Sting operation hits Lemon Grove storefront

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Forty-two people were indicted and 32 arrests were announced Dec. 1 as part of a large car theft sting operation in which 117 stolen cars were sold to people out of a Lemon Grove storefront.

Most of the 32 people were arraigned Dec. 2 before San Diego Superior Court Judge David Danielsen and most remain in jail. Several did post bond and all pleaded not guilty.

Forty-two people were indicted and 32 arrests were announced Dec. 1 as part of a large car theft sting operation in which 117 stolen cars were sold to people out of a Lemon Grove storefront.

Most of the 32 people were arraigned Dec. 2 before San Diego Superior Court Judge David Danielsen and most remain in jail. Several did post bond and all pleaded not guilty.

Also seized under the 10-month investigation were 51 firearms, 5.5 pounds of methamphetamine, three kilograms of cocaine, and 15 pounds of marijuana. The stolen cars’ valued total at $1.3 million, according to the District Attorney’s office.

Ten people could not be located and they remain fugitives. The sweeps were conducted by the Regional Auto Theft Team (RATT) with cooperation from La Mesa Police, the sheriff’s department, the California Highway Patrol and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms.

The evidence and testimony were presented to a county grand jury that issued indictments. Most of the defendants were given Jan. 20, 2017 trial dates, and readiness conferences for Dec. 20 and 21. A few of the defendants are charged alone in a lone indictment, and others in groups of two to five.

Most of the charges are auto theft, receiving stolen property, and identity theft. The sting was known as “Operation Kwik Boost.” The DA’s office said the range of sentences vary from three to 25 years in prison, depending on whether offenders had a prior record.      

El Cajon doctor pleads guilty in illegally prescribing painkillers

An El Cajon physician pleaded guilty Nov. 30 to seven counts of illegally prescribing painkillers for patients with no medical necessity.

Dr. Naga Raja Thota, 62, ran a pain management center on Navajo Road when he was charged in August. Two people who were described as young women claimed the prescriptions were written in exchange for sex.

In the plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s office, Thota admitted he prescribed oxycodone and hydrocodone for patients in the names of the brother and father of one woman in order to supply her with the painkillers. The brother and father were not patients.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernard Skomal set sentencing for Feb. 21, 2017. Thota remains free on $100,000 bond. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

“This defendant abused his power to prescribe and exploited the desperation of his opioid-addicted patients when abuse and overdose are at crisis levels,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy in a statement.

“We are going after doctors who are not worthy of a patient’s trust,” said Duffy.

El Cajon couple spared prison sentence

An El Cajon couple was spared prison Nov. 29 and placed on three years probation after they agreed to pay $18,270 to their Indonesian maid who claimed she was forced to work for them without pay.

An Arabic interpreter translated the proceedings for Firas Ghazi Majeed, 45, and his wife, Shatha Abbas, 39, as they appeared before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Jan Adler in San Diego.

The couple moved here from Iraq as refugees three years ago and they are permanent legal residents, said Majeed’s attorney Michael Berg.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Tenorio said the $18,270 represents full payment to W.M., the woman who said she was held involuntarily and forced to care for Abbas’ elderly parents who were also lived with them in El Cajon, and the household with two children.

The amount includes 2,500 hours plus 800 hours of overtime as computed by the U.S. of Labor in its Wage and Hour division, according to court records. The victim spoke no English, did not know anyone in the U.S. and felt very isolated.

Her plight came to the attention of the U.S. Homeland Security department after she gave a visiting health worker a note in Arabic. The note was translated to Homeland Security and they paid a visit to the couple on March 22.

Agents discovered that W.M. was being forced to work without pay and took her into protective custody. Majeed and Abbas were arrested and $7,280 in cash was seized in their home in the 1000 block of Mollison Ave.

The $7,280 was given to W.M., and the couple paid an additional $10,990 that was given to the maid as part of a plea agreement that resolved their federal case. They both pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of concealing the maid’s passport from her in order to maintain her labor and services unlawfully.

Felony charges of forced labor and trafficking involving forced labor were dismissed. Majeed and Abbas received credit for serving several days in jail before they posted $10,000 bond each.

The victim was bi in court, but was represented by attorney Heather Beugen who said, “this woman feels very violated by all parties and all she wants to do is go home.”

Beugen asked the judge to either order the couple or the U.S. government to pay for a flight back to Indonesia, but Adler said that was not part of the plea agreement. She arrived in the U.S. in November 2015 and began working immediately for the couple.

Majeed told the judge he “apologizes for what happened” and assured Adler he would not repeat the offense. He said he could not go back to Iraq where he worked as a civil engineer. His wife also said she was “deeply sorry.”