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Archive for the ‘Courts’ Category

Peninsula man fights seizure of antique one-armed bandits

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
August 13, 2007

The owner of a company that rents antique slot machines for parties and fundraisers will seek an injunction to retrieve more than 60 machines that were confiscated by the Department of Justice this month.

Stephen Squires has until Sept. 1 to file his appeal before the machines are destroyed, according to Marty Horan, special agent in charge of the Department of Justice’s division of gambling control.

The devices were seized from locations in San Carlos, San Mateo and South San Francisco on Aug. 2.

The California penal code forbids any use of slot machines, even by collectors who are using them in their own homes, according to Horan.

As long as those machines remain off-limits, 4S Casino Party Suppliers, located at 1449 Bayport Ave., is losing “tens and tens and tens of thousands of dollars,” Squires said.

Last month’s raid wasn’t the first time state officials confiscated machines from the business. The Department of Justice confiscated 10 of Squires’ machines in October 2006 after undercover agents went to an event where his slots were being used, and witnessed “people playing the machines in an illegal gambling fashion to earn credits or tokens for raffle prizes,” Horan said.

However, the 10 machines seized were not the 10 used at the event. A petition from attorney Richard Keyes in Redwood City, who represented Squiresin the case, allowed Squires to successfully regain his machines.

At that time, Squires was warned that if he continued to rent out the machines for events, the Department of Justice would confiscate all of them, according to Horan.

Keyes would not say whether Squires has retained his services a second time.

Squires doesn’t believe that what he’s doing — renting the machines to events at which people get free tokens to play — is against the law.

“Gambling means you wager something of value to win something of value,” he said. “Here, people are getting tokens for free, and maybe they get three matches and win a coffee mug.”

The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges at the Department of Justice’s request in 2006, according to Horan. The department will spend the next 30 days gathering information to send to the DA’s office a second time.

Whether or not the District Attorney files charges, Squires’s slot machines would be destroyed after Sept. 1 unless he receives an injunction, according to Horan.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

August 13, 2007 at 10:02 PM

Beauty schooler nabbed taking photos in bathroom

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
April 5, 2007

A Palo Alto man arrested on charges of illegally photographing a student in a Sequoia High School men’s room will return to San Mateo County Court on May 2 to face misdemeanor charges.

David Hill, 33, was arrested March 29 at the high school, where he was offering haircuts during a job fair, according to Redwood City Police Department Capt. Chris Cesena. Hill allegedly entered a men’s restroom and began photographing a male student, who reported the incident to school officials. They, in turn, called police.

Hill was arrested just after noon and taken to San Mateo County Jail, where he was cited and released, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. He has no record of prior offenses in San Mateo County.

When he returns to court, Hill faces two misdemeanor charges, one related to taking photographs in a bathroom or dressing room, and another related to harrassing a juvenile, according to Cesena.

“An adult did a stupid thing, which we quickly handled,” Sequoia High School District Superintendent Pat Gemma said. “We’re still trying to sort out what this guy’s purpose was. Now the courts will deal with him.”

Hill is a cosmetology student at College of San Mateo, according to Cesena. Officials at the college would not formally comment on the situation Thursday.

“We do not comment on matters that are being handled by the appropriate law enforcement agency,” said Beverly Madden, a spokeswoman for the college.

Officials at CSM are following disciplinary procedures, Madden added. Although the college’s student handbook does not explicitly address illegal activities performed off campus, students who violate CSM policy face disciplinary action ranging from removal of student privileges to suspension or expulsion.

In an unrelated case, San Carlos School District coach Neal Sato was convicted in 2006 on charges that he videotaped several female members of his volleyball team while they changed in his office. Last November, Sato pleaded no contest to the molestation of four 13-year-old girls connected with the videotaping plot. He was sentenced to six years in state prison, Wagstaffe said.

Sato, 35, of San Bruno, was alleged to have videotaped up to about 100 female students, many of whom could not be identified by investigators due to the quality of the video footage, as they changed clothes in his office in 2004 and 2005.

This article originally appeared in San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

April 5, 2007 at 10:20 PM

Medicare clients sue state over computer flub

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
February 27, 2007

A computer glitch caused the California Department of Health Services to stop reimbursing thousands of Californians for their Medicare premiums, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court on Monday.

The lawsuit, which represents clients in San Francisco and San Mateo counties along with 16 other counties in California, alleges that after DHS began using the CalWIN computer system to manage its Medicare rolls, thousands of low-income clients were accidentally dropped.

When that happened, clients stopped receiving medical-care reimbursements without any notice, according to Melissa Rodgers, directing attorney for the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, who filed the lawsuit.

For example, when San Mateo County began using CalWIN in October 2005, clients such as Juan Ledezma were dropped. Ledezma didn’t realize the problem until March 2006, when he received a $786 bill from Medicare; he is on a fixed income of $830 per month.

“The old system was set up to keep people on unless they were no longer eligible [for reimbursements], in which case they were notified,” Rodgers said. “The new one was designed to cut people off unless they went in manually to prevent it, even if they were continually eligible.”

The California Department of Health Services became aware of the glitch shortly after clients began receiving unexpected Medicare bills, according to department spokesman Michael Bowman.

DHS has already ordered the counties to correct their automated systems, and has provided the Centers for Medicare Services with the names of clients who were accidentally discontinued so their premiums can be repaid, Bowman said.

The Health Plan of San Mateo was able to get roughly 100 of its clients re-enrolled in the reimbursement program by working cooperatively with the San Mateo County Human Services Agency, said Health Plan’s Carolyn Thon. The plan covered members who were dropped by Medicare in the interim.

“It took us awhile to realize the connection” between the CalWIN rollout and clients losing their coverage, Thon said. “Once we recognized what happened, we were able to resolve our members really quickly.”

In the suit, clients are seeking reimbursement for their medical bills as well as an assured fix for the glitch that disenrolled them, according to Rodgers. Although DHS is asking counties to fix the problem, it’s unclear whether the responsibility lies with individual counties or the DHS, according to Bowman.

No court date has been set in the legal proceedings.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

February 27, 2007 at 10:43 PM

Judge’s ruling places some constraints on raucous household

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
December 18, 2006

San Mateo won a partial victory in its fight to set limits on a local homeowner after a judge agreed that ongoing noise and alleged criminal activity coming from the house violated neighbors’ quality of life.

San Mateo Superior Court Judge Beth Freeman ruled Friday to place a civil injunction on Ohaiha Fonua Sr. and his home at 107 N. Grant St., but stopped short of evicting Fonua and his extensive family from living in the home, as San Mateo city officials had requested.

The injunction’s details will be finalized over the next 15 days and may include a curfew, along with a condition holding Fonua responsible for any criminal activity on the property, according to attorney Lance Bayer, who represented San Mateo in the four-day triallast week.

“We are pleased with … the recognition that a property owner has responsibility to maintain the property in a way that prevents public-nuisance activity,” Bayer said.

John Hartford, the attorney representing Fonua, did not return calls for comment Sunday.

Bayer called 14 witnesses who testified about ongoing activity at the North Grant Street home, including what were described as almost-nightly street parties, public drinking and drug use, heckling of police officers and multiple shootings and assaults. Hartford called two witnesses, including Olaiha Fonua Sr. and another member of the family.

One of Bayer’s witnesses, Tyrone Gadson, described an encounter in February 2004 with a crowd gathered in front of the house in which he was chased down the block and shot in the side. Two residents of the house, Jared Fonua and John Tonga, were arrested for Gadson’s shooting; Tonga was convicted of attempted murder, while Fonua was acquitted.

Freeman’s ruling is a relief to many San Mateo residents, including those in the North Central neighborhood where the Fonuas live, according to neighborhood representative and planning commissioner Bertha Sanchez. Residents there often tried to intervene, but failed to stem the problems on North Grant Street.

“I hope the city can continue to monitor areas and make sure they don’t get to this point again — or put pressure on landlords to consider the problems a particular tenant might have,” Sanchez said.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 18, 2006 at 9:37 PM

Posted in Courts, Crime, San Mateo

Family painted as criminally disruptive as hearing begins

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
December 12, 2006

Olaiha Fonua Sr.’s San Mateo home was not only ground zero for loud parties that bothered neighbors, but it also served as a “safe house” for criminal and gang activity, according to opening statements in San Mateo County Superior Court Monday.

Attorney Lance Bayer is representing the City of San Mateo in its effort to evict Fonua and up to 50 others for one year from a house at 107 North Grant St. — a last-ditch effort by the city to curb what police say are ongoing problems at the home. Neither Fonua nor any of the members of his extended family were present in the courtroom as Bayer called witnesses to the stand.

Among those witnesses was San Mateo Police Lt. Alan Parisian, who ran the police department’s street-crimes team in 2004 and has led the city’s effort to gather evidence against the house’s residents.

Parisian described loud parties in front of the house that could be heard up to a block away, and showed photos from MySpace in which members of the household stood in front of the house and made hand signs allegedly associated with the West Side Tongans gang. He also described short-term visits he said were consistent with narcotics sales.

“We’re dealing with a nuisance that stems from the property owner allowing this to be a party house in the worst sense,” Bayer said.

Attorney John Hartford, representing the Fonuas, has consistently declined to comment on the case, as have the Fonuas.

One of Bayer’s witnesses, Tyrone Gadson, described an encounter in February 2004 with a crowd gathered in front of the house in which he was chased down the block and shot in the side.

Two residents of the house, Jared Fonua and John Tonga, were arrested for Gadson’s shooting; Tonga was convicted of attempted murder, while Fonua was acquitted.

“The family feels that it can rule that area of San Mateo,” Gadson said. “I have friends who have been threatened, but I’m the only one who will not let someone push me off the block where I was raised.”

The court trial is expected to continue through Thursday or Friday, and will be decided by San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Beth Freeman rather than a jury.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 12, 2006 at 9:40 PM

Posted in Courts, Crime, San Mateo

City’s case against Fonua family heads to trial

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
December 8, 2006

A court trial begins Monday in the city’s bid to oust a Tongan patriarch and his family from their North Grant Street home after family members were accused of “terrorizing” their neighbors and local police.

The City of San Mateo is seeking an injunction that would displace owner Olaiha Fonua Sr. and up to 50 people affiliated with his household for a year, and would require court approval before Fonua could lease or sell the single-family home at 107 N. Grant St., according to Lance Bayer, the attorney representing the city’s case. The move follows several years of ongoing reports of problems at the house, including large numbers of people living there and recurring problems with noise, trash and obscenities near the house, according to court documents filed by the city.

“The area was being terrorized, and they had neighbors … who wanted something to happen, but couldn’t come forward, out of fear,” according to Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. Wagstaffe said some members of the family had lengthy rap sheets.

Some residents living near the house said the neighborhood has enjoyed a relative measure of peace since six members of the Fonua family have been arrested in recent years. Some are serving prison sentences for violations ranging from cocaine sales to attempted murder.

“It’s been quiet,” said Margie Perez, who has lived in an apartment across the street from the Fonuas for the past two years. “They stay on the property. They have friends over, but those don’t stay too long.”

Members of the family contacted Thursday declined to comment on the impending trial. Their lawyer, San Francisco-based John Hartford, did not return calls for comment.

When the trial begins Monday, Bayer expects to call a number of witnesses, particularly those from the San Mateo Police Department, who will provide evidence of the Fonuas’ alleged public nuisance activities.

“We expect to present evidence … based on the types of conduct, which involve violent behavior and quality-of-life concerns affecting the neighborhood andthe community,” Bayer said. The trial is expected to continue through the week.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 8, 2006 at 9:35 PM

Posted in Courts, Crime, San Mateo

City to continue citing day laborers

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
October 2, 2006

SAN MATEO — City officials are reviewing an enforcement strategy that has seen some tickets against day laborers dismissed by juries, but police say the stings have been effective and will continue for now.

Some laborers have successfully fought their tickets after an undercover police officer impersonated a potential employer, according to defense attorney Tanya O’Malley. In one such case, pursued by laborer Ramirez Lopez Sofonias, the ticket was dismissed Aug. 29 by a jury that found such practices constituted entrapment. The city attorney’s office dismissed the ticket of another worker cited in the same sting, according to City Attorney Shawn Mason.

San Mateo’s parking ordinance makes it a crime to park a vehicle in the middle of the street. Many employers who stop to pick up day laborers do not pull over. In order to discourage loitering, police have issued citations and fines since 2003 to laborers who pick up work in this fashion, according to San Mateo Police Department Capt. Mike Callaghy.

“I think they’re all entrapment,” O’Malley said. “I think [the city] knows a lot of these individuals aren’t going to take them to trial — laborers just want to pay the fine, but it’s important to fight it.”

In three other cases, two workers did not want to proceed to a jury trial like Sofonias did, and a third did not turn up for his court date, according to O’Malley.

San Mateo does not plan to appeal those decisions, according to Mason, who said his office continues to examine the claims of other laborers fighting their citations. The city is also re-examining its enforcement strategy.

“We are discussing and meeting to determine if the appropriate enforcement strategy is going forward,” Mason said.

Meanwhile, city police say the sting program is working well to keep laborers off the streets and out of danger, according to Callagy.

“These are clear-cut violations,” Callagy said. “We were seeing people running out into the street to try and get a job, and without our presence, there would probably be a lot more people on the street and a lot more people running into traffic trying to get jobs.”

San Mateo and Samaritan House launched a day-labor center in 2003 shortly before police stepped up enforcement among laborers on the streets. That center currently sees 100 to 200 laborers per day, according to Kitty Lopez, executive director of Samaritan House.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

October 2, 2006 at 10:15 PM