Temple City house fire blamed on ‘honey oil’ lab

TEMPLE CITY >> A house fire that ignited Tuesday, blew out windows and caused about $152,500 in damages is believed to have been caused by the manufacture of concentrated cannabis, also known as “honey oil,” authorities said.
The blaze was first reported shortly after 8 p.m. at a home in the 9800 block of Garibaldi Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s and fire officials said.
Firefighters found butane bottles and turned over the case to the sheriff’s Temple station, fire Inspector Rick Flores said.
Butane is commonly used in process of concentrating marijuana into a more potent forms.
Investigators labeled the incident a “reckless fire,” believed caused by, “the manufacture of a controlled substance,” sheriff’s Lt. Ismael Chavez said.
Flores said nobody was home when firefighters arrived. Windows were blown out and the fire spread throughout the house, he said.
Firefighters put out the blaze at 8:21 p.m.
Flores estimated damages to the structure at $150,000 and the $2,500 to the contents.
No suspects were in custody in connection with the incident Wednesday, Chavez said.

– Brian Day and Ruby Gonzales

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Officials, worried family members seek missing 71-year-old Temple City man with dementia


TEMPLE CITY >> Officials sought the public’s help Thursday in finding a 71-year-old Temple City man who suffers from dementia and went missing from his home Wednesday.
Sarwat Zaki Gad was last seen at his home in the 5300 block of El Monte Avenue about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
“Mr. Gad suffers from dementia and becomes easily confused,” the statement said.
He left his home in a silver, 2003 Toyota 4Runner with a California vanity license plate reading “AMARG,” officials said. He was last seen wearing a blue and green shirt and blue pants.
“His family is very concerned and is asking for the public’s assistance,” according to the sheriff’s department statement.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau’s Missing Person Unit at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously though L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers by calling 800-222-8477.

PHOTO of Sarwat Gad courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

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Temple City man shot during Pasadena home-invasion robbery

PASADENA >> Five home-invasion robbers shot a Temple City man inside a Pasadena apartment before fleeing with watches late Saturday, authorities said.
The wounded man was shot in the arm and grazed in the torso during the crime, which took place shortly after 10 p.m. at an apartment in the 600 block of East Union Street, Pasadena police Lt. John Luna said. He was taken to a hospital where he was listed in stable condition.
A second victim of the robbery, described as a 17-year-old Pasadena boy, suffered abrasions to his arm during the home invasion, Luna said.
Police described the armed intruders as an Asian woman in her 20s, and four men of unknown race between 25 and 30 years old.
“The suspects entered the apartment and demanded jewelry at gunpoint,” Luna said. “A physical struggle ensued, and one of the suspects fired at the victim.”
The robbers fled with watches, he said, though the number or value of the watches was not clear.
Officers discovered the crime scene after responding to a report of gunfire, Luna added.
No further details were available Sunday.

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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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Deputies plan noisy training Monday at Temple City High School

TEMPLE CITY >> Residents are forewarned to expect sounds such as gunfire, explosions and other noises Monday as sheriff’s deputies conduct a training operation at Temple City High School, officials said.
The training will take place from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the campus, 9501 Lemon Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
“The training will simulate gunfire, explosions, persons screaming and persons injured,” according to the statement. “Please plan for potential disruptions and avoid traveling the area surrounding the high school.”
For more information, the sheriff’s Temple Station can be reached at 626-285-7171.

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Temple City man fatally shot in Baldwin Park identified

BALDWIN PARK — Coroner’s officials have identified a 43-year-old Temple City man found fatally shot on a Baldwin Park sidewalk over the weekend.
Steven Contreras was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after he was found wounded by a passer-by about 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Whitesell Street and Virginia Avenue, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Larry Dietz said.
He had been shot several times in the upper torso, Lt. Eddie Hernandez of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
No information regarding a motive or a suspect was available.
Anyone with information was asked to contact Hernandez at the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.

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UPDATED with PHOTOS: Investigation into Asian organized crime nets 200+ pot plants, 2 assault weapons, 7 arrests

1008_NWS_SGT-L-GANGBUST1Deputies uprooted 217 pot plants in Temple City, recovered two assault weapons and a handgun in Covina and arrested seven people with suspected ties to Asian organized crime Tuesday and Wednesday at the culmination of a month-long investigation, officials said.
Detectives, who had been watching the group of suspects from afar, made their move Tuesday afternoon, raiding an indoor marijuana grow inside a home in the 4800 block of Glickman Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s gang investigator Sgt. Steve Kim said.

Deputies found 217 pot plants being grown inside the home, he said. Ting Mo, 22, who told investigators she lived at the home, was arrested on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana, along with Guan Mei, 29, of Los Angeles, who was detained as he was driving away from the home.
Earlier in the afternoon, deputies arrested two other men linked to the grow house after tracking them down in the area of 28th Street and Atlantic Avenue in Long Beach, Kim said. Zhen Huang, 29, of Rowland Heights and Man Chon, 31, of Valinda were booked on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana.
Deputies then headed to a home in the 100 block of West Arbor way that had also been linked to the pot grow, Kim said. Deputies recovered an AK-47-style rifle, an AR-15-style rifle and a handgun, however the suspect was not home. Deputies continued seeking him on suspcicion of cultivating marijuana and weapons violations.
As part of the investigation Tuesday, deputies also searched another home in the 4800 block of Glickman Avenue, as well as one in the 16900 block of Pocono Street in Valinda, Kim said. Nothing of significance was discovered at either home.
Finally, deputies arrested three men Wednesday afternoon when they arrived at the the grow house that had been raided the previous day, Kim said. Rueng Chen, 28, of Duarte, Haiqian Zhang, 24, of Los Angeles and Lesheng Zou, 20, of Los Angeles were also booked on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana.
The suspects were believed to have ties to the Chinese gang known as Red Door, Kim added.
All seven suspects were booked with bail amounts of $50,000, sheriff’s officials said.
All of the suspects are Chinese nationals, with the exception of Huang, who sheriff’s officials described as a naturalized American citizen.

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UPDATED: Bomb threat prompts cancellation of classes at Temple City High School


***UPDATE – Deputies arrested a 17-year-old Temple City High School junior late Friday afternoon in connection with the bomb threats against Temple City High School and Longden Elementary School on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

TEMPLE CITY — A phoned-in bomb threat prompted the cancellation of classes at Temple City High School early Friday in the third such incident in the city in three days, officials said. A search of the campus yielded nothing suspicious.
Only a handful of school employees were on campus when the phone call was placed via 9-1-1 about 6:40 a.m., prior to the start of the school day, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Gil said.
“Luckily, the students weren’t there,” Gil said.
Classes were cancelled for the day as deputies embarked on a search of the campus, 9501 Lemon Avenue, sheriff’s officials said.
Deputies, some carrying rifles, brought bomb-sniffing dogs to the campus to help with a search. Streets surrounding the high school were shut down for about three hours as the investigation and campus search continued.
Deputies concluded their search and announced nothing troublesome had been found about 9:50 a.m., Lt. Loy McBride said.
The call, initially believed to have come from a cell phone, was made with a male voice, Gil said. He described it as similar to two others received by authorities in Temple City on Thursday morning and Wednesday night.
Sheriff’s officials said it was too early to say for certain whether the threats were connected or placed by the same person, however detectives were looking into the possibility of a connection.
The caller stated that three bombs had been placed on the Temple City High School campus, McBride said.
McBride declined to discuss the specifics of the ongoing investigation or the efforts to track down the caller.
“We’ve working on some possible leads,” he said.
Authorities Wednesday evacuated nearby Longden Elementary School just before the start of the school day after a bomb threat was phoned in to both the school and 9-1-1 shortly before 8 a.m., Sgt. Michael Martinez said.
Between 300 and 400 students who had already arrived at the campus were evacuated to a nearby Middle School as deputies searched the campus, ultimately finding nothing suspicious.
In that case, a male caller stated in the threats that two bombs had been placed on the elemtary school campus, Martinez said.
Deputies responded to another bomb threat at Temple City High School about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Martinez said. The school, which was closed and vacant at the time, was searched by deputies. Nothing out of the ordinary was discovered.
Friday’s call was received via 9-1-1 at the sheriff’s Temple Station, which generally indicated the call was placed from within the station’s jurisdiction, though there are exceptions, Gil said.
The series of bomb threats comes on the heels of another series of six calls threatening shootings at hospitals, schools and a mall in the San Gabriel Valley. Gerardo Cortez, 26, of Monrovia, was arrested Sept. 17 by a multi-agency task force in connection with the string of threats, which took place between Sept. 9 and 12.
Cortez was previously convicted and served eight months of a 16-month jail sentence for making a false bomb threats in connection with a series of bomb threats in Pasadena in October of last year. After taking a plea deal and receiving sentencing under A.B. 109 guidelines, Cortez was released from jail in late June. He remained behind bars Friday in lieu of $300,000 bail pending an Oct. 4 arraignment in West Covina Superior Court.

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UPDATED: Longden Elementary School in Temple City evacuated due to bomb threat


TEMPLE CITY — The second bomb threat in two days at a Temple City school prompted a campus evacuation and search, though nothing suspicious was ultimately found, authorities said.
A caller phoned in a bomb threat to Longden Elementary School just before the school day began Wednesday, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Martinez said.
The threatening phone came less than 10 hours after another call Tuesday night claiming bombs had been placed at Temple City High School, the sergeant said. Deputies searched the empty high school campus after receiving the threatening phone call and found nothing out of the ordinary.
It was too early to say whether the incidents were related, however investigators were looking into the possibility, Martinez said.
“We couldn’t really tell by the voices,” he said.
In Wednesdays incident at Longden Elementary School, a caller with a male voice called both the school and 9-1-1, which was answered by the California Highway Patrol, Martinez said. The caller claimed there were two bombs on the campus.
It was not clear where the call had been placed from.
In very brief statement, Martinez said, the caller stated that there were two bombs on the campus of the elementary school, 9501 E. Wendon Street.
“The students were evacuated to a safe area,” Temple City Unified School District spokeswoman Lynn Burkhardt said.
Deputies, with help from explosives-sniffing dogs, searched the campus.
Deputies completed their campus search but found nothing of concern and sounded the all-clear shortly before 10:45 a.m.
The threatening phone calls were made just before the start of the school day, Burkhardt said. Classes were cancelled.
Students who had not yet arrived when the incident began were turned around when they showed up, she said.
Between 300 and 400 of Longden’s 1,000 or so students were already on-campus, however, TCUSD Chief Business Officials David Jaynes said. They were walked to nearby Oak Avenue Intermediate School to be picked up by their guardians.
Longden Elementary parents were notified parents via an automated phone message, Jaynes added.
Wednesday was a scheduled shortened school day at Longden, and students were due to be released at 1 p.m.
All but a handful had been picked up from Oak Avenue Intermediate School by noon.
The Longden Elementary School bomb threat came on the heels of another bomb threat phoned in to Temple City High School late Tuesday.
In that case, a caller — also described as male — claimed about 10:30 p.m. that bombs had been placed on the high school campus, Martinez said. The school was unoccupied and locked up.
“The school was opened for us, and we did go in and check the interior,” Martinez said. Nothing unusual was found, however teachers were advised to look over their classrooms at the beginning of the day Wednesday and check for anything out of the ordinary.
And the region has had more than its share telephone threats in recent weeks.
A multi-agency task force arrested a 26-year-old Monrovia man with a prior history of making threatening phone calls in connection with a series of six calls threatening shootings at schools, hospitals and a mall throughout the San Gabriel Valley Sept. 9 through Sept. 12.
Gerardo Cortez has since been charged with six felony counts of making criminal threats and one count of falsely reporting an emergency, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials. He’s scheduled to appear for arraignment Oct. 4 in West Covina Superior Court.
In April, Cortez pleaded “no contest” to a single count of making a false bomb report in connection with another series of threats. He had originally been charged with three additional counts, which were dismissed under the plea agreement, officials said.
Cortez was initially arrested in October on suspicion of making bomb threats against a post office, a health department building and a school in Pasadena.
He was sentenced under AB 109 guidelines and served eight months of 16-month jail sentence before being released in late June, according to district attorney’s officials and county booking records.

STAFF photo by Leo Jarzomb

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Woman jumps into out-of-control SUV in Temple City; driver suffering from medical emergency dies at hospital

TEMPLE CITY — A woman jumped into the moving vehicle of a man who was having a medical emergency and brought the car to a stop Friday, authorities said.
Despite the valiant efforts of the woman who stopped the man’s out-of-control Honda CRV, as well as a passing bus driver who performed CPR on the unconscious driver, the 53-year-old man ultimately died at a nearby hospital, Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner’s officials said.
Officials withheld the name of the dead man pending positive identification and confirmation that his family had been notified, coroner Lt. Larry Dietz said.
The incident unfolded about 5:40 p.m. at Rosemead Boulevard and Lower Azusa Road, Capt. Christopher Nee of the sheriff’s Temple Station said.
The CRV driver was stopped at a red light on northbound Rosemead at Lower Azusa, the captain said.
“He had some kind of medical incident and passed out at the wheel,” he said, adding that it was not immediately clear exactly what type of medical problem the man experienced.
A woman who was also stopped at the intersection noticed the man was in distress and saw his car begin moving forward on its own as the driver lost consciousness, Nee said.
“She jumped out of her car. She jumped into his car and kept control,” the captain said. “She got it off to the side of the road.”
Once the car was stopped, a man who was driving a passing privately chartered tour bus noticed the commotion and came over to help, Nee said. He performed CPR on the unconscious driver until paramedics arrived.
Rescuers rushed the man to San Gabriel Valley Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead about 6:30 p.m., Dietz said.
Nee commended the good Samaritans on their “true, unselfish acts.” Their names were not available Saturday.
Though the man they were trying to save did not make it, the woman who took control of the runaway SUV undoubtedly prevented further danger, Nee said. The roadway ahead of where the car was stopped inclines downward, and the car could have picked up speed before potentially causing a dangerous crash.
“Had she not intervened, the car definitely would have moved a quarter mile more,” Nee said.
The captain said he was looking into having the good Samaritans formally recognized by the city for their actions.

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