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Valencia Man Sentenced To 7 Years In Prison For $4 Million False Government Contract Con



Los Angeles Courtroom-2

A Valencia man who claimed to be a tax preparer was sentenced Tuesday to 84 months in federal prison for defrauding his clients out of more than $4 million by falsely promising them huge windfalls from a sham federal program that purportedly would issue large grants to them.

Edgardo Zeta Montalban, 70, of Valencia, was sentenced by United States District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr., who said Montalban “exploited human frailty” in conducting his fraud. Judge Blumenfeld said the criminal conduct in this case was “despicable, cruel and callous,” and it caused “devastating effects on numerous victims,” according to the United States Attorney’s Office.

From 2013 to September 2020, Montalban, who held himself out as an accountant and tax preparer, asked some of his clients to invest in a federal grant program he called “Suppressed IRS Accounts.”

Montalban told his clients that if they paid him in cash, the federal government would issue them grants many times larger than what they paid. In reality, no such grant program existed, prosecutors said.

In furtherance of the scheme, a co-conspirator made counterfeit Treasury checks payable to the victim clients for tens of millions of dollars, which Montalban used as props to entice the victims to pay him. Montalban explained to the victims that they had to pay him in cash to protect the federal grant program’s secrecy.

After his victims paid him, Montalban made up excuses as to why the Treasury checks had been delayed, and tricked the victims into paying him more money, purportedly for expenses necessary to overcome the obstacles to their checks’ issuance, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“[Montalban] would promise his victims a huge windfall from the government in exchange for a modest payment up front to [Montalban] in cash,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum. “Because the windfall was a fraud, each purported difficulty overcome by an additional cash payment had to lead to yet another difficulty, requiring yet another cash payment. [Montalban] repeated this process until he had bled his victims dry, or they realized they had been defrauded and stopped paying him.”

Montalban has been in federal custody since April 6, when Judge Blumenfeld found that he violated the conditions of his bond by continuing to commit the fraud even after pleading guilty in December 2020 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Federal prosecutors recommended Montalban receive a prison sentence of 120 months, but Judge Blumenfeld decided to issue the seven-year sentence after considering Montalban’s significant health issues.

The FBI investigated this case with assistance from the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).

Assistant United States Attorney Andrew Brown of the Major Frauds Section prosecuted this case.

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DUI Crash Murder Conviction Upheld For Former Lancaster Principal



Los Angeles Courtroom-2

The murder conviction of a former Lancaster elementary school principal has been upheld by a state appeals court on Thursday. 

Mary Noel Kruppe, 38, was convicted in February of 2020 for second-degree murder and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. 

California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected a motion to overturn the conviction stating Kruppe had knowledge she was engaging in conduct that was dangerous to human life.

Kruppe, principal of Enterprise Elementary School at the time, was involved in a fatal drunk driving crash on Nov. 15, 2018.

While driving southbound on 50th Street East, north of Avenue P when Kruppe veered left into oncoming traffic, according to evidence presented at the trial. 

This caused a head-on collision with a vehicle being driven in the opposite direction by Jessica Ordaz, 29, of Lancaster, who died of her injuries, according to prosecutors. 

“The undisputed expert testimony was that (Kruppe) consumed in excess of four drinks and was well over the legal limit,” the ruling said. Two hours after the collision, her blood-alcohol concentration was 0.19, over twice the legal limit. 

As a school principal, Kruppe was the coordinator of the school’s Red Ribbon Week, according to the appeal decision. 

The panel argued that the coordination of the Red Ribbon Week meant she had a “general awareness of the risks presented by drugs and alcohol,” citing educating the students about these risks was the entire purpose of the program.

In the ruling, the appellate panel said there was sufficient evidence in the case and upheld the conviction. 

Kruppe was sentenced in February 2020 to 15 years to life in state prison.

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Northridge Man Sentenced For $2.2 Million Black Market Prescription Drug Scheme



Los Angeles Courtroom-2

A Northridge man was sentenced on Monday to 33 months in prison and ordered to forfeit his Palm Springs house for participating in a $2.2 million scheme involving the unlicensed wholesale distribution of prescription drugs.

Hakob Kojoyan, 29, admitted that he engaged in a scheme from February 2017 to April 2018 to distribute illegally obtained prescription drugs to unsuspecting purchasers, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

In his plea agreement, Kojoyan stated that he and his associates used a Pennsylvania company, Mainspring Distribution LLC, to pose as legitimate prescription drug wholesalers.

The employees then obtained prescription drugs from unlicensed, black market sources in California. They sold the drugs through Mainspring to unknowing wholesale customers, falsely representing that the drugs were legitimately sourced from licensed suppliers.

Kojoyan and his co-defendants avoided dealing in generic drugs and instead specialized in expensive name-brand prescription drugs used to treat HIV, such as Atripla. Kojoyan himself also supplied prescription drugs for such resale, though he had no license to do so.

In a memo filed for the sentencing, the government pointed out that to combat prescription drug fraud, Congress mandated prescription drug wholesalers provide their customers with detailed information about the drugs they sell, including a transaction history tracing the drugs back to their licensed manufacturer.

Kojoyan and his co-conspirators knew about these federal regulations designed to protect vulnerable patients, and they worked diligently to evade them. They stole the identity of a licensed prescription drug company supplier in California and prepared paperwork falsely suggesting their drugs came from that supplier, according to the DOJ.

Prosecutors said bank accounts under the control of Kojoyan received approximately $2.2 million from Mainspring-associated accounts, much of which was laundered and distributed to co-conspirators. Kojoyan’s earnings were invested into a house in Palm Springs, which the Court ordered forfeited to the government.

In addition to sentencing Kojoyan to a prison term of 33 months and ordering the forfeiture of his Palm Springs house, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg also sentenced Kojoyan to three years of supervised release to follow his prison term.

Kojoyan remains out of custody on bond and was ordered to surrender to begin his sentence on June 2.

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Killer Of Sgt. Steve Owen Sentenced To Life In Prison Without Parole



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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