Cases

In my 20 years experience at the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, I've handled just about every kind of case there is. Most of the time my cases don't make the headlines. Most of the time the only people who show up in court are the victims and the families of the defendants. On this page I'm showcasing a few of the cases that did make the headlines as well as some that did not.

People v. HERNANDEZ 
Case No. SA088167



On February 17, 2014 defendant Hernandez together with accomplice Williams, executed a poorly planned but devastatingly violent robbery on a 75 year old store owner. Williams, who punched the defenseless 75 year old victim in the head, never stood trial as he was killed in a car crash while evading police. The victim, a cancer survivor, sadly died before the trial started. The jury was never told why Williams was not on trial - the judge ruled that was too prejudicial. So the trial proceeded without the victim and without the person who brutally attacked a 75 year old man. Thanks to outstanding investigation by LAPD, the evidence showed that Hernandez was the person who planned this crime. Hernandez had been to the store before, and had made threatening statements to the store owner before - all captured on video. Cellphone records established that Hernandez and Williams were communicating before, during and after the robbery. The evidence overcame the defense put forward by Hernandez, who admitted being present and stealing a few items, but denied any knowledge of the person who struck the victim.

Despite the setbacks, the jury saw found Hernandez guilty of Elder Abuse, Robbery and inflicting great bodily injury. In a separate court hearing, the judge found the allegations that Hernandez had previously been convicted of a ‘strike’ to be true.

PEOPLE v. NAVA
Case No. BA317997


Alleged swindler leveraged gang ties, officials say
The real estate agent is accused of defrauding dozens of investors in working-class areas of about $2.6 million.
June 11, 2007 Hector Becerra Times Staff Writer

To those who met him, Tony Nava Jr. exuded success. He was a Realtor who drove fancy cars and boasted of owning one of the most expensive houses in Montebello.

Los Angeles County prosecutors say Nava was a swindler who preyed on people in working-class neighborhoods. They charged Nava with defrauding as many as 80 people -- from housekeepers to a stand-up comedian -- of about $2.6 million.

When "investors" got suspicious, they rarely complained. Why? Because Nava made it clear that he had connections to the Mongols biker gang, according to prosecutors.

Now, Nava, 42, is about to go on trial in a case that reads like a gangster novel, including a shootout with L.A. County sheriff's deputies that left his brother -- a Mongol -- dead.

Investigators are still looking for defrauded investors, and trying to determine whether Nava funneled some proceeds to the gang.

Nava has pleaded not guilty to 86 counts of securities fraud. His attorney did not return calls seeking comment.

Deputy Dist. Atty. David Berger said Nava told people that by investing large amounts of money with him, they would see big returns.

Adrian Ramirez, 30, one of Nava's alleged victims, said he, his parents and grandmother gave Nava more than $200,000.

Ramirez said he met Nava about four years ago while taking real estate classes at a realty company in Monterey Park.

Ramirez said initial investors like himself would bring in additional investors, often family members.

"He told me he was forming a real estate team and wanted young guys who were not tainted by the real estate industry yet," Ramirez said, adding that Nava complimented him for wearing a suit. "He appealed to my ego."

The alleged scheme involved persuading people to invest in "hard-money" loans -- high- interest loans to people who couldn't borrow from banks. In the beginning, Ramirez said, Nava offered returns on the investments, which were not large.
Soon the investments grew. From 2004 to March 2006, 12 people alone invested more than $780,000 with Nava, prosecutors said.

"My father put up about $150,000 from a line of credit off his house," Ramirez said. "I have a very trusting family. They're not business-oriented at all."
In some cases, family members gave more than $350,000 to Nava, always in cash, Berger said.

"One day he bought a Lincoln Navigator, the big ... extended one," Ramirez said. "It didn't dawn on us right away that we just gave him all this money, and he goes out and gets a Lincoln Navigator."

Eventually, people began to get suspicious because they were not receiving investment returns from Nava, Berger said. But he said initially they declined to go to authorities because Nava made it no secret that his brother, Art Nava, was a leader of the Mongols gang.

"Nava presented his brother as a stockbroker by day and Mongol by night," Ramirez said. "He was telling us about his brother the Mongol about the time the money was coming due."

In March 2006, Nava stopped answering his cellphone and disappeared, according to court records. He checked into the Hilton Garden Inn in Montebello. While there, Berger said, he persuaded some of the hotel staff and guests to give him cash for investments.

Then, on Nov. 6, Nava's brother was killed during a shootout with sheriff's deputies in East Los Angeles after a domestic violence call.

With his brother dead, some of the people who gave money to Nava began earlier this year to approach prosecutors and the Montebello Police Department.

But Art Nava's death also led Tony Nava Jr. to make a fateful decision, Berger said.
"He had to get himself protection," he said, which meant solidifying his connection to the Mongols gang.

On March 24, Nava was driving a new BMW 745i in the West Covina area when he suddenly got out of the car and hopped into a friend's Chevrolet Tahoe. A short distance away, the Tahoe was stopped by deputies and Nava was arrested on a $2.5-million arrest warrant. Inside the Tahoe, investigators found a black leather vest with the colors and badge of the Outlaw Mongols, and in one of the pockets, a loaded .45-caliber Colt handgun, court records show.

"You can't wear that badge unless you are a member of that gang," Berger said during a bail hearing. "Otherwise, you will be killed."

While Nava was in custody, Berger said investigators discovered recent tattoos on his arms indicating his membership in the Mongols. Nava faces an additional charge of being an alleged gang member in possession of a gun.

Inside the abandoned BMW, investigators said they found ammunition for the gun, as well as a leather briefcase filled with about 70 "investment agreements."

Berger said investigators are trying to find the people named in the agreements. The forms suggest that these people -- assuming they exist -- gave Nava about $1.6 million.

Nava has changed attorneys, but his onetime lawyer, Attilio M. Regolo Jr., in court described Nava as no threat. Regolo did not return phone calls seeking comment. Neither did Nava's subsequent attorney.




Man Who Posed As Attorney Sentenced in Immigration Fraud Case



By City News Service

POSTED: 03/04/08 

LOS ANGELES - A convicted felon who posed as an attorney and preyed on immigrants seeking "green cards" pleaded guilty Monday to 19 felony counts and was immediately sentenced to 12 years in state prison.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory A. Dohi also ordered Ross Stanley Berton, 61, to pay more than $346,000 in restitution to his victims.

Berton -- who has been jailed since his Jan. 4 arrest -- pleaded guilty to 15 counts of grand theft, two counts of offering false evidence and one count each of forgery and identity theft, according to Deputy District Attorney David Berger.

Fifteen other counts were dismissed as a result of his plea.

Prosecutors said Berton represented himself as an attorney and promised to get green cards for people trying to attain legal residency in the United States in exchange for payments of thousands of dollars.

The criminal complaint also alleged that Berton threatened some clients that he would call Immigration and Customs Enforcement or police and claim that they had made terrorist threats or would be reported as terrorists.

Berton had a lavishly furnished office in the mid-Wilshire area, and victimized people from the Armenian, Iranian, Latino and Russian communities, according to Berger.

http://www.dailynews.com/20080304/man-who-posed-as-attorney-sentenced-in-immigration-fraud-case

ALTERNATIVE SENTENCING COURT
Drug Court Graduation



Drug Court Graduates Get A Chance At A Clean Slate
[Drug Court meets once a week on Friday afternoon. It's a 180 degree change for me, going from my routine assignment where I mostly encounter violent criminals to a place where suitable non-violent offenders with drug addiction problems get a chance to turn their lives around.]

Friday, March 25, 2016 was Good Friday. It was also a particularly good Friday for those of us involved with LA County Superior Court's Alternate Sentencing Courts, in this case the Drug Court at the Airport Courthouse in Department 73. The occasion was the Graduation Ceremony for three brave young women who, thanks to rehabilitation programs run by the Court in conjunction with the Clare Foundation, were able to earn dismissal of their cases and get a chance to become productive members of society.

On graduation day, the courtroom looks very different to its typical appearance - tablecloths adorn counsel tables topped with chips, fresh fruit, and soft drinks. Commissioner Godfrey cedes the bench to a guest speaker who tells the graduates of his struggles and recovery. The graduates themselves, sit in the jury box as a sign that they can now be participants in the justice system, as opposed to defendants. Family members in the audience are now proud to see their children, siblings, or partners in the courtroom, instead of ashamed of them.

I've been the Alternate Sentencing Court Designee for three years now - that's the title of the prosecutor who represents the DA's Office in these Courts. While it's far from a smooth ride for many if not most, and there are bumps on the road to recovery, it is a worthwhile and rewarding cause - not only for those who graduate, but for the Judge, defense attorneys, and yes, even prosecutors, because the reality is that our criminal justice system is better served when we can prevent crime rather than punish it.

So my hearty congratulations to our graduates for turning their lives around and making us proud of them, to their families for supporting them in recovery, to Commissioner Godfrey for her patience and perseverance, to the court staff, and defense bar. This collaborative process only works when all sides of the addiction problem come together to make recovery a reality.

PEOPLE v. SILAGI
Case No. SA082728


On August 22, 2012 the victim, a 33 year old female, was having a late lunch on the sidewalk patio of a restaurant. She was talking on her cellphone when Silagi, recently released from custody, suddenly and without warning, leapt over the railing separating the dining area from the sidewalk and grabbed the cellphone. A short struggle ensued while the victim tried to hold on to her phone, and thankfully a server at the restaurant saw what has happening and came to her aid and pulled Silagi off the victim before she suffered any injury. 

The jury found Silagi guilty of attempted robbery. In a separate trial, the jury also found true the allegation that Silagi had previously be convicted of a ‘strike.’