Court Digest

Homeless man sentenced for killing woman who helped him

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A homeless man has been sentenced to life plus 195 months in prison for killing a 72-year-old Wichita woman who had sometimes provided him with food and a place to stay. 

John Darwin Pepper, 57, was sentenced last week after being convicted in November of first-degree murder and criminal sodomy for the July 2019 death of Rita Golden, television station KAKE reported.

Golden’s daughter found her mother’s partially nude body on the kitchen floor of her Wichita home on July 15, 2019, police have said.

Prosecutors said Golden allowed Pepper to stay in her backyard and sometimes let him take a nap or eat inside her home. 

An autopsy determined Golden died from a heart condition caused by high blood pressure, but she also had injuries associated with being smothered and sexually assaulted.


Man gets life sentence for deadly California rampage

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man convicted of a Southern California rampage that included shootings, carjackings and murder was sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole by a judge who called him “evil personified.”

Artyom Gasparyan, 38, was sentenced Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court by Judge Eleanor J. Hunter. In August, a jury convicted him of more than 30 criminal charges.

Prosecutors say that in 2015 and January 2016, Gasparyan committed carjackings, armed robberies and shootings that wounded several people and left one man dead. He struck in Los Angeles and suburbs ranging from Long Beach to West Hollywood.

They included the December 2015 shooting and killing of Adan Corea, 32, in Panorama City.

Prosecutors also said Gasparyan shot two people crossing a street, a parking valet during a holdup, and people in parked cars, along with stabbing a woman several times. He and another man also robbed gas stations and shot a food delivery driver, prosecutors said.

Gasparyan “did everything he could to kill well over a dozen people,” LA County Deputy District Attorney John McKinney said during sentencing. 

Daniel Ramirez, identified by authorities as Gasparyan’s crime partner, killed himself in a Long Beach home in 2016 as police closed in.

Gasparyan was shot several days later following a wrong-way crash on Interstate 5 in Los Angeles. He was shot after he pulled a gun while running away from officers, authorities said.


Man sentenced  for stealing veteran, Social Security benefits

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A Georgia man convicted of participating in a scheme in Florida to steal more than $1.8 million in veteran and Social Security benefits has been sentenced to six years and six months in prison.

Jamare Mason, 27, was sentenced Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale federal court, according to court records. He pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to commit bank and wire fraud. He was also ordered to pay more than $1.3 million in restitution. 

From 2012 to 2017, Mason and others attempted to redirect over $1.8 million in benefits from more than 100 disabled veterans and Social Security beneficiaries, officials said. They added that the scheme resulted in the actual loss of nearly $1 million, though the federal government reimbursed the victims for the full amounts of their stolen benefits.

The group obtained the victims’ personal information and used it to fraudulently open bank accounts and prepaid debit cards in the victims’ names, prosecutors said. The conspirators also forged documents that directed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration to deposit benefit payments into those fraudulent accounts, officials said.

Funds were withdrawn from ATMs and banks throughout South Florida and Georgia, investigators said. Much of the funds were ultimately funneled to the architects of the scheme in Jamaica, officials said. 

Besides Mason, four others have been convicted in the conspiracy. Two other men suspected of participating in the fraud haven’t been captured.


Bar owner pleads not guilty to rapes

EVERETT, Wash. (AP) — A 35-year-old Everett bar owner has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of felony sexual assault.

A judge on Tuesday maintained bail at $1 million for Christian Sayre, who has owned The Anchor Pub since 2014, The Everett Herald reported. He remained in Snohomish County Jail as of Tuesday evening.

Last week, the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office charged Sayre with two counts of second-degree rape and eight counts of indecent liberties.

Everett police arrested Sayre on Friday for the second time in several months after additional customers came forward accusing him of drugging and sexually assaulting them. 

Deputy prosecutor Taryn Jones also asked Superior Court Judge Cassandra Lopez-Shaw to impose no-contact and protection orders for 10 people involved in the case. The deputy prosecutor also asked for a no-contact order between Sayre and the state’s civilian witnesses, with two exceptions. One of those was the mother of Sayre’s child. The other was a former employee of Sayre’s at The Anchor.

“My understanding is that (the employee) is currently involved in managing The Anchor Pub in some matter,” Jones told the court. “I do understand they may have communications related to that.”

The judge granted the no-contact orders and set a tentative trial date of Feb. 25.

Man gets 5 years for COVID-19 relief, tax fraud

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A Florida man convicted of fraudulently collecting more than $1.3 million in COVID-19 relief funds has been sentenced to five years in prison.

Johnson Eustache, of Palm Bay, was sentenced Tuesday in Orlando federal court, according to court records. He pleaded guilty in August to wire fraud and aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns. He must also forfeit approximately $700,000 seized from several bank accounts, as well as real properties in Palm Bay and Poinciana. 

According to court documents, Eustache submitted 13 different fraudulent Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Paycheck Protection Program applications to the Small Business Administration and other lenders from March 2020 to April 2021. In total, he sought more than $2.1 million in pandemic-related emergency benefits, according to the documents.

Eustache included false statements in the applications regarding criminal history, number of employees and total payroll, prosecutors said.

Lenders approved four PPP loans and four EIDL loans, totaling more than $1.3 million, officials said. Eustache used the money to make personal financial investments, to purchase real estate and to build residential properties.

Beside the pandemic-relief fraud, Eustache, while working as a tax return preparer, filed 28 returns for taxpayers from 2017 to 2021 containing false adjustments, false income amounts or false deductions, investigators said. Eustache included these false items fraudulently to inflate the amount of the taxpayers’ refunds, and the total loss to the IRS was $87,044, officials said. 

The Paycheck Protection Program represents billions of dollars in forgivable small-business loans for Americans struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s part of the coronavirus relief package that became federal law in 2020.


Fourth federal prison worker charged with  sex abuse

WASHINGTON (AP) — A fourth worker at a federal women’s prison in California has been charged with sexually abusing an inmate. His arrest comes months after the prison’s warden was arrested on similar charges. 

James Theodore Highhouse, a corrections worker and chaplain at FCI Dublin, was charged Tuesday with sexual abuse of a ward, abusive sexual contact and making false statements to investigators.

Prosecutors allege Highhouse engaged in sexual acts with a female inmate on multiple occasions between May 2018 and February 2019.

Highhouse then lied to investigators from the FBI and Justice Department Inspector General’s office when they asked him about the alleged sexual misconduct, prosecutors said. In interviews on Feb. 21, 2019, Highhouse knowingly made false statements denied engaging in sexual acts with the inmate, prosecutors said.

Court records did not list a lawyer for Highhouse and no telephone number for him was listed in an online directory.

Highhouse is the latest employee of the federal Bureau of Prisons charged with criminal wrongdoing in a prison system that has been rife with corruption and misconduct. The Associated Press reported in November that more than 100 Bureau of Prisons workers have been arrested, convicted or sentenced for crimes since 2019, as the agency turned a blind eye to misconduct allegations.

Highhouse worked at FCI Dublin, where actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin spent time for their involvement in the college admissions bribery scandal. He is the fourth employee at the prison to be charged in the last several months with sexually abusing inmates.

The warden at FCI Dublin, Ray Garcia, was arrested in September and later indicted on charges he molested an inmate multiple times, scheduled times where he demanded she undress in front of him and amassed a slew of nude photos of her on his government-issued phone. A recycling technician was also arrested on charges he coerced two inmates into sexual activity. In December, a correctional officer was charged with engaging in sexual conduct with an inmate and gave her special privileges and gifts, prosecutors. 

Several other workers at the prison are still under investigation. 

The Bureau of Prisons has faced a multitude of crises in recent years, including the rampant spread of the coronavirus inside its facilities, dozens of escapes, the deaths of inmates and workers, and critically low staffing levels that have hampered responses to emergencies.

The Justice Department announced earlier this month  that the Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal would be resigning amid increasing scrutiny over his leadership. The agency’s deputy director announced days later that he would also be leaving his position in a few months. 


New York
Man accused of fatal subway shove arraigned on murder charge

NEW YORK (AP) — The man accused of  pushing a woman to her death in a New York City subway station was arraigned on a murder charge Wednesday and ordered held without bail.

Martial Simon, 61, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Michelle Alyssa Go, who was shoved in front of a subway train in the Times Square station on Saturday.

A mental fitness exam was ordered for Simon, who authorities said was on parole for a prior felony conviction at the time of the attack. His next court date is Feb. 23.

Authorities gave the defendant’s name as Simon Martial, but a spokesperson for New York County Defender Services, which is representing him, said his name is Martial Simon.

A vigil was held in Times Square on Tuesday night for Go, who was 40 years old and worked for the consulting firm Deloitte.

A prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office said the office is seeking to determine whether the attack was motivated by racial bias against Go, who was Asian American.

Simon’s attorney said there is no evidence of racial motivation.

“With so many unhoused people with unaddressed mental illness walking the streets of our city, it would be a shame if Mr. Simon was sacrificed at the altar of vengeful public opinion instead of seeking a deeper understanding of these complex issues now facing our society,” said H. Mitchell Schuman, of New York County Defender Services.