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Mexican consulate forces deal in ID theft case

D.A. pressured to reduce charges to misdemeanors

Posted: March 20, 2009 12:27 a.m.
Updated: March 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Pressure by the Mexican Consulate is forcing the District Attorney to offer misdemeanor plea deals to suspects in the L&M Optical Disc West ID theft case, according to a source close to the case.

The consulate drafted a letter in late February that prompted the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office to reduce the charges from felony identity theft to misdemeanor identity theft, the source told The Signal, on the condition of anonymity.

The D.A. dropped the other felony charges of false personation and false documentation, the source said.  

The D.A.’s Office confirmed receipt of the letter from the Mexican Consulate, but declined comment on whether the letter weighed in on the decision to offer plea deals, spokeswoman Jane Robison said.

“The plea deal was offered to all the suspects who didn’t have prior criminal records,” the source said.

Twelve of the suspects pleaded guilty to misdemeanor identity theft in Santa Clarita Court Wednesday, deputy public defender Christina Behle said.

“They’ll get 30 days community service,” she said.

In addition, the defendants will serve three years of summary probation, must pay full restitution to the victim and will be ordered to use onwly their true name and information.

The last 12 suspects to plea brings the total of suspects excepting plea deals as of today to 22.

Santa Clarita Valley sheriff’s deputies raided L&M Optical Disc West Feb. 5, after tipsters told deputies L&M employees were using stolen Social Security numbers to gain employment at the DVD manufacturer.

The victims in the case were sent letters in 2008 from the Social Security Administration that stated the victims earned taxable income at L&M Optical Disc West in 2006. None of the 19 Santa Clarita Valley residents worked at L&M in 2006, sheriff’s Sgt. James Anderson said.

Deputies hauled 54 suspects to jail, filing felony charges on all those captured.

The Mexican Consulate issued a statement Feb. 11 offering support to the suspects. The consulate targeted the search warrant as its pressure point on the D.A., the source said, and added: “The search warrant is stale.”

Sheriff’s deputies were issued a search warrant to investigate Social Security numbers that were allegedly stolen in 2006. “You can’t get a search warrant for a three-year-old crime,” the source said.

The Mexican Consulate did not return calls by late Thursday afternoon.

The criminal case against the alleged ID thieves has been plagued with problems since the Feb. 5 raid.

The suspects were detained for several hours without being read their rights, which is within California law, Anderson said.
Behle disagrees.

The law states a officer must read a person their Miranda rights prior to questioning, she said.

“After reviewing all the reports of all of my clients, I never saw the word Miranda in any of their reports,” Behle said. “They absolutely should have had their rights read to them under the circumstances.”

The suspects were denied food and water, use of their cell phones and a sign was posted telling the suspects they could not leave, Behle said. Deputies forced suspects to use the bathroom with the door open, she said.

During preliminary trials in late February, Rosa Guiterrez, key witness for the prosecution, pleaded the Fifth Amendment more than 20 times.

Guiterrez works as L&M’s accounting manager. When asked whether she validated the identity of applicants Guiterrez, flanked by her lawyer Anthony Pullara, gave a rehearsed answer.

“I refuse to answer the question based on my right against self-incrimination,” she said.

At the same time deputies sought a search warrant against the alleged ID thieves, the Sheriff’s Station also launched an investigation into piracy at L&M, Sgt. Steve Low said.

“The investigation is under way and will take several months,” he said.

L&M was tangled in a federal piracy lawsuit in 2006. L&M settled with Yash Raj Films for an undisclosed amount of money in June 2006 for pirating three of the Bollywood film company’s movies, according to the suit.

Deputy Public Defender Joan Croker said the plea deals for the remaining suspects should be completed by March 27. 

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