Ah! Humanity!

Guy Bennett’s life is a mess.

A little bit is known about his roots. He was born on December 5, 1964. A drifter, he spent time in Wyoming and Nevada before making his way to California. He has been perennially homeless, unless you consider a tent to be his home. Until recently he was living in the riverbed of what was then the dry Cajon Creek, not far from the junction of the 15 Freeway and Highway 138. He was since obliged to move his tent up out of the creek, which in recent weeks and days was transformed into a raging bank-to-bank river.

No one, including Guy Bennett, knows the full range of what led him to this juncture. Clearly, his life has been a succession of bad experiences. He speaks of having been forced into a foster home against his will at a young age, which explicates, perhaps, his resistance to authority. For most people, rules are good. Guy Bennett is not like most people. He will point out, even if you spend only a little time with him, that sometimes authority figures abuse their role in life, including cops, politicians and everyone with authority right down the line.

Those painful experiences with people also serve to explain Bennett’s isolation. His aversion is less to people than it is to the society of people and the institutions they inhabit. Those institutions have for the most part neglected him and on those occasions when they have not been neglectful, they appear to have failed him. But Bennett’s lot in life has not been entirely externally imposed. His fate is every bit as much, if not more, of a function of his inner self. For starters, he is mentally ill. It is hard for a layman to define which category or categories of psychosis he fits into, but he is clearly not in possession of his full range of faculties. He is resistant in the extreme to advice, even when it is sincerely offered with his best interest in mind. After being told in advance of the seasonal storms that he should remove his tent from the creek bed, he remained there. It was only when the storm demonstrated to him in physical terms what was to befall him if he remained in place that he moved up onto the riverbank near a clump of bushes. He has an affinity for intoxicants, if they come his way, though that is rare, given his financial state. Passersby have bought him alcohol. When other vagabonds who had set up temporary quarters nearby offered to smoke some of their methamphetamine with him recently, he took them up on the offer. When assistance, real assistance in the form of food or an article of clothing, is offered him, he does not seem grateful, but will remark to his benefactor that he would be able to get by anyway.

Still, other times he becomes morose, saying there is nothing in life for him and that he wants to die or that he wished he had the means to kill himself.

There is a paradox to Guy Bennett. He is absolutely incapable of fending for himself. There appears little prospect he ever will. He does not have the patience, skill set, means, attitude or social grace to fit in with what passes as normal society. It seems doubtful he would ever be able to hold a job. Yet he has exhibited a remarkable endurance in living in conditions a huge segment of the population could not hack. He has survived conditions that would kill many others. If he were a woman, or if he had children, or if he were a veteran, then there would be some kind of assistance for him that he might rely on. For him, there is no meaningful assistance. As a man who cannot fend for himself, he must fend for himself.

Reduced to living not only off the land but on it, the elements have taken their toll on him. Last fall, when it rained, he, all of his clothes, his tent and his bedding were soaked. Living in the dampness, he contracted pneumonia. Somehow – no one quite knows how – he wangled a membership in IEHP, the Inland Empire Health Plan. But when he went to IEHP for assistance, the care they offered him was inadequate. They would not hospitalize him or get him out of his wet tent. The health plan did not arrange for him to have his bedding dried. He was turned out into the cold November air, which a few weeks later became the even colder December night air. He is bitter about the way he was shunned by IEHP, in no little measure because he has not had a proper bath or shower for going on eight months. His experience with the Inland Empire Health Plan, which has so far refused to provide him with the care he needs and to which he is entitled as a member, has added to his disillusionment. “Nobody cares about my life,” he laments. “What’s the use? It’ll never work.” Others have sought to assist him by telling him he simply needs to have faith and change his attitude. But when they intercede on his behalf with IEHP, they are met with an object demonstration of what Bennett has been dealing with. To even consider the matter, IEHP insists that those who are working on his behalf furnish it with Bennett’s IEHP membership number and his social security number. While Bennett previously allowed his medical plan membership number to be coaxed from him, it is not clear he even knows what his social security number is.

He is his own worst enemy and then some. Last year he made his way to a cold weather warming shelter in Victorville. While there, he had come by some cigarettes. When he continuously insisted on being allowed to leave the locked shelter to go outside into the cold air at random hours of the late night and early morning, he was banned from the facility for a year.

San Bernardino County’s Department of Human Services has 8,145 employees and a $2.1 billion budget for fiscal year 2018-19. Included in that budget is $481.9 million for the Department of Behavioral Health and $116 million for the Department of Public Health, $1.2 billion for what in the old days was called “welfare” and $8.3 million for what is referred to as “wraparound” services. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department receives from the county general fund $698.6 million per year. This does not include the separate funding it is given by the cities of Chino Hills, Rancho Cucamonga, Grand Terrace, Loma Linda, Yucaipa, Yucca Valley, Twentynine Palms, Big Bear, Needles, Adelanto, Victorville, Apple Valley and Hesperia under contracts with those municipalities to provide them with law enforcement services. The sheriff’s department employs a homeless person’s task force, what they call the HOPE Program, consisting of five deputies whose primary function is looking after the homeless population in the county’s unincorporated areas.

Efforts to vector the sheriff’s homeless task force to intervene and provide Guy Bennett with the assistance he needs to extract himself from his current situation have failed. The department vaguely makes reference to having the Department of Human Services deal with him. Calls to the Department of Human Services regarding Bennett and his situation are patched through to the Department of Behavioral Health. People at the end of the line there refer the caller to the sheriff’s department.

If an individual were to intervene and take action, do what the sheriff’s department, the human services department and the Inland Empire Health Plan have failed to do, pack up Guy Bennett and his belongings, put some hot meals in him, give him a shower, launder and dry his clothes, bed clothes and his tent, put him in a safer, drier and warmer place, and seek for him both medical and psychological assistance, he would protest, and the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, which has a $91.2 million budget, would very likely prosecute the offender for kidnapping.

Clearly what is needed is for someone or some entity – perhaps the Department of Behavioral Health or the appropriate psychologist with the Inland Empire Health Plan – to see the situation, gain some insight and understanding of his problems, evaluate him physically and mentally and get him the appropriate treatment.

Recently, some parishoners with the Devore Truth Church made a visit to him. Trying to be helpful, they told him they had a place where he could spend the night. Leaving his tent and other belongings near the creek, he went with them. They took him to the aforementioned warming center in Victorville, where they dropped him off. When he was not allowed in because he was banned there, he had to spend the night out in the cold after he spent some time inside a nearby restaurant trying to stay warm. He made his way back to Cajon. The next time the church members came to offer him assistance, Bennett assured them he was okay.

Guy Bennett remains out among the harshest of elements that Southern California has to offer. He rocks back and forth, from what? His deranged mental condition? A neurological disorder? The freezing cold?

He has made a string of horrible decisions. He, more than anyone else can be, is responsible for descending into the abyss that is his life. While there is no sign that he is violent or mean or cruel, he is a stubborn and otherwise thoroughly unlikeable fellow. His tent, his clothes, his blankets are saturated and the temperature is forecast to plunge nightly this weekend into the 20s and teens. Snow is likely to reach the 2,000 foot level. Guy Bennett is a human being. If someone does not act, he is going to perish.

-Mark Gutglueck

Judge Finds Upland And San Antonio Heights Assessments Were Illegally Imposed

Reversing the direction in which he told a packed courtroom full of litigants he was headed in December, Judge David Cohn this week rendered a tentative decision that the inclusion of Upland and San Antonio Heights into a service zone at the same time they were annexed into one of San Bernardino County’s fire protection districts was an overreach of the county’s, the city’s and the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission’s authority.
Cohn’s decision leaves standing the 2017 dissolution of the Upland Municipal Fire Department and the accompanying assumption of fire suppression, fire prevention and emergency medical service duties in Upland by the county fire department, but declares the $148.68 per parcel annual assessment that was imposed on all property owners to pay for the service improper and impermissible under the law. That assessment was layered into the fire department abolishment as a ploy by the city to drum up a city-wide tax without first getting voter approval, as is normally required under California law.
Over a two-year period beginning in 2015, public officials in the cities of San Bernardino, Needles and Twentynine Palms closed out their municipal or community-based fire departments and “annexed their territory” into the county’s Fire Protection Five Service Zone, known as FP-5, imposing a flat tax in those communities ranging from $130 to $150 per year on every parcel within them. FP-5 was originally formed in the early 2000s by a vote of residents in the unincorporated Helendale/Silverlakes region of the Mojave Desert between Victorville and Barstow to arrange for the provision of fire suppression/safety service there. The City of Upland, seeing the ease with which San Bernardino, Needles and Twentyine Palms had been able to get out from underneath the expense of providing fire service by transferring the cost to their residents through the imposition of a fire service assessment on landowners in conjunction with a service transfer, took a leaf from those cities’ playbooks and initiated a similar move in the late fall of 2016, following through on and finalizing the application in the winter of 2017.
In March 2017, the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission followed the recommendation of its then-executive director, Kathleen Rollings-McDonald, to permit the annexing of Upland to the neighboring and contiguous West Valley Service Area that includes San Antonio Heights. Pundits say that the purpose of that move was a strategy employed by Rollings-McDonald to comply with the law that requires a territory to be contiguous or adjacent to the district that it is being annexed into at the time of the annexation. Once that was accomplished, the Local Agency Formation Commission, known by its acronym LAFCO, maneuvered to “annex” both San Antonio Heights and Upland into FP-5, what was at that point a discontiguous fire service district. Helendale is 48 miles as the crow flies from Upland and 65 miles driving distance from Upland.
The controversial “annexation” of Upland and San Antonio Heights into FP-5 entailed the imposition of a $148.68 annual assessment with inflation adjustments into perpetuity. The county and city agreed to the option of tacking on the FP-5 service zone tax as part of the agreement to defray the cost of the county fire department providing that service. Upland City officials were all for it, as having the county take on the task of operating a fire department on the city’s behalf relieved City Hall of having to pay for fire safety operations. The city’s taxpayers, who throughout the city’s 111-year history had been provided with fire service as a consequence of basic municipal function, took up the slack by being consigned to paying the $148.86 assessment. Thereafter, the city committed to turning over a percentage of its property tax as part of the deal, and pocketed the difference between the savings the city realized from the closure of the fire department and its loss of a percentage of property tax to the county, as the city’s residents, business operators and property owners were at that point paying the lion’s share of the freight with regard to the provision of fire service. The city was free to use the money it netted as it deemed necessary, which in practical terms meant paying down its substantial costs in paying pensions to retired municipal employees.
One small catch attended. Under California law, residents have a right to approve whatever newly created tax is to be imposed on them collectively, in some cases by a simple majority vote and in others by a two-thirds majority. Recognizing that there was virtually no possibility that the residents of Upland and San Antonio heights would approve a nearly $150 assessment on themselves to pay for a service they were already receiving, the city, the county and LAFCO rigged the process so that the voting requirement was met not by a traditional balloting in which those participating cast simple “yes” or “no” or “for” or “against” votes but rather through what is known as a protest procedure.
The protest vote that LAFCO conducted consisted of the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission’s invitation of property owners and voters within each of the jurisdictions to lodge letters of protest against the mixed bag of annexations – relating to the fire protection district and the service assessment zone – all bundled into one package. Each protest letter received was to be counted as a single vote against all varieties of annexations proposed. Any resident or voter not lodging a letter of protest was presumed to have voted to accept the annexation. If 25 percent of the combination of the city’s and San Antonio Heights’ voters or landowners lodged protests, then a straightforward election with regard to the formation of the assessment district was to be held. If a majority protested, than the assessment would have been denied outright. As typical of such “protest votes,” nothing approaching sufficient opposition appeared to be manifesting in the population of Upland and San Antonio Heights together to achieve the 25 percent protest threshold to trigger a real election, let alone stop the annexations outright. Of note, however, was that in upscale San Antonio Heights – the most affluent unincorporated district in San Bernardino County – the opposition among the highly sophisticated and well educated population there was overwhelming. Were San Antonio Heights alone being dragged into the annexation, the effort would have failed. But with the overwhelming majority of Upland residents oblivious to what was happening and making no effort to oppose the annexations, the dismantling of the Upland Municipal Fire Department and the movement of Upland and San Antonio Heights out of the West Valley Service Zone and into FP-5 were handily ratified in accordance with the terms of the protest procedure.
In response, the San Antonio Heights Homeowners Association retained attorney Cory Briggs to file suit against the city, the county and the Local Formation Commission in an effort to block the annexation. Briggs filed the suit before the July 12, 2017 deadline for the reception of protests of the annexation, pairing with it a petition for a temporary restraining order to prevent the implementation of the shuttering of the Upland Fire Department and the imposition of the special tax while the lawsuit was being litigated. At the July 10, 2017 hearing, Judge Cohn denied the request for the restraining order, and thereafter the city, county and the county fire department proceeded full bore with the takeover, and by August 1, 2017, the city began implementing the changeover from the City of Upland’s fire department to the county fire district, including changing the logos on city fire trucks, which passed into the custody of the county, along with the city’s four fire stations. Later that year, the assessments were made and collected pursuant to the county’s annual property tax postings and billings.
The lawsuit proceeded apace, with Briggs characterizing the maneuver as a “Frankenstein Monster Tax” cobbled together to get around the tax code and California Constitution requiring a two-thirds majority on a ballot vote before a special tax can be applied. For their part, the Local Agency Formation Commission, represented by Jeffrey Dunn and Daniel Lee Richards; San Bernardino County and its fire division, represented by Donald Wagner and Laura Crane; and the City of Upland, represented by James Markman and Ginetta Gionvinco, asserted that the case of Sunset Beach vs. Orange County LAFCO provided them with the authority to proceed with the extension of the FP-5 Service Zone tax to include Upland and San Antonio Heights. In the Sunset Beach case, that small community was compelled to pay the assessments previously approved by residents of Huntington Beach, after Sunset beach was absorbed by, that is annexed into, the City of Huntington Beach.
In his decision, Cohn held that the Local Agency Formation Commission does not have the authority to annex properties into service zones. Accordingly, Conn averred, the $148.86 assessment on property owners as a feature of fire zone expansion was imposed improperly.
“While the larger annexation of the city and San Antonio Heights into the district is valid, the narrower annexation into the service zones within the district is not,” wrote Cohn in his tentative decision. “Imposition of the tax on the taxpayers within the geographic area that was invalidly annexed to the district’s zones was therefore improper and must be enjoined.”
In his analysis as to “whether there was a prejudicial abuse of discretion,” Cohn opined, “Even with the great deference courts must give to decisions by Local Agency Formation Commissions, approving an annexation that is specifically prohibited by law is surely a prejudicial abuse of the agency’s discretion. At its core, the San Antonio Heights Homeowners Association’s argument for invalidating the tax and annexation is simple, dependent on a parsing of two terms used in the statutory scheme governing reorganizations of public agencies, the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000, California Government Code section 56000 et seq. The two statutory terms are ‘annexation’ and ‘district.’ First, Government Code section 56017 states: ‘”Annexation” means the inclusion, attachment, or addition of territory to a city or district.’ Second, Government Code section 56036(a) states: ‘”District” or “Special District” are synonymous and mean an agency of the state, formed … for the local performance of governmental … functions within limited boundaries .…’ Finally, Government Code section 53036(b) states: ‘”District” or “special district” includes a county service area, but excludes a zone of any special district.’ These three statutory provisions, construed together, demonstrate that the portion of the annexation which placed the city and San Antonio Heights into the District’s Valley Service Zone and Service Zone FP-5 was improper: First, annexation means addition of territory to a district. Second, while a district includes a county service area, it excludes a zone of any special district, and the term ‘special district’ is synonymous with the term district. Therefore, this aspect of the annexation was invalid because it annexed the city and San Antonio Heights into zones of the district. Thus, the geographic expansion of the service zones within the district by San Bernardino LAFCO was simply beyond its statutory authority. By doing so, San Bernardino LAFCO committed a prejudicial abuse of its discretion.”
Cohn ruled that “the annexation is therefore void, and the tax was improperly imposed on taxpayers within the newly annexed territory.”
Issued on February 8 as tentative, the decision will become official on February 25, unless the governmental agencies can offer Cohn persuasive arguments to rescind it by that date. Once entered as official, the defendants will have the option of appealing the matter to the Fourth District court of Appeal.
-Mark Gutglueck

 

 

 

 

portrait painting

Flores Put On Administrative Leave Pending Investigation

Jessie Flores, who was inserted into the post of city manager last year by the controlling coalition of the city council as it was formerly composed, was placed on paid administrative leave by a 5-to-0 vote of the Adelanto City Council on Wednesday. The council immediately elevated City Clerk Brenda Lopez into the position of acting city manager. Today, Lopez returned to her position as city clerk, and Socorro Cisneros is now acting city manager.
Flores, a political associate of one-time County Supervisor Bill Postmus and later Postmus’ successor as supervisor, Brad Mitzelfelt, parlayed those relationships into paying employment as a field representative in their First Supervisorial District offices. In 2011, Flores was implicated with Postmus, Mitzelfelt, Charles Steven Cox, Dino DeFazio and Adam Aleman in the Adelanto Charter Academy Scandal, after some $3 million in public funds intended for educational purposes was diverted into the pockets and bank accounts of the several conspirators, resulting in the California Department of Education shuttering the school.Even after Aleman’s 2009 conviction on four political corruption related charges followed by Postmus 2011 conviction on 14 political corruption charges, to say nothing of the Adelanto Charter School debacle, Flores and a coterie of Postmus’ associates remained active in local political circles. In 2015, after the clean sweep in the 2014 Adelanto Municipal Election in which Richard Kerr, John Woodard and Charles Glasper replaced, respectively, Mayor Cari Thomas and councilmen Charles Valvo and Steve Baisden, Flores needle-nosed his way into City Hall operations when Glasper, who was at that time in the initial stages of dementia, nominated Flores to the Adelanto Planning Commission.
In time, at the behest of Kerr, Woodard, then-Councilman Jermaine Wright and Glasper, Flores was given a $36,000 per year contract as the city’s economic development consultant in which he was chartered to interest businesses into opening operations in, or relocating to, Adelanto. Pointedly, the city’s contract with Flores did not prohibit him from working for any of those businesses he succeeded in luring into the city. When many of those businesses turned out to be ones involved in the production or marketing of marijuana as a complement to the city council majority’s strategy of liberalizing the city’s zoning codes, permitting processes and regulations to transform Adelanto in the cannabis capital of California, the matter came to the interest of federal authorities. By early 2017, agents with the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and investigators with the Securities and Exchange Commission were closely monitoring developments in Adelanto. Among those investigators’ foci was the manner in which Flores was operating, and whether his acceptance of money from entrepreneurs setting up cannabis-related enterprises in Adelanto included his providing a portion of that money to any or all four of the council members – Kerr, Woodard, Wright and Glasper – who were championing or supporting the establishment of those marijuana-involved businesses.
Meanwhile, sensing that something improper was afoot, then-City manager Cindy Herrera, who had been elevated into the city manager’s post from her long-held position as city clerk by the Kerr-led council, suspended Flores from the economic development consulting post he held in January 2017 while Kerr was laid up from a motorcycle accident. Immediately upon his recovery the next month, Kerr, who was unabashedly in favor of the marijuanification of Adelanto and the economic shot in the arm he insisted getting in on the ground floor of cannabis commercialization in California represented, moved to fire Herrera, who deftly resigned as city manager and reassumed her post as city clerk. Kerr reestablished Flores as the city’s economic development consultant, doubling his remuneration to $72,000 annually, and thereafter doubling down on the city’s wooing of cannabis-related businesses and the fast-tracking of their applications at City Hall. Using Flores as a cudgel, Kerr, Woodard and Wright pressed city employees to suspend regulations, carry out token inspections of cannabis-related operations, waive fees and tailor the city’s zoning codes to allow the districts where such businesses would be allowed to exist to include properties previously outside the marijuana operation compatible zones that were being purchased at rock-bottom prices by applicants for cannabis-related operational permits. Simultaneously, Kerr, Woodard and Wright were ordering the terminations of any city employees who in any way inhibited the establishment of marijuana-involved businesses in the city.
After closely studying the circumstance and coming to a determination that the terms of his contract with the city essentially allowed Flores to legally take in money from those entrepreneurs setting up cannabis-related operations in the city and that his status as a contractor made conflict of interest law applicable to city employees inapplicable to him, the U.S. Attorney’s Office instructed the FBI to intensify its focus on the city’s elected leadership, Kerr, Woodard and Wright in particular, and indications that they were the recipients of kickbacks from any of the legions of the business dealing in marijuana that were being licensed or permitted to operate in Adelanto. In November 2017, the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office moved against Wright, who had accepted from an undercover FBI agent posing as an applicant for a marijuana distribution permit $10,000 in marked bills in exchange for an agreement to protect the business from the city’s regulators and code enforcement division.
Even in the face of what befell Wright, who in January 2018 was removed from his post as councilman because his continued incarceration by federal officials resulted in his having failed to attend regularly scheduled meetings of the council for more than 60 days, Kerr and Woodard continued to push for the accelerated approval of permits for cannabis-related businesses, creating a firestorm of controversy when they orchestrated the suspension of then-City Manager Gabriel Elliott because he was dragging his feet in facilitating those approvals. In May 2018, with Elliott yet suspended but still on the city payroll after five months, the council brought in former Army Colonel and Hesperia Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Brad Letner to serve as city manager. The next month, following an election campaign in which dozens of owners of cannabis-related businesses supported her, Joy Jeannette, an ally of Kerr and Woodard, emerged victorious in a three-way race in the special election to replace Wright. Shortly after Jeannette was sworn in to office, the council terminated the yet-suspended Elliott, fired Letner and chose Flores to serve as interim city manager. Less than a month later, Flores fired Herrera as city clerk, evening the score with her over her 2017 suspension of him. In October, a month before the election in which Kerr and Woodard were standing for reelection, the council removed the interim from Flores’ title, making him full fledged city manager.
In November, both Kerr and Woodard were soundly defeated in their bids for reelection. Glasper, who was sadly in the full throes of dementia, did not seek reelection. Thus, overnight, the five-member council was filled out with a new majority – Mayor Gabriel Reyes and council members Stevevonna Evans and Gerardo Hernandez. They joined Councilman Ed Camargo, who had been at odds with the Kerr, Woodard and Wright majority during most of their three year run together as the council’s ruling coalition. With the defeat of Kerr and Woodard, Jeannette essentially became at once a non-entity.
Without Kerr and Woodard to protect him, Flores found himself in a tenuous position. Nevertheless, the newly composed council elected not to act hastily, choosing to keep him in place and not take precipitous action that might redound to their, and the city’s detriment. On Monday February 11, in what seemed like a throwback to the Kerr regime, Flores put Community Safety Manager and lead code enforcement officer Steve Peltier on administrative leave. The move came a week after Peltier led a raid on an illegal cannabis-related operation in the city. During the last year of Kerr’s tenure as mayor, he had been gunning to fire Peltier, largely or even solely because Peltier was insistent about continuing to carry out exacting inspections in connection with the permitting process for cannabis-related businesses.
Whether the suspension of Peltier triggered the council’s action on Wednesday is not publicly known.
The item relating to Flores’ suspension was not included in the agenda for Wednesday’s regular meeting of the city council, which by law is posted at least 72 hours prior to the meeting. In the case of the announcement of the action relating to Flores, it was represented as an “emergency walk-on” item, relating to an exigent circumstance that allows an elected body to proceed on a matter without the standard 72-hour notice to the public.
As is routinely the case, prior to the public portion of the meeting, the council adjourned into a closed session. When it emerged from that executive session, which had been conducted out of the presence, sight and earshot of the public, an announcement of the action to suspend Flores with pay was made. The council and City Attorney Victor Ponto cited no grounds for the suspension.
Today, Councilwoman Stevevonna Evans told the Sentinel that Flores “is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. It is possible Jessie can come back. I don’t know how long this will take. We’re hoping for a speedy investigation and resolution. It depends on how deep it has to go. It may take longer.”
Evans said that for now “Socorro Cisneros will serve as the acting city manager. It is premature for now” she said, to talk about officially replacing Flores as city manager. “He is still our city manager. If it [the investigation’s conclusion] comes back good, he will continue to be our city manager. Like with any other of our employees, I am always hoping for the best outcome. I like to think we have good people on our team. It is up to what the investigator says.”
Evans said she was not at liberty at present to discuss publicly what issue was being dealt with in the investigation. She indicated, however, that the crux of the matter will not remain secret.
“The public will know one way or another, no matter what the outcome of the investigation is,” she said.
Evans indicated that whatever precipitated the suspension had only recently come to the attention of the council, and that the suspension item was not withheld from the agenda to keep Flores in the dark to prevent him from secreting information out of City Hall or to purge his hard drive or shred city files.
“Having to take the action was an immediate thing,” Evans said. “That’s why it was an emergency walk-on item. It was not something that I knew of days before Wednesday. It was, as far as I know, a decision made on Wednesday.”
Cisneros is most widely known in local circles as a Democratic Party activist who vied unsuccessfully against Republican Jay Obernolte in the 33rd Assembly District last year.
-Mark Gutglueck

 

 

 

 

 

Is This Someone I Know?

And who is the artist?

Fuller Context Undercuts Circumstantial Elements Of Merritt Prosecution

By Mark Gutglueck
Picking up on where they had left off on February 7, prosecutors in the Charles Merritt murder trial this week continued to utilize a sheriff’s department digital forensic investigator/technician who had examined the McStay family’s computers and the detective who oversaw his analysis to advance the contention that the defendant was in the home of the murdered family the night they were slaughtered and that he returned to the scene of the crime two of the four days thereafter.
That testimony and its accompanying evidence was marshaled by the prosecution as what was intended to be some of the most damaging evidence yet presented in the trial implicating Merritt in the horrific killings of the family. That evidence, the prosecution maintains, is in keeping with its underlying theory that the defendant, motivated by greed, had killed the family as a byproduct of his larceny from his business partner Joseph McStay’s checking account.
In its cross examination of the three primary witnesses presented this week, however, the defense came roaring back, confronting a detective who had covered key ground in the case with elements of the prosecutiorial and investigative timeline to demonstrate that some of the checks the prosecution alleges were forged by Merritt were very likely actually made out by McStay, or otherwise written with his permission. The defense further suggested that the encapsulation of evidence offered in the testimony presented by the prosecution witnesses was an extremely selective one that dwelt on aspects which viewed in a wider context were more exculpatory than inculpative.
After having begun his testimony on Thursday of last week, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Corporal Jason Schroeder, who was previously assigned as a detective in the high tech crimes unit of the department’s investigation division, retook the witness stand on Wednesday, February 13, following the court’s customary dark Friday and no trial activity on Monday and Tuesday. Schroeder possesses expertise in advanced computer forensics and audio and video enhancements.
Schroeder was followed on the witness stand by an in-house fraud and money laundering investigator for QuickBooks, a company which provides a computerized auditing system that was utilized by Joseph McStay for his company, Earth Inspired Products. That witness, Michael West, a retired FBI agent, together with Schroeder set the table for the sheriff’s department homicide detective, Dan Hanke, who testified on Thursday. Hanke laid out in some detail the cross-referencing he did between the raw data which Schroeder had extracted from the cloned hard drives of an eMachine computer and a Hewlett Packard desktop computer that had belonged to Joseph McStay, which included entries into McStay’s QuickBooks accounting system for Earth Inspired Products.
On Wednesday February 13, Raj Maline, Merritt’s defense co-counsel, resumed his cross examination of Schroeder, which he had only partially completed on February 7. Maline established that the varying elements of the investigation relating to the electronic devices Schroeder examined had been compartmentalized.
“Did you do any substantive investigative work?” Maline asked. “I mean, did you look at some of the files on the computer to determine if they had any evidentiary value?”
“No, not extensively,” responded Schroeder. “My goal in writing those reports was providing the information the homicide investigators asked for, and preparing reports complete with that data.”
Schroeder said he had “carved out” from both of the computers at the McStay residence digital artifacts relating to internet activity, including internet searches, that had been done and websites the user or users of the computer had accessed. Schroeder determined there was video, photo and document files on those computers but made no reference to them in the report he generated in response to what was requested by the detectives working the case.
Schroeder’s testimony in response to Maline’s questions reiterated the suggestion brought up during his testimony on direct examination on February 7 that someone had come into the McStay home in Fallbrook more than three days after the time the prosecution theorizes the family was murdered.
According to Schroeder, his analysis of a clone of the hard drive of the eMachine computer in the McStay home shows that a series of Google searches were carried out on the device on February 8, 2010 between 2:06 a.m. and 2:07 a.m. Schroeder said he was not able to make a determination of whether the items searched for within the span of two minutes had been typed in or clicked on from a pull down menu. Schroeder said he was not aware of any other activity on that computer. He said most of his analytical focus was on the eMachine, as opposed to activity on another computer in the home, a Hewlett Packard, which was last accessed on February 8, 2010 at 2:08 a.m. On that Hewlett-Packard, it was determined that the computer had briefly opened to the msn.com home page, which in 2010 was a common opening page. That was all that was booted up to the computer’s opening page. Schroeder indicated there were no following searches on that machine he could identify.
Schroeder said he was not aware of the FBI regional computer forensic lab’s report on the same machines. A subsequent exchange with Maine gave rise to the impression that the Hewlett-Packard computer might not have been accessed by an individual but had rather been stimulated by an automated virus scan.
To Maline’s questions, Schroeder acknowledged that on January 27, 2010, activity on the eMachine included searches with regard to passports and travel to Mexico, including a search on Google for requirements on entering Mexico at 4:46 p.m.; a link to visittomexico.com at 4:47 p.m.; a search with regard to the age requirements for traveling to Mexico at 4:46 p.m. and 4:47 p.m.; access to the GoMexico site at 4:49 p.m.; again to GoMexico at 4:49 p.m.; and another to GoMexico 4:49 p.m., amid searches for passport requirements, documents required for kids to travel to Mexico and general entry requirements to Mexico.
Maline touched on the degree to which evidence within the computer might have been overlooked because of the compartmentalization during the investigation, in which different detectives brought their own investigative focus to the materials that were being examined but did not discuss it with other members of the investigative team.
Schroeder said he was aware of reports about the McStay family crossing over the Mexican border but had not discussed the internet activity relating to the passport travel to Mexico issues with any of the detectives working on the case.
Maline further elicited from Schroeder that he had come across a document with the identifying marker of “Dan Payoff,” which Schroeder said was an XL spreadsheet.
“You didn’t concentrate on other stuff but just mainly internet activity, and this is not internet activity, is it?” Maline asked, referring to the spreadsheet, which appeared to be related to Dan Kavanaugh, another of Joseph McStay’s business associates the defense believes may have been the killer of the family.
“No, it isn’t,” said Schroeder.
“But other folks could go into the computer and concentrate maybe on other documents and other stuff and come up with some files that were not in your report, correct?”
“Yes,” said Schroeder.
“Does that have a file creation date?” Maline asked. “Would you be able to know when that file was created?”
Supervising Deputy District Attorney Sean Daugherty objected that the question lacked foundation but the objection was overruled by Judge Michael A. Smith.
“This report indicates the file was created February 19, 2009 at 6:22 p.m.,” said Schroeder.
Maline asked about a device, which he referred to as “Giuseppe Lap,” meaning Joseph McStay’s laptop computer. Schroeder said he did not remember a laptop that specifically belonged to Joseph McStay.
When Maline initiated an inquiry about a laptop computer from the McStay residence designated as “device 1” by Schroeder, a prosecution objection that was sustained dead-ended any testimony with regard to it.
Later on Wednesday, Michael West, who described himself as an “anti-money laundering investigator” with QuickBooks, told the jury under direct examination that the only person who could make changes to a QuickBooks account would be the master administrator of the account, also referred to as “the owner,” or someone to whom the master administrator gave permission to in the form of providing the account name, code and password.
West said Intuit, the parent company of QuickBooks, had been presented with a subpoena for the QuickBooks account records “regarding two related” accounts held by Joseph McStay and Earth Inspired Products, and that the company had thereafter prepared a “clone” of the Earth Inspired Products account which could be accessed but not altered through the use of account information and a password entrusted to the individual bearing the subpoena, who in this case was Detective Dan Hanke, with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
Following West to the witness stand on Wednesday afternoon was San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Ryan Smith, who has testified previously. Smith testified that he had tracked a 107 minute and 25 second phone call from Merritt’s cell phone to a customer assistance service provider for QuickBooks on February 8, 2010 beginning at 3:11 p.m. and that he had also discovered a phone call from Merritt’s cell phone the following day, February 9, to another QuickBooks customer assistance line that lasted 42 minutes and 56 seconds. Smith further testified that Joseph McStay had made two calls to the San Clemente Branch of Union Bank of California, where McStay had his checking account for Earth Inspired Products. One of those was to the number of Jerome Belen, a financial services officer with the bank, whose card had been in Joseph’s possession. The first of those calls was made on February 4, 2010 at 11:51 a.m., lasting two minutes. The second, lasting seven minutes, was initiated at 12:15 p.m.
On cross examination by Merritt’s defense attorney James McGee, Smith testified that immediately after the conclusion of the February 8 call to the customer assistance line, Merritt returned a missed call to his then-common law wife, Cathy Jarvis, and thereafter made a call to Joseph McStay’s cellphone, a call which lasted 52 seconds.
“So, whatever happened on the phone call to, as you say is the number for QuickBooks, within three minutes of getting off the phone, these records show that whoever had this phone called Joseph’s phone and the phones were connected for 52 seconds,” said McGee.
“Yes,” said Smith.
McGee then asked about what had occurred in the immediate aftermath of the phone call from Merritt’s cell phone to the QuickBooks customer service representative on February 9, 2010.
Smith indicated that Merritt had made a call to Jarvis, who then called him back.
“After that, what number was called?” asked McGee.
“949 295 7451,” said Smith, indicating the cell phone number associated with Joseph McStay.
“How long did that call last?” asked McGee.
“Two minutes and three seconds,” said Smith.
On Thursday, February 14, Sergeant Dan Hanke was brought in to testify. Hanke was a homicide detective who was assigned to the McStay case in 2014.
Under direct examination, Hanke laid out what has been described as the linchpin of the circumstantial case against Merritt.
Hanke explained that McStay had used QuickBooks as the accounting system for Earth Inspired Products, and that the system charted the money flowing into and out of the business. Hanke reiterated what West had told the jury, that he had been granted access to a cloned version of the bifurcated account for Earth Inspired Products by QuickBooks, subject to a subpoena he had obtained. The account, which was originally opened in September 2005, was divided into two sub-accounts, one associated with the email address contact@earthinspiredproducts.com and one associated with the email address custom@earthinspired products.com. The documentation for the account consisted of over 1,000 pages, Hanke testified. The contact sub-account was much more heavily used than the custom sub-account, according to Hanke, and the custom sub-account appeared to be much more recently created. The contact sub-account had, Hanke said, 26 pages of vendors, of which only a single vendor was listed with lower case letters at the start of the vendor name. All others in the contact sub-account, he said were properly capitalized. Those vendors included Charles Merritt and Merritt’s company, Idesign, Hanke said. In the more than three-year history of checks being written using the contact sub-account, Hanke said in response to one of Rodriguez’s questions, only two were deleted from the accounting registry. All of the checks written that were accounted for under the custom sub-account were deleted from the registry, according to Hanke.
Though the custom sub-account had existed prior to 2010, it did not become active until February 2010, according to Hanke, who said that Merritt was added as a vendor on February 1, 2010 at 12:24 p.m. using lower case letters and that Metro Sheet Metal was added as a vendor on February 5, 2010 12:19 p.m., also using all lower case letters. The two other vendors on the sub-account, SDGE and EIP Jobs, were entered utilizing the upper case.
After Hanke stated, “There were numerous checks created on the contact site,” Rodriguez asked him, “Was the custom site different?”
Yes,” said Hanke.
“How so?” asked Rodriguez
“Prior to February 1, 2010, there had never been a check written on that account,” said Hanke.
Using the courtroom’s elevated display monitors, which provide the jury and courtroom observers an oversized depiction of the case exhibits being referenced, Rodriguez had Hanke describe both the Earth Inspired Products checks created in February 2010 and the QuickBooks accounting activity related to them.
One check was created on February 1, 2010 at 12:52 p.m. and dated February 1, made out to charles merritt, entirely in lower case, for $2,500. It was printed and then deleted from the registry. Hanke said it was deposited.
Another was created on February 2, 2010 made out to charles merritt, entirely in lower case letters, dated February 2 for $2,495. After it was printed it was deleted from the registry, according to Hanke, who said the check was cashed.
Another was created on February 4, 2010 at 7:59 p.m. for $4,000 made out to charles merritt, entirely in lower case letters, dated February 4. It was printed and deleted from the registry, according to Hanke.
Another was created on February 5, 2010 at 12:06 p.m. for $4,500 made out to charles merritt, entirely in lower case letters, backdated to February 4. The audit history showed it was edited several times, was printed and deleted from the registry, according to Hanke. The check was cashed, Hanke testified.
Another check was created on February 5, 2010 at 12:21 p.m. for $1,650 to metro sheet metal, entirely in lower case letters, backdated to February 4. It was edited with a new check number, printed and deleted from the registry, according to Hanke. Hanke testified that the check was cashed.
Another check was created on February 5 that was made out to metro sheet metal, entirely in lower case letters, for $250 and backdated to February 4. It was printed and deleted from the registry, according to Hanke. He said it was cashed.
Another check, backdated to February 4, was created on February 5 at 12:29, made out to charles merritt, all lower case, for $6,505. It was printed and then deleted from the registry at 12:38 p.m., according to Hanke. Hanke said the check was deposited.
On February 5, 2010 at 12:33 p.m., another check backdated to February 4 was created, made out to charles merritt, entirely in lower case letters, for $2,350. It was provided with a different check number than was indicated in the QuickBooks history. It was printed and deleted from the registry, according to Hanke. It was cashed, according to Hanke.
On February 8 at 2:20 p.m. a check for $6,500 made out to charles merritt, entirely in lower case letters, backdated to February 4 was created. It was printed and deleted from the registry, according to Hanke.
“There were no checks written from the custom side prior to February 1 2010,” said Hanke
“When you reviewed the checks for Charles Merritt and Metro Sheet Metal that were created on the custom side, was there something significant about them to you?” Rodriguez asked.
“Yes,” said Hanke.
“What was significant about them?” asked Rodriguez.
“The core vendors were lower case letters,” said Hanke.
“And did you see that type of creation of checks on the contact side?” Rodriguez asked.
“No, [on] the contact side, the first letter [of each name] …would be capitalized,” said Hanke.
“The first checks were written on which date?” Rodriguez inquired.
“On the custom account, February 1, 2010,” said Hanke.
“And who were those written to?” asked Rodriguez.
“Charles Merritt,” said Hanke.
At the close of Rodriguez’s direct examination of Hanke, the impression of some courtroom observers was that the prosecution had reached its highest point yet, having constructed the makings of discernible, if somewhat elliptical, circumstantial case. The mounting circumstantial evidence included the precipitous switch from the contact@earthinspiredproducts.com affiliated QuickBooks accounting system to the custom@earthinspiredproducts.com affiliated QuickBooks accounting system on February 1, including the uncharacteristic use of the lower case in the drafting of the checks, suggesting that Joseph was not involved in the drafting of the checks, and that Merritt was forging them; Joseph’s phone calls to the Union Bank on February 4, suggesting that he recognized or had been alerted to something being amiss with his checking account; the uncharacteristic deleting of the checks from the registry; the prolonged phone calls from Merritt to the QuickBooks customer service line; and the entry into the McStay home in the early morning of February 8.
Thereafter, however, McGee began his cross examination of Hanke.
To McGee’s question, Hanke indicated some of the checks to vendors issued on the Union Bank of California account for Earth Inspired Products were typewritten and others were filled in by hand, with the ones typewritten being in the 4200 number series and the handwritten ones from a 1000 number series. All were covered by funds from the same account, Hanke said.
“The only administrator was Joseph McStay?” McGee asked with respect to the Earth Inspired Products QuickBooks account.
“Yes,” said Hanke.
“Not Dan Kavanaugh?” asked McGee.
“That’s correct,” said Hanke.
“Dan Kavanaugh had no administrative rights on that account?” McGee asked.
“He was not listed as an administrator,” said Hanke.
“You wrote this report about all these checks, and you’re highlighting the activity you saw in QuickBooks,” said McGee. “Were you doing that because you thought it was suspicious?”
“Yes, sir,” said Hanke.
“And part of the suspicious nature of it was activity that was happening after someone last heard from Joseph McStay?” McGee said.
“That was part of it,” Hanke said.
“That came as a red flag,” said McGee.
“There were other things that were being checked on that account, so that was definitely suspicious,” said Hanke.
“So, from the time that it started, and the fact that activity continued, you’re like ‘I should probably take a good look at this.’ Is that fair to say?” said McGee.
“Yes,” said Hanke.
McGee displayed on the courtroom’s overhead monitors the log of account activity between 12:34 p.m. and 12:52 p.m. on February 1, 2010 when the checks were being written side-by-side with Merritt’s cell phone records and, alternatively, Joseph McStay’s phone records, showing that a 9 minute and 56 second phone call between Merritt and McStay took place shortly after the check writing activity concluded.
“So, after the last adjustment on the checks at 12:52, within 11 minutes Joseph calls my client,” said McGee.
“That’s what the record shows, yes,” said Hanke.
McGee then referenced the two checks written on the Earth Inspired Products account on February 2, 2010, showing they were written and completed “one at 11:27 a.m. and one at 11:29 a.m.”
“Yes, sir,” said Hanke.
“Both were deleted at 11:37,” said McGee.
“Yes, sir,” Hanke said.
McGee then referenced a phone call from Merritt to McStay at 10:56 a.m. on February 2, 2010, and Hanke acknowledged a call took place at that time.
“And then he called at 11:46 a.m.,” said McGee.
“Yes, sir,” said Hanke.
“That is a call that lasted for three minutes and 24 seconds,” said McGee.
“That’s right,” said Hanke.
“And that was nine minutes after the last check was adjusted on that day?” asked McGee.
“That sounds about right,” said Hanke.
“And again at 12:04 that same day, my client called Joseph again and there’s another call for over 13 minutes,” said McGee.
“Yes, there was a call to Joseph McStay for 13 [minutes],” said Hanke.
“Right after those checks were adjusted and deleted and everything, correct?” asked McGee.
“The checks were created before the phone call,” Hanke acknowledged.
“Just like a couple of days before, right?” asked McGee
“You talked about when a check was added [on] February 4 at 7:59 and deleted at 8:05,” said McGee.
“Correct,” said Hanke.
Then referencing McStay’s phone records, McGee said, “That night he called down at 8:28 p.m. with Joseph’s phone ringing to my client’s phone, correct?”
“Yes, on this record it shows at 8:28 a phone call,” said Hanke
“To my client’s phone,” said McGee.
“Yes, to your client’s phone at 8:28,” said Hanke.
“And that was again, 23 minutes after the deletion of the check,” said McGee.
“Yes,” said Hanke.
“The next date is February 5,” McGee said. “The time between when the audit history first shows a check being added to the time they end is what time?” asked McGee.
“The first check is added at 12:06 p.m. and the last one deleted at 12:39 p.m.,” said Hanke.
“And then they sign out at 12:40, correct?” asked McGee.
“Yes, sir,” said Hanke.
Referencing the phone records, McGee then asked, “So we have a call at 10:59 a.m.?”
“Yes,” said Hanke
“And that’s from my client to Joseph’s phone?” McGee asked.
“Yes,” said Hanke.
“Fifty-five seconds,” said McGee.
“Yes,” said Hanke.
“The next call was at 12:49,” McGee said, noting it came ten minutes after the check writing session using the QuickBooks system had ended. “It appears to be a second call from my client’s phone to Joseph McStay’s phone that lasted 53 seconds, correct?”
“Yes,” said Hanke.
“That occurs after the last check was deleted,” said McGee.
“Yes, sir,” said Hanke.
“And the next item you dealt with [was] on February 8, correct?” McGee asked.
“There was one check added and deleted on the eighth,” said Hanke.
“And it was added at 2:20 in the afternoon,” McGee said.
“Yes, sir,” said Hanke.
“And edited modified, everything done to it, then deleted at 2:25, correct?” asked McGee.
“Correct,” said Hanke.
McGee then asked if Hanke could find in Merritt’s cell phone records “a call at 1:55 p.m. on 2/8 [February 8, 2010]?”
“Yes, sir,” said Hanke.
“A phone call from my client’s phone to Joseph McStay’s phone that lasts one minute and 12 seconds?” asked McGee.
“Correct,” said Hanke.
“And that would be 25 minutes before that check was first added?” asked McGee.
“Yes,” said Hanke.
“And that was the same day the calls were made to QuickBooks, correct, a little after three o’clock?” asked McGee.
“Yes,” said Hanke.
“So, according to the phone records, there was a call from my client’s phone to Joesph McStay, there’s checks added, deleted, and a call made to QuickBooks?” asked McGee.
“Correct,” said Hanke.
And after one hour and 47 minutes there’s there’s a call from my client’s phone to Joseph McStay’s phone, again, correct?” asked McGee.
“Yes,” said Hanke.
“So, all these phone calls that preceded or were after the check edits and everything that was done in QuickBooks, did you note all of that in your report?” McGee asked.
“I didn’t,” said Hanke.
“Did you even notice it?” asked McGee.
“Objection, argumentative” interjected Rodriguez.
“Sustained,” said Judge Smith.
“Did you examine the phone records to see if there were any calls between Mr. Merritt and Mr. McStay around the time of the QuickBook activity?” asked McGee.
“I did not analyze the phone record,” said Hanke.
“Does it make it seem a little less suspicious now?” asked McGee.
“Objection, argumentative,” said Rodriguez.
Judge Smith sustained the objection.
“This isn’t the only thing you did for this investigation,” said McGee. “You did other stuff.”
“Sure,” said Hanke. “Yes.”
“We also had the testimony of McGyver McCarber earlier in this trial,” said McGee. “You interviewed him, correct?”
Yes,” said Hanke.
“Mr. McCarber at trial testified that he was at the house [i.e., the McStay family home] on January 31 and February 2,” said McGee. “He told you that same information?”
After consulting his report, Hanke responded, “Yes, sir.”
“McGyver told you that the conversation he had with Mr. McStay was he finally bought out and got rid of Dan Kavanaugh…’
“Objection, hearsay, relevance,” Rodriguez protested.
“Overruled,” said Judge Smith.
“I don’t remember,” said Hanke.
“So, around the time Mr. McGyver is talking to Mr. McStay, saying, ‘I finally got rid of Dan Kavanaugh,’ is the same time he started writing checks on the custom account…”
“Objection, misstates the testimony and is argumentative,” Supervising Deputy District Attorney Britt Imes said.
Judge Smith sustained the objection.
“When McGyver spoke with Joseph on January 31 and February 2, and talked about finally buying out Dan Kavanaugh, you said on February 1, the day between those two days, is the first time we saw check activity in the custom website, correct?” asked McGee.
“Correct,” said Hanke.
“So, buying out and being done with Kavanaugh is a relatively important date to change your practice and start writing under a different account,” McGee began.
“Objection, calls for speculation,” Imes said.
“Sustained, said Judge Smith.
“As part of your investigation were you aware that Dan Kavanaugh was violent?” asked McGee.
“Objection, beyond the scope and calls for hearsay,” said Imes.
“Sustained as beyond the scope at this time,” said Judge Smith.
“When you reviewed your QuickBook records before trial, did it give you the IP addresses to tell you which computer the online QuickBook activity occurred on?” asked McGee.
“No, it didn’t,” responded Hanke.
“Did you request that information from QuickBooks?” McGee asked.
“I did not,” said Hanke.
“So, you, based on the records you see, can only say that the log-in for Joseph McStay was what was used to access the account?” asked McGee.
“Yes,” said Hanke.
“The person would need to have the log-in code and the password,” said McGee.
“Correct,” said Hanke.
Prior to Hanke’s testimony, there was discussion involving the prosecution and defense before Judge Smith outside the presence of the jurors about testimony that would be permitted and evidence that would be deemed admissible. The prosecution wanted contents from Merritt’s cell phone to be displayed to the jurors. That included photos of the site where the family had been buried in the desert, which has since been converted into something of a shrine to the family, as well as internet searches Merritt had engaged in. While Smith ruled much of what the prosecution wanted to present was either irrelevant or prejudicial, he said that he would allow the prosecution to display one of Merritt’s cell phone photos which was a closeup of the tire tracks leading up to the shallow graves in which the family was crudely interred, internet inquiries about the U.S. border and references to changing identity, as well as a screen shot of Joseph’s McStay’s cell phone records and contact list that was on Merritt’s phone.
This stirred up McGee.
“If the court is going to make the leap that such information can be argued as relevant, the defense will renew its interest in bringing in Mr. Spears to talk about Mr. Kavanaugh being upset with him, saying ‘You did me dirty in business deals and I know how to make people disappear. If anything happens they’ll find your bones in the desert.’ And he says, ‘You’re doing me dirty in this business deal.’ We will learn from Detective Hanke that Kavanaugh expressed to Detective Hanke that he felt he was done dirty by Joseph by hiding all the accounts in custom, and that all of those were his business, either his accounts, and they did that. So the same thing to where Mr. Kaavanaugh is showing, ‘I was done wrong by Joseph. I know how to make people disappear in the desert,’ and he makes that threat to somebody else. The court has excluded that. We should be able to bring that in to show there are threats that Kavanaugh made against other people that’s consistent with what happened to the McStays under the same circumstance.”
Judge Smith responded, “Number one, it’s not the same standard for admissibility for potential third party culpability as it is with regard to the defendant. Secondly, we’ve had extensive discussions about that, and I’ve already ruled that under the circumstances that is not relevant on relevancy grounds and Evidence Code [Section] 352. I explained the reason for that is those statements were allegedly made a short time after the bodies were discovered in the desert. So, anyone who knew the McStays knew that they disappeared and knew that three-and-a-half years later their skeletal remains were found in the desert could say ‘I know how to make people disappear. You bury them in the desert and they’re either never found or their bones are found.’ Anyone, who even if they didn’t know them who followed the case or read about it, would also be able to make that same comment. So, those comments, I don’t see any relevance to them.”
“Well, the problem with that now is…” McGee started.
“We’re not going to reargue that motion,” Judge Smith preempted the defense attorney.
“I know, but the issue that I have is you are already letting in third party culpability evidence,” said McGee. “Once you do that, it all comes in as relevant…”
No, that’s not true,” rejoined Judge Smith.
McGee persisted. “The fact is, they [the prosecution] are making this a financial crime, saying he stole $20,000,” he said. “Mr. Kavanaugh profited a quarter million dollars after they disappeared.”
“And I indicated that the dealings between Kavanaugh and McStay and Earth Inspired Products – I will allow you to go into that. Any moneys that you allege that Mr. Kavanaugh took from the business or was paid from the business or the sale of the business, I already ruled that is admissible.”
“The threat’s tied with not just any random person, but somebody who profited a quarter of a million…” McGee tried once more.
“We’ve already argued that,” snapped Judge Smith. “I’ve already ruled on that. Your record is made.”
Nevertheless, minutes later Judge Smith indicated that Kavanaugh will likely appear as a witness when the defense puts on its case.
In a discussion about whether Judge Smith would allow the defense to quiz Hanke, while he was on the stand that day as a prosecution witness, about his questioning of Kavanaugh during his investigation, the judge said, “It sounds like that testimony from Detective Hankey with regard to Mr. Kavanaugh would be beyond the scope, so I would probably sustain objections on that grounds. Whether or not it would be admissible in your case in chief, particularly after Mr. Kavanaugh testifies, may be a different story,” Judge Smith said.

 

 

 

Violet In The Extreme

Hildegard

 

She’s Not A Girl Who Misses Much

Got My Attention

portrait painting lady

By Konstantin Razumov

Council To Reconsider Planning Commission’s Hotel Approval

The Chino Hills Planning Commission’s February 5 approval of the proposal to construct a Holiday Inn Express at the “Rincon,” the commercial center at the northeast corner of Soquel Canyon Parkway and Pomona Rincon Road, has continued to reverberate in San Bernardino County’s southwesternmost community.
Even though a majority of the commission’s members seemed to hold the 10.42 acre development project in relatively low regard, the panel voted by a 3-to-1 margin to approve it, making a declaration that any untoward environmental impacts from the undertaking would be offset by the mitigation measures incorporated in the project’s conditions of approval such that a full blown environmental impact report would not be required. That approval was initially met with consternation by many in Chino Hills.
That so-called mitigated declaration was made despite the consideration that upon completion the Holiday Inn Express will be the second hotel at an increasingly active intersection, its relative proximity to Chino Hills High School and modifications to the previous site plan submitted for the project will increase the size of the Rincon by more than 20 percent while reducing on-site parking.
The 70,000-square-foot Holiday Inn Express, slated to go into place beside the newly-occupied Marriott Townplace Suite, will supplant an existing 60,000-square-foot medical office building while entailing the addition of another much smaller 6,500-square foot medical office building and an accompanying 30,000-square-foot three-story suite of medical offices. The revamped plan will also entail a reduction of the footprint allotted for restaurants from 6,000 square feet to 3,500 square feet.
Both Commission Chairwoman Sheran Voigt and Commission Vice Chairman Mike Stover expressed misgivings about the proposal when it was discussed by the commission with Commissioner Adam Eliason absent. They nevertheless joined with Commissioner Jerry Blum in approving the project, which will increase the number of hotels in the city to five. Blum was the lone member of the commission enthusiastic about the project. Blum said the project had the potential of generating up to half of a million dollars in transient occupancy tax yearly. It was opposed by Commissioner Stephen Romero, who announced that evening he would leave the commission, effective February 19. It was not clear whether the commission’s intended action/action in approving the project had precipitated Romero’s resignation. He has been a member of the commission since 2015 and was recently reappointed to another four-year term by City Councilman Peter Rogers.
Word now comes that the city council, at the behest of two of its members, Art Bennett and Brian Johsz, will revisit the approval of the project.
The planning commission serves as an advisory panel to the city council, and its recommendations are not binding upon the council.
Reportedly, Chino Hills City Hall was inundated with letters and emails expressing reservations about the project, prompting Bennett and Johsz to ask their colleagues to consider second-guessing the commission.
“They are overbuilding this area,” said resident Steven Thomas. “This is crazy. The previous plans they submitted were too much. This is even worse.”
As of Thursday, no firm date for the council’s reconsideration has been given.

 

 

 

Actress Jeanne Samary      By  Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Portrait of the Actress  Jeanne Samary. Detail.

Fontana’s Lewis Library Set To Host Black History Month Event Tuesday February 19

The Lewis Library and Technology Center, located at 8437 Sierra Avenue in Fontana, will be hosting a Black History Month event on Tuesday, February 19 from 4 to 7 p.m.
During the free event, residents are invited to explore the rich culture of African-Americans throughout history.
Did you know Crispus Attucks, an American of African and Native American descent, was the first person killed in the Boston Massacre and, as a consequence, the first American killed in the American Revolution?
Did you know that Dr. Ralph Bunche, an African-American, was a diplomat credited with being a founder of the United Nations, and was the recipient of the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his late 1940s mediation in the conflict between Israel and the Arab nations?
Did you know that Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in New York State before it was abolished there and escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826, and then went to court in 1828 to liberate her son?
Did you know that Gwendolyn Brooks, an African-American, wrote some
great poetry?
Did you know that George Washington Carver, the son of slaves, was one of the most renowned botanists who ever lived, having discovered more than 100 uses for the peanut, developed innovative methods for crop rotation, served as an agricultural advisor to President Theodore Roosevelt and was one of only a few Americans of his day who was granted membership in the British Royal Society of Arts?
Come to the Fontana’s Lewis Library on February 19 and enjoy Jazz and R&B music by Brass Bros. in the library’s lower rotunda.
There will also be a scavenger hunt, crafts, face painting, balloon twisting, and vendors.
Attendees can receive an incentive and an opportunity drawing ticket for every 15 items checked out during the event for a chance to win prizes.
For more information, call (909) 574-4500.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Madame Moitessier    1856, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Fixed size image

Equal Indolence: The Homeless & The County Social System Intended To Reclaim Them

Guy Bennett’s life is a mess.
A little bit is known about his roots. He was born on December 5, 1964. A drifter, he spent time in Wyoming and Nevada before making his way to California. He has been perennially homeless, unless you consider a tent to be his home. Until recently he was living in the riverbed of what was then the dry Cajon Creek, not far from the junction of the 15 Freeway and Highway 138. With the second of this winter’s deluges, he was obliged to move his tent up out of the creek, which in recent weeks and days was transformed into a raging bank-to-bank river.
No one, including Guy Bennett, knows the full range of what led him to this juncture. Clearly, his life has been a succession of bad experiences. He speaks of having been forced into a foster home against his will at a young age, which explicates, perhaps, his resistance to authority. For most people, rules are good. Guy Bennett is not like most people. He will point out, even if you spend only a little time with him, that sometimes authority figures abuse their role in life, including cops, politicians and everyone with authority right down the line.
Those painful experiences with people also serve to explain Bennett’s isolation. His aversion is less to people than it is to the society of people and the institutions they inhabit. Those institutions have for the most part neglected him and on those occasions when they have not been neglectful, they appear to have failed him.
But Bennett’s lot in life has not been entirely externally imposed. His fate is every bit as much, if not more, a function of his inner self. For starters, he is mentally ill. It is hard for a layman to define which category or categories of psychosis he fits into, but he is clearly not in possession of his full range of faculties. He is resistant in the extreme to advice, even when it is sincerely offered with his best interest in mind. After being told in advance of the seasonal storms that he should remove his tent from the creek bed, he remained there. It was only when the storm demonstrated to him in physical terms what was to befall him if he remained in place that he moved up onto the riverbank near a clump of bushes. He has an affinity for intoxicants, if they come his way, though that is rare, given his financial state. Passersby have bought him alcohol. When other vagabonds who had set up temporary quarters nearby offered to smoke some of their methamphetamine with him recently, he took them up on the offer. When assistance, real assistance in the form of food or an article of clothing, is offered him, he does not seem grateful, but will remark to his benefactor that he would be able to get by anyway.
Still, other times he becomes morose, saying there is nothing in life for him and that he wants to die or that he wished he had the means to kill himself.
There is a paradox to Guy Bennett. He is absolutely incapable of fending for himself. There appears little prospect he ever will. He does not have the patience, skill set, means, attitude or social grace to fit in with what passes as normal society. It seems doubtful he would ever be able to hold a job. Yet he has exhibited a remarkable endurance in living in conditions a huge segment of the population could not hack. He has survived conditions that would kill many others. If he were a woman, or if he had children, or if he were a veteran, then there would be some kind of assistance for him that he might rely on. For him, there is no meaningful assistance. As a man who cannot fend for himself, he must fend for himself.
Reduced to living not only off the land but on it, the elements have taken their toll on him. Last fall, when it rained, he, all of his clothes, his tent and his bedding were soaked. Living in the dampness, he contracted pneumonia. Somehow – no one quite knows how – he wangled a membership in IEHP, the Inland Empire Health Plan. But when he went to IEHP for assistance, the care they offered him was inadequate. They would not hospitalize him or get him out of his wet tent. The health plan did not arrange for him to have his bedding dried. He was turned out into the cold November air, which a few weeks later became the even colder December night air. He is bitter about the way he was shunned by IEHP, in no little measure because he has not had a proper bath or shower for going on eight months. His experience with the Inland Empire Health Plan, which has so far refused to provide him with the care he needs and to which he is entitled as a member, has added to his disillusionment. “Nobody cares about my life,” he laments. “What’s the use? It’ll never work.” Others have sought to assist him by telling him he simply needs to have faith and change his attitude. But when they intercede on his behalf with IEHP, they are met with an object demonstration of what Bennett has been dealing with. To even consider the matter, IEHP insists that those who are working on his behalf furnish it with Bennett’s IEHP membership number and his social security number. While Bennett previously allowed his medical plan membership number to be coaxed from him, it is not clear he even knows what his social security number is.
He is his own worst enemy and then some. Last year he made his way to a cold weather warming shelter in Victorville. While there, he had come by some cigarettes. When he continuously insisted on being allowed to leave the locked shelter to go outside into the cold air at random hours of the late night and early morning, he was banned from the facility for a year.
San Bernardino County’s Department of Human Services has 8,145 employees and a $2.1 billion budget for fiscal year 2018-19. Included in that budget is $481.9 million for the Department of Behavioral Health and $116 million for the Department of Public Health, $1.2 billion for what in the old days was called “welfare” and $8.3 million for what is referred to as “wraparound” services. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department receives from the county general fund $698.6 million per year. This does not include the separate funding it is given by the cities of Chino Hills, Rancho Cucamonga, Grand Terrace, Loma Linda, Yucaipa, Yucca Valley, Twentynine Palms, Big Bear, Needles, Adelanto, Victorville, Apple Valley and Hesperia under contracts with those municipalities to provide them with law enforcement services. The sheriff’s department employs a homeless person’s task force, what they call the HOPE Program, consisting of five deputies whose primary function is looking after the homeless population in the county’s unincorporated areas.
Efforts to vector the sheriff’s homeless task force to intervene and provide Guy Bennett with the assistance he needs to extract himself from his current situation have failed. The department vaguely makes reference to having the Department of Human Services deal with him. Calls to the Department of Human Services regarding Bennett and his situation are patched through to the Department of Behavioral Health. People at the end of the line there refer the caller to the sheriff’s department.
If an individual were to intervene and take action, do what the sheriff’s department, the human services department and the Inland Empire Health Plan have failed to do, pack up Guy Bennett and his belongings, put some hot meals in him, give him a shower, launder and dry his clothes, bed clothes and his tent, put him in a safer, drier and warmer place, and seek for him both medical and psychological assistance, he would protest, and the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, which has a $91.2 million budget, would very likely prosecute the offender for kidnapping.
Clearly what is needed is for someone or some entity – perhaps the Department of Behavioral Health or the appropriate psychologist with the Inland Empire Health Plan – to see the situation, gain some insight and understanding of his problems, evaluate him physically and mentally and get him the appropriate treatment.
Recently, some parishoners with the Devore Truth Church made a visit to him. Trying to be helpful, they told him they had a place where he could spend the night. Leaving his tent and other belongings near the creek, he went with them. They took him to the aforementioned warming center in Victorville, where they dropped him off. When he was not allowed in because he was banned there, he had to spend the night out in the cold after he spent some time inside a nearby restaurant trying to stay warm. He made his way back to Cajon. The next time the church members came to offer him assistance, Bennett assured them he was okay.
Guy Bennett remains out among the harshest of elements that Southern California has to offer. He rocks back and forth, from what? His deranged mental condition? A neurological disorder? The freezing cold?
He has made a string of horrible decisions. He, more than anyone else can be, is responsible for descending into the abyss that is his life. While there is no sign that he is violent or mean or cruel, he is a stubborn and otherwise thoroughly unlikeable fellow. His tent, his clothes, his blankets are saturated and the temperature is forecast to plunge nightly this weekend into the 20s and teens. Snow is likely to reach the 2,000 foot level. Guy Bennett is a human being. If someone does not act, he is going to perish.
-Mark Gutglueck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane, Countess of Harrington     By Sir Joshua Reynolds

Sir Joshua Reynolds. Jane, Countess  of Harrington. Detail.

Commuting Parents Might Want To Look Into This Schooling Option For Their Kids

Inland Empire professionals with school-age children who must make the daily commute to the Los Angeles metro area may want to consider the St. Louis of France School as an educational venue that will match their lifestyle and the need for their young to lay the groundwork for their a successful academic run.
A hidden gem centrally located in the city of La Puente, St Louis of France School offers small classes from pre-kindergarten to the 8th grade, at an affordable price. The school is also offering special scholarship assistance to students for up to five years. In addition, St Louis has an extended care (early in/late pick up) program for working parents.
So, if you’re on your way to work into the L.A. area, it’s a great location for your kid/kids. Whether you’re coming from San Bernardino County/Riverside County/Orange County/East L.A. County on either the 60 Freeway or the 10 Freeway, the school’s location is convenient for you.
Are you a Bishop Amat fan? Bishop holds 25 spots specifically for St Louis of France students at a special rate. St Louis recently changed up its game with a new principal, Mrs. Lorraine Ovalle, and it looks like more changes are coming in 2019 with regard to revamping. A Catholic education offers a rich and strict regimen of learning. Often parents think a private education is not affordable. That, however, is not the case. St Louis has an open door to share the scholarships available to assist parents who have always wanted to be a part of the private school program. The regimen prepares kids for high school and the religious education helps develop their spiritual foundation. Students from 5th grade through 8th grade are educated on becoming computer literate. Chromebook is a classroom standby at St. Louis of France and students work off of the Google Classroom template. St Louis of France offers after school homework help/tutoring and welcomes children of all faiths and special needs. If you’re looking for a competitive, well rounded curriculum and some extras at an affordable price, St Louis of France is certainly worth looking into.

 

Mrs. Abbington     By Sir Joshua Reynolds

Sir Joshua Reynolds. Mrs Abington. Detail.

Grace Bernal’s California Style: Suitable Teen

Boys’, teenagers’, and young men’s clothing isn’t much different from that of a grown man. For example, on special occasions like a wedding, or high school prom, a suit is usually worn. If there is one standby that teens take to more than just about anything else, it is color and patterns. The younger generation likes color and patterns like checks, stripes, plaids.Style 02 15 And, when it comes to solid suit pieces, blues, grays, and black tend to make the list, too. Suits come in tuxedo style, mod style, and traditional. For the tailored tuxedo, you can’t go wrong with a Brooks Brothers suit. After all, Brooks Brothers has been suiting presidents of United States of America since Abraham Lincoln. We also have our very famous Jack Taylor, the showman of suits. His custom shop existed in Beverly Hills. Jack knew the ins and outs of the men who visited him from Dean Martin to the modern hipsters. Taylor knew how to suit them. Besides colors and materials, the other change with teens suits throughout the years have been the pants. Lately the fashionable thing with teens is the skinny pants suit, with the pants having a hint of a bare ankle. It’s always fun looking at young people dressing, especially when they’re doing it for a special occasion. Something about a well-dressed boy is always eye catching.

“With Jack’s suits, you don’t wear the suit, the suit wears you.’’ Dennis Farina