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Key witness in ID-theft case pleads 5th

Court beat goes on

Posted: February 21, 2009 12:16 a.m.
Updated: February 21, 2009 12:29 p.m.
 
The key witness in L&M Optical West’s identity-theft case exercised her Fifth Amendment rights 12 times Friday during an edgy preliminary hearing in Santa Clarita Superior Court.

After Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Louis Morin asked Rosa Gutierrez where she worked, she read from a prepared statement.

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

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states that a person shall not be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, according to the Cornell University Law School Web site.

Gutierrez is a manager at L&M Optical West in Valencia. Santa Clarita Valley sheriff’s deputies raided the DVD and CD replication company Feb. 5, after receiving tips that employees were using stolen Social Security numbers and fake alien resident cards. Deputies arrested 55 suspects in the raid.

The district attorney’s office charged 54 suspects with crimes including identity theft, false documentation and false personation.

Deputies are still investigating whether L&M Optical West was involved in the fraud, Detective Steve Low said.

More than 20 of the 54 suspects were due in court for pretrial hearing Friday. The remaining suspects will be in court Monday and Tuesday for pretrial hearings.

Gutierrez used the Fifth Amendment on questions ranging from her involvement with L&M Optical’s personnel files to whether she validated the documents workers presented to gain employment. Gutierrez’s private attorney, Anthony Pullara, stood to her right during the questioning and continued to motion to the script in Gutierrez’s lap each time a question was asked.

Morin asked Gutierrez whether the employees at L&M Optical West were paid.

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

The crowd moaned every time Gutierrez plead the Fifth Amendment.

Her pleas didn’t convince Judge Robert McSorley on all 12 instances. He forced Gutierrez to answer three questions.

Gutierrez told the district attorney that employees were required to fill out employment eligibility verification  forms and supply Social Security numbers and photo identification.

Gutierrez’s Fifth Amendment pleas continued on cross examination by Los Angeles County Deputy Public Defender Anne Goldin.

“Did the D.A. promise you anything in return for your cooperation?” she asked.

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

McSorley again forced Gutierrez to answer.

“No,” she said.

Pullara continued to ask McSorley for a private conference in the judge’s chambers to discuss why so many of the questions could potentially incriminate Gutierrez.

Pullara met with the McSorley in his chambers just before noon.

Pullara declined to comment on the meeting after court proceedings.

Deputy Public Defender Christina Behle warned the public defender’s office would scrutinize Gutierrez on the stand Friday.

“She needs to retain counsel,” Behle told The Signal on Thursday.

The pretrial hearings continue at 8:30 a.m. Monday in Santa Clarita Superior Court.

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