3 kidnapping attempts targeted San Jose baby, prosecutors say

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — Baby Brandon Cuellar was targeted by kidnappers in three separates incidents, Santa Clara County prosecutors said Thursday.

Jose Ramon Portillo and Yesenia Guadalupe Ramirez staged multiple kidnapping attempts in San Jose, including one when Portillo posed as a fake Child Protective Services worker who demanded to take custody of the baby, according to investigators.

In the fake CPS kidnapping attempt, the baby’s family was suspicious, and refused to hand the 3-month-old infant over.

“There are few things more terrifying than someone stealing a child, as if they’re a car or wallet. The more we investigate this case … the more troubling it gets,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said Thursday.

Jose Portillo talks with his defense attorney in court. (Pool photo / Bay Area News Group)

Portillo, 28, and Ramirez, 43, thought they finally pulled off their kidnapping scheme on April 25, investigators said. In broad daylight, a mysterious man walked into baby Brandon’s grandmother’s apartment while she was busy unloading groceries from her car with Ramirez.

The grandmother was babysitting Brandon while his mother was at work, and Ramirez was a “family friend,” police said.

When the grandmother returned to her apartment, the baby was gone.

Surveillance cameras recorded the mysterious man carrying the Infant away in a car seat covered with a baby blanket. The grandmother had no idea who the may was and alerted police.

Ramirez in court
Yesenia Ramirez listens in the courtroom on April 28, 2022. (Pool photo / Bay Area News Group)

The April 25 kidnapping sparked a frantic search across San Jose.

Investigators with the San Jose Police Department and FBI uncovered evidence showing Ramirez had gone shopping with the grandmother at Walmart and used her cellphone to communicate with Portillo.

Police became suspicious of Ramirez when she gave inconsistent statements when they questioned her.

Baby Brandon was found unharmed 24 hours later inside Portillo’s house. Police found baby care supplies, including diapers and formula for making bottles, and a baby rocker in his house. Neither Portillo nor Ramirez have any children of their own.

“This was not the first time they tried to kidnap the baby boy,” prosecutors wrote. “About a month-and-a-half before the kidnapping a man showed up at the child’s home and identified himself as a CPS worker. The family decided to call CPS who stated that they had not sent anyone to take Brandon. Ramirez was present at the victim’s home when this happened.”

New evidence also revealed that Ramirez and Portillo planned to kidnap Brandon at a local Walmart twice, once on March 28 and again on April 25, according to prosecutors. Both Walmart kidnapping attempts failed.

“In the first attempt, they were unable to switch shopping carts in an effort for Portillo to leave the store with Brandon. On the second occasion, were unable to distract Brandon’s grandmother,” prosecutors wrote.

This breaking news story will be updated. Check back for updates.

from KRON4 https://www.kron4.com/news/bay-area/3-kidnapping-attempts-targeted-san-jose-baby-prosecutors-say/

Moss Beach volunteer attacked by SF man, prosecutors say

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KRON) — A San Francisco man brutally attacked a Fitzgerald Marine Reserve volunteer who was trying to help protect harbor seals on Moss Beach, according to prosecutors.

Raekwon Marquise Bush, 25, of San Francisco, was slated to appear in a San Mateo County courtroom Thursday to enter a plea. Bush is facing assault and battery charges in connection to the March 28 assault.

According to prosecutors, the incident began when two women who volunteer for Fitzgerald Marine Reserve walked to the beach to take photographs of seals. The marine reserve is an oasis for hundreds of harbor seals who give birth and raise their pups on the beach every spring.

The marine reserve is designated as a Marine Protected Area and dogs are not allowed. Dogs can disturb the seals and cause mothers to abandon their pups, according to wildlife experts.

The two women spotted Bush on the beach with his pitbull dog. The dog was unleashed.

Bush was also with a 22-year-old Hayward woman, Unaloto Kioa, who was holding a cat and a baby, prosecutors said.

The volunteers shot photographs of the dog violation to show a nearby state park ranger.

Prosecutors said Kioa grabbed one of the volunteers by her hair and snatched away the camera, prosecutors said.

Bush then ran up and attacked the volunteer, “throwing her to the ground and repeatedly punching her in the head,” prosecutors wrote.

The second volunteer ran up the beach bluff to alert the ranger. When the ranger arrived, Bush threatened the ranger and San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputies were called in as backup, prosecutors said.

Deputies found the beating victim on the ground bleeding.

She was transported to a hospital to be treated for head and face injuries, including broken teeth. Prosecutors noted that the victim is 5’2″ tall and weighs 140 pounds, while Bush is 6’4″ tall and weighs 205 pounds.

Bush remains in the San Mateo County Jail in lieu of $35,000 bail.

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from KRON4 https://www.kron4.com/news/bay-area/moss-beach-volunteers-attacked-by-sf-man-prosecutors-say/

Holmes’ ex was her partner in crime, prosecutors say

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — Opening statements began Tuesday for the trial of Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, Elizabeth Holmes’ ex-boyfriend and former COO of Theranos.

According to federal prosecutors, Balwani was Holmes’ co-conspirator for defrauding sophisticated investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

“They ran the company together. They were partners in everything, including their crimes,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Leach told the jury.

The rise and fall of Theranos was one of the biggest scandals in Silicon Valley’s history. Holmes was a Stanford University dropout who founded her startup company in 2003 with dreams of revolutionizing blood testing and becoming the next Steve Jobs.

She was a Silicon Valley superstar until federal investigators exposed her of fraud.

Sunny Balwani and Elizabeth Holmes
Sunny Balwani and Elizabeth Holmes (Getty Images)

Balwani is facing the same 12 counts of fraud and conspiracy that Holmes was put on trial for. Earlier this year, Holmes was convicted in a separate trial on four counts.

Balwani’s hopes for a better fate than Holmes will come down to a new jury.

In opening statements, Leach told the jurors that they were not selected because they had medical degrees or expertise in technology. 

The jurors were selected because “you have common sense. And in the end, this is a case about fraud, about lying, and deceiving to get money,” Leach said. 

“The scheme brought them fame, adoration, and comparison to companies like Microsoft and other unicorn technology companies,” Leach said.

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When Balwani joined Theranos in 2009 as its president and COO, “he had no medical degree, no experience in blood testing, building medical devices, or running a lab. What he did have was a connection to Holmes. Balwani was her romantic partner.”

Balwani was directly in charge of Theranos’ lab, manufacturing, Walgreens partnership, and company’s finances, prosecutors said.

Balwani and Holmes claimed their company had invented a mini blood testing machine “that could run any blood test from a drop of blood from the finger,” Leach said.

“He and Holmes began making grandiose, spectacular claims about Theranos capabilities and accomplishments. They tried to convince retailers (Safeway and Walgreens) that Theranos technology was ready for use for patients,” Leach said.

Theranos claimed, from just a fingerprick of blood, its mini blood analyzers could run hundreds of rapid blood tests for less than the cost of traditional labs.

“It was never able to do more than 12 blood tests, and even those, it did badly,” Leach said. 

Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani arrives at the Robert F. Peckham U.S. Federal Court on March 16, 2022 in San Jose. (Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

In 2013, “the spectacular grand promises Holmes and Balwani made were not materializing. On top of all of this, Theranos was quickly running out of money … time …. and options. So what did Holmes and Balwani do? They decided to deceive and cheat,” Leach said. 

Theranos had $0 in revenue in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, the company had $150,000 in revenue, and in 2015 it had less than $2 million. Theranos was barely able to pay its own employees.

Meanwhile, Balwani was telling investors that Theranos would have $140 million in revenue by the end of 2014, and $1 billion in revenue by 2015, Leach told the jury.

The company’s finance manager testified during Holmes’ trial that she had no idea where those numbers came from. 

Theranos fooled reporters into writing glowing articles in Fortune magazine and the Wall Street Journal, which Holmes and Balwani in turn used to recruit and deceive more investors, Leach said. 

Their false and misleading claims were “enormously successful. They raised hundreds of millions of dollars from investors. It made Holmes and Balwani billionaires,” Leach said. 

Balwani owned Theranos shares that equated to half a billion dollars. 

Holmes owned even more shares that equated to $4.5 billion. 

“Insiders at Theranos knew what was really going on … and were troubled by it,” Leach said. 

Prosecutors showed the jury photos of some of the insiders — four former Theranos lab employees — who will testify at Balwani’s trial: Erika Cheung, lab associate; Dr. Mark Pandori, co-lab director in 2013 and 2014; Dr. Adam Rosendorff, lab director in 2013 – 2014; Dr. Sunil Dhawan, lab director from 2014-2015.

During her trial, Holmes accused Balwani of verbal and sexual abuse, and blamed him for what went wrong at Theranos. She tearfully testified that Balwani controlled and manipulated her during their relationship, essentially controlling her life.

Balwani’s defense team firmly denied the abuse allegations.

KRON4 interviewed one prospective juror, Gabriela Villasenor, who was not picked after she told Balwani’s attorneys that she was vaguely aware of Holmes’ abuse allegations. 

“Honestly I didn’t follow Elizabeth Holmes’ case. I knew the nuts and bolts of it. But the exact allegations I did not know. His attorney asked, ‘Would you label him a woman abuser if you were a juror selected?’ I said, ‘no because I don’t know the circumstances,’” Villasenor said.

This breaking news story will be updated.  

from KRON4 https://www.kron4.com/elizabeth-holmes-trial/elizabeth-holmes-boyfriend-was-her-partner-in-crime-prosecutors-say/

3 women attacked Delta worker at JFK, beat him with own radio, prosecutors say

New York, NY (WPIX) – Three women allegedly beat a Delta security officer at John F. Kennedy International Airport ahead of a scheduled flight to Puerto Rico, officials said Thursday.

Jordan Nixon, 21; Janessa Torres, 21, and Johara Zavala, 44, were arrested Thursday morning in connection with the Sept. 22 incident. The three are accused of beating the security officer with his own radio, knocking him down and repeatedly punching and kicking him in the face and body while he was down, U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said.

“The extreme and aggressive behavior in connection with our air travel is out of control,” Peace said in a press release. “This Office has zero tolerance for violent conduct that threatens the safety of airline passengers and employees and will prosecute defendants who allegedly engage in such conduct to the fullest extent of the law.”

Nixon, Torres and Zavala refused to leave a jetway at JFK after they were told they could not board a flight, allegedly because one woman appeared to be visibly disoriented and another had refused to properly wear her mask, according to court filings.

The women had also allegedly attacked another employee who tried to help the security officer. Both workers needed to be treated at a hospital for their injuries.

The three women are now facing possible federal charges. If convicted, the defendants could serve up to 10 years in prison, per the press release.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said airline workers need to be safe.

“The defendants allegedly attacked two airline employees, who were simply doing their jobs,” Katz said. “The friendly skies must not turn into chaos and turmoil because some passengers refuse to abide by the rules.”

from KRON4 https://www.kron4.com/news/national/3-women-attacked-delta-worker-at-jfk-beat-him-with-own-radio-prosecutors-say/

CNN producer accused of sex abuse wanted girls to be ‘trained properly,’ prosecutors say

HENDERSON, Nev. (KLAS) – A CNN producer is accused of convincing a Nevada mother to fly her daughter cross-county to be “trained properly” through unlawful sexual activity, federal prosecutors said.

Following an FBI investigation, John Griffin, 44, of Stamford, Connecticut, faces three counts of using a facility of interstate commerce to attempt to entice minors to engage in unlawful sexual activity.

Griffin has worked at CNN for 8 years, the network confirmed Saturday. “The charges against Mr. Griffin are deeply disturbing,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “We only learned of his arrest yesterday afternoon and have suspended him pending investigation.”

Griffin is accused of using online messaging services like Kik and Google Hangouts to talk to parents of young girls, saying, among other things, that young women should be trained to “be sexually subservient and inferior to men,” prosecutors wrote in a news release.

Griffin allegedly said he believed in “a way of life” in which women served men, according to court documents.

In June of 2020, Griffin advised a Nevada mother of two young daughters, ages 9 and 13, to come to Vermont, where he has a second home, so they could be “trained properly,” prosecutors said.

Griffin allegedly transferred $3,000 to the mother so she could buy plane tickets from Nevada to Boston for her and the 9-year-old girl. The mother and children flew to Boston and Griffin drove them from the airport to his Vermont home.

“At the house, the daughter was directed to engage in, and did engage in, unlawful sexual activity,” prosecutors said.

Griffin is also accused of proposing a “virtual training session” over video chat involving two minors.

Griffin faces a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison for each count.

from KRON4 https://www.kron4.com/news/national/cnn-producer-accused-of-sex-abuse-wanted-girls-to-be-trained-properly-prosecutors-say/

US Capitol officer told Jan. 6 rioter to hide evidence, prosecutors say

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. Capitol Police officer has been indicted on obstruction of justice charges after prosecutors say he helped to hide evidence of a rioter’s involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The officer, Michael A. Riley, is accused of tipping off someone who participated in the riot by telling them to remove posts from Facebook that had shown the person inside the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack, according to court documents.

Riley, 50, appeared virtually in federal court in Washington and was released with several conditions, including that he surrender any firearms and not travel outside the U.S. without permission from a judge. He was ordered to return to court later this month.

Riley, who responded to a report of a pipe bomb on Jan. 6 and has been a Capitol Police officer for about 25 years, had sent the person a message telling them that he was an officer with the police force who “agrees with your political stance,” an indictment against him says.

The indictment spells out how Riley sent dozens of messages to the unidentified person, encouraging them to remove incriminating photos and videos and telling them how the FBI was investigating to identify rioters.

Riley’s attorney did not immediately respond to a reporter’s message-seeking comment.

In a statement, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said the department learned of the investigation against Riley several weeks ago and placed him on administrative leave when he was arrested Friday. Manger called the indictment a “very serious allegation” and said the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility was also opening an internal investigation.

His arrest and the accusation that an active duty Capitol Police officer was trying to obstruct the investigation into the attack is particularly notable because many of his colleagues were brutally beaten in the insurrection. The riot left dozens of police officers bloodied and bruised as the crowd of pro-Trump rioters, some armed with pipes, bats and bear spray, charged into the Capitol, quickly overrunning the overwhelmed police force.

One officer was beaten and shocked with a stun gun repeatedly until he had a heart attack; another was foaming at the mouth and screaming for help as rioters crushed him between two doors and bashed him in the head with his own weapon.

More than 600 people face charges in the Jan. 6 attack, in which a mob loyal to then-President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol, battled police and tried to stop the certification of the election victory for President Joe Biden.

In the days after the attack, scores of rioters flaunted their participation in social media posts that bragged about their ability to get inside the Capitol. But then many started realizing it could be used as evidence and began deleting it.

An Associated Press review of court records has found that at least 49 defendants are accused of trying to erase incriminating photos, videos and texts from phones or social media accounts documenting their conduct as the pro-Trump mob stormed Congress and briefly interrupted the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory.

Experts say the efforts to scrub the social media accounts reveal a desperate willingness to manipulate evidence once these people realized they were in hot water. They say it can serve as powerful proof of people’s consciousness of guilt and can make it harder to negotiate plea deals and seek leniency at sentencing.

Riley told the rioter that the scene was a “total s—show.” “I’m glad you got out of there unscathed. We had over 50 officers hurt, some pretty bad,” the officer wrote, according to the complaint.

When the rioter said through messaging that he didn’t think he’d done anything wrong, Riley responded, according to court papers: “The only thing I can see is if you went into the building and they have proof you will be charged. You could always articulate that you had nowhere to go, but that’s for court.”

Later in January, after two had discussed their love of fishing, Riley told the man to get off social media.

“They’re arresting dozens of people a day,” he wrote, according to the posting. “Everyone that was in the building. Engaged in violent acts or destruction of property and they’re all being charged federally with felonies.”

Making digital content vanish isn’t as easy as deleting content from phones, removing social media posts or shutting down accounts. Investigators have been able to retrieve the digital content by requesting it from social media companies, even after accounts are shut down. Posts made on Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms are recoverable for a certain period of time, and authorities routinely ask those companies to preserve the records until they get court orders to view the posts.

Despite initial criticism that Capitol police did not do enough to stop the rioters, Riley is the first Capitol police officer to be charged with a crime involving the insurrection.

But several current and former police officers were arrested on riot-related charges, including two Virginia police officers who posed for a photo during the attack. In July, authorities arrested an off-duty Drug Enforcement Administration agent accused of posing for photographs in which he flashed his DEA badge and firearm outside the Capitol during the riot.

Other law enforcement officers were investigated for their presence at the Capitol that day or at Trump’s rally before the riot. In January, an Associated Press survey of law enforcement agencies nationwide found that at least 31 officers in 12 states are being scrutinized by their supervisors for their behavior in the District of Columbia or face criminal charges for participating in the riot.

In September, Capitol Police said officials had recommended disciplinary action in six cases after an internal review of officer behavior stemming from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The department’s Office of Professional Responsibility had opened 38 internal investigations and was able to identify 26 of the officers involved, police said in a statement at the time. In 20 of the cases, no wrongdoing was found.

It isn’t clear whether Riley was among the officers who were referred for disciplinary action.

from KRON4 https://www.kron4.com/news/national/us-capitol-officer-told-jan-6-rioter-to-hide-evidence-prosecutors-say/

Man accused of punching flight attendant was hearing voices, prosecutors say

HONOLULU (KHON2) – Prosecutors said the man accused of punching a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant had been hearing voices weeks prior to the incident.

Steven Sloan Jr., 32, was back in federal court on Thursday for a detention hearing where a judge ruled that he posed a significant risk to himself or others, and must remain in custody.

Prosecutors told the judge that Sloan had been hearing voices for at least two weeks and questioned whether he had the mental competency to proceed with the hearing. The defense argued that Sloan is competent, and the judge agreed.

Sloan is accused of punching a male flight attendant, unprovoked, on a flight to Hilo on Thursday, Sept. 23. The plane returned to Honolulu where Sloan was arrested.

Legal experts said prosecutors tend to come down hard on unruly passengers who act violently.

“Usually when there’s a physical assault, they’re not very lenient in dropping charges to a lesser degree,” said Ali Silvert, a retired federal public defender. “Right now, it’s a felony and in this type of case it’s unusual for a prosecutor to drop it down to a misdemeanor.”

Silvert has represented about 30 people for similar incidents. A felony charge in cases such as this could mean up to 20 years in prison.

“Given that there may be mental issues involved in what happened, if that is true and can be proven, then the government might be more sympathetic and allow Mr. Sloan to plead to a misdemeanor,” said Silvert.

In addition to the voices, prosecutors also told the judge that Sloan has a history of drug abuse, which could also be a factor.

“If you have drug use or alcohol use that has affected your mental state of mind long-term, that is an issue,” Silvert added.

In addition to assault, Sloan is also charged with interference with a flight crew — a misdemeanor — that carries a one year sentence. Sloan is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Monday, Oct. 11.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in September that reports of unruly passengers were still coming in at twice the rate they were reported at the end of 2020. Since January 2021, the agency has received reports of at least 4,498 such incidents, the majority of which involve passengers refusing to comply with mask mandates.

The FAA has also proposed over $1,100,000 in civil penalties (collectively) against some of those disruptive passengers since enacting a zero-tolerance policy aimed at curbing bad behavior on commercial flights.

from KRON4 https://www.kron4.com/news/national/man-accused-of-punching-flight-attendant-was-hearing-voices-prosecutors-say/

Officer won’t be charged in Capitol riot shooting, prosecutors say

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal prosecutors will not charge a police officer who shot and killed a woman as she climbed through the broken part of a door during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Authorities had considered for months whether criminal charges were appropriate for the Capitol Police officer who fatally shot Ashli Babbitt, 35, an Air Force veteran from San Diego. The Justice Department’s decision, though expected, officially closes out the investigation.

Prosecutors said they had reviewed video of the shooting, along with statements from the officer involved and other officers and witnesses, examined physical evidence from the scene and reviewed the autopsy results.

“Based on that investigation, officials determined that there is insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution,” the department said in a statement.

Video clips posted online depict Babbitt, wearing a stars and stripes backpack, stepping up and beginning to go through the waist-high opening of an area of the Capitol known as the Speaker’s Lobby when a gunshot is heard. She falls backward. Another video shows other unidentified people attempting to lift Babbitt up. She can be seen slumping back to the ground.

Babbitt is one of five people who died in or outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, including a police officer. Three other people died of medical emergencies.

The Justice Department does not bring criminal charges in most police shootings it investigates in part because of the high burden for prosecution. Criminal charges were not expected in this case because videos of the shooting show Babbitt encroaching into a prohibited space, and second-guessing the actions of an officer during the violent and chaotic day would have been a challenge.

from KRON4 https://www.kron4.com/news/national/officer-wont-be-charged-in-capitol-riot-shooting-prosecutors-say/

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