San Francisco Macy’s to close in devastating blow to downtown

Macy’s will close its massive flagship store in Union Square, San Francisco officials said Tuesday, a major setback to the city’s premier shopping district and its larger downtown recovery efforts during an election year.

The store will remain open until the company finds a buyer for the property, Mayor London Breed said in a statement Tuesday morning. The Chronicle has learned that the store will remain open until at least 2025. 

“The process to undergo the sale of their building to a new owner with their own vision for this site will take time, and Macy’s will stay open for the foreseeable future and people will remain employed at the store,” Breed said. “Macy’s has expressed to me their commitment to remaining a part of Union Square and our City while they undergo this transition. The City will continue to work closely with Macy’s and any potential new owner to ensure this iconic location continues to serve San Francisco for decades to come.”

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Representatives of Macy’s would not confirm the news Tuesday morning. But the Chronicle has learned that the Macy’s at Northgate Mall in San Rafael will also close.

Concerns about the future of the store were rampant early Tuesday morning after Macy’s Inc. announced during an earnings call that it plans to shutter 150 “underproductive” stores across the country through 2026, including 50 by the end of the year. The move came in response to dropping sales and consumer demand shifting online. The company’s investor relations team declined to release the list of stores being closed.

The San Francisco Business Times was first to confirm the Union Square store’s closure.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

Have two S.F. judges released dangerous criminals? Case records tell a more complex story

A group called Stop Crime Action says San Francisco Superior Court Judges Michael Begert and Patrick Thompson are soft on crime. The group says both judges have freed dangerous defendants while they were awaiting trial — but records of their cases appear to tell a somewhat different story.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle


The judges’ records are under scrutiny because both face election challenges in March. Most Superior Court judges are automatically elected to new six-year terms because they have no challengers, which was the case with Begert in 2018. 

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But while San Francisco’s rate of violent crime has been steadily declining, property crime rates, drug use and public fears are high, and their potency as a political issue was displayed in the 2022 recall of left-leaning District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

Stop Crime Action, founded by anti-crime activist Frank Noto with financial assistance from billionaire William Oberndorf, was active in Boudin’s recall and now is looking to change the composition of San Francisco’s courts. 

An affiliated group, Stop Crime SF, also led by Noto, recruited volunteers to watch judges’ handling of criminal cases. The group then issued “report cards” giving F grades to Begert and Thompson, quoting unnamed observers who called them arrogant, inept and biased. In the election campaign, Stop Crime Action is focusing on specific cases.

In one case, the group says, Begert, while presiding over San Francisco’s Drug Treatment Court, “repeatedly released a convicted sex offender,” Andrew Boddy, who was then accused of five additional crimes, after which Begert freed the defendant again.

Court records of the defendant provide a different picture. Begert described Boddy as “a highly traumatized, homeless, transgender woman with substance abuse and mental health challenges.” Boddy’s public defender said she uses feminine pronouns and the name Anna Boddy. Stop Crime Action identified Boddy by the male name listed in the court docket.

It’s true that Begert has released Boddy, but the judge says prosecutors never objected.

“Every time she returned to my court, it was with the agreement of the District Attorney’s Office,” Begert told the Chronicle.

As court records reflect, Boddy pleaded guilty to a burglary charge in January 2023 and, under a plea agreement with prosecutors, was returned to Drug Court for a medical referral. Begert said Boddy had some success in treatment but remained homeless and was “repeatedly assaulted on the streets.” When she was charged with another crime in May, he returned her case to criminal court.

Nevertheless, said Noto, Boddy had a record of sex crimes and violence before being initially released by Begert. “That is still 100% on Judge Begert regardless of what excuses he tries to make,” Noto said.

In another case, Stop Crime Action said Begert had referred a burglary defendant, Sebastian Mendez, to a treatment program, and released him from custody, even though he had dropped out of the program months earlier after a referral by another judge.

That is untrue, Begert said. He said he returned Mendez to criminal court after the defendant refused the recommended treatment, and that he remains in custody. Records kept by the sheriff’s office confirm that Mendez is in jail.

Such disputes are plentiful in the campaigns against Begert and Thompson, who is also being challenged for a new six-year term. 

In Thompson’s case, Noto’s organization has also accused the judge of returning dangerous defendants to the streets

In one case, Stop Crime Action said, the judge freed an accused and previously convicted drug dealer, Erik Ramos Diaz, without bail last year while awaiting trial, and Diaz fled after disconnecting his monitoring device. But Thompson said the District Attorney’s Office did not oppose the release, and he has issued a warrant for Diaz’s arrest. 

The judge provided a transcript of a hearing in his court last June in which he proposed to release Diaz and asked Deputy District Attorney Yuri Chornobil if he objected.

“Your Honor, no new charges have been filed,” Chornobil replied. “And given that, the People would be — would consent to release with the prior release conditions that Your Honor imposed.”

Similarly, Noto’s organization cited Thompson’s decision to release Darbin Hernon without bail after he was charged with drug crimes. Hernon failed to appear for a hearing two weeks later.

That’s true, Thompson said, but it fails to mention that Hernon’s prosecutors told him “on multiple occasions that they did not object to release” on any of the charges the judge had required him to face.

Thompson cited an email he received last July from Hernon’s public defender, Stephen Olmo, who said he had spoken to the prosecutor about releasing Hernon without bail. Olmo said the prosecutor told him he “will agree (because) Mr. Hernon has a U.S. Marshal’s hold on him — that means prosecution” by the federal government.

Noto also cited Thompson’s decision last July to release Joshua Vicente Lopez without bail after he was charged with drug dealing. Two months later, Noto said, police arrested Lopez again, allegedly with fentanyl and other drugs.

Thompson said the prosecutor, after asking to hold Lopez without bail, sought to delay his  hearing beyond the legal deadline. “Under state law, my only options were to dismiss the case or release the defendant,” the judge said. “The district attorney did not object to release. After he failed to appear, I issued a bench warrant for his arrest.”

Those were cases cited in the Stop Crime SF “report card” and in the campaign by Noto’s group against the two judges.

While Stop Crime Action is accusing both judges of coddling criminals, their election opponents have said little about the incumbents’ records.

“Let’s send a message to our court: We need our streets safe,” Begert’s challenger, Albert “Chip” Zecher, a business law attorney, said at a candidates’ debate in December. He did not criticize Begert or mention any of his cases.

Likewise, Deputy District Attorney Jean Myungjin Roland, Thompson’s opponent, did not refer to the judge’s record, but told the debate audience that “you can vote to keep the status quo, or you can vote for change for public safety.”

The Bar Association of San Francisco sought to question the two challengers about their qualifications and character. The association announced Jan. 29 that it had rated both Begert and Thompson, who had answered those questions, as “well-qualified” but could not evaluate Zecher or Roland because they had not responded. The Chronicle asked their campaigns about their lack of response but got no replies.

In short, the challengers are running quiet campaigns that promote their own credentials, while Stop Crime Action attacks the incumbents.

Begert, a former business lawyer and chairman of the Asian American Justice Center, was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010. He does not handle criminal cases but runs San Francisco’s Drug Court, other treatment-referral courts and the CARE Court — Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment — established by Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers in an effort to remove mentally ill people from the streets and place them in treatment.

Thompson was appointed by Newsom in 2022 after 30 years of law practice with private firms and is a former chairman of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which seeks to “dismantle systems of oppression and racism.” He conducts preliminary hearings, which determine whether a criminal defendant will go to trial or should be released.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

Oakland to get a CHP assist

Gov. Gavin Newsom will send 120 officers in a push to fight theft and violent crime.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday that he’s sending 120 Highway Patrol officers to Oakland under a new state law enforcement campaign targeting an uptick in violent crime and theft that has placed political pressure on politicians, divided Democrats and bolstered criticism of California’s criminal justice policies.

Newsom’s decision to boost police presence in Oakland comes amid a barrage of recent headlines on the city’s crime rates, business closures and campaigns to oust the city’s mayor and Alameda County’s chief prosecutor from office.

The problems in Oakland and blatant smash-and-grab retail crime in big cities across California have inspired debate about whether to reform Proposition 47, a ballot measure voters approved in 2014 that reduced some drug and theft felonies to misdemeanors as a way to lower incarceration rates and encourage people to seek treatment.

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“What’s happening in this beautiful city and surrounding area is alarming and unacceptable,” Newsom said in a statement. “I’m sending the California Highway Patrol to assist local efforts to restore a sense of safety that the hardworking people of Oakland and the East Bay demand and deserve.”

Violent crime increased 21% in 2023 from the year before, according to the Oakland Police Department’s end-of-year crime report. Homicides topped 100 for the fourth consecutive year. Robberies grew by 38% and burglaries by 23%. Motor vehicle theft surged 45% in 2023 from the prior year.

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Oakland also increased by nearly 1,000 from 2019 to 2022, to a total of 5,055 individuals sleeping in tents, cars, RVs, abandoned buildings or on the streets.

Newsom’s GOP critics have latched on to images of encampments and stories about In-N-Out Burger and other high-profile businesses closing due to crime as results of what they call lawlessness under his leadership. Both issues remain political vulnerabilities for Democrats and for the governor as he expands his national profile and eyes his next role in politics after he leaves office in 2027.

Despite growing concerns about crime, Newsom said early data suggest the increases are unique to Oakland, with violent crime rates down in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2023.

The governor’s office said Newsom’s law enforcement campaign in Oakland will increase CHP presence in the city and the East Bay by nearly 900%. The state is also deploying license plate readers and specialized units with police dogs and air support to target auto theft, cargo theft, retail crime and violent crime.

Newsom is focusing on Oakland after the state sent a few officers there in August at the request of local leaders, resulting in the arrest of 100 suspected criminals and the recovery of 193 stolen vehicles, according to his office. Newsom received another request for help from a group of local business leaders and community advocates he met with in January.

“The surge of crime and violence that we are seeing in our streets is completely unacceptable,” Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said in a statement.

Thao said Oakland has also taken its own measures to address the problem, such as increasing law enforcement investigations, increasing police recruitment and investing in community and violence intervention.

Anxieties over car break-ins and gun violence have had a ripple effect in the community, where Thao and Alameda County Dist. Atty. Pamela Price each face efforts to recall them from office.

Major companies operating in Oakland such as Clorox, Kaiser Permanente and Blue Shield have reportedly encouraged employees to be more cautious when they come to the office, citing worries over crime.

Meanwhile, businesses including In-N-Out near Oakland International Airport and Denny’s have announced closures due to employee safety concerns, though it’s unclear whether those are solely related to crime issues or whether undisclosed financial concerns contributed to their shuttering. In November, Major League Baseball owners unanimously approved relocating the Oakland A’s, the city’s last standing professional sports franchise, to Las Vegas, dealing yet another blow to the beleaguered city.

Frustrated voters and local activists have in recent months called on city officials to be more aggressive in their response to surging crime rates and for Thao to declare a state of emergency.

The Oakland branch of the NAACP issued a letter in July ridiculing what it called failed progressive policies that allowed street crime to flourish, and calling on politicians to act quickly to solve the problem.

“Oakland residents are sick and tired of our intolerable public safety crisis that overwhelmingly impacts minority communities,” the letter stated. “If there are no consequences for committing crime in Oakland, crime will continue to soar.”

James Burch, deputy director of the nonprofit Anti Police-Terror Project in Oakland, said he was disappointed to see the governor send more police to the city.

“If the goal of the mayor and the governor were to make headlines with this investment, they’ve succeeded,” he said. “If their goal, however, was to impact the rates of violence on the streets of the city of Oakland, we’ve seen no data or research that suggests that this investment will be successful.”

Burch called for investing in crime prevention strategies, such as supporting violence interrupters who go into communities and work with people at the center of cycles of violence.

“Having CHP control or patrol major thoroughfares is not a proven strategy to decrease the number of homicides and robberies on our city streets,” Burch said.

In May, Newsom similarly deployed the National Guard and California Highway Patrol to San Francisco to help fight drug trafficking and dealing. That effort had led to 460 arrests as of the end of January, and roughly 18,000 grams of fentanyl and 5,000 grams of methamphetamine have been seized, according to the governor’s office.

Newsom has continued to resist calls to reform Proposition 47, including from moderate Democrats at the state Capitol. Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) has made addressing property crime rates a top priority during his first full year in leadership, and several Democrats in recent years have introduced bills to dismantle portions of Proposition 47.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

San Mateo makes it a crime for unhoused to refuse shelter beds

Officials in San Mateo County are adding an unusual tactic to their multi-pronged approach to tackling the homelessness crisis: making it a crime to refuse to accept available, temporary housing.

A homeless encampment can be seen in San Francisco, Monday, Dec. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

In a unanimous vote, county supervisors have moved forward with the measure — despite significant opposition from civil rights groups and some homeless advocates — which would allow authorities to issue a misdemeanor violation to anyone living in a homeless encampment who refuses to move into available, temporary housing after a health evaluation and at least two warnings.

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“One of the toughest challenges we face is addressing and assisting those in encampments who tend to decline services or refuse services,” Supervisor Dave Pine said at last week’s board meeting. “The hope is it will be a tool to help move individuals into shelter.”

Opponents worry it will criminalize homelessness.

But Pine, along with board President Warren Slocum, co-sponsor of the ordinance, said it is the latest in a host of comprehensive solutions — including a street medicine team and the conversion of hotels to temporary housing — aimed at reducing homelessness in San Mateo County.

“Forty homeless people die in San Mateo County every year. … That’s just not acceptable,” Slocum said. This proposal “isn’t about criminalizing people, it’s about helping those who really may not be able to help themselves. … We really do have the capacity to house people and get people the help they need.”

Officials said the county has up to 30 unused shelter beds available every night, though that falls short of the estimated 44 people living in homeless encampments across unincorporated San Mateo County. Many more encampments are in the county’s 20 cities, including Daly City and Redwood City, but this ordinance would apply only in unincorporated areas.

After San Mateo made investments to respond to the homelessness crisis in the last two years, the number of people on the streets significantly dipped, with more accessing shelter facilities, according to County Executive Officer Mike Callagy.

“We’re down now to the hard-to-reach population, the population that doesn’t want to come in,” he said.

Under the measure, someone in an encampment who refuses an offer for an available bed will have 72 hours to change their mind, receiving two written warnings. After that, authorities could issue a misdemeanor citation, which Callagy said would be handled through diversion programs, such as mental health court.

But no one would be cited if county officials don’t have a bed available, Callagy said. He emphasized that the goal is not to issue tickets or route people into the criminal justice system but to get services and housing to those in need.

“We believe that once offered those options, most people will avail themselves to the services,” Callagy said. He hopes the citations are rarely issued but are used as a deterrent.

“At the end of the day, it’s about saving lives,” said David Canepa, another county supervisor. “I don’t buy into the narrative that we should do nothing.”

County officials touting the proposal said it was based on a Houston ordinance, adopted in 2017, that made homeless encampments on public property illegal and tried to funnel people into temporary housing. While that program has been highlighted for its success at removing encampments and helping people get off the streets, the Houston Chronicle found that tickets and arrests for violating the provision — given only after a warning and an offer of housing — continue to increase.

While many West Coast municipalities face legal roadblocks to clearing encampments, San Mateo County attorneys said the ordinance adheres to legal precedent that protects the right to sleep outside when no alternative housing is available.

In Los Angeles, city officials have been making efforts to address growing encampments by encouraging people to accept temporary shelter and enforcing laws that forbid blocking sidewalks or other specific places.

In San Mateo County, the ordinance has drawn critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, religious leaders and the San Mateo County Private Defender Program, which represents indigent defendants. Critics say they worry about the unintended consequences of such a law.

“Policing is no way to get people into treatment,” said William Freeman, senior council of ACLU of Northern California, decrying the “seriously flawed ordinance.”

While he praised the county for its recent work on homelessness, he said that “anti-camping ordinances invite over-policing and abuse.”

Lauren P. McCombs, an Episcopal deacon and a leader for Faith in Action Bay Area, called the criminalization of homelessness “inhumane treatment of our unhoused neighbors.”

“Our county needs to solve this crisis by ensuring safe and affordable housing options that are available to all residents, with strong incentives and not threats of incarceration,” she said.

County officials took into account some concerns from the public, amending the ordinance to include a health evaluation before warnings are issued and a review process scheduled to launch after a few months.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Oakland, California, officer killed while answering burglary call; shooter being sought, police say

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — An Oakland, California, police officer was shot and killed Friday while answering a report of a burglary at a marijuana dispensary, authorities said.

Tuan Le, 36, was one of several who responded to a report of a burglary in progress at the cannabis business near Jack London Square at about 4:30 a.m., about 3 1/2 hours after an earlier burglary was reported at the same business, authorities said.

The arriving uniformed and plainclothes officers saw several people leaving the business and one opened fire several times, hitting the officer, who was in plainclothes and driving an unmarked car, interim Police Chief Darren Allison said at a news conference.

Other officers took the wounded officer to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead about four hours after the shooting.

“Officer Le was surrounded by his wife, mother, and members of his OPD family when he died,” a statement from the city said.

No officers returned fire, the chief said.

No arrests were immediately made, but Allison said investigators were following up on a lot of “actionable” evidence. He didn’t provide details.

“The dangers and demands of this profession are real, and come with significant sacrifice,” the chief said. “Sadly, today, one of our officers paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

Le was born in Saigon in Vietnam and later moved to Oakland, becoming a naturalized citizen in 2001, the city’s statement said.

He graduated from the police academy in 2020 and for the past two years served as community resource officer in West Oakland, the statement said.

“He will be remembered for his kindness, his smile, and the positive change he brought to the lives of those around him,” the statement said. “He is a true hero who dedicated his life to making our community safer.”

Mayor Sheng Thao called the killing a senseless act of violence and said she was devastated by the officer’s death.

“I know the entire Oakland community feels the profound impact of this loss,” she said in a statement.

“I am proud of the officers who responded this morning and carried their brother to the hospital on their shoulders,” Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers’ Association, said in a statement. “Their actions personified what it means to be an Oakland police officer. As we mourn, rest assured that we are also determined to bring this cop killer to justice.”

Click here to read the full article in AP News

California homeless man found not guilty in attack with pipe on former San Francisco fire commissioner

Garret Doty’s public defender said he was acting in self-defense after Donald Carmignani sprayed him with bear spray

A homeless man who brutally attacked the former San Francisco fire commissioner was found not guilty on all charges Friday.

Garret Doty, the now 25-year-old homeless man who was accused of beating 54-year-old Donald Carmignani repeatedly over the head with a metal pipe on April 5, faced two counts of assault and one count of battery.

Deputy Public Defender Kleigh Hathaway argued that Doty acted out of “fear for his life and fought back to protect himself.”

In a press release, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office said that Carmignani’s attorneys previously shared only “select video footage” from the incident-leaving out how the altercation began.

Doty’s defense attorneys argued that Carmignani instigated the altercation and sprayed the homeless man with bear spray and threatened to stab and kill him if he did not move his belongings. 

Carmignani previously said that three homeless people had set up an encampment near his mother’s front door, and she was afraid to leave her house in Marina District.

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office said that after Carmignani allegedly threatened Doty, he decided to arm himself with a metal rod he found in a garbage bin.

FORMER SAN FRANCISCO FIRE COMMISSIONER SLASHED AND BEATEN WITH PIPE DAYS AFTER BOB LEE STABBING

The public defender’s said that 15 minutes later, Carmignai, “stood against a building and baited Doty to come closer” before spraying him with bear spray and ensuring the violent altercation.

A previous video released by Carmignani show Doty marching towards him with the metal rod and repeatedly hitting him.

Following the violent attack, Carmignani had 51 stitches, a fractured skull and a broken jaw.

Deputy Public Defenders Kleigh Hathaway said that it was “clear to her” that Doty was acting in self-defense against Carmignani.

CALIFORNIA AG DECLINES CRIMINAL CHARGES FOR OFFIER IN FATAL 2020 SHOOTING OF SAN FRANCISCO MAN
“From the beginning, it was clear to me that Mr. Doty was acting in self-defense against Mr. Carmignani, who not only had the audacity to attack Mr. Doty with bear spray and then threatened to stab and kill Mr. Doty, but also presented himself as unwilling to back down from a fight that he had started,” said Hathaway. “Self-defense can be fierce because the brain goes into survival mode, and that fear response is sadly heightened for unhoused people, like Mr. Doty, who live in constant exposure.”

Click here to read the full article in FoxNews

Nonprofit leader and L.A. political fundraiser sentenced to prison in embezzlement case

The former head of a prominent nonprofit in Los Angeles who pleaded guilty to embezzlement was sentenced Tuesday to six months in federal prison and six months’ home detention, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Dixon Slingerland, the former chief executive of the nonprofit Youth Policy Institute, was also ordered by U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee to pay restitution of $750,470 and a $10,000 fine, and perform 200 hours of community service.

Slingerland’s attorney, Vicki Podberesky, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In addition to his professional career, Slingerland was a campaign fundraiser and donor for Democratic candidates. He was also a frequent visitor to the White House during President Obama’s administration.

He admitted in a plea agreement earlier this year that he embezzled more than $71,000 from the anti-poverty nonprofit that he led, including buying his family a $6,131 dinner at Momofuku Ko, a high-end New York City restaurant.

Slingerland also admitted that he did not report nearly $450,000 in total income from the nonprofit on his personal tax returns from 2016 to 2019, according to the plea agreement.

Slingerland, who earned about $400,000 annually leading the nonprofit, also said in his plea agreement that he misspent more than $600,000 of the group’s funds and put personal expenses on the organization’s American Express card.

Youth Policy Institute, a nonprofit focused on education and poverty programs, received tens of millions of dollars in federal funding during the Obama administration and was promoted frequently by then-Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The group shuttered in 2019 following an audit that found a lack of oversight and inaccurate financial reports. Slingerland was also fired from the nonprofit that year.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

L.A. con man who posed as attorney, rubbed elbows with Gov. Newsom is sentenced to 6 months

An admitted L.A. con artist who rubbed elbows with powerful politicians and presented himself as the right hand of a powerful Armenian crime figure was sentenced to six months in prison Monday, after spending years testifying against his former mentor and several corrupt law enforcement officials.

Edgar Sargsyan, 42, will serve the short prison sentence and then spend an additional six months confined to his home after his 2020 plea to four counts of bank fraud, bribery and lying to federal agents, according to his attorney, Robert Dugdale.

The public was barred from Sargsyan’s sentencing hearing in federal court on Monday, after Dugdale was heard expressing concerns about his client’s safety.

Sargsyan rose from humble beginnings to become a regular at the members-only Grand Havana cigar club in Beverly Hills, where he regularly socialized with celebrities. Penniless when he immigrated to the United States from Armenia in 2004, Sargsyan settled in Glendale, home to a large Armenian diaspora.

There, he scratched out a living collecting finder’s fees for bringing clients to attorneys — and also committing bank fraud. Court records show Sargsyan admitted he was part of an identity theft ring that racked up phony charges in the names of foreign exchange students who were no longer living in the United States.

Sargsyan went from small-time fraud artist to prolific criminal after meeting Levon Termendzhyan in 2010 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel’s BLVD restaurant, court records show. Termendzhyan put forward a public facade of a wildly successful entrepreneur in the oil and gas industry, but within the Armenian community, Sargsyan testified, he had “the reputation of a mafia figure.”

Sargsyan became something of an advisor, confidant and younger brother to Termendzhyan, who is now serving a 40-year sentence for fraud and money laundering. Through Termendzhyan, Sargsyan met two corrupt law enforcement officers: John Saro Balian, a narcotics detective for the Glendale Police Department, and Felix Cisneros Jr., an agent of Homeland Security Investigations.

Sargsyan also cultivated relationships with public officials by donating lavishly to their campaigns. At his office in Beverly Hills, where he held himself out as a lawyer, Sargsyan posed for a photograph with Gov. Gavin Newsom before heading to a fundraiser for the governor at a members-only cigar lounge. Newsom and his political aides previously declined to discuss his relationship with Sargsyan, though a campaign official said all of his donations were rerouted to a charity.

Like much of Sargsyan’s life, the lawyer facade was a lie. After failing the California bar exam several times, Sargsyan paid an attorney $140,000 to take the test for him. Sargsyan didn’t admit to the scheme for years, failing to tell federal prosecutors about it until the eve of a trial in which he was set to testify.

There, he scratched out a living collecting finder’s fees for bringing clients to attorneys — and also committing bank fraud. Court records show Sargsyan admitted he was part of an identity theft ring that racked up phony charges in the names of foreign exchange students who were no longer living in the United States.

Sargsyan went from small-time fraud artist to prolific criminal after meeting Levon Termendzhyan in 2010 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel’s BLVD restaurant, court records show. Termendzhyan put forward a public facade of a wildly successful entrepreneur in the oil and gas industry, but within the Armenian community, Sargsyan testified, he had “the reputation of a mafia figure.”

Sargsyan became something of an advisor, confidant and younger brother to Termendzhyan, who is now serving a 40-year sentence for fraud and money laundering. Through Termendzhyan, Sargsyan met two corrupt law enforcement officers: John Saro Balian, a narcotics detective for the Glendale Police Department, and Felix Cisneros Jr., an agent of Homeland Security Investigations.

Sargsyan also cultivated relationships with public officials by donating lavishly to their campaigns. At his office in Beverly Hills, where he held himself out as a lawyer, Sargsyan posed for a photograph with Gov. Gavin Newsom before heading to a fundraiser for the governor at a members-only cigar lounge. Newsom and his political aides previously declined to discuss his relationship with Sargsyan, though a campaign official said all of his donations were rerouted to a charity.

Like much of Sargsyan’s life, the lawyer facade was a lie. After failing the California bar exam several times, Sargsyan paid an attorney $140,000 to take the test for him. Sargsyan didn’t admit to the scheme for years, failing to tell federal prosecutors about it until the eve of a trial in which he was set to testify.

CLick here to read the full article at LA Times

Newsom’s plan to crack down on flesh-eating ‘zombie drug’ known as ‘tranq’

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday that he will sponsor a bill to increase penalties for trafficking the deadly, flesh-eating animal tranquilizer, xylazine, more commonly known as “tranq.”

Although Newsom rarely sponsors bills, he said that this action was necessary in combating the increasing overdose deaths across the state caused by the drug.

“Tranq poses a unique and devastating challenge in our fight against the overdose epidemic,” said Newsom in a statement. “Although California is not yet seeing tranq at the same rates as other parts of the country, this legislation will help the state stay ahead and curb dealers and traffickers, while we work to provide treatment and resources for those struggling with addiction and substance abuse.”

Xylazine is not approved for human consumption, according to the FDA. It can cause dangerously low blood pressure, a decrease in breathing rate and heart rate, and damage to tissue that can lead to skin wounds, large sores and ulcers when consumed by people, authorities say.

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Additionally, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) says xylazine is increasingly being mixed with fentanyl, making it even more dangerous.

Click here to read the full article in Fox 11

This is the worst week for car break-ins in San Francisco at these hot spots

The scene unfolded in seconds, as Keith Paulsen watched — anger rising — from a car parked near San Francisco’s Alamo Square Park.

He saw a dark BMW roll up Steiner Street, a block north of the famed Painted Lady Victorians. A passenger jumped out and began casing the sidewalk, cupping his gloved hands to peer into car windows. After glancing into three cars the thief found his target: a backpack tossed enticingly on a seat. In one motion, he broke a window and grabbed it.

Paulsen twisted around to snap a cellphone photo when the BMW sped off, his shock curdling into revulsion. The theft seemed so brazen, carried out on a warm winter afternoon last year, on a hill packed with selfie-snapping tourists.

“He was so quick, in and out of that car with the backpack,” Paulsen recalled. “It only took 15 seconds.”

Like other sightseeing destinations in San Francisco, Alamo Square is a hot spot for car break-ins that spike around the week of Thanksgiving, according to a Chronicle analysis of San Francisco Police Department records from 2021 and 2022. During that week the average number of reports exceeds three a day, commensurate with nearby Hayes Valley.

“A lot of crimes have a seasonal aspect,” said Ernesto Lopez, a research specialist at the Council on Criminal Justice, a think tank in Washington D.C. “Seasonal,” in this case, means a temporal shift — like a holiday that brings tourists and out-of-town relatives, and more opportunities for perpetrators. The value of fenced goods might also increase at certain times of year, Lopez said, providing more incentive for burglaries.

Absent a clear explanation for fluctuations in crime, residents tend to draw their own conclusion from anecdotes and folk wisdom. Paulsen and others believe thieves look for obvious signs of a rental car, scoping for new SUVs or stickers on the windshield. Others say perpetrators seek out motorists who forget to curb their wheels — the telltale sign of a visitor, since San Franciscans are usually careful to avoid an expensive parking ticket.

All of these theories are plausible, Lopez said, though he cautioned that car burglaries happen quickly, and generally aren’t that strategic. Maybe the perpetrators look for “one or two indicators” that a car is likely to have luggage, he said, but they don’t run through a checklist.

Police had few answers during a September Board of Supervisors committee hearing on the auto break-in epidemic, at which residents of Alamo Square lined up to vent their frustrations. Some said they’re left to console victims and sweep glass from the sidewalk.

“It’s really disturbing,” Taylor Lapeyre told the Chronicle. His living room window overlooks Alamo Square Park, providing a front row seat to the picturesque hillside — and the aftermath of many burglaries. Often, Lapeyre peers out to see a family in tears after all their possessions are stolen. He’s provided bandages for people who fall and scrape themselves, trying to chase down a car as it speeds off.

For years, officials tried to stave off car break-ins by discouraging residents and visitors from leaving things in their cars. Police and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency staff doled out “public awareness” pamphlets with a “Park smart” slogan — messaging that gave people the sense they were being gaslit, said Jason Jervis, media and communications chair of the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association.

Holding people personally responsible to prevent burglaries amounts to “tacit acceptance,” Jervis said, as though city leaders had deemed the problem intractable and given up on enforcement. 

In Lapeyre’s observation, the theft prevention campaigns haven’t been that effective. Authorities posted signs that are “25 feet up on poles,” with faded lettering, he said, so tourists are oblivious to them. Desperate neighbors tried making their own versions, printing theft advisories that they laminated with saran wrap.

Recently, however, the city government became more proactive. In October Mayor London Breed met with the neighborhood association and “took the time to listen to members’ concerns about car break-ins and crime,” Jervis said. She told the association that city engineers are contemplating street design changes that could restrict vehicle access, and impede thieves from driving into — or quickly peeling out of — the neighborhood.

Capt. Jason Sawyer of San Francisco Police Department’s Northern Station also attended association meetings, and Jervis said he’s noticed more beat officers around Alamo Square Park during “high priority times,” including holidays. Jervis believes these measures have helped, and noted that police have also caught suspected burglars.

Last week, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins charged two people for allegedly playing critical roles in an auto burglary operation. Prosecutors linked one defendant to a smash-and-grab near Alamo Square, and say he later fenced items in the Mission District. He has pled not guilty.

But the coordinated response happened too late for Paulsen, who said that by the end of last year, he’d grown disenchanted with screeching getaway cars and the sight of broken glass. In January, he moved to Redwood City, saying he wanted to live somewhere safer.

He drove up to San Francisco for dinner six months later, at a restaurant near Fisherman’s Wharf. It had a sign in the window warning patrons not to leave valuables in their cars — a statement that immediately put Paulsen on edge.

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