Monthly Archives: May 2012

Irvine man arrested in wife’s slaying

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IRVINE – A 39-year-old man who called police to tell them he had killed his wife has been arrested, police said.

Shalabh Rastogi was being held in Men’s Central Jail as of Tuesday morning in lieu of $1 million bail and is expected to appear in court Wednesday.

Watch video from the scene.

Rastogi called dispatchers at 9:40 p.m. Monday to tell them he had killed his wife earlier in the day, said Lt. Julia Engen of the Irvine Police Department.

Officers arrived at the couple’s apartment on Monte Vista and took Rastogi into custody without incident, police said. Inside, officers found the body of Rastogi’s wife.

Rastogi, who according to court records works in finance, has been cooperative with investigators, officials said.

Officials suspect Rastogi killed his wife of 13 years after an argument, but officials would not expand on the details of the disagreement Tuesday.

The couple had been living in the apartment for eight months with their three children, Engen said. They were not home at the time of the incident.

Authorities are still looking into the cause of death but said there is no indication that a weapon was used.

The name of Rastogi’s wife has not been released.


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Police: Man suspected of theft at CVS can’t get car started

STANTON – Car trouble helped land a man in jail when the 23-year-old was not able to start his car after being accused of stealing from a CVS, authorities said.

The man was still sitting in the parking lot Monday trying to start his car when deputies arrived, said Lt. Roland Chacon of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

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The deputies were called at 2:18 p.m. to a CVS at the 1200 block of Beach Boulevard after receiving reports that a man grabbed several items from the shelves and ran, Chacon said.

“He was seen getting into a vehicle and apparently had trouble starting it,” he said.

When deputies arrived, Louie Melendrez was still sitting inside the car and refused to get out, Chacon said. Deputies were able to take the man out of the vehicle without incident.

Deputies found in the vehicle multiple items suspected of being stolen from the CVS, Chacon said.

Melendrez is in Men’s Central Jail and was being held in lieu of $20,000 bail.


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Ex-appraiser arrested in probe of assessor’s office

Scott SchenterA former Los Angeles County property appraiser accused of improperly slashing the value on more than 100 Westside homes and businesses was taken into custody in Oregon on Monday, marking the first arrest in the wide-ranging corruption probe into the assessor’s office.

Prosecutors say Scott Schenter, 49, falsified department documents and unlawfully lowered property values by $172 million for multimillion-dollar homes and businesses. Schenter allegedly secured campaign contributions from the owners for Assessor John Noguez, authorities said.

“The magnitude of Schenter’s suspected betrayal of public trust is almost inconceivable,” Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooleysaid in a prepared statement. “We believe his actions are not isolated.”

Schenter, who resigned in lieu of termination in January 2011 after a supervisor discovered his alleged misconduct, is accused of 60 felony counts of falsifying records. U.S. marshals arrested Schenter at his father’s home in Hillsboro, a suburb of Portland,Ore., according to Eric Wahlstrom, spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service.

Prosecutors say they don’t know when Schenter will be extradited to Los Angeles.

Schenter told The Times last month that he secretly and improperly lowered property values to reduce the owners’ tax bills. He said he did it in the hope that the wealthy property owners would donate to Noguez.

Schenter also said Noguez offered him a promotion and, along with several top aides, had applied “brutal” pressure to raise campaign funds.

Through a spokesman, Noguez has denied offering Schenter a promotion, instructing him to lower the values of the Westside properties or asking him to approach the owners for contributions.

Noguez acknowledged, however, that he had asked Schenter to “check the status” of some of the properties. He has also admitted asking Schenter to help raise money for his campaign.

On Monday, Noguez’s attorney, Michael Proctor, said his client “intends to remain cooperative with this investigation. While I cannot comment directly on the new charges today, I remain convinced that as the facts come out people will understand that he has conducted his affairs in conformity with the law.”

Cooley has identified Noguez as a primary target of the broader influence-peddling investigation, which began last year. Also under scrutiny are several high-ranking assessor’s office employees and Noguez campaign contributors, including tax consultant Ramin Salari.

Salari’s clients dominated the list of property owners who received improper tax breaks from Schenter. Salari has denied any wrongdoing.

Last week, Cooley publicly urged Noguez to resign after warning that indictments are imminent. Noguez has also denied any wrongdoing and said he has no intention of stepping down.

In addition to Schenter’s alleged crimes, Cooley said his investigators were reviewing between 100 and 200 transactions in which top Noguez aides lowered assessed property values — often for generous contributors — despite appraisals done by assessor’s office staff showing the values should be higher.

In April, Cooley’s investigators searched Noguez’s home and office. They also searched the offices of top aides Mark McNeil and Andrew Stephens, the two men Noguez appointed to oversee reductions shortly after his election in November 2010.

Investigators also searched Salari’s Phoenix-area home and business, and two Internet service providers.

Before his resignation in 2011, Schenter had worked in the assessor’s office for more than 20 years, mostly appraising properties on the Westside. He was suspended in 2009 for violating the office’s code of ethics, records show, but the documents reveal no details about the case.

In his April interview with The Times, Schenter said Noguez had promised him a promotion in the summer of 2010 when Noguez was a high-ranking assessor’s office executive running for the agency’s top job.

After that, Schenter said the pressure to raise money for the campaign was constant and “brutal.” Although he contributed $1,000 himself and got friends to give money, he said Noguez would call him “to say ‘Hey, Scott, we need more people; we’re way behind in donations.’ “


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Nuevo man held, accused in brazen Bellagio heist

ImageBy Las Vegas standards, the night was young when two men entered the Bellagio at 10:45 Saturday and made a beeline for the table games.

The two weren’t there for traditional gambling, though. Armed with pepper spray and disguised by wigs and sunglasses, the men made a bold bid to grab and make off with more than $100,000 worth of casino chips, according to a Metro Police arrest report released Monday.

Bellagio employees foiled the robbery and captured 24-year-old Michael Quinn Belton, of Nuevo, Calif., police said. His alleged accomplice ran from the casino and remained at large Monday.

The botched robbery lasted less than a minute, triggering a brief period of chaos as casino employees and security reacted on a busy Saturday night, said Richard Hauck, a patron sitting at the blackjack table where the robbery occurred.

Hauck and his wife were playing at the $100 minimum-bet table when the suspects appeared and — without saying a word — attempted the robbery, he said.

Belton’s accomplice, described as a white or Hispanic man wearing a white shirt, used the pepper spray on the blackjack dealer and Hauck, temporarily disabling them, according to the arrest report. Meanwhile, Belton grabbed 23 “Flags” — red, white and blue chips each valued at $5,000 — from the table, according to the arrest report.

At first, Hauck said he and his wife assumed the situation was an elaborate prank involving a malfunctioning squirt gun.

“The guy kept spraying and the thing wouldn’t work,” said Hauck, who’s visiting from Gates Mills, Ohio. “The spray kept falling on the table.”

When the spray canister finally worked, Hauck said they experienced a burning sensation in their eyes and concern set in.

“We didn’t know if the guy had a weapon,” he said.

A casino floor supervisor saw the robbery attempt and grabbed Belton. The two wrestled until casino security officers arrived to help, the report said.

Belton eventually surrendered, and authorities confiscated all 23 stolen chips — valued at $115,000, police said.

Belton, who donned a black wig and sunglasses during the failed robbery, confessed and told Metro Police detectives the plot involved two other men, the report said.

Belton said the man armed with pepper spray was “Carlos.” Belton told detectives a third man named Carlos Rodriguez was the mastermind who had recruited them to help, according to the arrest report.

Seeking employment, Belton told police he met Rodriguez after responding to a Craigslist ad about a job repossessing cars. Belton then traveled to Las Vegas with Rodriguez, who had posted the ad.

It was then that Rodriguez, 43, shared with Belton his plans to rob the Bellagio and solicited his help, Belton told police.

“Rodriguez informed Belton that he was a ‘high roller’ gambler in Las Vegas and would be able to later exchange the stolen chips for money, which he would split among the suspects,” according to the arrest report.

Belton said Rodriguez told him and the other “Carlos” to use the pepper spray, steal the chips and discard their disguises after leaving the casino, the report states.

Detectives recovered a Mandalay Bay room key from Belton, who told police he was supposed to meet Rodriguez there after the robbery.

A police check with Mandalay Bay employees showed Rodriguez was a registered guest, but he had never checked into his complimentary room from the Mandalay Bay Player’s Club.

Before detectives interviewed Belton, he asked them, “How long am I going away for?” the report said. Belton also told police he participated in the heist because he was unemployed and his grandparents were ill.

Police arrested Belton and booked him into the Clark County Detention Center, where he is being held on $60,000 bail.

Belton was charged with two counts of robbery, one count of burglary and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery, according to a criminal complaint filed Monday.

The arrest report indicates neither Rodriguez nor the other “Carlos” has been located. Rodriguez, a California resident, is described as about 5-feet-11-inches tall and 210 pounds with black hair and brown eyes.

Metro spokesman Jose Hernandez, however, would not confirm the status of the other two suspects, citing the ongoing investigation. The department also is not releasing Belton’s booking photo.

“Our guys are working very hard to try to get this solved,” Hernandez said.

The Haucks, who are staying at the Bellagio, said they are enjoying the rest of their trip, which ends Wednesday.

Hauck, a frequent Las Vegas guest, called the incident troubling but not a deal-breaker. He and his wife hope to see more security officers on casino floors in the wake of the robbery attempt.

“If you saw them, you’d feel a lot more comfortable,” he said, adding he hadn’t noticed any security officers before the incident.

The couple vow they’ll be back to visit despite this trip’s adventure.

“We’re happy with the way the Bellagio handled it,” Hauck said.


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Missing teen Sierra LaMar believed dead, sheriff says

Investigators said Tuesday that “direct and circumstantial” evidence leads them to believe that a 21-year-old man kidnapped and killed 15-year-old Sierra LaMar, a high school cheerleader who disappeared in March on her way to school.

Antolin Garcia-TorresSanta Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith revealed more information about the case against Antolin Garcia-Torres, who was arrested Monday night at a Safeway in Morgan Hill. Investigators said they believe Garcia-Torres, a Morgan Hill resident, picked Sierra at random.

“We believe this is the worst kind of crime — a stranger abduction of a young girl,” Smith said during a news conference held to discuss the investigation and arrest.

Officers found DNA on a bag containing the girl’s clothes discovered two days after her disappearance, Smith said. After receiving lab results March 28, Smith said investigators identified Garcia-Torres as the suspect and began around-the-clock surveillance on him.

“We needed additional information,” Smith said. “We were hoping he would lead us to where Sierra was.”

Smith did not elaborate on why detectives made the arrest Monday but cited “public safety as our primary concern.””Even though we had been surveilling him, surveillance is not perfect,” she said. “We wanted to make sure this did not happen again.”

Smith said evidence linking the girl to Garcia-Torres’ vehicle was also recovered when a Jetta was found May 8. Smith declined to elaborate on what type of DNA evidence was found but said it did not include the girl’s blood.

Investigators also linked Garcia-Torres to a March 2009 assault in Morgan Hill through DNA evidence, Smith said. She did not reveal the specifics of the incident.

Garcia-Torres has a criminal record, Smith said. He was previously convicted of interfering with a police officer and was arrested but not prosecuted in connection with a felony assault. Smith declined to elaborate on the incidents but said the assault was not sexual.

Several details are not known about Sierra’s disappearance, Smith said, including where her body is, how she was killed or when. Smith said investigators hope the suspect will be more forthcoming in future interviews.

Although Sierra’s body has not been found, Smith said detectives have “strong facts” she was killed.

“These are very, very difficult cases to prosecute, a homicide when you have not found a victim,” she said. “But it has been done.”

The girl’s mother, Marlene LaMar, thanked the searchers who continued to look for her daughter. She also addressed the suspect, asking him to “say where she is.”

“Please, please, give the information that you have to lead us to Sierra to help end this nightmare,” she said.


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LAKELAND VILLAGE: Domestic violence suspect shot by deputy

Deputies responding to a report of domestic violence near Lake Elsinore shot and wounded a 28-year-old man Monday, May 21, authorities said.

Alejandro Lopez, of Lake Elsinore, suffered non-life-threatening injuries, Riverside County sheriff’s officials said.

Deputies responded to the domestic violence report in the 33000 block of Olive Tree Lane in the unincorporated Lakeland Village area about 8:30 a.m., said Deputy Albert Martinez, a sheriff’s spokesman.

They met a woman outside the home who said Lopez, her estranged boyfriend, had assaulted her and was still in the house, Martinez said.

The woman said Lopez was behaving erratically and had threatened to harm himself, sheriff’s officials said.

Deputies ordered Lopez outside but he did not respond, Martinez said. Fearing he had hurt himself, deputies went inside.

Lopez became violent with the deputies and one deputy shot at Lopez, wounding him, Martinez said.

Martinez said he did not know if Lopez was armed.

Lopez was taken by ambulance to a hospital.

No deputies were injured.

According to department policy, the deputies involved have been placed on paid administrative leave.

Their names were not released.


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NORCO: Two found dead at home

Sheriff’s homicide investigators are at a home in  Norco, where two people were found dead earlier tonight.

Sheriff’s deputies were called to a disturbance tonight in the 4000 block of Crestview Drive and found the two people dead, apparently of stab wounds, said Deputy Albert Martinez, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department.

No other information was available.


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