South El Monte mayor admits to 7-year bribery scheme

SOUTH EL MONTE >> South El Monte Mayor Luis Aguinaga agreed to plead guilty to a federal bribery charge Thursday after being charged with regularly collecting cash payments from a city contractor over the course of seven years, officials said.
In his plea agreement, the mayor admitted to taking bribes every two to three weeks from a contractor who conducted business with the city, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
“The payments were rewards in connection with the approval of city contracts for the contractor,” Mrozek said.
The bribes, which were initially $500 at a time but later increased to $1,000, were paid between 2005 and September of 2012, prosecutors allege. Under the plea agreement, Aguinaga admitted taking at least $45,000 in bribes.
“This long-running corruption scheme compromised the effective governance of South El Monte,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said. “Corruption like Mr. Aguinaga’s is a threat to government institutions and undermines the public’s trust in all government officials. The residents of South El Monte deserve better.”
The contractor, identified in court documents as a “confidential witness,” left the bribe money for Aguinaga by placing cash in envelopes dropped in a bathroom at South El monte City Hall, or left inside the passenger-side pocket of a car, Mrozek said.
One meeting between Aguinaga and the confidential informant was monitored by undercover FBI agents, he said.
“Defendant was nervous about meeting with CW because Cudahy city officials, including the mayor, had recently been arrested and charged with accepting bribes,” according to the plea agreement. “While defendant was speaking with CW, defendant showed CW his cell phone on which he had written ‘don’t talk’ or ‘don’t saying anything,’ and defendant asked CW several times to accompany him to the bathroom. Once they went to the bathroom, CW left an envelope with $2,000 cash on the counter near the sink. Defendant took the envelope containing the money and kept at least $1,000 for himself.”
In some cases, such as the FBI-monitored meeting, Aguinaga took some of the money to give to another “City public official” who was not identified in court documents.
“Mr. Aguinaga abdicated his civic duty when he made decisions for the city based on bribes he demanded, instead of for the good of the people he was elected to serve. The FBI will not tolerate corruption by city officials, nor should the residents of South El Monte,” according to Deirdre Fike, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
He is scheduled to appear in federal court in Los Angeles Aug. 10 for an arraignment hearing, officials said.
A conviction for bribery carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.

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Woman charged with South El Monte carjacking, wild police chase

•VIDEO: Raw CBS footage of pursuit

SOUTH EL MONTE >> Prosecutors filed four felony charges against a woman they say carjacked another woman at knifepoint in South El Monte, then led police on a televised chase to Bell Gardens
The suspect, Kelsey Woods, also listed as Britany Woods, 26, rammed a CHP car during the chase. Woods was previously convicted of leading police on a chase and driving against traffic in 2015 when she embarked on the alleged series of crimes on Wednesday, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in a written statement.
“Woods allegedly approached a woman with a knife in South El Monte and then took the victim’s truck,” Ardalani said.
The suspect was not immediately found following the morning carjacking, however deputies spotted the stolen truck later in the day, officials said. It was still being driven by the suspect, later identified as Woods.
Woods refused to pull over, initiating a pursuit, Ardalani said.
News helicopters broadcast live at the fleeing truck ran over a spike strip, but continued speeding. Sparks flew from the exposed tire rim as the suspect fled.
“During the pursuit, the defendant reportedly drove into oncoming traffic and did not stop at numerous stop lights,” according to Ardalani. “At one point, the defendant allegedly stopped the vehicle, went into reverse and hit the patrol vehicle before she fled the scene again.”
•Video: Raw CBS footage of pursuit
Prosectors charged Woods Friday with carjacking, two counts of assault on a peace officer and recklessly fleeing police, officials said.
Woods is also accused of the special allegation that she personally used a knife in the carjacking.
A scheduled arraignment hearing Friday in the El Monte branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court was continued to Monday, Ardalani said.
If convicted as charged, Ardalani said Woods could face up to 16 years and four months in state prison. Her hometown was unclear.
According to county booking records, Woods was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail.

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Charges dismissed against man and woman accused in fatal stabbing of Upland man in South El Monte

0513_NWS_SGT-L-DISMISSED
SOUTH EL MONTE >> A judge dismissed charges this week against a man and woman previously accused of murder in connection with the fatal stabbing of an Upland man in South El Monte last year.
Randall Chinchilla, 35, and Andrea Montoya, 37, both of El Monte, were arrested and charged in June in the fatal March 28, 2015, stabbing of 49-year-old Dennis Baltierra.
But during a preliminary hearing Tuesday, Los Angeles County Superior Court 0513_NWS_SGT-L-DISMISSED2Judge Mike Camacho of the Pomona courthouse dismissed the case against the man and woman, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
At a preliminary hearing, a judge listens to a summary of the case to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to order a defendant to stand trial.
Chinchilla and Montoya were both released from custody Tuesday after spending 11 months behind bars with bail set at $2 million each, county booking records show.
Authorities alleged Chinchilla and Montoya stabbed Baltierra to death when they got into an argument while all three were hanging out at the home of a mutual friend about 11:30 p.m. on March 28 in the 11200 block of Broadmead Street in South El Monte.
Baltierra exited the home and collapsed in the yard with a stab wound to his neck, sheriff’s officials said. He succumbed to his injuries at a hospital a short time later.
Detectives identified Chinchilla and Montoya as suspects and arrested them on June 12.
Anyone with information on the fatal stabbing is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

PHOTOS: [TOP] Photo from stabbing scene in the 11200 block of Broadmead Street in South El Monte the day after the homicide on March 29, 2016. (By Brian Day) [BELOW] Dennis Baltierra, 49, of Upland. (Courtesy)

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Deputies talk suicidal man down from bridge in South El Monte


SOUTH EL MONTE >> Deputies spent more than an hour persuading a suicidal man to climb down from a pedestrian bridge spanning a 60 Freeway offramp in South El Monte Friday, officials said.
The incident began about 7:10 p.m. on the bridge at Cogswell Road, just east of Santa Anita Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Ismael Chavez said.
Officials received reports of a man sitting atop the fence lining the pedestrian bridge, the lieutenant said.
California Highway Patrol officers shut down the Santa Anita Avenue offramp of the westbound 60 Freeway as Los Angeles County firefighters set up an air cushion below the bridge, officials said. A specially-trained sheriff’s Mental Evaluation Team was summoned to the scene to speak with the distraught man.
After more than an hour, deputies persuaded the man to climb down and accept help, Chavez said. He was taken for psychiatric evaluation.
The offramp was re-opened about 8:30 p.m., according to the CHP.

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UPDATED: Suspect re-captured after escaping from deputies at San Gabriel hospital


SAN GABRIEL >> Deputies chased down and re-captured an El Monte man who escaped from a San Gabriel hospital Thursday, where he was being examined following an arrest earlier in the afternoon, officials said.
The incident began about 12:40 p.m. after deputies in South El Monte spotted Sergio Galiano, 20, of El Monte, who had an outstanding warrant for resisting arrest, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Ismael Chavez said.
He was arrested following a brief struggle, and deputies also found him in possession of methamphetamine, the lieutenant said.
Deputies took the suspect to the San Gabriel Valley Medical Center, 438 W. Las Tunas Drive in San Gabriel, for examination prior to booking him into jail, Lt. Ronald Daily said.
While handcuffed and awaiting treatment about 2:20 p.m., Galiano managed to break free from the facility and run, Daily said.
Deputies set up a search perimeter, ultimately finding the man hiding, still handcuffed, in a residential neighborhood about an hour later, officials said.
He was again examined at a hospital before being booked into jail for the existing warrant, as well as on suspicion of drug possession, being under the influence of drugs, possession of drug paraphernalia, resisting arrest and felony escape, Chavez said.
According to county booking records, Galiano was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail pending a scheduled arraignment Wednesday in El Monte Superior Court.

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Alleged serial car thief arrested after chase from Arcadia to Temple City, crash

ARCADIA >> An El Monte man already sought on an auto theft warrant led police on chase in a stolen car from Arcadia to Temple City, where he was arrested following a crash early Sunday, authorities said.
Bryan Paul Sanchez, 20, was behind the wheel of a Toyota Sienna van when police tried to pull him over for a traffic violation about 3:30 a.m. at Sunset Boulevard and Duarte Road, Arcadia police Lt. Colleen Flores said. Sanchez sped away, and the chase was on.
“The pursuit entered the city of Temple City where the driver lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a (Southern California) Edison telephone pole,”police said in a written statement.
Sanchez continued fleeing on foot following the crash about two miles to the south at Temple City Boulevard, just south of Olive Street, police said. But he was quickly apprehended in the area.
The car he had been driving was reported stolen the previous night in South El Monte, Flores said.
Officers also found drugs and a suspected stolen credit card in Sanchez’s possession, Flores said.
He was booked on suspicion of auto theft, evading police, receiving stolen property, drug possession, hit-and-run and his outstanding arrest warrant.
Sanchez, who was already wanted on a warrant for auto theft with a history of the same, was being held without bail, according to police and Los Angeles County booking records.

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Suspects jailed following El Monte carjacking, robbery

EL MONTE >> A man and woman carjacked a man and robbed him and his friend at gunpoint outside an El Monte pizza parlor early Sunday before police tracked a stolen cell phone to find and arrest them, officials said.
Samuel Barajas, 24, of El Monte is accused of carjacking, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and resisting police following the crime, which unfolded about 12:20 a.m. outside a Pizza Hut, 11910 Garvey Ave., El Monte police Lt. Chris Cano said. Ana Hidalgo, 18, of El Monte, is accused of carjacking and resisting police.
A 19-year-old Whittier man was talking with a friend, a 21-year-old El Monte man, when the suspects approached, Cano said.
Barajas brandished a handgun while demanding the Whittier man’s Infiniti G35, as well as both men’s cell phones, the lieutenant said. The victim’s complied, and the suspects fled in the stolen Infiniti.
The car was soon found abandoned along Whittier Boulevard in Pico Rivera, Cano said.
But police managed to track one of the stolen cell phones, which led them to a moving taxi cab, he said. Officers pulled over the taxi in the area of Peck Road and Durfee Avenue in South El Monte, Cano said.
Police arrested Hidalgo without a struggle, Cano said.
Barajas refused police commands, prompting them to shoot him with a less-lethal foam projectile fired from a 40mm grenade launcher, he said. Barajas ran, but was ultimately subdued nearby with help from a police K-9.
Police recovered a loaded handgun from the taxi in which the suspects were riding, Cano added.
Barajas was taken to a hospital for treatment of injuries including dog bites to his arm prior to booking, police said.
He was released from jail in August after serving less than one year of a two year sentence following a conviction for assault likely to produce great bodily injury, Los Angeles County Superior Court and booking records show. He was acquitted of an attempted murder charge in the same case.
Hidalgo was being held in lieu of $180,000 bail pending her initial court appearance, records show.

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Man wounded in South El Monte shooting


SOUTH EL MONTE >> A man arrived at an emergency room after being shot in South El Monte late Friday, authorities said.
Few details were available regarding the 10:30 p.m. shooting in a commercial neighborhood at Rush Street and Central Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Mark Reyes said.
The victim arrived at Greater El Monte Community Hospital with a gunshot wound to his abdomen, but did not appear to be cooperating with investigators, the lieutenant said. He was described as a man in his 20s.
No further information regarding the circumstances of the shooting were available.

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Man found dead in San Gabriel River near South El Monte identified


SOUTH EL MONTE >> Authorities Friday released the name of a 62-year-old man found drowned in the San Gabriel River near South El Monte.
Anacleto Antonio Garcia was found dead, floating in the river near Thienes Avenue about 1:10 p.m. on Oct. 1, Lt. R. Hayes of the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner said. He was described as a transient.
An autopsy found that Garcia had died from drowning, and the death was ruled accidental.

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Coroner: Man whose body was found in San Gabriel River near South El Monte drowned accidentally


SOUTH EL MONTE >> The death of a man whose body was discovered floating in the San Gabriel River near South El Monte last week has been ruled an accidental drowning, coroner’s officials said Wednesday.
The body was found about 1:10 p.m. Thursday, floating face-down in the San Gabriel River near Thienes Avenue, just outside of South El Monte, Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner’s officials said.
The man’s name was withheld pending notification of his family, however an autopsy concluded the man drowned, and the death was ruled accidental, Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said. Investigators noted the presence of alcohol at the scene.

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