Whittier man awaiting sentencing for $16 million wire fraud targeting FIFA Football video game found dead

WHITTIER >> A 27-year-old man awaiting sentencing for his role in a $16 million wire fraud scheme revolving around the popular FIFA soccer video game was found dead in his home last month of unknown causes, authorities said.
Anthony Jordan Clark was found unresponsive on Feb. 26 at his home in the 14600 block of Montevideo Drive in Whittier, according to Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner Assistant Chief of Operation Ed Winter. An autopsy has been conducted, but Clark’s cause of death is yet to be determined pending the results of forensic testing.
He was initially scheduled to be sentenced in federal court the following day, though the sentencing hearing was re-scheduled in mid-February to April 3, federal court records show. He faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, as well as $250,000 in fines and restitution for the fraudulently obtained $16 million.
A federal jury convicted Clark in November of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in November following a three-day trial in the Department of Justice’s Northern District of Texas, where the case was initially filed.
A federal judge granted a motion to dismiss the case against the late convict on March 16, “in the interest of justice,” records show.
His three codefendants had already pleaded guilty in connection with the case, and each face the same potential maximum sentences.
Eaton Svear is scheduled to be sentenced on March 29 in his home state of Virginia. Nicholas Castelluci is to for sentencing April 24 in his home state of New Jersey and Ricky Miller is scheduled to be sentenced May 1 in his home state of Texas.
The men’s scheme centered around “FIFA Coins,” an electronic currency within the FIFA Football video game, produced by California-based Electronic Arts. Gamers use the coins, which are generally earned through gameplay, to make purchases within the game, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Kathy Colvin explained.
But players also purchase coins from one another in a secondary marketplace, she said in a written statement.
By hacking into EA’s servers and circumventing security measures, Clark and his crew managed to fraudulently get their hands on more than $16 million worth of the digital, in-game currency.
They created software that tricked EA computers into logging thousands of hours of gameplay within a matter of a seconds, resulting in the awarding of unearned FIFA Coins, Colvin said.

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Hundreds run in honor of slain Whittier police officer

WHITTIER >> What was originally planned as a small training run in honor of slain Whittier police Officer Whittier Boyer swelled into a memorial run that attracted about 400 people who wanted to pay tribute to the fallen lawman in Whittier on Sunday.
The run went from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s STARS Center in Whittier to the scene of Boyer’s fatal Feb. 20 shooting at Colima Road and Mar Vista Avenue in Whittier. Law enforcement officers, cadets, Explorer Scouts and supporters of law enforcement from throughout Southern California laced up their running shoes to show their respect for Boyer’s service and sacrifice.
PHOTOS: Hundreds run in honor of slain Whittier police officer
It began as a training run intended for members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Lakewood Station Baker to Vegas relay team, according to Deputy Jason Colon, who serves as the team’s captain. Before joining the sheriff’s department, Colon began his career as a Whittier police officer, where Officer Boyer served as one of his training officers.
“It was honestly going to start out as a training run for our team,” he said.
But the word of the planned run in honor of Boyer spread like wildfire, throughout Los Angeles County and beyond, he said.
Representatives from agencies throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties ultimately turned up in tribute to Boyer.
“Everyone was paying their respects and running in his honor,” Colon said. Community members waived in support of the runners from the roadside.
Once the group reached the shooting site, they paused for a moment of silence and a prayer. Runners also took up a collection to add to the fund benefitting Boyer’s family.

PHOTOS by Keith Durflinger

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Gang member charged in slaying of Whittier police officer, cousin

WHITTIER >> Prosecutors filed capital murder and other charges Wednesday against a gang member and probationer accused of killing one Whittier police officer and wounding another last month after gunning down his cousin in East Los Angeles, authorities said.
Michael Christopher Mejia, 26, of Los Angeles faces two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, one count of carjacking and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in connection with the shootings, which took place on the morning of Feb. 20 in East Los Angeles and in Whittier, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Greg Risling.
Mejia could face the death penalty if convicted of the murder of Whittier police Officer Keith Boyer, the murder of his cousin, Roy Torres, the wounding of Whittier officer Patrick Hazell, as well as the carjacking of his cousin and the alleged weapons violation, officials said.
“A decision on whether to seek capital punishment will me made at a later date,” Risling said in a written statement.
Mejia, who was shot and wounded himself by police before being apprehended, was scheduled to appear for an arraignment hearing Thursday in the Bellflower branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court, Risling said. But it was unclear if his medical condition would force the hearing to be postponed.
Mejia has remained hospitalized in a jail ward since the shooting, records show. He was immediately sentenced to a 10-day “flash incarceration” for violating the terms of his probation under the terms of AB 109 pending the filing of charges in connection with the deadly shootings. The 10-day, automatic sentence is set to expire Thursday.
Mejia first shot and killed Torres inside the converted garage he was using as a bedroom at his home in East Los Angeles, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said. Mejia then stole his slain cousin’s car and made his way to Whittier.
A little under three hours later, Mejia was involved in a minor traffic collision with two other motorists at Colima Road and Mar Vista Street, investigators said.
“Police responded to the crash and when they ordered Mejia to get out of his car the defendant is accused of pulling out a semi-automatic handgun and firing at two officers,” Risling said. Boyer was killed and Hazell was also wounded. Hazell has since been released from the hospital and is continuing his recovery at home.
Mejia has prior felony convictions for robbery in 2010 and auto theft in 2014, Risling said.
Since being released from custody for the auto theft conviction in April of 2016, Mejia was arrested five times for probation violations, records show. Each time, he received a 9- or 10-day “flash incarceration” before being turned loose again.
The case has prompted outrage from law enforcement and questions from politicians and community members over recent efforts to empty California’s overpopulated prisons, such as AB 109, also knows as the Public Safety Realignment of 2011, and Proposition 47 of 2014, which reduced some felony crimes to misdemeanors.
Memorial services for Boyer are scheduled Thursday evening and Friday morning.
Boyer, who was 53, was a a 27-year veteran of the Whittier Police Department. He is the first Whittier officer killed in the line of duty since 1979.
A public viewing will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Whittier Area Community Church, 8100 Colima Road in Whittier.
The funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at Calvary Chapel Downey, 12808 Woodruff Ave. in Downey, followed immediately by a procession and graveside ceremony as Rose Hills Memorial Park, 3888 Workman Mill Road in Whittier.

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Teen stabbed during robbery attempt at South Whittier park


SOUTH WHITTIER >> Two men beat and stabbed a teenager after he refused to turn over his property during a robbery attempt at a South Whittier park late Saturday, officials said.
The victim, a 15-year-old boy, was walking through Amelia Mayberry Park, 13201 Meyer Road, about 10 p.m. when two would-be robbers approached, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Hank Ortega said.
“The suspects accosted him and demanded he give them whatever he had,” the sergeant said. The teen refused.
One of the attacker punched the teen in the face, while the other pulled a knife and stabbed him in the upper arm, Ortega said.
The teen was taken to a hospital for treatment.
Ortega said both attackers were last seen running east from the park.
One was described as a white man, between 20 and 25 years old, 150 to 170 pounds, with blond hair.
The second suspect, who wielded the knife, was described as Latino man between 20 and 25 years old, 5 feet 5 inches tall, 150 pounds, with a beard and mustache.
Anyone with information can reach the sheriff’s Norwalk Station at 562-863-8711. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Suspect in deadly Whittier police shootout still in ICU, surviving officer released from hospital

Members of the community place flowers in memory of slain Whittier Police officer Keith Boyer at the Whittier Police Department’s Police Officer Memorial in Whittier, Calif. on Tuesday February 21, 2017. (Photo by Keith Durflinger/Whittier Daily News/SCNG)

WHITTIER >> The gang member accused of killing a Whittier police officer and another man on Monday, as well as wounding another police officer, remained hospitalized in a intensive care unit Wednesday as detectives continued gathering evidence and the community continued mourning and seeking answers.
Investigators were yet to interview Michael Christopher Mejia, 26, of Los Angeles, as he continued receiving treatment for a gunshot wound to the back sustained in Monday morning’s gunfight with the Whittier, Lt. John Corina of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau said. His injuries were not considered life-threatening.
The tight-knit Whittier community has rallied around the family of Officer Keith Boyer, a 53-year-old Whittier resident, 28-year lawman, father, grandfather and classic rock drummer.
Officer Patrick Hazell, who was wounded in the abdomen in the shootout, was released from the hospital and continuing his recovery at home, Corina said. His father said the wounded officer did not wish to comment at this time.
Mejia, a documented gang member who was on felony probation, or “Post-Release Community Supervision,” under the terms of AB 109, is also accused of gunning down his cousin about 5:30 a.m. in the 1400 block of Volney Drive in East Los Angeles, less than three hours before the violent encounter with police in Whittier.
Family members said Mejia showed up the Torres home and confronted Torres inside the converted garage the victim used as his bedroom.
The men possibly became involved in an argument prior to the shooting, relatives said. Following the shooting, Mejia allegedly fled in Torres car, which he soon crashed in Whittier.
An autopsy determined Torres died from a single gunshot wound to the head, Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said. The death was ruled a homicide.
No further details of the East Los Angeles slaying, including a motive, have not been released.Mejia was driving a stolen car when became involved in a minor crash with two other vehicles at Colima Road and Mar Vista Avenue about 8 a.m., Corina said.
Police arrive at the scene after the other drivers had helped Mejia push the car he was driving to the side of the road.
“They asked him to get out of the car. That’s when the shooting occurred,” Corina said.
Mejia suddenly drew a semi-automatic handgun and opened fire, striking both officers.
One of the officer managed to return fire and wound Mejia, who was taken into custody at the scene by fellow officers, officials said.
It was unclear which of the officers wounded the suspect. Corina declined to discuss whether one, or both, of the officers fired their weapons.
Mejia’s gun was recovered at the scene, Corina said.
The involved officers were not wearing body camera, and Corina said he was not aware of any video recordings of the deadly encounter between Mejia and Whittier police.
Mejia was expected to be charged in connection with the case once he’s out of the hospital, the lieutenant said.
Mejia had prior convictions for robbery, and most recently, auto theft, officials said.
He as been re-arrested for probation violations five times since being released from prison for the auto theft conviction, each time resulting in 9- or 10-day “flash incarcerations,” under the terms of AB 109, also known as the “California Public Safety Realignment” of 2011, records show.
Details regarding the circumstances of each arrest were not available, however none resulted in the filing of a new criminal case.
At least one of the arrests was for possession of methamphetamine, Corina said.
Possession of methamphetamine had traditionally been a felony in California, punishable by a year or more in prison, but was reduced to a misdemeanor by Proposition 47, passed by California voters in 2014.
Mejia’s criminal record has raised concerns of law enforcement officers, politicians and others, who are questioning whether Mejia should have been behind bars, rather than out on the street, on Monday.
A documented gang member, and an apparently proud one, Mejia bears the letters “W” and “G” tattooed prominently across his face in capital letters. The same abbreviation, which stands for an East Los Angeles street gang, is also tattooed on Mejia’s neck in lower-case letters.
Services for Boyer have not been announced.
The Whittier Police Department is accepting donations to benefit Boyer’s family. He’s survived by a fiancee, four children and two grandchildren.
Checks can be made out to “WPOA Benevolent Fund,” and reference account No. 488879. Contributions can be dropped off in person at the Whittier Police Department, 13200 Penn Street, in person at the Credit Union of Southern California at 8028 Greenleaf Ave. or mailed to the Credit Union of Southern California, WPOA Benevolent Fund, attention David Valencia, PO Box 200, Whittier, CA 90608.
Any witnesses, or anyone with information, regarding Monday’s incident is encouraged to contact the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.

PHOTO of Michael C. Mejia courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Departement

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Con men sought after swindling elderly Whittier man out of $9,000

WHITTIER >> Police are seeking a man who was caught on camera while conning an elderly Whittier man out of $9,000 last month, officials said.
The crime took place about noon on Jan. 13, Whittier police officials said in a written statement.
The swindler knocked on the victim’s door and claimed to represent a paintless dent-removal service, police said.
“After pretending to do some work on the victims’ car, the suspect and his unknown partner charged the victim $9,000 for their ‘services,’ according to the statement. “Feeling intimidated, the victim, who is elderly, reluctantly drove with the suspects to a local bank and cashed a personal check.”
Bank surveillance cameras captured images of one of the suspect as he accompanied the victim to the bank.
The con men drove the suspect back home and left with his money, officials said. They completed no work on the victim’s car.
One of the suspects was described as a Latino man, about 40 to 45 years old, 5 feet 10 inches tall, 170 pounds, wearing a white T-shirt and a black hooded sweater. The second con man was a Latino man of 25 to 30 years old, about 5 feet 8 inches tall, of medium build, wearing dark clothes. The drove a white van.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Whittier police Detective Allen Lemus at 562-567-9290, or the Whittier Police Department’s 24-hour Crime Tipline at 562-567-9299. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

BANK SURVEILLANCE PHOTO courtesy of the Whittier Police Department

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Teens sought in South Whittier robbery


SOUTH WHITTIER >> Two teenagers, one of them wearing a ski mask, robbed another young man as he walked through a residential neighborhood in South Whittier early Friday, officials said.
The crime unfolded about 6:40 a.m. as the victim was walking in the 11900 block of Burgess Avenue, in the unincorporated county area, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Jaime Alvarez said.
The robbers approached in a gray, BMW sedan, he said. Both got out of the car and demanded the victim’s cell phone.
Once the victim handed over his phone, the two robbers got back into their car and sped away, Alvarez said. They were last seen heading south on Burgess Avenue.
One of the robbers wore a ski mask, Alvarez added. Detailed suspect descriptions were not available.
Anyone with information can reach the sheriff’s Norwalk Station at 562-863-8711. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Trees topple again at Penn Park in Whittier

0122_WDN-L-TREES - Copy

WHITTIER >> Heavy rains on Friday afternoon toppled two large trees at Penn Park in Whittier, just over a month after a massive tree toppled onto a wedding party at the same park, killing the mother of the bride and injuring seven other people, officials said.
A park bench was crushed at Penn Park, 13950 Penn Street, when a eucalyptus tree and an oak tree fell during the storm, but no injuries were reported, Whittier police Lt. Bryan Ellis said.
Another tree also fell at Murphy Ranch Park, 16200 Las Cumbres Drive, during the storm, Whittier City Manager Jeff Collier said. Both parks were closed until further notice. And other trees fell on private property throughout Whittier, as well as Los Angeles County, during the storm.
And with more heavy rain expected on Sunday, city officials also closed the picnic areas of Palm and Parnell parks, which are surrounded by tall trees, as a precaution, Collier said.
“We’ll have to be monitoring the soil conditions,” he said. “The ground is just so saturated.”
Another toppled tree fell onto Portada Drive on Friday.
Penn Park reopened earlier this month after it was closed following the fatal incident on Dec. 17, which claimed the life of 61-year-old Margarita Mojarro of San Pedro.
An arborist inspected the trees at Penn Park before it was reopened to the public, officials said.
All of the trees that fell on Friday appeared to have uprooted and tipped over, rather than snapped at their trunks, Collier said.
“The trees, we feel, are in good, stable condition,” he said. “We’ve just had so much water in such a short time.”
Officials were at Penn Park inspecting the fallen eucalyptus tree when the oak tree gave way, Collier said.
“While we were standing there, we could here a popping sound,” he said. “It just went over. The soil couldn’t hold the tree.”
With more rain on the way, Collier encouraged residents to take precautions to protect their homes and businesses from the deluge by making sure drains are open and taking any other necessary measures to mitigate potential damage.

PHOTO courtesy of Andrew Luera

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El Monte man accused of trying to arrange sex with teen in South Whittier

SOUTH WHITTIER >> Deputies jailed an El Monte man this week after showed up in South Whittier to meet who he believed was a 15-year-old girl for sex, but was instead greeted by detectives, officials said.
Pedro Ivan Reyes-Peralta, 21, was booked on suspicion of arranging a meeting with a juvenile for a lewd act or purpose, and contacting a minor to commit a sex crime, following his arrest on Wednesday, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials and booking records.
(Reyes-Peralta) began communicating with an undercover detective on Tuesday, after he posted a Craigslist ad seeking sex,” Lt. Kent Wegener of the sheriff’s Human Trafficking Bureau said in a written statement. “The detective was posing as a 15 year-old girl and it was made clear that she was under age.”
After additional online communication, Reyes-Peralta arranged a meeting in South Whittier, Wegener said. He was arrested upon arrival.
“The suspect implicated himself during subsequent questioning,” the lieutenant added.
Sgt. Peter Hahn offered some words of caution for parents.
“Social media sites can be very hazardous places for minors. “Predators are actively seeing juveniles to exploit and victimize, since they believe they are hidden by the anonymous nature of the internet,” he said. “Parents are reminded to actively monitor the internet activity of their children, to prevent anyone from taking advantage of them.”
Reyes-Peralta was being held in lieu of $75,000 bail pending his initial court appearance, records show.

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Commerce swim coach from Whittier denies child molestation charges

COACH

LOS ANGELES >> A Whittier man a denied charges related to the alleged repeated molestation of a 7-year-old girl who was a student at the Commerce aquatics center where he worked as a swim coach.
Steven Matthew Garcia pleaded not guilty to six felony county of committing a lewd act upon a child, Los Angeles County District attorney’s officials said. He was ordered back to Los Angeles Superior Court on Feb. 1 for a preliminary hearing setting.
Garcia is accused of fondling a 7-year-old student of the center on multiple occasions in recent months, while he worked as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at Brenda Villa Aquatic Center in Commerce, according to Deputy Juanita Navarro-Suarez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Information Bureau.
“Detectives conducting the investigation subsequently arrested Suspect Garcia, a resident of Whittier, on Friday, January 13, 2017, for multiple counts of lewd acts and continuous sexual abuse of a minor,” Navarro-Suarez said in a written statement.
Prosecutors filed their case Wednesday. Garcia is being held in lieu of $600,000 bail.
Detectives from the sheriff’s Special Victims Bureau reached out to the public in search of additional information, or any possible additional victims of the suspect, the deputy added.
Anyone with information can reach the sheriff’s Special Victims Bureau can be reached at 877-710-5273. Tips may also be submitted anonymously online to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

BOOKING PHOTOS of Steven Matthew Garcia courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

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