Southern California -- this just in

Category: Crime and courts

Suspected cocaine trafficking fugitive arrested in Northridge

A suspected cocaine trafficker was scheduled to appear in court Thursday after he was arrested by U.S. marshals in Los Angeles following his alleged escape from a federal holding center in South Carolina.

After nearly two years, Charles Dwight Ransom Jr. was arrested Wednesday in his apartment next to the Cal State Northridge campus.

After escaping federal custody in South Carolina by forcing a fellow inmate to switch identification wristbands with him so he could go free, officials say, Ransom returned to Los Angeles.

Ransom was apparently unaware the federal drug trafficking case against him was based in Los Angeles, the U.S. Marshals Service said in a statement.

His name and photo were still listed on the Drug Enforcement Agency Los Angeles bureau’s Most Wanted List Thursday morning.

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Bell verdict: 'I want to thank God,' acquitted ex-councilman says

Luis Artiga acquitted

Luis Artiga, the sole Bell councilman acquitted on all corruption charges, cried as the court clerk read the not guilty verdicts and motioned his hands in prayer and said, "Thank you, Lord."

He faced 12 counts of misappropriation of public funds and a sentence of up to 16 years.

Artiga, a pastor in Bell, was appointed to the City Council long after salaries for council members had been boosted, a point his attorney underscored in closing arguments.

CHEAT SHEET: Bell corruption verdicts

His co-defendants, all of whom were found guilty of multiple counts of misappropriating public funds, patted him on the back and congratulated him.

"Mr. Artiga has been exonerated on all charges," Judge Kathleen Kennedy said before releasing him. "Good health to you."

At a news conference after the verdicts were read, Artiga said: "I want to thank God. I want to thank my family. ... I said from the beginning the truth will set me free."

FULL COVERAGE: Bell corruption trial

Artiga said he had prepared only a not guilty statement because he had such faith in his innocence.

"I never lost faith throughout for a moment," Artiga said.

As to his colleagues, he said, "I pray the Lord would be with them."

He also thanks the jurors "from the bottom of my heart."

Artiga said he regrets accepting former City Administrator Robert Rizzo's offer to serve on the City Council.

DOCUMENT: Read the charges

"Yes, I do regret being on the council," Artiga said. "I went there to serve the community of Bell."

Artiga's attorney, George Mgdesyan, said Artiga's defense was different from that of his former colleagues because he joined the council after all the actions were taken.

"The evidence is clear my client did not vote on those authorities," he said. "He did not vote on those pay raises."

“My client is an innocent man and the people from the state of California have spoken,” Mgdesyan said.


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-- Richard Winton, Ruben Vives and Corina Knoll

Photo: Luis Artiga reacts after being acquitted on all charges in the Bell corruption trial. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Body found in Chino identified as missing woman

San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner officials have confirmed a body found last week in Chino was that of Lorna Lopez, a woman initially reported missing who police now believe was slain by her husband.

The remains of Lopez, 40, were found Thursday in a field off the 17300 block of Cucamonga Avenue, a dusty stretch of south Chino with two-lane highways, dirt lots and muddy embankments.

Lopez and her husband, Victor Manuel Lopez, 40, were reported missing March 13. Their three children told authorities they had not seen their parents since the morning of March 12 as they got ready for school.

Police found photographs of Victor Lopez hours later that day at an automated teller machine, but there was no sign of his wife. Lorna Lopez had apparently told her husband she planned to divorce him.

The investigation led police Thursday to Victor Lopez’s nephew, Joseph Rodriguez of Huntington Park. Police said evidence found at his home led them to conclude Lorna Lopez’s disappearance was a result of foul play.

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After 13 years in prison, man found to be innocent could be freed

Brian Banks, center, carries petitions calling for the release of Daniel Larsen at a press conference in August 2012. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

A California man could be released Tuesday afternoon after more than 13 years in prison for a crime a federal judge and the California Innocence Project say he didn’t commit.

Daniel Larsen is scheduled to appear in federal court in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon, where his attorneys hope he will be released after a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judge ordered his release in 2010.

Larsen was convicted in 1999 of carrying a concealed knife, a third strike for the twice-convicted burglar. Police claimed he had tossed the 6-inch blade under a car after a brawl in a Northridge bar.

Larsen has maintained his innocence throughout the years and eventually got the California Innocence Project to take up his cause. The organization found several witnesses –- including a former chief of police – who stated that they saw a different man throw away the knife, not Larsen.

Larsen’s defense attorney during his trial never called a witness in his defense. That attorney was eventually disbarred.

The Innocence Project filed an appeal under habeas corpus that eventually reached the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. That judge found Larsen to be “actually innocent,” a legal term that allows Larsen to be released from prison while his case works its way through the courts.

The judge found Larsen was not given an adequate defense. The state Attorney General’s office is fighting Larsen’s release on technicalities related to the filing of his appeals and maintains he is guilty.

Tuesday could be Larsen’s first taste of freedom since his conviction in 1999.


Lindsay Lohan avoids jail again with last-minute plea

Bill could extend last call for alcohol to 4 a.m. in some cities

Rockefeller imposter deceived and murdered, prosecutors claim

-- Joseph Serna

Photo: Brian Banks, center, carries petitions calling for the release of Daniel Larsen at a press conference in August 2012. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Driver in crash that killed USC student to be arrested

The driver of a Ford Explorer involved in a collision that killed a USC honors student will be arrested on suspicion of drunk driving when she is released from the hospital, a Los Angeles Police Department detective said Monday.

The woman, in her 20s, whose name was not released, was driving an Explorer that smashed into the right side of a Ford Mustang carrying Xinhai Huang, 22, about 3:30 a.m. Sunday, killing him, police said.

It appeared that the woman had been drinking, said Los Angeles police Det. Jimmy Render.

The crash occurred at Hyde Park and West boulevards, about six miles southwest of USC. Huang, a junior, was an honor student and on the dean’s list at the school, university officials confirmed. He was majoring in electrical engineering.

 "We grieve for a promising life cut short, and for his parents who have lost their son," the statement read.

The suspect was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and is in stable condition, Render said. She will be arrested upon release, police said.

“This gives us some time to build a case,” Render said.


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Matthew Keys target of Draconian computer laws, attorney says

Reuters journalist Matthew Keys is being targeted by the Department of Justice because he was reporting on the “hacktivist” group Anonymous, Keys' attorney said Friday.

“It’s another one of these prosecutions that the government is using to turn heads and try to scare people away from reporting on Anonymous,” Jay Leiderman, a Ventura-based civil liberties attorney, said in an interview with The Times. “He wrote about his experience in kind of a private chat of Anonymous and that led to this.”

In a grand jury indictment filed Thursday in California’s Eastern District federal court, prosecutors accuse Reuters' deputy social media editor of giving an Anonymous-affiliated hacker access to the Tribune Co.'s servers in 2010.

Reuters suspended Keys with pay Thursday, a company spokesman confirmed.

According to the indictment, Keys, 26, once worked for the Tribune Co.'s Sacramento-based KTXL FOX 40 TV station. The court filing includes an excerpt of an alleged chat between Keys, who went by the pseudonym “AESCracked” and an Anonymous hacker named “sharpie.”

Prosecutors allege the chat shows Keys agreeing to give the hacker access to Tribune servers. The hacker gained access to The Times' website, where he changed a headline on a tax-cut related story to “Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337."

Keys is charged with conspiracy to cause damage to a protected computer, transmission of malicious code and attempted transmission of a protected code. He faces up to 25 years in federal prison and $750,000 in fines.

Keys’ prosecution is an example of the government’s “draconian approach to computer crimes laws,” said his New York-based attorney, Tor Ekeland. “It’s fully our position he was merely a reporter doing a story on Anonymous and he happened to be in these chat rooms…. He did go in under that screen name to report on a story, but was that screen name always him? I don’t know at this point.”

Keys found out he was being charged through social media, he tweeted. Leiderman said they are waiting for him to receive his indictment in the mail so they can schedule a court appearance.


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Gamer may be behind 'Chippy 1337' hack of L.A. Times

Photo: Image The Times saved of article hacked in 2010. Credit: Los Angeles Times

A hacker identity linked to a breach of Tribune Co. servers in 2010 that led to a changed headline on the Los Angeles Times website has also been linked with hacks on international gaming servers, according to multiple tech blogs and fan sites.

In December 2010, the headline for a Times story on tax cuts curiously read “Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337” for about 30 minutes until server administrators were able to change it.

The hacker gained access to Tribune servers through former employee Matthew Keys, according to a federal indictment filed Thursday in California’s Eastern District court.

In 2011, using the pseudonym or handle "CHIPPY 1337," a hacker or hackers breached a Canadian role-playing game server, Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

A May 2011 post in Time magazine’s tech blog suggested that users of the Chippy 1337 handle, among others, were part of a growing divide among the Anonymous hacker group’s active users. While Anonymous has traditionally targeted sites and organizations that it ideologically opposes, some of Chippy’s hacks in recent years have been focused on gaining headlines – The Times hack as an example – than promoting a specific cause.

The person behind Chippy 1337 may also be an avid video game player. In the online gaming community, 1337 means “leet,” short for “elite.”

The L.A. Times hacker also told Keys he or she will be “afk 5 minutes,” according to a transcript included in the indictment.

“Afk” -- an acronym for away from keyboard -- is a term often used by gamers.

A 2011 story by the BBC, however, suggested hackers may be using the Chippy 1337 name to divert from the real perpetrators.


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Big snake discovered among belongings at homeless storage center

Matthew Keys' computer 'dismantled' after indictment, Reuters says

-- Joseph Serna

Photo: A screen grab of the 2010 hacked L.A. Times article. Credit: Los Angeles Times

12-year-old who gave pot brownie to kids at school arrested

A 12-year-old Orange County boy has been arrested for allegedly taking a pot brownie to his elementary school and making seven students sick.

Costa Mesa Lt. Greg Scott said officers arrested the Pomona Elementary School sixth-grader who shared a marijuana-laced brownie with his peers Tuesday, according to the Daily Pilot.

When the student returned to school Thursday, administrators questioned him and found a small bag of marijuana in his backpack. Administrators confiscated the drug and notified Costa Mesa detectives, Scott said.

The boy was arrested at home Thursday for misdemeanor possession of marijuana on campus. He has since been released to his parents.

The students who ate the brownie were briefly hospitalized Tuesday before being released to their parents.


Matthew Keys 'fine' after indictment on hacking charges

Gavin Smith had relationship with drug dealer's wife, police say

Dorner case: Women shot at by LAPD could get $40,000 payment soon

-- Jeremiah Dobruck, Times Community News

Gavin Smith had relationship with drug dealer's wife, police say

Missing Fox movie executive Gavin Smith had a relationship with the wife of a convicted drug dealer who is now a person of interest in Smith’s disappearance, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials say.

Smith, 57, has been missing since May 2012. At a press conference Thursday, Lt. Dave Dolson said Smith had a relationship with Chandrika Creech, the wife of John Creech, who is serving eight years in Los Angeles County’s Men’s Central Jail.

Smith and Chandrika Creech apparently met in rehab. Sheriff’s officials would not comment on the nature of their relationship and said only that Creech’s husband is a person of interest in Smith’s disappearance. John Creech has not spoken with detectives.

Authorities now believe Smith was murdered. Investigators found Smith’s Mercedes-Benz last month in a Simi Valley storage facility. Officials said evidence found inside the car, along with witness statements, lead them to believe Smith is dead.

No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing, a department official said Friday.

Chandrika Creech has spoken to investigations on many occasions, Dolson said. He declined to say what information she provided.

In the months after Smith was last seen, officials insisted the case remained a missing-person investigation, even as Creech’s home and vehicle were searched.

Smith, a former UCLA basketball player who worked in Fox's movie distribution department, left a friend's home in Ventura County's Oak Park neighborhood the night of May 1. Wearing purple athletic pants belonging to one of his sons, Smith drove away in his Mercedes, leaving behind his cellphone charger, shaving kit and other items.

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Boot camp counselors face charges of abusing youths

An instructor for a youth boot camp in Los Angeles is due in court this month on charges he beat several kids there and sexually assaulted one of them.

Edgar Alvarado, 36, is charged with three felony counts of causing great bodily injury on a child, one felony count of corporal injury on a child and one felony count of sexual battery. One of the female victims has accused Alvarado of inappropriately touching her.

He is being held in lieu of $480,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in court March 28.

According to Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies, Alvarado and a co-worker, Ruben Romero, continuously hit nine boys and two females ages 12 to 17 years old repeatedly while they attended 180 Recon, a camp meant to reform troubled youths. Alvarado lists himself as a retired Marine on the site.

Romero faces three misdemeanor battery charges and is out on bail.

According to the camp’s website, the program begins with “breaking them down in order to build them back up” as model citizens. Kids who go there may have a bad attitude, skip school, use drugs or exhibit violent or criminal behavior. Recon 180 is supposed to give youths a 180-degree turn in their lives and instill some “good old-fashioned morals,” according to the site.

But that’s not what they received, according to sheriff’s deputies. Instead, they were allegedly physically abused at the company’s Camp Coulter in the Angeles Crest Mountains and at its East L.A. headquarters.

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department asks if anyone has any information to call its special victims bureau at (877) 710-5273.


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Impact of Pope Francis 'unimaginable,' Cardinal Mahony says

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About L.A. Now
L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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