John Balazs is an attorney in Sacramento, California, specializing in criminal defense, including appeals, habeas corpus, pardons, expungements, and civil forfeiture actions. After graduating from UCLA Law School in 1989, he clerked for Judge Harry Pregerson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. John was an Assistant Federal Defender in Fresno and Sacramento from 1992-2001. He currently serves as an adjunct professor in clinical trial advocacy at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. Please email EDCA items of interest to Balazslaw@gmail.com. Follow me on twitter @balazslaw.
This blog is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice. The law can change rapidly and information in this blog can become outdated. Do your own research or consult with an attorney.
The Fresno Bee, 4/21/16 reports on the arrests of 28 purported members of Fresno's Dog Pound gang on a variety of federal charges, including racketeering, pimping, identity theft, fraud, and conspiracy to commit murder:
A multi-agency gang sweep that Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer called “the largest and most impactful gang operation in this city’s history” resulted in the arrests of more than two dozen people, including leaders of one of Fresno’s most notorious gangs.
“These men had people in the streets hunting for rivals to shoot every hour of every day,” Dyer said. “This is going to be a much safer place.”
In all, 28 people – most identified as leaders of the Dog Pound Gang – were arrested Thursday in the sweep, Dyer said at a news conference. More than 400 law enforcement officers from various local, state and federal agencies participated
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A variety of charges were filed in federal court Thursday.
Ten of the suspects will face conspiracy to commit murder charges.
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James York, 39, was identified by Dyer as the top target of the sweep. He is believed to be the leader of the gang and was involved in both the shooting plots and the prostitution. He was also charged with sex trafficking a minor, a 17-year-old girl who has since been put into foster care.
Some of the arrests center around prostitution operations that originated in Fresno and ballooned out into five states and Washington, D.C. Dyer said that at least eight of the gang leaders were recruiting young women in Fresno – often runaways – through social media and other means before sending them throughout the country.
York and the other leaders arrested Thursday are believed to have managed the gang for more than a decade.
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The three men charged as pimps are believed to have brought in at least $30,000 per week from the eight or nine prostitutes each supervised.
Dyer said none of the prostitutes will be charged, as they’re considered victims. Some were lured with promises of a better life, but all were eventually coerced by the violent gang leaders. Breaking the Chains, a local support group for sex trafficking victims, and other similar groups were called in to help these women.
Two employees at the Ambassador Inn & Suites at 1804 W. Olive Ave. and one employee from Summerfield Inn at 6309 N. Blackstone Ave. were arrested for helping the pimps by providing regular rooms for prostitution.
Fresno County Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright said his office could also file charges in Fresno County Superior Court.
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Other charges against the gang leader included fraud, identity theft, and racketeering.
A Sacramento man is accused of conspiring to produce child pornography, using children in the Philippines.
A federal grand jury in Sacramento on Thursday returned a four-count indictment charging Michael Carey Clemans, 55, with conspiracy to produce child pornography, production and receipt of child pornography, and the buying of children, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office news release.
Fresno indictments in 2014 hit the lowest level in at least five years. Overall, indictments in 2014 were down 36% from 2013.
Benjamin Wagner, U.S. Attorney for California’s eastern federal judicial district, which includes Fresno, says the reasons for the steep decline in immigration prosecution are federal court rulings combined with a change in California law.
As a result, Wagner says, dangerous undocumented immigrants are being released from county jails across the central San Joaquin Valley before federal law enforcement can arrest them.
“It’s something we’re quite concerned about,” he says. “Our focus is not people who are here illegally, but people who are here illegally and have a significant criminal history and pose a public risk.”
Immigration activists offer a different viewpoint. They say the change is welcome and has largely stopped people from being held in jail solely because of their immigration status.
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While immigration cases accounted for much of the drop in Fresno federal indictments, there is another area seeing a high-profile decline: sex crimes against minors.
In Fresno, for years this has often been synonymous with child pornography arrests, with the Eastern District of California charging such cases at twice the national average. The backbone of the push has been Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched by the Department of Justice in May 2006 to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.
Recently, Wagner asked prosecutors in both Fresno and Sacramento to pursue fewer indictments, but target the more serious cases.
An example would be the arrest last August of Visalia resident Tyrell Richmond, who is charged with sex trafficking after authorities say he tried to force three girls into prostitution in Fresno and Visalia. The case was a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Fresno Police Department along with the Visalia Police Department.
As a result of the new approach, indictments for sex crimes against minors went from 33 in 2013 to 20 last year — a 39% drop.
Wagner says he wants the focus on child pornography production more than the guy with a child porn collection who is “living in his mom’s basement.” He also wants prosecution priorities focused more on sexual predators and any one who is in a position of authority who may be breaking child sex crime laws.
Say out loud that Jordan James Kirby is from Paradise, and it doesn’t sound right, even though he is from the Butte County town.
There was a lot that hadn’t sounded right to U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. about Kirby, a guy who used various identities on Facebook to offer $3,000 to $4,000 to women and girls for lascivious and sexually explicit photographs of them, purportedly so he could submit the photos to a modeling agency. Instead he sometimes used the photos to extort or attempt to extort sex acts with the victims.
The judge was disturbed by accounts of stomach-turning descriptions of predatory acts, including statutory rape, in which Kirby engaged.
Thus, mercy was not on the menu Friday at a hearing in Sacramento federal court, where Burrell gave Kirby 29 years in prison. Now 23, Kirby will be almost 50 when he gets out, even if he qualifies for the maximum reduction of 54 days a year for good behavior. Parole has been abolished in the federal system.
On December 23, after an 11-day trial before Judge Nunley, a federal jury found a Sacramento man guilty of five counts of sex trafficking involving young women and minors who purportedly worked as prostitutes for him. U.S. v. Love, No. 2:13-CR-306-TLN. Sacramento Bee, 12/24/14.
I heard the defendant represented himself at trial.
Former Anderson Police officer Bryan Robert Benson pleaded guilty Friday in federal court to a civil rights offense for sexually assaulting a woman while transporting her to jail, according to a press release issued by the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California.
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Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 15. Benson and the government agreed in the plea agreement that the Court should sentence Benson to five years in prison.