Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced Tuesday the formation of a task force focused on investigating wage theft, a crime he said disparately affects undocumented and essential workers.
Partnering with such government agencies as the California Labor Commission and Los Angeles County Office of Immigrant Affairs, the task force aims to curb theft on workers from Los Angeles County, where Villanueva said $28 million in wages are stolen each week.
Villanueva said his department will train deputies to take reports of wage theft and turn them over to the department’s Special Victims Bureau to investigate.
Those cases may then be forwarded to the California Labor Commission or the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for possible criminal prosecution.
If an employer is found by a judge to owe a worker back pay, “we will be the branch of government which will then go out and serve the employer the judge’s order,” Villanueva said.
“We’re the epicenter of wage theft in the entire nation,” Villanueva said during a news conference Tuesday. “In fact, wage theft is greater than all other forms of theft combined. As sheriff of Los Angeles County, I believe together we can make a difference and right these wrongs, particularly right now, as many of these lower-wage earners struggle to put food on the table.”
Villanueva urged workers to report wage theft regardless of their citizenship status.
“We are in the midst of a global, raging, deadly pandemic and economic downturn, and here at home, L.A. County, as you know, is home to the largest number of undocumented immigrants in the entire nation, people living in the shadows and at the mercy of employers who will steal their wages in a good economic times, and perhaps more so now,” Villanueva said.
Villanueva added pointedly, speaking to the public, “I want to emphasize to you, your immigration status is not a factor.”
As part of the partnership with the Office of Immigrant Affairs, victims will also receive resources and information on economic and other community services.
California Labor Commissioner Lilia Garcia-Brower said having deputies collect payment from employers is an important part of the partnership. In thousands of cases, employers have refused to pay despite being told by a judge they must, she said.
“The important detail here is that the sheriff is putting his authority behind recovering these judgments and prioritizing the execution of these judgments, to the top of his list,” Garcia-Bower said.
Burbank Police Seeking Additional Victims Of Scammer
The Burbank Police Department (BPD) detectives are seeking additional possible victims of a suspect who scammed multiple bank customers.
On May 24, a victim came to the BPD to report a check fraud scam who had been approached by the suspect in the Logix Federal Credit Union parking lot on Hollywood Way, according to Sgt. Emil Brimway, spokesperson for the department.
The suspect, Gevorg Adoyan, 29, of North Hollywood, explained he had reached his cash-out limit and asked the victim to negotiate a check for him so that he could gamble at a casino.
Adoyan offered the victim a percentage of the check-in exchange for his assistance.
The victim agreed to complete the transaction and deposited the check into his account. The victim then withdrew cash from his account and gave it to the suspect. The negotiated check was later returned as fraudulent.
Through their investigation, detectives learned of 11 additional victims who were scammed by the same suspect at the same location.
A search warrant was executed at Adoyan’s residence where detectives recovered additional fraudulent checks, according to Brimway.
Adoyan was arrested and booked for forgery and grand theft, according to investigators.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed 12 counts of theft by false pretenses against Adoyan and was he was arraigned on July 14.
Detectives believe Adoyan may have scammed additional victims. The BPD is asking any additional victims or anyone with information about these incidents to contact the Burbank Police Department Investigations Division at (818) 238-3210.
Woman Killed After Van Nuys Stabbing, Suspect Arrested
A woman was killed after a Van Nuys stabbing Wednesday morning with one suspect taken into custody.
Just before 9 a.m. Wednesday, officers responded to the 17300 block of Matilija Avenue in Van Nuys for the report of a possible homicide according to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
When officers arrived, they were directed to a nearby house on the 13800 block of Valerio Street, where a body with multiple stab wounds, according to detectives.
The victim, identified as 53-year-old Ana Guardado, was declared dead at the scene, police said.
After further investigation, detectives arrested Jose Sierra, 49, for murder, according to the LAPD.
As of Wednesday, the motive of the incident is unknown, according to investigators.
Sierra was booked at Van Nuys Jail with a $2,000,000 bail.
Anyone with additional information is asked to call Valley Bureau Homicide Division, Detectives R. Secor or S. Kim at (213) 216-0171.
Those wishing to remain anonymous should call the L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or go directly here.
Over $1 Billion In Marijuana Plants Seized In Antelope Valley Drug Bust
Over $1 billion of marijuana was seized in an Antelope Valley drug bust last month — the largest illegal cannabis enforcement operation in Los Angeles County history.
The joint operation on June 8 resulted in a total of approximately 373,000 plants and 33,480 pounds of harvested marijuana, worth an estimated street value of $1.193 billion, according to L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
“What we want to do is send a clear and loud message to the cartels and anyone doing illegal operations in the High Desert, your days are over and we’re coming for you,” Villanueva said Tuesday.
In 2020, there were an estimated 150 illegal cannabis operations in the Antelope Valley, growing to over 500 in 2021, a majority of which are connected to drug cartels, according to the sheriff.
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 Villanueva.
Last month, over 400 personnel in the joint operation served dozens of search warrants at 200 locations across the High Desert.
At the end of the 10-day operation, a total of 131 people were arrested. In addition, 33 firearms $20,000 in cash and several vehicles were seized.
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.
Chloe Hakim, an environmental scientist for Fish and Wildlife, said illegal pesticides and fertilizers have seeped into streams and groundwater in the area.
Two bears were found dead in the area of the grows, which law enforcement officials attribute to the use of the pesticides.
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.”
Congressman Mike Garcia surveyed the grows from a helicopter a month before the bust, and hosted a town hall with community members from Pearblossom.
“The testimonies that we heard from those local residents were absolutely tragic. They were threatened on a daily basis from cartel members and bad actors,” Garcia said.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger is working toward policies to eradicate the illegal operations, that are “plaguing the Antelope Valley and has the potential to spread throughout Los Angeles County.”
“What began as water theft, has exploited to become the infiltration of organized crime groups in the Antelope Valley who are operating internationally,” Barger said.
The supervisor has authored several motions to increase enforcement efforts on both illegal grows and unlicensed cannabis dispensaries.
Villanueva said operations are going to continue in the coming months, to further ensure the eradication of illegal cannabis grows in the Antelope Valley.