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Federal Judge May Take Action To Address Homelessness Crisis In Los Angeles

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Tiny Home Village Homeless Shelter North Hollywood Los Angeles 1
A tiny home village for those experiencing homelessness in North Hollywood. Devon Miller / The Valley Post

A federal judge held a hearing Thursday in a tent outside a skid row women’s center to discuss the increasing homeless population in Los Angeles and seek solutions on how to address the crisis.

U.S. District Judge David Carter oversaw the first court session of 2021 in a 10-month attempt to settle a federal lawsuit seeking to compel Los Angeles city and county officials to quickly address the homelessness crisis.

The plaintiff is the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights — a coalition of nonprofit organizations, service providers, small-business owners, residents and community leaders — that has thus far won an agreement between the city and county to provide 6,700 beds, 6,000 of which are due in two months.

About 8,000 beds are already in place for the needy, but bureaucratic tangles and neighborhood resistance to interim or supportive housing have continually blocked the path forward, according to the L.A. Alliance.

Last Friday, Carter visited Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles to see first-hand the living conditions of thousands of unhoused Angelenos.

Carter called the crisis “an ever-increasing spiral of death,” calling upon Los Angeles officials to address the increasing situation across the city.

In a letter on Sunday, Carter stated that “while some ad hoc efforts were made to respond to the crisis presented by the storm,” it was through the efforts of Councilman Kevin de Leon, Union Rescue Mission, the Downtown Women’s Center and other nonprofits “that additional suffering and loss of life was averted. These conditions cannot be allowed to continue.”

While in past months the court has focused on relocating the homeless away from freeways, “nothing substantial has been done to remediate the appalling and dangerous conditions in Los Angeles’ Skid Row,” Carter wrote, noting that 1,383 homeless persons died in the city and county of Los Angeles last year, a 32% increase of the number of homeless deaths recorded in 2019.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin blasted the city and county as “structurally incapable” and not “nimble or forceful enough” to adequately respond to the homelessness crisis, and called for a judicial consent decree under Carter’s supervision to compel immediate action. If the parties agree, such a decree would end the lawsuit with a settlement giving Carter power to order the city and county to build shelters and provide services.

Dozens of projects spanning Los Angeles are moving forward to bring over 7,000 housing units for those experiencing homelessness in the next three years.

In an update to the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday, Ann Sewill, general manager of the Housing and Community Investment Department, discussed the status of Proposition HHH, which was approved by voters in November 2016.

The proposition was designed to increase supportive housing production from 300 units a year to 1,000 every year for 10 years.

Sewill said the city is working on 124 Proposition HHH-funded projects, with a total of 7,961 in the pipeline — 961 more than the initial goal of 7,000. Those include:

— seven facilities, with 489 units, completed and occupied or have people moving in;
— 44 facilities, with 2,779 units, currently under construction;
— 16 facilities expected to close construction financing by spring 2021;
— 28 facilities expected to close construction financing by the end of 2021; and
— 29 facilities still assembling financing but expected to close by the end of 2022.

Officials expect to have all 7,961 units completed by 2024.

The average Proposition HHH subsidy is $135,000 per unit, Sewill said, but there is additional funding from the county, state and other sources.

“Each of these requires its own application, and the process of securing and complying with the requirements adds costs and time to the process. We estimate that the additional cost may be as much as $50,000-$80,000 per unit in extra time, carrying costs, legal costs and requirements,” she said.

“But the net gain is about $210,000 a unit, so not only does this make the city’s dollars go further and produce more homes here, but in truth, many of the requirements help make the developments more stable.”

As an example, she said tax-credit programs require higher energy efficiency, which adds construction costs but reduces operating costs over the project’s lifetime.

One of the projects already finished is a tiny home village in North Hollywood, created in partnership with the nonprofit Hope of Valley and L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian.

Ken Craft, CEO of Hope of Valley, said this innovative project is the first of its kind in Los Angeles, but won’t be the last.

“This is the very first tiny home community in the City of Los Angeles,” Kraft said. “Personally and for Hope of the Valley, we are honored to the provider for the first one. I believe in this model, this will be a viable, sustainable for many people who are coming off the street.”
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A January 2020 count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority found there were more than 66,400 homeless people living in Los Angeles County – – the largest single concentration in the state. That included more than 41,000 within the city limits. Both figures were up more than 12% from the previous year. The annual count was not done last month because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Note: City News Service contributed to this report.

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Lancaster Man Sentenced To Life In Prison For Murder Of Sgt. Steve Owen

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Sgt. Steve Owen Trenton Lovell

A Lancaster man was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Monday for the 2016 murder of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Owen.

Trenton Lovell, 31, pleaded guilty to the murder on April 22, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. 

Lovell had two prior convictions and was on parole at the time of the killing of Owen, according to prosecutors. 

On Oct. 6, Lovell was accused of shooting Owen, 53, multiple times shortly after the deputy arrived at the 3200 block of West Avenue J-7 to respond to a burglary call. 

Lovell then jumped into the sergeant’s patrol vehicle while a second deputy arrived at the scene, prosecutors said.

The Lancaster man also pleaded guilty to several other crimes the same day of the sergeant’s killing, including the attempted murder charge for using Owen’s patrol car to ram another patrol car. 

Lovell also pleaded to first-degree residential robbery and false imprisonment by violence for fleeing to a nearby home occupied by two people.

The criminal complaint includes allegations that the defendant was on parole at the time of the crime and that he was convicted of robbery as a juvenile in 2006 and then again as an adult in 2009.

The death penalty was not sought as part of a directive from District Attorney George Gascón.

Owen, a 29-year veteran of the department, was well-known for his community involvement. After his death, Lancaster City Park was named in honor of the fallen sergeant. 

Support for Owen came across the country and the community, with then-Gov. Jerry Brown attending the funeral services. 

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Ex-Burbank Teacher Sentenced To 30 Years In Prison For Producing Child Pornography

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Burbank Teacher Charged
Photo Courtesy of Google Maps

A former Burbank elementary school teacher who produced pornographic images of his 15-year-old ex-student was sentenced Thursday to 30 years in federal prison.

Sean David Sigler, 56, was sentenced by United States District Judge John A. Kronstadt, who described Sigler’s conduct as “inexcusable,” and further said, “Ruining the lives of minors is unspeakable,” according to the United States Attorney’s Office.

Sigler, who pleaded guilty in September 2019 to two counts of production of child pornography, previously taught fifth-grade students at Bret Harte Elementary School in Burbank and at Gardner Street Elementary School in Hollywood.

The Burbank resident was the victim’s fifth-grade teacher and kept in contact with her after she left his classroom, using his position as former teacher and mentor to gain the trust of the victim and her parent. Sigler then exploited that trust to gain sexual access to the girl, according to prosecutors. 

Over the course of 15 months, Sigler regularly transported the victim to his home, where he gave her alcoholic beverages and pills, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

Sigler began having sex with the minor victim when she was 15 years old, and he created multiple sexually explicit videos of the victim and took sexually explicit photographs of her. The illicit conduct took place between September 2016 and May 2017.

He also created child pornography by modifying a pornographic image of the minor victim’s body and digitally superimposing the face of a different underage former student, according to a January 2018 law enforcement search of Sigler’s digital devices, prosecutors said. 

The devices contained numerous images and videos of his sexual acts with the victim, as well as more than 5,000 images of child pornography depicting unknown and previously identified pre-pubescent minors.

Sigler agreed to forfeit $271,506 in cash seized by the government, which constitutes the proceeds from the sale of the home where he produced child pornography.

The former teacher now faces 30 years in federal prison.

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Porter Ranch Doctor Accused Of $6 Million Medicare Fraud

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Los Angeles Courtroom-2

A Porter Ranch doctor was arrested Thursday on criminal health care fraud charges arising from her false home health certifications and related fraudulent billings to Medicare.

Lilit Gagikovna Baltaian, 58 operated two medical clinics in the Los Angeles area. From approximately January 2012 to July 2018, Baltaian allegedly falsely certified patients to receive home health care from at least four Los Angeles area home health agencies, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Baltaian’s false certifications were used by the home health agencies to fraudulently bill Medicare for unnecessary home health care.

The doctor allegedly received a cash benefit related to these referrals and also submitted claims to Medicare for signing the fraudulent certifications and for patient visits and injections that were not needed, according to prosecutors.

As further alleged in court documents, between January 2012 and July 2018, four home health agencies used Baltaian’s false certifications to submit fraudulent claims to Medicare, resulting in a total of approximately $6,029,674 paid on those claims.

Baltaian is charged with four counts of health care fraud. If convicted, Baltaian faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on each count. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison of the Central District of California; Assistant Director in Charge Kristi Koons Johnson of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Timothy DeFrancesca of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Los Angeles Regional Office made the announcement.

The FBI and HHS-OIG are investigating the case, which was charged as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 15 strike forces operating in 24 districts, has charged more than 4,200 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program nearly $19 billion.

Trial Attorney Emily Culbertson of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section is prosecuting the case.

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