Man convicted of two counts of murder in violent 2004 robbery spree spanning San Gabriel Valley, Whittier

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LOS ANGELES >> The last of five defendants in a violent 2004 robbery spree in Whittier and the San Gabriel Valley that left two men dead could face the death penalty after a jury convicted him Wednesday of 21 charges, including two counts of murder with special circumstances.
Leonardo Cisneros, 29, of Montebello could face the death penalty for the spree which spanned Los Angeles County cities including Whittier, San Gabriel, El Monte, Alhambra, South Pasadena and San Marino, according to prosecutors and investigators.
“The jury deliberated about two hours today before finding Leonardo Cisneros guilty of all 21 counts, including two counts of first degree murder, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Jane Robison said.
The other charges include 18 counts of robbery and one count of attempted robbery, she said.
The jury also found true the special circumstances of multiple murders, murders during the course of robberies and personal use of a gun in the vast majority of the crimes. The special circumstances make him eligible for the death penalty.
“They come back on Monday to begin the penalty phase, because we are seeking death in this case,” Robison said.
Pasadena City College student Joseph Molina was working at a Whittier Subway sandwich shop on Dec. 10, 2004 when it was robbed. The 22-year-old Whittier resident was fatally shot by Cisneros.
MOLINAMolina was shot after he failed to remove money from a cash register fast enough for the robbers who had stormed into the restaurant at Beverly and Norwalk boulevards, investigators said.
The other victim slain during the spree was businessman Dianqui Wu, 50, of Rowland Heights, who was fatally shot during an Aug. 4, 2004 robbery in a San Gabriel parking lot.
Cisneros and Jose Resendez, 36, robbed Wu and a friend late at night as they arrived at the friend’s business in the 1800 block of South Del Mar Avenue in San Gabriel to use the facility’s Internet, Robison said. Cisneros robbed Wu as Resendez robbed the friend.
“Wu got scared and started running away,” Robison said. “Cisneros chased him about 40 feet, pushed him to the ground and executed him basically, shot him once in the torso.”
Cisneros grabbed Wu’s wallet before fleeing, Robison said.
Wu died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center less than an hour later, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said.
The jury found that Cisneros pulled the trigger in both slayings, court officials said.
Four other defendants in the case took plea deals.
Resendez has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the slaying of Wu; Bernadette Corvera, 32, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and robbery in Molina’s slaying; and Mitzie Ann Oso, 35, has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the killings of Wu and Molina. All three were due to be sentenced June 2.
Resendez and Corvera were expected to receive sentences of 15 years to life in prison, while Oso was expected to receive an eight-year prison term. They could have faced life sentences if convicted at trial, rather than accepting plea bargains.
When entering their pleas in recent years, the three defendants agreed to testify truthfully if called as witnesses in Cisneros’ trial, Robison said.
They were called as witnesses, and all three testified about their involvement in the crimes, as well as Cisneros’, Robison said.
Another defendant, 30-year-old Sara Lopez, pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact in Wu’s slaying and was sentenced to three years of probation.
— Staff writer Ruby Gonzales contributed to this report.

FILE PHOTOS: Top: Murder and robbery spree convict Leonardo Cisneros; Below: Slaying victim Joseph Molina, 22, of Whittier.

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San Gabriel Valley men sentenced for running ‘black market peso exchange’

LOS ANGELES — A federal judge sentenced two San Gabriel Valley man to prison and fined their South El Monte-based import-export company $75,000 for illegally moving millions of dollars from the U.S. to Mexico as part of a “black market peso exchange,” officials said.
Chaur Hwan “Kenny” Lin, 67, of Temple City and Antonio Pareja, 54, of San Gabriel were each sentenced to a year in federal prison by Judge John A. Kronstadt, U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement. Lin was also ordered to pay a $6,000 fine, and their company, Peace & Rich Import, Inc. — a wholesale distribute of goods including silk flowers — was fined $75,000 and placed on probation for four years.
“Judge Kronstadt also ordered Peace & Rich and Lin to forfeit more than $2 million of funds related to the crime,” Mrozek said.
Lin is the president and co-owner of Peace & Rich, while Pareja serves as manager, authorities said.
They worked with Mexican businesses and “peso brokers” to help send millions of dollars south of the border while circumventing conventional financial institutions, officials said.
“An investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles determined that Lin and Pareja used Peace & Rich to receive large amounts of cash derived from illegal activity,” according to the DOJ statement. “The cash – as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars – was typically delivered by couriers working in conjunction with a peso broker in Mexico.”
The cash was often hidden in duffel bags when transferred.
Under a black market peso scheme, peso brokers worth with people such as drug traffickers who have dollars in the United States which they want to send to Mexico and convert to pesos, Mrozek explained.
“The peso broker finds business owners in Mexico who buy goods from vendors in the United States, such as Peace & Rich, and need dollars to pay for those goods,” according to the statement. “The peso broker arranges for the illegally obtained dollars in the United States to be delivered to the United States-based vendors, such as Peace & Rich, where they are used to pay for the goods purchased by the Mexico based customers. Once the goods are shipped to Mexico and sold by the Mexico based business owner for pesos, the pesos are turned over to the peso broker, who then pays the drug trafficker in Mexico.”
Additionally, prosecutors said Lin circumvented cash reporting requirements when depositing large amounts of money into banks.

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Man with dementia goes missing in North San Gabriel

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NORTH SAN GABRIEL — Officials and worried family members sought the public’s help Thursday in finding a missing 61-year-old man with dementia.
Harold Rakowiecki was last seen walking in the 6800 block of Oak Avenue in an unincorporated county area north of San Gabriel about 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Sgt. Ann Devane of the sheriff’s Temple Station said in a written statement.
Rakowiecki is white, 6 feet 1 inch tall, 160 pounds, with gray hair, blue eyes and a mustache. He was last seen wearing a beige shirt and blue shorts.
“Mr. Rakowiecki’s family is concerned because he suffers from dementia,” Devane said. “If you think you have seen or know of Mr. Rakowiecki’s whereabouts, please contact Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau Missing Persons Unit Detective Abraham at 323-890-5500.”

PHOTO courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

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San Gabriel man accused of trying to kidnap boy in Rosemead

ROSEMEAD — Deputies jailed a San Gabriel man Sunday on suspicion of trying to kidnap an 11-year-old boy from a Rosemead sidewalk last month, officials said.
Bin Zhang, 44, was booked on suspicion of attempted kidnapping following his arrest, which took place about 10 a.m. in the 2700 block of Del Mar Avenue in Rosemead, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Phillip Marquez said in a written statement.
The alleged kidnapping attempt took place in January, but went unreported until after sheriff’s officials issued a public alert Feb. 12 regarding a separate Jan. 30 incident in which a man grabbed onto a young girl on the campus of Arlene Bitely Elementary School, on Fern Avenue just west of Jackson Street.
“As a result of the press release, Temple Sheriff’s Station investigators learned that in early January, an 11-year-old male was accosted near Del Mar Avenue and Emerson Place, Rosemead, and the incident went unreported. An investigation was launched,” Marquez said. “It is alleged the suspect attempted to kidnap the 11-year-old male from a public sidewalk in January of 2014.”
Deputies Sunday morning spotted a man matching the description of the man who tried to kidnap the boy and arrested him without a struggle, Marquez said.
According to county booking records, Zhang was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail pending his initial court appearance, scheduled for Wednesday in El Monte Superior Court.
The investigation was ongoing, Marquez said, and it was not clear Sunday if the suspect arrested for attempting to kidnap the boy was the same man who accosted the young girl.
Anyone with information was asked to contact Detective S. Gibson of the sheriff’s Temple Station at 626-285-7171.

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San Gabriel man who fled from justice prior to sentencing in $11 million fraud case nabbed in Las Vegas

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Nearly a year after fleeing from justice prior to his sentencing, a former San Gabriel man who pleaded guilty to wire fraud after bilking dozens of investors and families out of $11 million was in custody Wednesday, authorities said.
Acting on tips from the public, FBI agents arrested David Kaup, 30, Tuesday at a home where he had been staying in Las Vegas, FBI officials said in a written statement. He’s accused of bilking $9 million from investors through a bogus investment scheme, as well as another $2 million from families through a fraudulent home refinancing scheme.
Kaup, who was free from custody after pleading guilty in connection with his case, never showed up at his sentencing hearing, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said. He faced a maximum sentence of 40 years in federal prison.
“(Kaup) was scheduled to be sentenced Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, in United States District Court after pleading guilty to two counts of wire fraud on April 9, 2012,” according to the FBI statement. “Once it had been established that Kaup fled the area and justice, a federal judge issued a warrant for his arrest.”
But Kaup did not prove an easy man to find, and the FBI reached out to the public for help in tracking him down.
Media coverage helped generate a tip that led investigators to the Las Vegas home where Kaup had been hiding out, authorities said. He was taken into custody without a struggle.
Kaup pleaded guilty to charges stemming from two different scams, officials said.
In the first scam, Kaup used created a company called Lunden Investments and persuaded investors to give him more than $9 million, which he claimed would fund commercial loans, officials said. But instead, he lost the money trading on the Foreign Currency Exchange Market.
Kaup then started a second con, officials said.
“Kaup admitted that through his second company, (American Loans and Funding), he told homeowners that he could refinance their homes at below-market rates, so long as they provided certain funds up front to demonstrate that they financially
qualified for the special loan terms,” according to the FBI statement. “These funds were supposed to be kept safe during the
loan process and then returned when the loan was either approved or denied. Kaup admitted that he never tried to refinance the homeowners’ loans, and instead used the victims’ money to buy luxury items for himself and to trade on the Foreign Currency Exchange Market.”
He ran a similar scheme with a third company called First Mortgage West, netting about $2 million from 50 families seeking help with refinancing their homes, FBI officials said.
Kaup was expected to be returned to Los Angeles to appear in court “in the near future,” according to the FBI statement.
It was not clear Wednesday if he would face additional charges in connection with his alleged flight from justice.

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Police: Man shoots self in head in San Gabriel parking lot

SAN GABRIEL — A man was hospitalized Wednesday afternoon after shooting himself in the head in front of police in a parking lot, authorities said.
The incident, which was being investigated as an attempted suicide, took place about 4:10 p.m. in a parking lot to the rear of the 800 block of East Las Tunas Drive, just east of San Gabriel Boulevard, San Gabriel police Lt. Andy Borrello said.
Police officers responded to reports of a man with a gun, the lieutenant said. “They encountered a despondent male holding handgun to his head.”
The man, who would not speak to police, then pulled the trigger, Borrello said.
Though he suffered a serious head wound, he was conscious when taken to Huntington Hospital in Pasadena for treatment, he said. An update on the man’s condition was not available, nor was his age.

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San Gabriel woman accused of DUI following crash that killed two passengers on the 110 Freeway

LOS ANGELES — Two young women died and three other young women were badly injured, including the driver who is accused of intoxicated driving, in a solo-car crash early Sunday on the 110 Freeway, authorities said.
Passengers Blanca Belman Almanza, 23, and Ana Cuadra, 22, both of Los Angeles, died at the scene of the 1:30 a.m. collision on the northbound 110 Freeway, just south of Avenue 52, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Cheryl MacWillie said.
A 22-year-old San Gabriel woman was at the wheel of a 2011 Nissan Sentra with four other young women as passengers when the crash occurred, she said.
The car left the road and struck a chain link fence and a tree, CHP Officer Monica Posada said. Injured patients had to be cut free from the wreckage by firefighters.
Belman Almanza and Cuadra were pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics, Posada said. The driver and two other passengers, described as 23-year-old Los Angeles women, were hospitalized with major injuries.
The driver was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, Posada said. Her name was not available Sunday as she remained hospitalized.
The cause of the crash was being investigated by officers from the Central Los Angeles Office of the CHP.

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UPDATE: Missing 12-year-old San Gabriel Girl found safe in Rosemead

*UPDATE: The missing girl was located safe at a Rosemead restaurant late Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, per San Gabriel police.

San Gabriel police asked the public’s help Thursday in tracking down a 12-year-old San Gabriel girl who never came home from her Rosemead school Wednesday.
Destiny Beasley was last seen Wednesday afternoon at Mildred B. Janson Elementary School, 8628 Marshall Street in Rosemead, San Gabriel police Lt. Chris Ortell said.
She was supposed to walk home from school but never arrived, the lieutenant said. Foul play was not initially suspected.
The girl had gotten in trouble at school that day, resulting in a phone call home to her parents, he said. When last seen, she was talking with a friend about being in trouble.
Authorities checked with family and friends with no luck as of Thursday morning, Ortell said.
Beasley was described as black, 5 feet 7 inches tall, 130 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes, police said. She was last seen wearing a dark blue polo shirt and dark blue shorts.
Anyone with information was asked to contact San Gabriel Police at 626-308-2828.

PHOTO courtesy of the San Gabriel Police Department

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San Gabriel man badly injured in Pasadena motorcycle crash

PASADENA — A San Gabriel man suffered major injuries when his motorcycle struck a pole in Pasadena late Wednesday, police said.
The crash took place about 10:10 p.m. at Del Mar Boulevard and Craig Avenue, Pasadena police Lt. Tom Delgado said.
Witnesses only reported hearing the crash before the injured motorcyclist, 35, was found lying in the street with severe head and neck injuries, Delgado said. He was rushed to Huntington Hospital in Pasadena in “very serious condition.”
The cause of the crash was under investigation by the Pasadena Police Department’s Traffic Section.

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Man convicted of killing estranged wife, attacking sister near San Gabriel

ALHAMBRA – A jury found a Los Angeles man guilty Thursday of the fatal stabbing of his estranged wife and the wounding of her sister two years ago at the women’s home in an unincorporated county area near San Gabriel, officials said.
The Alhambra Superior Court jury convicted Sherman Dion Dorsey, 42, of the second-degree murder of Gina Reano, 45 with the special allegation that Dorsey personally used a knife in the killing, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
He was also convicted of attempted voluntary manslaughter for the attack on Reano’s younger sister, who survived the ordeal, officials said. The jury found true the special allegation of great bodily injury inflicted and a dangerous weapon used.
Dorsey faces up to 24 years to life in state prison when he returns to court for sentencing Oct. 1, authorities said.
Dorsey and Reano were separated, but had been working to patch up their relationship, when the killing took place on Aug. 3. 2011, at a home in the 5500 block of Walnut Grove Avenue, according to sheriff’s officials.
While Reano was staying with her sister and her family at the Walnut Grove home, “Dorsey went to the home with the pretext of delivering mail to his estranged wife,” according to the D.A.’s statement.
Several hours later, Reano’s sister heard arguing fro upstairs and found her sister bloodied and crying, officials said.
Dorsey attacked the sister, “first attempting to strangle her and then slashing her with a broken wine glass,” the D.A.’s statement said. “Gina tried to help, but the defendant managed to injure the sister.”
Reano herself suffered 13 stab wounds to her chest, neck and upper back, officials said. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
When deputies arrived at the stabbing scene, they encountered Dorsey, who was suffering from apparently self-inflicted stab wounds.

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