LOS ANGELES >> A Walnut man and “shotcaller” of a South Los Angeles street gang faces 27 years in prison after pleading guilty Wednesday to federal racketeering and dug trafficking charges for helping the gang’s incarcerated leader continue managing the gang from behind bars, authorities said.
Manuel Valencia, 38, pleaded guilty to violating the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and “engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise connected to drug trafficking,” U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
Valencia, who could have faced life in prison if convicted at trial, is expected to receive 27 years in prison when he returns to federal court in Los Angeles for sentencing Sept. 8, officials said. He admitted to being a shotcaller for the Harpys street gang, one of more than a dozen Latino gangs in the South Los Angeles Area controlled by imprisoned Mexican Mafia member Danny Roman.
Acting on the orders of Roman, who is serving a life sentence at Pelican State Prison, Valencia, “admitted that he oversaw and participated in gang activities, which included collecting ‘taxes’ from drug dealers who were allowed to operate in gang territory, retaliating against people who ran afoul of the gang and engaging in drug trafficking,” Mrozek said.
Valencia’s plea comes a week after Roman’s daughter, 37-year-old Vianna Roman of Los Angeles, pleaded guilty to racketeering, drug and weapons offenses for “acting as a conduit for her father’s orders as he exercised control of the Harpys gang,” Mrozek added.
Vianna Roman is expected to receive 20 years in prison when she returns to court for sentencing July 28, Mrozek said, though additional prison time is possible if deemed appropriate by U.S. District Judge R. Hary Klausner.
The guilty pleas come as a result of a 2-year-old indictment against 29 defendants, officials said. Of those originally charged in the indictment, 24 have pleaded guilty, one is awaiting trial, three are fugitives and one had charges dismissed after being convicted of murder in an unrelated case.
POMONA >> Trial is underway in Pomona for a woman accused of stabbing her estranged husband to death inside his Walnut home in 2011.
George Mora, 47, had already obtained a restraining order against now-46-year-old Socorro Mora when she allegedly stabbed him to death on the morning of Oct. 19, 2011, in the home where he lived with the couple’s four children in the 21600 block of Brookside Court in Walnut.
Opening statements in the case were heard Thursday in Pomona Superior Court, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said. The trial continued Friday with prosecution testimony.
The slaying came at the end of more than a month of escalating violence perpetrated by Socorro Mora against her husband, prosectors and investigators allege.
In addition to the killing, she’s accused of showing up at George Mora’s house and fatally stabbing the family dog three weeks prior to the killing on Sept. 24, 2011, according to Deputy District Attorney Taraneh Saba . A previous domestic violence incident on Sept. 13, 2011, had prompted Mora to get a restraining order against his wife.
Socorro Mora has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, animal cruelty and domestic violence.
Deputies responded to the home after she called 9-1-1 and reported domestic violence, investigators said. She was found in the front yard suffering from stab wounds, though it was not clear if they were self-inflicted or suffered while struggling with her estranged husband.
Family members said the couple had been married for 18 years and had separated about two months prior to the slaying.
They had two sons and two daughters, who were between 8 and 16 years old at the time of the killing. They were not home when the stabbing occurred.
PHOTO of George Mora: Courtesy
WHITTIER >> A Walnut man said a series of coincidences led to him being in the right place at the right time to pull an unconscious woman from the bottom of a hotel swimming pool in Whittier late Thursday.
Mike Vargas, 33, sprung into action to help a young woman who found lifeless just before 9:40 p.m. at the bottom of the pool at the Radisson Hotel Whittier, 7320 Greenleaf Ave., according to officials and a witness.
The woman was “conscious and breathing” when paramedics arrived on scene, Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Cheryl Sims said. She was taken to a hospital for treatment.
Vargas said a series of unexpected events led him to briefly stop by the Radisson late Thursday.
“I completely believe that it was divine intervention,” he said.
Vargas, a musician who raps under the stage name “Mikue,” had just left a Pico Rivera music studio and was heading to Uptown Whittier to meet a friend when the friend cancelled the meeting.
Vargas said he was thinking about stopping to see a movie when he pulled into the Radisson to use the restroom and get something to drink.
As Vargas was about to leave the hotel, he said he suddenly felt an urge to sit down on a bench and call his brother. “It was like a hit a brick wall,” he said. He had been sitting for about a minute when two women entered the lobby.
The women did not speak English, but frantically motioned for the clerk to follow them to the pool area, Vargas said. “I figured maybe there was a child who slipped and fell.”
But when Vargas and a hotel manager reached the pool, they saw the woman who appeared to be in her late-teens or early-20s lying curled up and motionless at the bottom of the deep end.
“It looked like she was just resting there,” he said. “There were no bubbles. No struggle. She was just lifeless down there.”
“I came back to my senses and realized what was going on, and I just jumped in,” Vargas said.
Vargas said the woman showed no signs of life once Vargas pulled her back onto the ground. After another bystander tried unsuccessfully to perform CPR, Vargas said he began administering chest compressions.
After four or five pumps, he said, the woman began to cough up water. “Within a minute, the police and fire departments showed up.”
An update on the woman’s condition was not available, nor were any officials details regarding how she ended up at the bottom of the pool.
But Vargas said he believed he knew how it was that he came to cross paths with the woman.
“I believe God intervened. That’s what my belief is.”
WALNUT >> A widespread power outage turned out the lights in and around Mt. San Antonio College, officials said.
Evening classes at the college were cancelled as a result of the outage, Mt. SAC officials said on the campus website.
The outage, which was first reported about 6:30 p.m., knocked out electricity to 3,000 Southern California Edison customers, including the college, SCE officials said.
Equipment problems caused the outage, however a more specific cause was not available, SCE spokesman Paul Netter said.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. John Saleeby said lights were beginning to turn back on in the affected area about 7:45 p.m.
Crews worked to identify the problem and restore power as quickly as possible, Netter said.
All power was restored by 8:37 p.m., he said.
Deputies shot and killed a robbery suspect Thursday following a pursuit from Walnut to West Covina, authorities said.
The identity of the man who died in the 5:15 p.m. deputy-involved shooting in the 19100 block of Elberland Street remained unclear late Thursday as detectives continued investigating multiple scenes Thursday night.
The incident began shortly before 5 p.m. when a man called 9-1-1 to report an apparent home-invasion robbery in the area of Lemon Avenue and Amar Road in Walnut, Lt. Steve Jauch of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
“A man said his mother was having money demanded from her,” Jauch said. The caller reported the man was armed with a handgun, and that a black car was parked in front of the home.
Deputies from the sheriff’s Walnut Station responded to the alleged robbery.
“As they neared the residence, a black vehicle matching the suspect description heads at them at a high rate of speed,” Jauch said. Deputies began chasing the car, which they later learned was occupied by a woman and a 5-year-old girl, in addition to the suspect.
The chase led to the parking lot of the Bestway Supermarket, 19050 La Puente Road, officials said, where the fleeing car crashed into a truck, destroying one of its tires.
The suspect got out of the car and ran in the front of the market and out of the back, Jauch said.
Deputies detained the woman in the parking lot and took the child into protective custody.
The man fled east into a nearby neighborhood, making his way through residential backyards, according to Jauch.
When the suspect encountered deputies in the back yard of a home at the corner of Elberland Street and Abelian Avenue, “a deputy-involved shooting occurred,” the lieutenant said. Further details regarding what prompted deputies to open fire were not clear.
More than one deputy was involved in the shooting, Jauch said, however the number of involved deputies was not available.
No weapon had been recovered from the scene late Thursday, he said, though deputies continued scouring the area and the pursuit route.
The woman detained at the end of the pursuit was considered criminal suspect, however it was not yet known exactly what crimes she was to be booked on suspicion of, Jauch said. Her name was not released.
The relationship between the man, woman and child was also unclear.
Nearby residents said they saw a group of deputies converge on the neighborhood from several directions just prior to the shooting.
Eugenia Montiel said as deputies approached the home, she saw a shirtless man come walking, not running, out of the backyard before apparently being chased back into the yard by deputies and cornered.
She then heard a string of gunshots in rapid succession, and saw the flash from the barrels of deputy’s pistols.
“I told my daughter, ‘Get down on the floor,’” she said.
Estimated given by neighbors of the number of shots they heard ranged from half a dozen to 18.
The investigation is being handled by detectives from the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau.
WALNUT — A woman escaped a parolee who carjacked and kidnapped her from the parking lot of a Walnut store late Thursday, though his ultimate intentions remained a mystery, authorities said.
The strange and brazen crime took place about 2 p.m. as Walnut woman was carjacked and abducted in the parking lot of T.J. Maxx at Grand Avenue and Valley Boulevard, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. John Saleeby said.
The woman, a Walnut resident in her late-30s who was a stranger to the suspect, left the store and was getting into her car when she was confronted by a man holding what was later found to be a realistic-looking BB gun, Detective Joseph Sanchez said. The man blocked her from closing her car door once she got in, Detective Joseph Sanchez said.
“He forced himself into her car,” the detective said. “He climbed over her, got into the passenger seat and told her to just drive.”
The woman resisted at first, but ultimately relented to the man’s demand, he said.
“He had her basically drive around aimlessly for an hour and a half,” Sanchez said.
As the suspect forced the woman to drive through South Los Angeles, she spotted a police car along Wall Street in South Los Angeles and saw an opportunity to escape, officials said.
“She saw a black-and-white and decided to get out of the car and run and ask for help,” Sanchez said.
Los Angeles police detained the suspect without a struggle and turned him over to sheriff’s deputies, he added. A BB gun that resembled a Beretta 9mm handgun was seized from the suspect during his arrest.
Deputies first responded to the Walnut T.J. Maxx store after witnesses reported seeing the alleged abduction, Lt. John Saleeby said.
“A woman was heard saying she needed help and witnesses said her and a male drove off in a car,” Saleeby said. “The impression was he forced her to drive off.”
Investigators withheld the alleged kidnapper’s name Friday as they continued seeking witnesses, as well as any other potential victims who may have had suspicious encounter with the suspect, Lt. Anthony Tachias said. He was described as a San Gabriel Valley man in his mid-30s.
The suspect was already on parole for carjacking and was being held without bail pending a scheduled arraignment Monday in Pomona Superior Court, officials said.
The motive in the kidnapping and carjacking, as well as the suspect’s ultimate intentions, were unclear, investigators said. Nothing was stolen from the woman, and she was not assaulted while in the suspect’s custody
“That’s an unknown factor here,” Tachias said. “He won’t talk to us. He never any indication to the victim as to what his intentions were.”
“He committed this act with no rhyme or reason,” the lieutenant added. “I’m just glad we got her back safely.”
WALNUT — A woman was found safe and a man was in custody Thursday after witnesses reported seeing what appeared to be an armed kidnapping and carjacking, officials said.
The incident was first reported about 2 p.m. in a parking lot outside a T.J. Maxx store at Grand Avenue and Valley Boulevard, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. John Saleeby said.
“A woman was heard saying she needed help and witnesses said her and a male drove off in a car,” the lieutenant said.
Witnesses reported the man was armed with a handgun, he said.
“The impression was he forced her to drive off,” Saleeby said.
The man was described only as Latino and wearing dark clothes, and the vehicle the man and woman were seen in was described only as a dark-colored car.
Officials at the sheriff’s Walnut-Diamond Bar Station, which was handling the investigation, notified other area law enforcement agencies of the possible kidnapping and carjacking.
The man and woman were found shortly after 7 p.m. within the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Police Department, sheriff’s Sgt. William Sanders said. The woman was unharmed and the man was being taken to the sheriff’s Walnut-Diamond Bar Station for questioning and potential booking.
Detectives continued investigating the incident late Thursday, and officials released no further details.
WALNUT — Coroner’s officials Sunday released the name of a 47-year-old who died at a hospital earlier in the week after he was found unresponsive in his car following a solo-vehicle crash.
Randy Matlock died at San Dimas Community Hospital a little more than an hour after his car went over a curb and struck a utility pole about noon Thursday along Grand Avenue at Mountaineer Road, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Larry Dietz said.
The crash did not appear major, and there was no trauma immediately apparent on Matlock’s body, leading officials to suspect he may have suffered a medical problem prior to the crash, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Robert Seals said.
An official cause of death had not been determined Sunday, Dietz said.
The crash was under investigation by deputies from the sheriff’s Walnut-Diamond Bar Station.
WALNUT — A man died Thursday following an apparently minor solo-car crash along Grand Avenue that may have been preceded by a medical problem, authorities said.
The incident was reported about noon along Grand Avenue and Mountaineer Road, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. John Saleeby said.
The man’s car had gone over a curb on the southbound side of the roadway and struck either a pole or a tree, however the collision did not appear consistent with a major-injury crash, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Robert Seals said.
Paramedics took the man to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later, according to fire and sheriff’s officials.
It initially appeared the man may have suffered a medical condition, Seals said. “He didn’t have any trauma from the impact.”
Deputies from the sheriff’s Walnut-Diamond Bar Station were handling the investigation.
WALNUT — A burglar or burglars sprayed a senior citizen in the face with pepper spray when she walked in on a break-in at her Walnut home Wednesday, officials said.
The crime took place shortly after 9 a.m. at a home near Creekside and San Nicholas drives, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Perez said.
The woman, estimated to be in her 60s, had no idea there was a burglary going on in her house when she walked through the front door, the sergeant said.
She was immediately doused in the face with pepper spray, preventing her from getting a look at her attacker or attackers, Perez said. The burglar or burglars then fled.
There was evidence of some ransacking inside the home, however it was not clear what may have been stolen, he said.
The woman was treated at the scene but was not hospitalized, Perez added.
Detectives from the sheriff’s Walnut-Diamond Bar Station were handling the investigation.