Police Files

Laguna Beach resident charged with defrauding Orange County businesses of more than $1.5 million

On January 26, 2016, LBPD Economic Crimes Detectives began a fraud investigation against Elizabeth Mulder, a resident of Laguna Beach, after a local business owner identified Mulder as his accountant and alleged that Mulder embezzled $200,000 from his wine business, JAC Wines.

The investigation revealed that between July 2009 and May 2016, Mulder devised and executed a scheme to defraud and obtain money from small businesses by gaining the trust of their owners, some of whom allowed her to gain control over their financial accounts. In total, Mulder embezzled over $1.5 million from her victims, according to documents filed in federal court.

When sentenced, Mulder faces up to 23 years in prison.

A victim talks about her experience with the embezzler

Among her victims was JoAnn Kurtz-Ahlers, president of Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates, an upscale travel agency based in San Juan Capistrano. 

Kurtz-Ahlers tells StuNewsLaguna that she thought everything was going smoothly during the five years, 2011 – 2016, that Elizabeth Mulder acted as her accountant, primarily handling income tax issues for Kurtz-Ahlers’ upscale travel agency.

Then Kurtz-Ahlers found out that all the money she thought she’d paid to the IRS had disappeared into Mulder’s pocket. 

“I was in shock. I’d known Elizabeth Mulder’s mother, Alice Whynaught, for years, which made me feel quite comfortable hiring her daughter,” Kurtz-Ahlers said. “To be honest, I admired Elizabeth, I thought she was a terrific entrepreneur, very successful – meanwhile she was a skillful manipulator. She took advantage of her mother’s connections to get clients and then embezzle from them.”

Along with the shock of realizing her funds had been embezzled, Kurtz-Ahlers still has to deal with IRS. They expect Kurtz-Ahlers to pay what she owed for those five years – plus penalties and fines – and it is taking a great deal of negotiation to come to a settlement with the IRS.  

Skillful, yes, but in deception, not finance

“Elizabeth came across as someone who was sincere and really wanted to help you. Plus she had so many clients, I thought she must be good at what she did. That’s what everyone thought.”

But Mulder was in the process of embezzling what would turn out to be 1.5 million dollars from clients who trusted her. She was good at what she did – except her skill was in theft.

“Police detective Jordan Mirakian of the Laguna Beach Police Department was amazing,” Kurtz-Ahlers says. “We all went to him in a group and he was diligent about taking the information about every case. She was quite inventive in the different ways she took advantage of her clients.”

Search warrants executed by LBPD Detectives at the Mulder residence and her bank accounts revealed additional victim businesses throughout Orange County. These companies included Toni & Guy Hair Salon (Newport Beach), Kurtz-Ahlers LLC (San Juan Capistrano), Bella Pilates (San Clemente), Andra Builders, Inc. (Costa Mesa), and California Print 2 Copy (Irvine).

Mulder deceived clients into making checks payable to a phony business she created called “Income Tax Payments,” under the guise that those payments would satisfy the clients’ outstanding IRS tax obligations. She also created false personas as representatives and/or investors of companies to lead her clients to believe various expenses were being paid for the benefit of the business.

LBPD “brought in every available resource”

“This investigation serves as a reminder that our police department will pursue individuals in positions of trust who take advantage of innocent victims. We brought in every available resource, including our partners from the Federal Government, to ensure that this case would be appropriately prosecuted and justice would be served,” said Captain Jeff Calvert, LBPD.

Mulder used the money embezzled from the victims for a variety of personal expenses including a rental home in Laguna Beach, cosmetic surgery, personal vacations, living expenses, horse rentals and the purchase of horse equipment.

This case was investigated by the Laguna Beach Police Department Investigations Division, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the IRS Criminal Investigation, and the United States Attorney.

For further information, please contact Sergeant Jim Cota at (949) 464-6671 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

Two helicopter rescues in two days

The Fire Department has been busy this week. On Wednesday, June 8, at 2:57 p.m., the Department received a call from the 600 block of Diamond Street. A construction worker had fallen from a construction site. 

 

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo courtesy of LB Fire Department

Helicopter rescue in progress

The lack of stairs made it impossible to reach him other than by helicopter, and moving the patient was critical due to the extent of his injuries. 

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo courtesy of LB Fire Department

Patient is safely en route to the hospital thanks to our firefighters and the OCFA

The Fire Department, working with the OC Fire Authority, was able to hover and then drop someone down to rescue the patient and deliver him to Mission Hospital.

Golfers hear call for help

Then on Thursday morning at 9 a.m., golfers at The Ranch at Laguna Beach reported hearing calls for help from a steep hillside.  Access to the person was impossible by foot and the patient was unable to move due to a foot injury.  

Working again with the OCFA, Laguna Beach Fire Department deployed a “short haul” approach to airlift him to the hospital in Mission Viejo.

 

Stolen vehicle leads to chase, spike strips deployed

Laguna Beach Police were alerted to a stolen vehicle located at Forest Avenue and Laguna Canyon Road. The driver, Juan Gutierrez, chose to flee in the vehicle through the downtown area without stopping. 

The vehicle ultimately headed north to Newport Beach. With the assistance of Newport Beach PD, the vehicle was disabled utilizing Spike Strips. 

Three occupants were detained and two were arrested. They were Gutierrez and Arriaga. Gutierrez was also in possession of approximately one gram of methamphetamine.


Police Files

The lure of lingerie leads to arrest

From an LBPD press release

On May 2, LBPD Officers responded to a burglary investigation at Delicate Illusions, located at 1857 South Coast Highway.  Delicate Illusions is a romantic boutique. The store owner and victim reported over $1400.00 worth of merchandise and cash had been taken during the burglary, which occurred while the business was closed.

During the initial investigation, LBPD Officers reviewed surveillance video from inside the store and recognized 53-year old Reese Westenberger as the perpetrator.  A crime bulletin was distributed throughout the police department listing Westenberger as a suspect in the case.  

On May 31, a bicycle patrol officer recognized Westenberger standing outside of 20652 Laguna Canyon Road. Westenberger attempted to flee the area on foot, and after a short chase, he surrendered.  Westenberger was taken into custody and charged with burglary, grand theft, and vandalism.  

Is thief no longer under any illusions?

When interviewed by Detectives, Westenberger denied involvement.  Westenberger was booked into Orange County Jail and held on $25,000 bail.

Anyone with any information regarding this investigation or other similar incidents is encouraged to call the Laguna Beach Police Department at (949) 497-0701.  For further information, please contact Sergeant Jim Cota at (949) 464-6671 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  

To submit tips anonymously, please contact Crime Stoppers at 855-TIP-OCCS or 855-847-6227. You can also reach Crime Stoppers online at www.crimestoppers.org.

Rash of vehicle burglaries Saturday night

Throughout the day on Saturday, at least seven victims reported that their cars had been entered overnight and items stolen. 

Amongst the stolen property were sunglasses, wallets, paperwork, a computer, and a purse with cash inside. Some of the vehicles had been locked and others were forced open.

“Detectives are currently looking at all leads,” said Sgt. James Cota, LBPD spokesperson. “Progress is being made on locating a suspect.”

Remember, if you see something, say something.

Renters on the rampage

In two unrelated incidents this week, occupants of rented residences are suspected of burgling multiple items from the homes in which they were staying. 

A vacation home in the 31800 block of Circle Drive had TVs, carpet, electronics and computers missing, to the tune of $20,000. The incident occurred in the last two weeks.

In the 21700 block of Ocean Vista Drive, a refrigerator, washer/dryer, dishwasher, and microwave were removed.

Though the incidents are not related, neighbors are once again encouraged that if you see something, say something.


DUI Arrests

Andrew Hatami, 57, San Diego – Sunday, May 28 With a Prior

Donna Marie Nolfi, 49, San Clemente – Sunday

Michelle Lynn Barker, 25, Aliso Viejo – Sunday Third Offense

Collin Michael Kelley, 39, Los Angeles – Sunday 

 

Incident Reports

Tuesday, May 30

Forest Avenue | 400 Block | Warrant

6:02 a.m. Neilesh Bhikhu Chauhan, 46, Mission Viejo, was arrested on an outstanding Harbor Court warrant. 

Monday, May 29

Arrests for Being Drunk in Public

Andrew Barber, 31, Dana Point

Brian Szafran, 47, no fixed address

Coast Hwy & West Street | Domestic Violence

6:28 p.m. Tyler Kocheff, 26, Lake Balboa, and Mario Gonzales, Los Angeles, were both arrested for domestic violence. 

Laguna Canyon Road & El Toro Road | Stolen Vehicle

2:33 p.m. Two minors were detained and released to their parents for driving a stolen vehicle. A juvenile detective is conducting a follow-up investigation. 

Cress Street | 100 Block | Drugs

3:22 a.m. Curtis Vaughan Revels, 21, Laguna Beach, was arrested for possession of narcotics with $500 bail. 

Sunday, May 28

Monterey Street | 31300 Block | Domestic Violence

10:34 p.m. Casey Christian Marks, 41, Laguna Beach, was arrested for domestic violence with $10,000 bail. 

Forest Avenue | 200 Block | Petty Theft

1:23 p.m. T-shirts worth $40 were stolen. 

Glenneyre Street | 800 Block | Petty Theft

8:27 a.m. A suspect stole $200 in coffee, water, and other miscellaneous items. 

Saturday, May 27

Arrests for Being Drunk in Public

Heide Lynn How, 40, San Marcos

Jody Morrison Stevens, 29, Laguna Beach

Laguna Canyon Road & El Toro Road | Stolen Vehicle

11:59 p.m. Occupants of a stolen Nissan Altima were detained. The driver, Miguel Sanchez, 19, Orange, was arrested for vehicle theft, possession of drug paraphernalia, and giving false identification to an officer. 

Laguna Canyon Road | 20600 Block | Trespassing, Violating Post-Release Supervision

6:44 p.m. Amber Kristen Castillo, 39, Stephenie Koivuniemi, 39, and Malak Harris, 34, all no fixed address, were arrested for trespassing. In addition, Jermaine Sterling, 32, no fixed address, was arrested for the same charge plus a flash hold for violating post-release supervision. 

Coast Hwy | 31100 Block | Bicycle Accident

4:20 p.m. A bicyclist was transported for a head injury after he somersaulted over his bike going too fast.


Police Files

“Smashed window” car thief grabs goods worth $5,000

On Monday afternoon, a burglar smashed the windows of a Mercedes parked in the 200 block of High Drive – different from the usual MO of stealing items from unlocked cars. A suitcase with $5,000 worth of clothing was stolen from the car, which belonged to the visiting friend of a resident.

“We have had quite a few thefts from unlocked vehicles,” said Sgt. James Cota, LBPD spokesperson. “It’s an easy crime of opportunity.”

“With summer approaching and many visitors coming to town, citizens have to lock their vehicles and their residences,” Cota urged.

But he reminded people that even locked cars can be subject to crime, and that it is important to be aware of suspicious behavior. 

“Remember, if you see something, say something,” Cota added.

Woman gives TV the brush-off, goes to jail

Officers were called to the ASL on Monday morning to remove a woman who was not allowed to be on the property.

When they got there, she had done more than trespass.

According to the police log, 10 witnesses confirmed that Sarah Beach, no fixed address, had used a broom to break the flat screen TV that belongs to the shelter.

Beach was arrested for trespassing and felony vandalism. Bail was set at $20,000.


Police Files

Identity stolen, car rented, then car stolen

Last week, a victim of identity theft reported that fraudulent accounts had been opened in his name and used to rent a vehicle, which had not been returned. 

On Thursday at 8:11 a.m., officers were alerted to a stolen vehicle inbound on Laguna Canyon Road – the same vehicle that had been rented in the victim’s name.

Officers stopped the vehicle and detained the two occupants. The driver, John Elton Aguirre, 42, Santa Ana, was arrested for vehicle theft as well as various fraud related charges.

The case is being investigated by LBPD Detectives.


Police Files

Paddleboarder saves friend’s life at Moss Street Beach

On Sunday at 10:17 a.m. at Moss Street Beach, Laguna Beach police received numerous 911 calls about a man yelling for help in the ocean. Due to the fog that morning, none of the callers could see the man.

“Two friends were paddle boarding when one of them went down for an unknown reason,” said Sgt. James Cota of the LBPD. 

The man brought the woman to shore and provided CPR. According to the police log, the woman was in full cardiac arrest, but began breathing at 10:35 a.m.

Mercy Air was called to transport the woman to the hospital. According to a GoFundMe page set up for her, she suffered a seizure due to a brain tumor. She is currently under sedation in the ICU.


Police Files

Drone drives resident to distraction – and worse

Drones are a contentious topic, and on Friday, one resident in the 1300 block of Skyline Drive decided to take matters into his own hands – literally.

“After a thorough investigation, officers found a resident had taken a drone that belonged to a professional videographer, who was filming for real estate purposes,” said LBPD spokesperson Sgt. James Cota. “The citizen refused to give it back to the owner.”

According to the police log, the man also punched the videographer, who declined medical attention. 

Eventually, officers were able to get the man to come out of the house with the now-damaged drone.

Joshua Radwan, 36, Laguna Beach, was arrested for robbery and transported to Orange County Jail.

Cliff Drive burglary foiled

On Saturday evening, a neighbor reported a woman sitting on a doorstep and pounding on the door of a residence in the 1000 block of Cliff Drive. 

Officers arrived at the scene and detained the woman and her companion.

According to Sgt. James Cota of the LBPD, “They were in the process of stealing items from the residence.”

Marcela Encarnacion, 45, Long Beach, and Arnoldo Chavez, 49, Norwalk, were both arrested for residential burglary. Additionally, Chavez was arrested on an outstanding warrant from Merced County for vandalism, resisting, and battery.

Man spits at officers during arrest

Officers responded on Friday night to Main Beach following a report of assault. After making contact with the two men involved, it was determined that Daniel Del Rosario, 24, no fixed address, was the aggressor.

“While officers attempted to arrest Del Rosario, he spat at an officer but missed,” said Sgt. James Cota, LBPD spokesperson. “Aside from being charged with assault, additional charges were added for assault on a police officer.”

Del Rosario was taken to Orange County Jail and held with $20,000 bail.


DUI Arrests

None this period

 

Incident Reports

Tuesday, May 16

San Nicholas Court | 400 Block | Burglary

9:14 p.m. Between May 9 and 16, an unknown suspect attempted entry to a residence. The owner found cuts to the front door, locks, garage door, and dents to both garage doors. 

Nyes Place | 500 Block | Fraud

3:21 p.m. An unknown suspect tried to open accounts in the RP’s name.  

Moorea Way | 1300 Block | Trespassing 

2:56 p.m. An unknown person slept inside the RP’s guest house and broke some items. A burglary is not suspected. 

Monday, May 15

Arrests for Being Drunk in Public

Judith Maureen Doner, 75, Costa Mesa

Curtis Abbott, 52, no fixed address

Glenneyre Street | 1900 Block | Missing Person

10:10 p.m. A man was reported missing; he left a home around 7 p.m. and was last seen in a vehicle going southbound on Coast Highway from Aliso. 

Coast Hwy | 30800 Block | Drinking in Public

7:55 a.m. Alexander Anderson Harris, 67, was arrested for drinking in public. Bail was $500. 

Sunday, May 14

Glenneyre Street | 800 Block | Warrants

6:25 p.m. Terry Sanders, 39, no fixed address, was arrested on three Harbor Court warrants: one for Newport Beach municipal code violations, one for illegal lodging, and one for being drunk in public. 

Coast Hwy | 30800 Block | Lost Property

2:05 p.m. The RP’s wife left three rings valued at $60,000 in a restroom. When she returned after an unspecified amount of time, they were missing.


Police Files

Bicyclist vs vehicle results in broken collarbone

A bicyclist was treated for a broken collarbone on Monday morning after being hit by a vehicle at Coast Highway and Broadway.

“The vehicle and bicyclist were heading northbound on Coast Highway when the vehicle turned in front of the bicyclist to make a right turn onto Broadway,” explained Sgt. Jim Cota, LBPD spokesperson.

A witness called 911 and tended to the bicyclist until emergency personnel arrived. 

Nails used in possible attempt to poison a tree

A resident in the 1000 block of Cortez realized on Tuesday that a series of nails had been hammered into the base of a tree on her property, possibly in an attempt by an unknown suspect to poison it.

According to the police log, the RP stated that she did not know of any possible motive, especially because the only view the tree blocks is her own. 

Mountain bikes stolen from business

On Monday afternoon, a business in the 31100 block of Coast Highway reported that two black and orange mountain bikes were stolen.

The suspect, who was caught on video, was described as a white man in his late 40s or early 50s with blonde hair wearing a green and blue striped collared shirt. 

The total loss was estimated to be $10,000.


Police Files

Woman, 18, charged with felony DUI after boy, 17, falls out of her moving car in NoLag, is seriously injured

A witness called 9-1-1 after seeing a person’s “…head hit the sidewalk…” according to the police log. The call was received from Myrtle St and Cypress Dr at 5:04 p.m. last Wednesday.

The driver of a 2013 black Audi A4, an 18-year-old Laguna Beach woman, was driving the intoxicated boy home according to LBPD Sgt. James Cota. “He asked the driver to stop. When the car stopped, the intoxicated juvenile exited and then collapsed while the car was still moving according to a witness.”

Kiani Leigh Harriman, 18, Laguna Beach, was arrested for possession of meds without a prescription and felony DUI with $100,000 bail.

Felony DUI under the vehicle code is defined: It is unlawful for a person, while under the influence of any drug, to drive a vehicle and concurrently do any act forbidden by law, or neglect any duty imposed by law in driving the vehicle, which act or neglect proximately causes bodily injury to any person other than the driver.

Sgt. Cota said the boy was transported to Mission Trauma Center. “His current medical status is unknown.”

Police have identified a serial package theft suspect

LBPD Sgt. James Cota replied to our inquiry of the arrest of a Lake Elsinore man last Saturday with the following:“Over the last year, numerous incidents of package theft and possible burglaries have occurred in Laguna Beach and throughout Orange County. Our detectives have been working together with other police agencies in including the Orange County Probation Department to locate the individual. 

“We were able to identify the suspect and the vehicle he drove when committing these crimes. The Orange County Probation Department just recently issued a warrant for his arrest for failing to comply with his probation terms.” 

The police log has an incident report from Saturday at 6:24 about the arrest of Anthony Brian Palusso, 32. Sgt. Cota said Palusso was identified suspect and was held without bail on the probation charges. 

Cota added, “The Laguna Beach Police Department currently has open cases of mail/package theft that are linked to him.”

Parolee arrested for trespassing thanks to alert neighbors

Police received a call from concerned and alert neighbors about a suspicious man in the 100 block Crescent Bay Dr at 9:42 a.m. Saturday.

Sgt. James Cota said, “The caller said a male walking towards the park kept looking back. Another female stopped the RP stating that the male subject had ducked into the yard. Officers searched and made a positive match and took the suspect into custody at 10:16 a.m.

Ralph Francis Bowers III, 46, Huntington Beach was arrested for trespassing and held for parole hold without bail.

He was on parole for a burglary conviction.

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