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Cartel-Operated Marijuana Grows Taken Down In Antelope Valley As Part Of ‘Massive’ Joint Operation

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Antelope Valley Marijuana Bust 1
Photo Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

Hundreds of large-scale marijuana grow sites, operated by drug cartels, were taken down in the Antelope Valley on Tuesday as part of one of the largest operational raids in Los Angeles County history.

In 2020, there were an estimated 150 illegal cannabis operations in the High Desert, growing to over 500 in 2021, according to L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

“There were some people very, very busy during the pandemic,” Villanueva said.

After receiving numerous complaints from residents, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department took action, partnering with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), California Department of Fish and Wildlife, as well as several local law enforcement agencies.

Cartel members were threatening residents and stealing millions of gallons of water from the already limited supply in the desert, according to the sheriff.

“Today, we have spoken with farmers, with residents. Armed cartel members up here in the High Desert stealing water in the middle of the night has been a common sight,” Villanueva said. “This is one of those existential threats L.A. County is facing, so we had to think big.”

On Tuesday, over 400 personnel in the joint operation served dozens of search warrants at 200 locations across the High Desert.

The sheriff said the operation is not going to stop “until there is not a single marijuana grow out here.”

At least 23 people have been arrested and multiple firearms have been seized as part of the joint raid. Villanueva said the amount of cannabis taken down is being measured in the tons, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars.

The number of greenhouses at each grow varied from eight to 15. The largest site, which is believed to be the largest illegal cannabis operation in L.A. County, had 74 grow tents spanning over 10 acres.

Law enforcement officials say the grows to pollute the environment, with chemicals leaching into the groundwater and trash being blown throughout the desert.

There has also been an increase in violence in connection to the operations, including two murders, according to Villanueva.

“Violent crime is part of the trade for the cartels and has been associated with these grows,” he said. “It was our obligation to put a stop to this.”

In March 2021, deputies discovered a body in the Lake Los Angeles area, found to be connected to the illegal drug trade.

A month later, an attempted robbery of a grow operation resulted in a shootout with one person dead.

“We are going to send a loud and clear message to all the cartels and the illegal operations, your days are over here and you need to pack up and leave, or we will find you,” Villanueva said.

Congressman Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, joined members of law enforcement at a press conference to applaud the operation.

Garcia said the illegal operations stem from a lack of security at the southern border, which is now impacting the Antelope Valley.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger is expected to further address the illegal operations, with a motion later this month aimed at tackling the growing problem.

In the coming weeks, law enforcement agencies plan on several other raids in the Antelope Valley, intending to eradicate all 500 illegal cannabis grow sites.

Note: This story has been updated with additional information from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Crime

Chiropractors Charged In $2.5 Million Auto Insurance Fraud, Kickback Scheme

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Los Angeles Courtroom-2

A dozen chiropractors have been charged in a $2.5 million insurance fraud and illegal kickback scheme involving automobile collision medical claims.

The scheme’s alleged ringleader, Yury Chernega, 49, of Studio City, faces four counts each of the aforementioned charges as well as one count of money laundering, according to Pamela Johnson, spokesperson for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

The charges include allegations of taking more than $500,000 from about 30 insurance companies through fraud and embezzlement.

“Defrauding insurance companies is a serious crime that costs all of us in the form of higher premiums,” District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. “We will continue to work with local, state and federal regulators to protect consumers from financial crimes.”

Prosecutors have charged the defendants with nine felony counts, including insurance fraud and participating in patient referral rebates when licensed in the healing arts or as a chiropractor, according to the D.A.’s Office. 

Three other San Fernando Valley residents were arrested in connection to the scheme including Bruce Householder, of Burbank, Alexander Royzman, of Granda Hills, and Payam Shayan, of Tarzana.

Canyon Country resident Luzan Madain was also charged with the alleged fraud, according to prosecutors. 

From 2014 through 2019, Chernega allegedly offered to refer new patients to other chiropractors in return for an illegal referral fee, through which he collected about $2.5 million, prosecutors said. The patients allegedly had been involved in automobile collisions. 

The defendants also are accused of filing false claims for medical services they never provided. The case stems from an ongoing case involving Chernega and 14 additional chiropractors filed in 2019. 

The case remains under investigation by the District Attorney’s Auto Insurance Fraud Division and Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the California Department of Insurance, the California Franchise Tax Board, the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners and the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Arraignment for all but one defendant has been scheduled for June 29 in Department 30 of the Foltz Criminal Justice Center. Arraignment for Royzman is expected to take place the following week. 

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Crime

Tujunga Man Charged With Domestic Violence Kidnapping, Murder Of Good Samaritan

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North Hollywood Shooting Kidnapping
Devon Miller / The Valley Post

A Tujunga man has been charged with kidnapping his ex-girlfriend and fatally shooting a man who tried to intervene in North Hollywood. 

Shane Winfield Rayment, 37, faces one felony count each of murder, kidnapping, criminal threats, injuring a girlfriend, first-degree residential burglary with person present and possession of a firearm by a felon, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón. 

“It’s especially tragic when a good Samaritan becomes a victim,” Gascón said in a statement.  “I send my heartfelt condolences to his family. Mr. Fletes will always be remembered for his heroic actions on behalf of another.”

On June 6, Rayment went to the North Hollywood home where his ex-girlfriend was staying and struggled with her when Roberto Conjeo Fletes attempted to intervene, prosecutors said. Rayment is accused of fatally shooting Fletes, 42, before fleeing with her. 

The woman was found on June 8 during a traffic stop in Hemet and Rayment was arrested. 

Hemet officers conducted a felony traffic stop and took Rayment into custody without incident.  

“The victim of the kidnapping, Jenny Downes, was discovered in the vehicle, battered and bruised, but alive,” investigators said.

The case remains under investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department.

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Crime

Detectives Investigating Deadly Sun Valley Shooting

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Police Lights Crash

Detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Valley Bureau Homicide are investigating a fatal Sun Valley shooting.

On June 9, about 11 p.m., LAPD Foothill patrol officers responded to the report of an assault with a deadly weapon on the 7900 block of Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Sun Valley, according to the department in a statement.

Moments later, a second radio call was received just a few blocks down Laurel Canyon Boulevard for a traffic collision involving a 2021 Land Rover.

The preliminary investigation revealed that the victim was involved in a dispute that ended in a shooting. 

The victim drove away from the scene and collided with parked vehicles on the 7600 block of Laurel Canyon Boulevard, according to detectives. 

Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics responded and transported the victim to a local hospital where he died during surgery.   

The victim is described as a 43-year-old, male from Los Angeles. The identity has not been released pending notification of next of kin.

As of Thursday, there are no suspects identified, according to the LAPD.

Anyone with additional information is urged to call Detective Steve Castro, Valley Bureau Homicide, at (818) 374-1925.  During non-business hours, or on weekends, calls should be directed to 1-877-527-3247.  

Those wishing to remain anonymous should call the L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or go directly here.

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