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Fog City News Briefs

By Lara Moscrip

May 30, 2007

Police searching for spirituality scam artists

Police are searching for one of two brothers who allegedly used spirituality to scam hundreds of victims out of thousands of dollars in the South Bay, San Jose police announced Tuesday.

Since November 2006, police have been investigating a faith healer named John Alexander Manrique Salazar, 23, of San Jose, who called himself "Master Alexander," and advertised that he could solve personal and relationship problems.

In August 2006, an Oakland woman called the advertised phone number and talked to a group called Comunidad Esotorica located at 1140 Pedro St. in San Jose, according to police.

The Pedro Street office had an altar room with statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary as well as a pentagram and candles and other items associated with Santeria, Catholicism and Wicca, San Jose police Detective Manuel Jurado said.

After telling her story to the alleged healers about problems with her infant daughter, a man named John Salazar told her the child was cursed and needed saving. John Salazar allegedly said he could save the child's life for a fee.

The victim gave John Salazar more than $10,000 for a month-long treatment, police reported.

An investigation revealed a second suspect, Carlos Manrique Salazar, 34, of San Jose, and hundreds of additional victims who paid thousands of dollars for various treatments.

The brothers allegedly preyed on people throughout the Bay Area using Santeria, a mix of Afro-Caribbean and Catholic beliefs.

The healers allegedly used Hispanic media to get their message out, including ads in Spanish language radio and print.

Jurado called the investigation long and tedious and said John Salazar had agreed to turn himself into authorities.

"He made a commitment he was going to self-surrender but he went sideways on that," Jurado said.

Jurado turned the case over to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office and the suspects were charged with five counts of grand theft with false pretense and one count of attempted grand theft.

Carlos Salazar was arrested in Houston after returning on a flight from Colombia and is now in custody, but police are still searching for John Salazar, whom they say could still be practicing in the Bay Area as a faith healer.

Investigators are encouraging anyone with information on this case or suspect John Salazar's whereabouts to contact Jurado at (408) 277-4521.

For those wishing to remain anonymous call Crime Stoppers at (408) 947-STOP

Police on high alert after suspects attempted to lure minors into vehicles

Police along the Peninsula were on high alert Tuesday after a suspect or suspects attempted to lure minors into vehicles in San Mateo County during the past two weeks.

The first incident took place in Menlo Park on May 14 when two men in a white van approached an 11-year-old girl on her way to school at the intersection of University Drive and Santa Cruz Avenue.

The driver of the van exited the vehicle to speak with the girl, but she was able to continue to walk her normal route to school and the van eventually left the area, according to Nicole Acker, Menlo Park police information officer.

A second incident took place in the mid-Peninsula town of Hillsborough on May 22 when a 9-year-old boy was approached by two men in a brown or tan "Ford Explorer-type SUV," according to Hillsborough police Capt. Mark O'Connor.

The boy, who was outside his home located on a cul-de-sac near Skyline Boulevard, said the men offered him a ride and some candy when they approached him around 4 p.m.

The suspects in this case never exited their vehicle and drove away when the boy refused their offers, O'Connor said.

The two suspects in this incident are described as white men in their late 20s. The driver is said to be about 27 years old with blonde, puffy hair and the passenger is described as a white man with brown spiky hair. Both were thought to be wearing gray shirts, O'Connor said.

Menlo Park police have increased patrols around the neighborhoods where the incidents took place as well as around local schools since the first report.

Hillsborough police have also stepped up patrols and have been using both marked and unmarked police units to patrol the town and schools, particularly during drop-off and pick-up periods, O'Connor said.

Anyone with information about the Menlo Park incident is asked to contact Menlo Park police at (650) 330-6300. Anyone with information on the Hillsborough incident is asked to call police dispatch at (650) 375-7470.

Bret Harte Middle Shool drowning investigation could be lengthy

An investigation into the drowning of a 14-year-old Bret Harte Middle School student at an end-of-the-year picnic at Roberts Regional Park in Oakland on Thursday could be lengthy, according to Pat O'Brien, general manager of the East Bay Regional Park District.

Rudy Rodriguez was found at the bottom of Roberts Pool on Thursday and transferred to Oakland Children's Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries Saturday, according to the Alameda County coroner's bureau.

"Our hearts go out to Rudy's friends and family," O'Brien said.

"This is just a tragedy for everyone."

East Bay Regional Park police Lt. Dave Dubowy said that rescuers performed CPR and used a defibrillator to revive Rudy. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

Dubowy said police are awaiting results of Rudy's autopsy. Lifeguards, a lifeguard supervisor and several school chaperones were at the picnic, and will be interviewed to determine what events lead to the incident.

O'Brien said this is the first incident of this type since Roberts Pool opened in 1953.
"While we grieve with the family, we're trying to thoroughly investigate what happened that day," O'Brien said. "Investigators need to interview dozens of people who were present, many of them children who we must treat with sensitivity, so it could be a lengthy investigation."

Police hoping to locate witness to alleged sexual assault

Police are hoping to locate a woman who frightened away two Hispanic men who tried to sexually assault a female at Will C. Wood High School student on Thursday.

Sgt. Charlie Spruill said four Hispanic males between 16 and 19 years old verbally harassed the female student in the 1200 block of Marshall Road as she walked home from the school.

The girl turned to walk back to the school when two of the males grabbed her and pulled her across the street to some hedges in an empty parking lot, Spruill said.

As the suspects tried to remove the student's clothing, an unknown female yelled at the suspects in Spanish and ran toward them, Spruill said. The suspects let go of the victim and fled south from Marshall Road, Spruill said.

Three of the four male suspects had short hair and one had collar-length hair, Spruill said. The incident appears to be a random act and is not related to the school, Spruill said, and the victim was not physically injured.

Police want to talk to the unknown woman who helped the victim, Spruill said. Anyone with information about her is asked to call Spruill at (707) 469-6600.

Police are also reminding parents to talk to their children about their safety and about being aware of their surroundings.

Police are advising children to walk home in pairs when possible and are advising parents to program the police department's main telephone number, (707) 449-5200, into their children's cell phones to avoid delays in an emergency.

Advocates laud San Francisco for pioneering Bill of Rights for incarcerated young mothers

Juvenile justice advocates are lauding San Francisco for its pioneering Bill of Rights for incarcerated young mothers.

The 10-point declaration, believed to be the first of its kind, will guide policy in the city's juvenile halls, said Marlene Sanchez, executive director of The Center for Young Women's Development.

The San Francisco-based nonprofit organization has been working for about two years with the city's juvenile probation department on the project. The declaration went into effect in January, and Sanchez says the next step is training those who work in the juvenile justice system.

With two-thirds of the girls in the juvenile justice system either pregnant or parenting, the document will have far-reaching consequences, Sanchez said.

The Bill of Rights ensures that the young mothers are treated with dignity, said Bill Siffermann, the city's chief juvenile probation officer.

According to the Young Mothers' Bill of Rights, the girls have the right to have somebody with them while they're giving birth and they are allowed to give birth without shackles - something that was also ensured by state law last year. They have the right to recover in the hospital after having a baby.

The young women have the right to see, touch and speak to their children, be informed of their children's well-being and safety, and have support and advocacy while incarcerated.

The Bill of Rights also affirms the right to prenatal and parenting information.

Sophia Sanchez, coordinator of the Young Mothers Organizing Project Program for the Center for Young Women's Development, said the tenets simply spell out for juveniles the protections that are already clarified for adult inmates.

"The rights we're demanding as moms are basic human rights," she said.

Mother and widow of slain San Leandro police officer testifies

The mother and widow of San Leandro police officer Nels "Dan" Niemi testified Tuesday that their lives haven't been the same since he was shot to death while he was on duty nearly two years ago.

Testifying in the first day of the penalty phase of the trial of 25-year-old Irving Ramirez of Newark, who was convicted on May 10 of murdering Niemi, 42, on July 25, 2005, the officer's mother, Mildred Niemi of Alamo, said, "Our life is empty because we're missing part of our family."

Niemi said she and her husband, Rudie Niemi, "hibernated" after their son was killed and rarely go out and see anyone anymore.

Dionne Niemi, the officer's widow, said the couple's two children, a son and a daughter, have both been angry and needed counseling since his death.

Niemi said that for a long period of time their daughter, Gabrielle, who was only seven when the officer died, had nightmares and had to sleep in the same bed with her.

At the end of the guilty phase of Ramirez's trial, jurors convicted him of first-degree murder as well as the special circumstances of murdering a police officer during the performance of his duties and committing murder to avoid arrest for the shooting death of Niemi.

At the end of the penalty phase, the same jurors will choose between recommending either the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

During the penalty phase, jurors will weigh aggravating the aggravating factors in Ramirez's life, such as his prior crimes and the impact the murder had on Niemi's family, friends and colleagues, versus mitigating factors such as any hardships in his life and any good deeds he has performed.

In the guilt phase of Ramirez's trial, Michael Berger, one of two lawyers who represent Ramirez, admitted to jurors that Ramirez killed Niemi but said he did so without any deliberation, a key component of first-degree murder.

Ramirez, who had been drinking cognac and beer to celebrate his birthday, was so drunk that he panicked without being fully aware of what he was doing, Berger said.

In her opening statement in the penalty phase Tuesday, Deborah Levy, Ramirez's other lawyer, admitted that he "committed a heinous and monstrous crime" but said "that doesn't mean that he is a heinous and monstrous person."

Levy said the death penalty should be reserved only "for the worst of the worst" and she believes Ramirez "is not the type of individual worthy of the death penalty."

Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff is seeking the death penalty for Ramirez, an immigrant from El Salvador, but he didn't directly say that to jurors in his brief opening statement Tuesday.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jon Rolefson told jurors that the attorneys in the case probably will finish presenting evidence in the penalty phase by the end of the week and give their closing arguments next Monday.

State Assembly passes bill requiring health insurers pay for cervical cancer vaccinations

The state Assembly on Tuesday passed a bill requiring health insurers and health plans to pay for vaccinating young girls for cervical cancer, Assemblywoman Noreen Evans said.

"We have an historic opportunity to improve women's health," said Evans, D-Santa Rosa.

AB 1429 now goes to the state Senate for further review, Evans said.

Evans said under current law, health plans and insurers that include coverage for treatment or surgery of cervical cancer must also provide coverage for an annual cervical cancer screening test. Her bill would include coverage for vaccination for the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Evans said current law requires only coverage for girls 16 years or younger in group plans or insurance policies.

"That leaves out many California women," Evans said.

"This bill is an opportunity to help women, especially Latino women who are most likely to get cervical cancer and African American women who are most likely to die from it," Evans said.

In California this year, almost 1,600 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and nearly 400 will die, Evans said. California has the highest incidence of cervical cancer in the country, Evans said.

Jury begins second day of deliberations in trial of marijuana activist Ed Rosenthal

A federal jury begins today its second straight day of deliberations in the case of an Oakland marijuana activist who claims he was growing the drug for patients but wasn't allowed to say so in court.

The jury considered the marijuana cultivation case of Ed Rosenthal, 62, for about three hours Tuesday afternoon and will resume deliberations in the court of U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer this morning.

Rosenthal, the author of a dozen books about marijuana, faces five counts of conspiracy and growing and selling marijuana at an Oakland warehouse and a now-defunct San Francisco dispensary between 1998 and 2002.

Although he has claimed outside of court he was growing starter plants for patients under California's Compassionate Use Act, he was not allowed to argue that defense. U.S. drug laws allow no exception for state medical marijuana laws.

Assistant U.S. Attorney George Bevan, referring to Rosenthal's alleged use of the warehouse to grow plants, told the jury during closing arguments Tuesday, "It's a federal crime and you can't do it."

The trial, which began May 15, is Rosenthal's second in the case.

He was convicted in Breyer's court in 2003 on three similar charges and sentenced to one day in prison. But a federal appeals court overturned the conviction last year on the ground that a juror had improperly consulted a lawyer friend during deliberations.

Prosecutors have told the judge that they won't seek a penalty heavier than the one day already served if Rosenthal is convicted, but said the retrial is part of their mandate to enforce federal laws.

The jury was given the case at midday Tuesday after the defense rested Tuesday morning without calling any witnesses and both sides gave closing arguments.

Trial of computer programmer facing murder charges delayed

The trial of a computer programmer who is facing charges that he murdered his wife was delayed for a second time on Tuesday because his lawyer is busy with another case.

Hans Reiser, 43, who remains in custody without bail at the Alameda County Jail, is scheduled to return to court June 11.

His case will be assigned to a trial courtroom at that time assuming his lawyer, William DuBois, is finished with a murder trial in Hayward involving another client.

Hans Reiser's wife, Nina Reiser, 31, was last seen about 2 p.m. on Sept. 3 when she dropped off the couple's two children at Hans Reiser's home in the 6900 block of Exeter Drive in Oakland.

The couple married in 1999 but separated in May 2004. They were undergoing contentious divorce proceedings at the time she disappeared but the divorce wasn't finalized.

Nina Reiser was awarded custody of the couple's 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter but Hans Reiser was allowed to have the children one weeknight a week and every other weekend.

Nina Reiser's body hasn't been found, but in October Hans Reiser was charged with murdering her after Oakland police said they found biological and trace evidence suggesting that she is dead as well as blood evidence tying him to her death.

On March 9, at the end of a lengthy preliminary hearing, Judge Julie Conger ruled that there's sufficient evidence for Reiser to stand trial on charges that he murdered Nina Reiser, who was trained as a physician in her native Russia.

Hans Reiser asked for a speedy trial and originally was scheduled to have his trial start May 7 but his case was postponed at the request of DuBois.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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