed in San Gabriel solo-car crash identified

SAN GABRIEL >> Officials have released the name of a 51-year-old Rosemead man who died in a solo-car crash in San Gabriel a week ago.
Louis Richard Valdez died at a hospital shortly after his 2013 Hyundai struck a palm tree in the 8600 block of East Broadway about 8:40 p.m. Aug. 3, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Larry Dietz said. He died from multiple traumatic injuries, and the death was ruled accidental.
For reasons that remained under investigation, Valdez’s car suddenly veered to the left side of the road and struck a large palm tree as he was westbound Broadway, CHP officials said.

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Chino man convicted of follow-home robbery spree targeting women in the western San Gabriel Valley

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ALHAMBRA >> A Chino man is expected to face more than two-and-a-half centuries in prison after a jury convicted him Wednesday of a string of robberies targeting women arriving home throughout the western San Gabriel Valley, officials said.
An Alhambra Superior Court jury found Jose Lewis Avila, 32, guilty of all counts he was charged with, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
They included nine counts of robbery, one count of assault with a deadly weapon, one count of dissuading a witness and one count of child abuse, Ardalani said. The jury also found true the special allegations that Avila used a dangerous weapon during the crimes, which was ultimately determined to be a BB gun following Avila’s arrest, and that one of his victims, an Arcadia woman was shot with the BB gun, suffered great bodily injury. An Alhambra woman was pistol whipped during one of the robberies.
The robbery spree took place in March and April of 2011 in Alhambra, San Gabriel, Monterey Park and Arcadia, Ayvazian said.
“All of these are basically follow home robberies,” said Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney David Ayvazian, who prosecuted the case along with Deputy District Attorney Gabriel Kim.
He targeted women outside their homes as they arrived home alone, investigators said. In the first robbery in Alhambra, a husband and wife were robbed as they arrived home together.
All of the victims targeted by Avila were Asian, Ayvazian said.
Avila was ordered back to court Sept. 26 for sentencing, Ardalani said.
Prior to receiving his sentenced, a judge will review Avila’s criminal history to confirm his status ass a third-strike offender, Ayvazian said.
He’s expected to receive a minimum sentence of 250 years to life in state prison, officials said. The maximum sentence Avila faces is 259 years behind bars.
The 12 charges stemmed from eight incidents, the prosecutor explained. Three robberies, one which involved two victims, occurred in Alhambra. Another three took place in San Gabriel, while one occurred in Arcadia and one took place in Monterey Park.
One of his victims was holding a child in her arms when robbed, resulting in the child abuse charge, officials said.
Avila threatened another of his victims and told her not to contact the police, resulting in a charge of dissuading a witness, Ayvazian said.
The assault with a deadly weapon charge stemmed from the Arcadia robbery, Ayvazian said. When the victim’s daughter overheard the commotion and came out so check on her mother, Avila shot her with the BB gun.
0724_NWS_PSN-L-AVILA2As the spree was ongoing, Alhambra, San Gabriel and Monterey Park police banded together and formed a task force to identify and capture the serial robber.
He was arrested April 20, 2011, after an officer spotted a man and vehicle matching the suspect description driving on Valley Boulevard in Alhambra and stopped it for a broken tail light, Ayvazian said. After learning the driver, later identified as Avila, was on parole, officers searched his car.
Investigators found a realistic-looking BB gun, bandanas, latex gloves and other items that indicated he was searching for new victims when stopped by police, Ayvazian said. A wealth of evidence including eyewitness statement, credit card records, cell phone records and surveillance camera footage also linked Avila to the crimes, officials said.
Additionally, even though Avila covered his face during his crimes, several witness were able to identify him due to his “very unique” eyes and eyebrows, Ayvazian said.
At the time of his arrest, Avila was already on parole in connection with a similar robbery spree that took place in the same area in 2005, Ayvazian said.
He had been arrested and charged with 19 criminal counts, but ultimately admitted two of the robberies under a plea agreement, the prosecutor said. As in the more recent case, some victims identified the masked robber based on his eyes and eyebrows.
While Avila was charged with robbing nine people in the 2011 spree, the police task force assembled to investigate the case capture the serial robber had also looked at Avila in connection with more than ten additional robberies, reaching into Pasadena and South Pasadena, officials said shortly after Avila’s arrest. No charges have been filed in connection with those robberies.
The prosecution presented 22 witness during Avila’s three-and-a-half-day trial, Ayvazian said.
Jurors deliberated for less than four hours before finding Avila guilty an all charges.
“The evidence was on out side,” Ayvazian said. “The jury obviously, in our opinion, did the right thing by bringing justice for our community.

PHOTOS:(Above)  Photo of Jose Avila courtesy of the Alhambra Police Department. (Below) Sketch of serial robber released to the public prior to Avila’s arrest in connection with a follow-home robbery spree continued in the western San Gabriel Valley in April of 2011, courtesy of the Alhambra Police Department.

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Doctor from La Mirada pleads guilty to prescribing painkillers illegally, money laundering

LOS ANGELES — A doctor from La Mirada who ran clinics in San Gabriel and East Los Angeles pleaded guilty Thursday to illegally prescribing painkillers and money laundering, officials announced.
Andrew Sun, 78, agreed to plead guilty to one count of distribution of hydrocodone and one count of money laundering, U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement. The powerful painkiller hydrocodone is better known by it’s brand name, Vicodin.
He surrendered to authorities April 10 after being indicted on 24 charges related to drug distribution and money laundering.
Though he pleaded guilty only to money laundering and illegally prescribing hydrocodone, “(Sun) admits in his plea agreement that he also illegally prescribed and distributed other drugs, including those best known by the brand names Xanax and Soma,” Mrozek said.
The improper prescriptions issued to undercover investigators between 2011 and 2012, “outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose,” he said.
The doctor further admitted accepting $554,070 in cash payments for the drugs, which he deposited into a personal bank account, “for the purpose of disguising the source and nature of the funds,” according to Mrozek.
Under the plea arrangement, Sun agreed to forfeit $342,000 that was seized from his bank account in July of 2012, officials added. He also agreed to pay nearly $87,000 in restitution to the California Medical Board, which participated in the investigation along with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the IRS, the California Department of Health Services and the Monterey Park Police Department.
Sun’s medical license was suspended in 2013, according to a California Department of Consumer Affairs database.

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San Gabriel Valley police, firefighters to square off on basketball court in Arcadia to help the Special Olympics

2014 Battle of the Badges

San Gabriel Valley police officers will take on their fire department counterparts on the basketball court in Arcadia this weekend as the annual Battle of the Badges tournament returns bigger than ever to raise money for the Special Olympics.
The series of games will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday in the gymnasium of Arcadia High School, 180 Campus Drive in Arcadia, organizers said in a written statement. The cost of admission will be a “donation of your choosing,” and proceeds will benefit the Special Olympics Southern California.
In addition to the action on the court, there will be jumpers for children, refreshments, a SWAT demonstration, historical vehicles, a fire truck and gaming booths set up by Dave & Buster’s, Arcadia police Detective Walter Ashby said. An iPad Air will also be raffled off.
“One-hundred percent of the proceeds are donated directly to the Special Olympics,” he said.
San Gabriel police officers will take on San Gabriel firefighters at 10 a.m.; Alhambra police will play Alhambra firefighters at noon; El Monte police will take on Upland firefighters at 2 p.m.; Pasadena police will play Pasadena firefighters at 4 p.m.; and Arcadia police officers and firefighters will face off on the court at 6 p.m.
For more information, contact Detective Ashby at 626-821-2654, or email washby@ci.arcadia.ca.us.

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UPDATED: Two firefighters hurt, three business destroyed in massive San Gabriel fire

 

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SAN GABRIEL >> A massive, three-alarm fire destroyed three business Thursday night and injured two firefighters, authorities said.
The fire caused an estimated $2 million worth of damage, San Gabriel Fire Department Division Chief Bryan Frieders. The damage to the building was estimated at $1.5 million, and the damage to the contents was valued at $500,000.
The heat and intensity of the flames forced firefighters to take a defensive stance around the blaze, dousing it with water from the perimeter, Frieders said.
“The fire was burning so hot, it wasn’t worth risking lives,” he said.
At one point during the lengthy fire, the roof of the building collapsed, Frieders said. Fortunately, no firefighters were on top of it.
Division Chief Derrick Doehler said investigators don’t believe the fire was arson, but the cause of the fire hasn’t been determined.
The fire broke out at 7:22 p.m. either behind or inside a cell phone store in the 200 block of South San Gabriel Boulevard, he said.
The wireless store was in a building that also had a gift shop-bookstore and a third business.
In addition to the building, one car parked nearby was destroyed and at least one other was damaged, Frieders said.
Doehler said two firefighters sustained moderate injuries while fighting the flames but didn’t say what kind of injuries. Both firefighters were treated at a hospital and released, he added.
“One came back on duty at his request. One went home,” Doehler said.
No other injuries were reported, authorities said.
About 80 fire personnel fought the fire which was knocked down a little more than three hours after it ignited.
Fire departments from Pasadena, Los Angeles County, Alhambra, Monterey Park, San Marino, Arcadia and Glendale assisted San Gabriel Fire Department with the incident.
On Friday morning, Doehler said city employees were at the scene clearing the street.

- By Brian Day and Ruby Gonzales

PHOTO – Courtesy

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