Court Digest

3 charged with stealing public funds meant to help homeless

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Three people have been charged with fraud and embezzlement for an alleged scheme to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds meant to help California’s homeless residents, the state’s attorney general said Thursday.

Two of the three defendants worked for the Los Angeles-based nonprofit People Assisting the Homeless, or PATH, which in 2016 received a hefty contract from the LA Homeless Services Authority.

The trio stole hundreds of thousands of dollars by submitting fraudulent referrals and assistance requests for people who were not actually homeless, Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement.

The defendants, all women in their 40s, face a total of 56 felonies between them. All have entered not-guilty pleas and are due back in court next month, the Los Angeles Times reported.

PATH reported the alleged misconduct to police and cooperated in the investigation, the Times said.

“As an organization dedicated to ending homelessness for individuals, families, and communities, we are appalled that people would take away valuable resources from vulnerable, unhoused people,” the organization said in a statement issued by Tyler Renner, its media director.

Renner said that about $400,000 was taken. He said PATH reimbursed the Homeless Services Autho­rity and the nonprofit’s insurance company covered some of the loss.

Teen sentenced to juvenile camp for fatal Lamborghini crash

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A teen driver was sentenced on Thursday to seven to nine months in a juvenile camp after crashing his father’s Lamborghini and killing another motorist.

Monique Munoz, 32, died at the scene of the collision Feb. 17 near the Westwood area of Los Angeles.

Prosecutors said the Lamborghini’s driver, who was 17 at the time of the crash, had hit speeds of more more than 100 mph (160 kph) just prior to colliding with Munoz’s car.

The teen driver pleaded guilty to one count of vehicular man­slaughter in April, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Defense attorney Mark Werksman had asked Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Sabina Helton to sentence the teen to probation.

Munoz’s loved ones said the teen should at least spend some time in a county juvenile camp and argued that a sentence of probation would be an injustice.

The teen had been cited twice for driving at excessive speeds in Beverly Hills, resulting in his driver’s license being suspended, investigators said in court.

City pays $500K to stroke victim arrested for DUI

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (AP) — A Southern California city will pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit by a woman arrested for driving under the influence when she was actually having a stroke.

The settlement ends a long legal battle over the arrest of Robin Winger, who was pulled over Oct. 31, 2011, while driving her teenage daughter to school, the Orange County Register reported Thursday.

Winger had clipped the mirror of a parked vehicle and appeared confused after the traffic stop. Her daughter told police that her mother didn’t feel well and there was something wrong with her, said her attorney, Jerry Steering.

What neither Wagner nor the officer knew was that the woman had suffered a stroke on the left side of her brain, Steering said.

Winger was given a field sobriety test and examined by a police drug recognition expert, who determined she was under the influence. She was booked for DUI at the city jail, which was operated by private vendor the Geo Group.
The charges were eventually dropped.

Winger sued the Garden Grove Police Department and the Geo Group in federal court. The Geo Group settled for $300,000 in 2015.

Garden Grove police and the city’s attorney, Patrick Desmond, did not return messages from the Register requesting comment on the settlement.

The case illustrates the need for better training so police can tell the difference between intoxication and a stroke, or other health issues, Steering said.

Officer to stand trial in corpse fondling case

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Los Angeles police officer who acknowledged touching a dead woman’s breast while on duty has been ordered to stand trial on a felony charge.

David Rojas, 29, is charged with felony sexual contact with human remains after authorities said he touched Elizabeth Baggett’s right breast following her death on Oct. 20, 2019.

The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that Judge Keith H. Borjon heard testimony from Rojas, who said he touched the woman’s breast twice because he believed there was a mark that needed investigating.

The judge found the account “extremely unpersuasive” and suggested Rojas touched the woman’s breast for his own sexual gratification, the newspaper said. Borjon decided that there is sufficient evidence for Rojas to stand trial.
Arraignment was scheduled for Nov. 3. Rojas remains free on $20,000 bond.

Rojas and his partner had responded to a report of a body at a home, the District Attorney’s office has said. Rojas, who had been on the force for four years, allegedly touched her breast while he was alone in the room with the corpse.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file officers, has declined to pay for Rojas’ legal bills.

Online threats draw longest term yet in Capitol riot probe

A man who pleaded guilty to posting threats on social media in connection with the riot at the U.S. Capitol was sentenced Thursday to 14 months in prison, the longest term to date resulting from the federal investigation of the insurrection.

Troy Smocks of Dallas traveled to the nation’s capital before the Jan. 6 siege but he was not accused of storming the building to support the false claims that President Donald Trump had won reelection.

Smocks has been in jail since his arrest Jan. 15. One of the few Black people among the 600-plus defendants charged so far, Smocks argued that his treatment has been unfair compared with others who did enter the Capitol.

“I’m no Dr. King, but we do share same the skin color and the same idea of justice. I just want to be treated equally,” he said at his sentencing.

But U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said she had not seen a “scintilla of evidence” that prosecutions had been racially motivated and she noted that Smocks expressed little remorse.

“People died fighting for civil rights,” she said. “For you to hold yourself up as somehow a soldier in that fight is very audacious.”

The sentence exceeded what prosecutors requested — the time he has already served in jail, during which he tested positive for COVID-19.

On Jan. 6, Smocks posted threats to “hunt these cowards down,” targeting “RINOS, Dems, and Tech Execs” — words that were viewed tens of thousands of times on the social network Parler. “RINO” stands for “Republican In Name Only.”

Smocks has a two-decade-long criminal history, and prosecutors said he had bought a plane ticket to leave the country shortly before his arrest.

His social media accounts indicated he had been a colonel, but authorities found no record of military service. Prosecutors found evidence he had long passed himself off as veteran and had a history of fraud-related convictions from the 1980s to 2006, though he had stayed out of legal trouble over the past two decades.

Smocks’ sentence was the longest since an eight-month term handed down in July to a crane operator from Florida who breached the U.S. Senate chamber while carrying a Trump campaign flag.

Appeals court reverses double-murder conviction

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma appeals court on Thursday reversed the double-murder conviction of a Spencer man and remanded the case for a new trial.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals issued its 3-2 ruling in the case of Jamar Mordecai Simms, 27, who was convicted in 2018 and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the 2016 shooting deaths of Kendre Smith, 25, and Chameeka Harris, 26.

Prosecutors allege that the two were shot during a drug deal involving Simms and another man, and Simms was convicted of felony murder during the underlying crime of drug dealing. The state’s felony murder charge applies when someone dies during the course of the commission of certain felony crimes.

But the appeals court said the evidence suggests Simms was buying, not distributing, drugs and was insufficient to support his felony murder conviction.

“As purely a buyer, Simms argues he cannot be held liable as a principal to the underlying felony of drug distribution,” the court wrote.

Simms’ attorney, Andrea Miller, said she was pleased with the ruling.

The court determined that Simms could be retried under the state’s alternative theory that the killings happened during a separate underlying crime of robbery with a dangerous weapon.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, whose office prosecuted Simms, said he plans to retry Simms for the killings.

“As we move forward, the state will proceed consistent with the court’s interpretation of the statutes,” Prater said in a statement.

Man gets 11 years in prison for drowning daughter in church

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — A Northern California man was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the 2016 drowning of his 4-year-old daughter in the baptismal pool of a Catholic church.

Gerardo Mendoza, 47, had been smoking methamphetamine for three days and began believing his two youngest children were “being attacked by evil” when he took them to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in the small California wine country city of Healdsburg on Nov. 20, 2016, authorities have said.

The 11-year sentence issued by a judge Wednesday was predetermined, part of a negotiated plea to manslaughter that Mendoza agreed to as he was facing trial on murder charges, which could have put him in prison for 25 years to life, the Press Democrat reported.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Robert LaForge told Mendoza that several statements he made to probation officers before Wednesday’s hearing were objectionable.

“Certainly, I’m going to give you the maximum allowed by law based on what I read,” LaForge said. “There were a couple things that were concerning. Your statement was concerning, minimizing. I want you to know that.”

LaForge was referring to Mendoza’s comments to a probation officer, who prepared a presentencing report and recommendation to the court, that he gave his daughter water but never submerged her.

Investigators said Mendoza wanted to find a priest. But after he couldn’t find one, he led his daughter Maria and 9-year-old son into a cross-shaped baptismal pool at least a foot (30 centimeters) deep, court documents show.

He then carried the girl’s body to a nearby police station and stood naked in the station’s back parking lot yelling “help” and “police” in Spanish as he held his fully clothed and soaked daughter, authorities said. His 9-year-old son stood next to him wearing only shorts.

The child was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Facing a potential 25-years-to-life sentence if convicted of drowning his daughter, Mendoza pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter. A no-contest plea is not an admission of guilt but is treated as such at sentencing.

North Dakota
Man charged in Navajo Nation decapitation

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A North Dakota man is charged with second-degree murder in the decapitation killing this month of a man at the victim’s home on the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico, authorities said Thursday.

A criminal complaint alleged that Shilo Aaron Oldrock, 28, attacked and decapitated the victim with an ax on Oct. 10 and burned his head in a wood stove before fleeing, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Mexico,

During a search of the victim’s home after the killing was reported to tribal police, an ax was found next to the victim’s body and his charred head was found in the stove, an FBI agent said in an affidavit filed in court.

The affidavit identified the victim only by his initials, B.K. He lived in the rural community of Navajo, about 31 miles (49 kilometers) north of Gallup, the affidavit said.

Oldrock is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and he lived in Fargo, North Dakota, the statement said.

A lawyer appointed to represent Oldrock, Alejandro Benito Fernandez, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment about the allegations Oldrock faces.