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Miss Teen case underscores ‘sextortion’ dangers

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Cassidy Wolf of Temecula is crowned Miss Teen USA 2013 on Aug. 10. Wolf, 19, says someone hacked into her computer and activated her webcam to get nude photos of her and then tried to extort her for more. The practice of “sextortion” is becoming more widespread, authorities say.

It’s been called “sextortion,” and sex crime investigators said it’s becoming too common.

Earlier this week, the FBI confirmed it was investigating a case of alleged sextortion involving more than a dozen victims, including Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf of Temecula. The case has garnered national media attention and shed light on a form of sexual extortion that law enforcement officials are coming across more often each day. Victims are younger, and technology has made it easier for perpetrators to zero in on victims, officials said.

Using a sexually compromising photo or video, predators try to extort more images from victims. If the victims refuse, they threaten to publish the image online or email it to friends, family or classmates. The initial picture may not be pornographic, but risqué enough to cause embarrassment. But the predator pushes for more explicit pictures and, with a gradual bank of embarrassing images, extorts more from the victim.

“The goal is to get more images,” said Wade Walsvick, an investigator with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and a member of the Child Exploitation Task Force.

Wolf’s case is the most recent high-profile investigation involving sextortion, but officials said the practice has become very widespread, with predators using websites to trade images like currency, and some are amassing sexually explicit libraries of dozens of targeted victims.

“It’s a commodity,” Walsvick said. “They spend so much time getting new girls to do stuff, and acquiring as much as they can.”

Wolf told reporters someone hacked into her computer to turn its webcam on, but officials said most cases are not as sophisticated.

About two cases a month will come across Walsvick’s desk involving some sort of sextortion, he said, and many of them involve former boyfriends or friends who threaten victims when the relationship sours. Some of the cases involve suspects pretending to be someone else closer to the victim’s age, seeking them out in video chat rooms to record sexually compromising video.

Victims have been as young as 9 years old, he said.

“These are just normal kids,” he said.

In some cases, a perpetrator finds a video online and then seeks out the victim to extort new sexually explicit images, he said.

One of the most egregious cases he’s worked originated about six years ago, Walsvick said, when a 12-year-old victim went into a video chat.

“She engaged with a kid she thought was 12 years old,” Walsvick said. “That video has followed that young (girl) for six years.”

The explicit 10-minute video was posted on dozens of websites. The Orange County girl has been contacted about a dozen times in the last three years by predators who found the video and then contacted her online, he said.

“She went through four different high schools, five different junior highs, threats every other 10 months,” he said.

Walsvick has contacted multiple websites to have the video removed on the grounds that it is child pornography. He’s attempted to reach the person who originally posted it, but the video has continued to make its way through pornographic websites.

Some of the websites are taken down, only to resurface days later with another address.

Suspects can be blunt and forceful as well, Walsvick said. One victim received an email resembling a formal business letter, Walsvick said, asking for sexually explicit pictures or threatening to publish images. The suspect included links to the Facebook profiles of the victim’s relatives.

Some have gone through with the threat, he said, including one case in which the suspect emailed a nude picture to teachers at a girl’s school.

“They’re usually pretty ruthless because they don’t know them,” he said.

Last year, two sisters – ages 9 and 10 – told their parents someone was asking them to send sexual pictures through their iPod touch. After investigators were called, the girls’ parents told investigators they didn’t even know their daughters could connect online with their iPods.

The practice has expanded, making it more difficult for investigators to keep up. Authorities have found websites dedicated to the practice, complete with sexual videos, comment sections and links to the social network profiles of a victim. In the comment threads, some of the websites’ visitors make requests of what videos they’d like the perpetrator to obtain, Walsvick said.

“It’s just a different breed of bad guys,” he said.

The vast majority of victims tend to be girls, and the websites provide a way for many of them to be victimized repeatedly when they are contacted by new perpetrators.

Some suspects spend vast amounts of time trying to collect the material. After the parents of an Orange County high school student found suspicious texts on her phone in January, investigators began looking into the source.

Walsvick said officials found 33 teenage girls from the same Orange County high school were contacted by the same 17-year-old, whose profile included a picture of him posing in a bowling alley.

“It turned out to be a 38-year-old man who lived with his mother in Ohio,” Walsvick said.

Using the same lines of conversation with the girls, the man reached out to them via Facebook. The girls had first agreed to connect with him because he was friends – on Facebook – with common friends.

Most of the girls rebuffed his advances, he said, but the online conversations “showed what he was doing,” Walsvick said. “He was using the same lines with all 33 girls.”

In his home, investigators found a trove of pictures and images of young victims. Ohio authorities told Orange County officials they “had so much investigative material, so many girls, (they) just need to weed through it.”

Walsvick has investigated sex crimes for about 16 years, and many times parents are not aware of their child’s online activities, he said. They are also not aware how easy it may be for predators to target children for sexually explicit images and then extort them for more.

Throughout the school year, Walsvick and other investigators go to Orange County high schools and middle schools to educate parents about social media use, and the importance of parents keeping an eye on their child’s online interactions.

“I love talking to the parents because I figure, this is going to happen a lot because kids are going to be kids,” he said. “So I tell parents, it’s becoming upon you to monitor what your kids are doing. It just doesn’t happen overnight.”



If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.



Rescued hiker pleads guilty to drug charge

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Nicolas Cendoya and his attorney, Paul Meyer, listen as Judge Gerald G. Johnston as he rules that neither the OCFA nor Nick Papageorge’s IV, the injured rescue volunteer, qualify as victims under the state’s Marsy’s Law during Cendoya’s arraignment in Santa Ana. Cendoya is one of two hikers rescued after becoming lost for days in Trabuco Canyon. Cendoya is charged with possession of methamphetamine, which investigators say they found in the car the pair took to the canyon for hiking.

SANTA ANA – One of two teenage hikers rescued during a four-day search of the rugged terrain around Holy Jim Canyon earlier this year pleaded guilty Friday to drug possession and was ordered to complete a drug-diversion program.

Superior Court Judge Gerald Johnston issued the order for Nicolas Cendoya, 20, after finding that neither the Orange County Fire Authority nor a searcher who suffered major injuries qualified as victims in the case under Marsy’s Law, the victims bill of rights passed by California voters in 2008.

The fire authority and Nick Papageorge’s IV, 20, of Rancho Santa Margarita, who broke his back when he tumbled down a 110-foot cliff and had to undergo several surgeries, were seeking restitution from Cendoya under that law.

Cendoya faced a sentence ranging from probation to three years in jail. By law, he was eligible for the drug-diversion program, prosecutors said. If he completes it successfully, his plea will be set aside and the case dismissed.

Lawyers for Papageorge’s IV and the fire authority were unsuccessful in arguing that their clients were victims and should get restitution.

“This particular crime was not victimless,” Robert Kaufman, attorney for the fire authority, told Johnston. “Papageorge’s knows that, the people of the county know that.”

“I just can’t find that this crime was committed against either” of them, Johnston concluded after listening to arguments from all sides.

But he prefaced his comments by saying he did not want the “tragedy suffered” by Papageorge’s to be lost in the legal arguments, saying there was a very real human element to the case.

He called Papageorge’s actions “selfless” and the injuries he sustained as possibly derailing his future aspirations.

“There’s a lot of tragedy surrounding this case,” Johnston said.

Papageorge’s’ attorney, Eric Dubin, said afterward he will continue to seek justice for his client.

“We have a true hero … my job today was to ensure that he receives justice and that quest does not end today,” Dubin said.

After several surgeries and more than $350,000 in medical expenses, Papageorge’s has two titanium rods and 11 metal screws and pins in his back from when he fell in Holy Jim Canyon on April 3.

The four-day search effort garnered national media attention and required more than 1,900 man-hours before rescuers found Kyndall Jack, 18, and Cendoya, who had walked into the wilderness near the canyon on Easter Sunday.

Both were found alive – although dazed and dehydrated – after the massive search by sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and volunteers. It was during the search that deputies found methamphetamine in Cendoya’s vehicle, which led to the felony charge.

Authorities say the rescue effort cost an estimated $160,000, as personnel from the Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles county sheriff’s departments and the Orange County Fire Authority were involved.

Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer attended Friday’s court hearing and said afterward that the judge’s “ruling sends a message to anybody engaged in unlawful activity that they can engage in that unlawful activity and have Orange County Fire Authority rescue them and not be held accountable for their illegal and reckless behavior.”

Cendoya’s attorney, Paul Meyer, said the judge made the right call.

“The law is clear and we’ll be complying,” Meyer said.

Register Staff Writer Larry Welborn contributed to this report.



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Police: Victim of gunshot in Orange survives surgery

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Orange Police officers search for evidence after a 21-year-old man standing in the 1900 block of East Adams Avenue in Orange was shot by a suspect or suspects in a car about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night.

ORANGE – A 21-year-old shooting victim who was listed in serious condition Tuesday night survived his surgery, police said.

Tuesday night, Orange police said the man was struck by gunfire shortly after 8:30 p.m. in the 1900 block of East Adams Street.

Orange police Sgt. Fred Lopez said it was unknown if the shooter was on foot or in a car.

Investigators on Tuesday night were canvassing the area for witnesses.

Authorities have not released a description of the person or persons sought in the shooting.

Police are asking anyone with information to call the department at 714-744-7444.



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Realignment causes scrutiny of county jails

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Low-level inmates clear out of a walkway for passing deputies at the Theo Lacy jail in Orange.

SANTA ANA – Lawsuits against the state prison system are filtering down to the local level, while Orange County officials continue to cautiously make major changes in local lockups.

With the state making court-mandated changes to its overcrowded prisons, county jails in recent months have seen more inmates, a higher demand for health services, longer sentences and convicts with more serious offenses on their record. The plan, known as “realignment,” has led to counties making changes to jails that were not designed to hold inmates for long sentences.

Now some counties are facing lawsuits from advocates of inmate’s rights, who allege that the jails have subpar conditions similar to those that sparked suits against the state’s prison system.

Alameda and Fresno were sued after the state’s prison realignment took effect in October 2011. Attorneys served Riverside County with a suit earlier this week and Monterey County is expecting a lawsuit. Orange County is not facing a suit, but officials said they are keeping a close eye on the pending court battles.

Sheriff’s officials said they have acted quickly to implement major changes in Orange County jails to accommodate the influx of state prisoners. They have proceeded cautiously, knowing they are under the careful scrutiny of government agencies and lawyers advocating for inmates’ rights.

“From the Sheriff Department’s perspective, it’s always been that way. We’ve always been under scrutiny,” said Cmdr. Steve Kea, who oversees jail operations. “We’re comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Visiting local jails

Inmate rights advocates have also been visiting county facilities to inspect housing and health care. Next week, officials expect attorneys to monitor parole hearings in Orange County.

“I think every sheriff’s department in the state will be,” under scrutiny, Kea said.

Yet, Orange County has been able to handle the influx better than many other counties. While some departments are already facing overcrowded jails, Orange County had empty beds when realignment was first implemented. The county leased some of the empty beds to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, helping bridge budget gaps.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department has worked closely with other agencies – including the county’s Health Care Agency – to address demands in the jail, Kea said.

“The state didn’t have time to plan this, and some of it happened on the fly,” he said, calling it the “biggest culture change in a generation.”

In Orange County inmates are now serving longer sentences, leaving fewer empty beds and increasing the demand for services behind bars. In September 2012, the average sentence served in Orange County jail was 165 days, an increase of 52 days – or nearly 50 percent – when compared to January 2012.

Sheriff’s officials saw a surge in inmate requests to see a nurse, prompting the department to implement on March 1 a $3 visit fee to cut down on the number of frivolous requests. Since then, the department has seen a 50 percent reduction in requests, though they expect the number to gradually rise, Kea said.

Inmates won’t be denied care, Kea said, and those who can’t pay the fee will still be allowed to see a nurse.

Jail officials are now providing long-term health services that were not previously provided to inmates.

Officials were looking at setting up a dialysis station in Theo Lacy Jail, but never followed through on the plan because of costs.

“It just was a more complicated and expensive system than they expected,” Kea said. Inmates who need dialysis will continue being bused to West Anaheim Medical Center for the care.

Under scrutiny

Yet the Sheriff’s Department has been facing scrutiny even before realignment was implemented.

After the 2006 killing of John Chamberlain in Theo Lacy Jail, the Sheriff’s Department instituted several changes. At the time, deputies were found to be sleeping in the guard station, playing video games and using inmates to control other prisoners, a grand jury investigation found.

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice opened a review of the county’s jail system in 2008. Federal officials are expected to close out the investigation this year.

Major changes have occurred since, and in 2009 a grand jury report applauded changes in the jail – most done under Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.

The department has also made several structural changes since a federal appellate court ruled the county was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit alleged the sheriff’s department was not providing disabled inmates access to facilities and programs.

Authorities are keeping a close eye on other lawsuits and rulings, as well as the needs of the inmates, Kea said.

“It’s also a matter of implementing as many things as you can,” he said. “It’s certainly a challenge.”



If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.



Irvine couple mourned at crash site

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Debby Rodriguez, left, gives Tami Crowell a hug during a curbside memorial to her parents, Richard and Sharon Crowell, who were struck and killed while walking to the gym on Eastwood in Irvine Tuesday morning.

IRVINE – Over 100 childhood friends, family members and longtime neighbors gathered Friday on an Irvine sidewalk where a married couple was struck by a car and killed.

Rick Crowell, 65, and Sharon Crowell, 61, were hit by a car on Eastwood on Tuesday morning. Sharon was found beneath the wreckage and was declared dead on the scene by paramedics. Rick was transported to a hospital but died a short time later, officials said.

“My mom was my best friend,” said Tami Crowell, the couple’s daughter, at Friday evening’s vigil. “So, not only did I lose my mother, I lost my best friend, too.”

Tami stood next to her brother Casey as neighbors and friends shared memories of their parents. Many who attended the vigil described Rick as friendly man who volunteered his time with youth football leagues and always greeted everyone, “even if he didn’t know them,” Tami said.

“They were as sweet as can be,” said Bill Tasher, who said he knew Rick for over 20 years growing up in El Segundo. “They loved living here and taking advantage of the peace and tranquility of the neighborhood.”

Friends at the vigil said Rick and Sharon were on their way to the Custom Bodies Fitness gym when the crash occurred. Employees at the gym said police officers came in that morning with the couple’s gym badges to try to identify them.

Authorities said a 17-year-old on his way to school veered onto a walkway lined with bushes. His car struck the couple before coming to a stop against a retaining wall and a tree. He stayed on the scene and cooperated with police after the crash. There are no charges pending against the boy, the Irvine Police Department said.

Several people at the vigil said the boy was a Northwood High School student on his way to school. He wasn’t at school the day after the crash, said M’Lis Fox, whose daughter goes to school with the boy. High school students at the vigil said Advanced Placement testing was scheduled for the day of the fatal crash.

A weeklong fundraiser for the couple’s family will be held starting Monday at Northwood Pizza. A percentage of the proceeds will go to the family, which plans to use it for a memorial near where the couple was killed.



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Police investigating death of woman as homicide

Anaheim Police are investigating the death of Nancy Corona, 23, of Anaheim in the 500 block of E. South St.

Police received a call about a woman in her 20s found unresponsive near a car at 6:51 a.m. Saturday in a ground level parking structure of an apartment complex, said Sgt. Darron Wyatt of Anaheim Police. Investigators are looking into the death as a homicide, and the investigation is ongoing, Wyatt said.

“I think a passerby saw something that didn’t look right and called us,” he said

Officers arrived on scene and found Corona had been shot in her upper body, said Sgt. Bob Dunn of Anaheim Police.

“We believe she suffered at least one gun shot wound and in that location,” Dunn said.

Police do not have any suspects at this time, and the motive for the shooting is still under investigation.

Police are asking anyone with information about this incident to call 1-855-847-6227.



If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.



19-year-old in critical condition after Anaheim stabbing

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Anaheim police officers investigate after a male was stabbed in the 100 block of West Guinida Lane early Monday morning in Anaheim.

ANAHEIM – A 19-year-old man was stabbed and left in critical condition Monday, as authorities also identified another 19-year-old who died after an apparently unrelated stabbing in a different Anaheim neighborhood over the weekend.

Officers about 3:30 a.m. Monday responded to reports of a man suffering from stab wounds knocking on doors in the 100 block of West Guinida Lane and asking for help, Anaheim police Sgt. Bob Dunn said.

The man, who had suffered multiple stab wounds to his upper body, was taken to UCI Medical Center in Orange, where he was listed in critical condition.

Investigators believe the stabbing may have occurred after the man confronted some people in a nearby alley. Police described the man as a documented gang member and say the stabbing is believed to be gang-related.

The stabbing came two days after a confrontation in a different Anaheim neighborhood left another 19-year-old, who police Monday identified as Andrew Pacheco of Anaheim, fatally injured.

Investigators believe Pacheco and 10 to 15 other people were walking in the 2400 block of West Ball Road shortly before 11:50 p.m. Saturday when a vehicle occupied by four males pulled up near them.

Two men got out of the car, singled Pacheco out of the crowd and asked if he had any gang affiliation, Dunn said.

The confrontation turned physical, Dunn said, and Pacheco was stabbed once or twice in the abdomen. The two assailants reportedly yelled out their gang name before driving away.

Pacheco, who police say has no known gang ties, was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead Sunday afternoon.

While both stabbings are believed to be gang-related, authorities say there is no link between the two incidents.

No suspects in either stabbing have been identified, Dunn said, and no arrests have been reported.

Authorities are asking anyone with information to contact Orange County Crime Stoppers at 855-847-6227.



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