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Laguna Beach

Police Files

Overall crime in Laguna Beach decreases for second year in a row

Laguna Beach continues to boast an extremely low crime rate. For the second year in a row, LBPD is again pleased to announce that overall crime has decreased in 2019.

Crime statistics comparing 2018 to 2019 show a 4 percent overall reduction in crime (from 576 total crimes in 2018 to 556 total crimes in 2019), which is difficult to achieve after enjoying a 14 percent crime reduction in 2018. Property crime, specifically larceny, decreased 18 percent from 316 reported incidents in 2018, to 257 reported in 2019. 

This reduction is the direct result of fewer beach thefts due to intensified foot patrols directly on the sand and in the parks adjacent to the beach. 

Police Files Property Crimes Stats

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Courtesy of LBPD

Property crime decreased by 15 percent last year

In 2019, there was an increase in simple assaults, which was mostly attributed to domestic violence incidents. There was also a slight increase in reported sexual assaults. These incidents are from known assailants, reports LBPD.

LBPD uses a data-driven approach to track crime on a monthly and yearly basis, effectively identifying and targeting specific crimes and problem areas through creative strategies, enforcement, and community engagement and education. 

Police Files Violent Crimes Stats

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Courtesy of LBPD

Violent crime statistics for Laguna Beach

This ongoing and active evaluation of how to positively impact an issue is directly related to LBPD’s success. Having officers assigned to address the community’s specific needs has proven successful. These assignments include Community Outreach Officers, a Business Liaison Unit, School Resource Officers, and Traffic Officers to mention a few. 

“The overall decrease in crime is attributed to having the highest staffing levels, a data driven approach to impact repeat call locations, and the support from the community and City Council on initiatives such as the Main Beach and Heisler Park engagement booths,” said LBPD Chief Laura Farinella.“The men and women of the Laguna Beach Police Department are to be commended for their diligent efforts in identifying crime and nuisance issues and working with the community to find innovative strategies to impact these challenges.”

Police Files

Motorcyclist sustains major injuries after SUV reportedly makes illegal U-turn

On Friday, Feb 14, at 3:09 p.m., LBPD officers were dispatched to an injury traffic collision on North Coast Highway at San Joaquin Street. 

According to LBPD Spokesperson PIO Sgt Jim Cota, “The collision was caused by a Mazda SUV that [allegedly] made an illegal U-turn from the north curb line in the 1500 block of North Coast Highway to the southbound lanes.”

 Sgt Cota said, “A motorcycle that was accelerating northbound in the number two lane struck the front left fender of the Mazda. The motorcycle rider was thrown approximately 45 feet into the number one southbound lane.” 

Both lanes of North Coast Highway were closed for 15 minutes as LBFD tended to the subject’s injuries. One lane each of northbound and southbound North Coast Highway was opened as soon as practical. All lanes were opened 75 minutes after officers arrived on scene. 

Sgt Cota said, “The rider was transported to Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. The single occupant of the Mazda, a Laguna resident, remained on scene until family arrived. The injuries of the rider were substantial.”

 A traffic collision investigation and report was completed.

Man struck with metal object by suspect while crossing the street with niece and nephew

On Friday, Feb 14, at 7:59 p.m., LBPD officers responded to the 100 block of South Coast Highway in reference to an alleged assault investigation. 

According to Sgt Cota, “The victim was walking north on the east sidewalk of South Coast Highway approaching Ocean Ave, holding his younger niece’s hand in one hand and his younger nephew’s hand in his other hand. He was struck in the head from behind with a metal object.” 

The metal object was later identified as a trash can insert, taken from a stationary utility trash can. 

Sgt Cota said, “The victim nearly fell to the ground as a result of the attack. He turned around and observed a male running away from him, south on the same sidewalk.”

LBFD responded and treated the victim for a hematoma to his head. 

“Officers conducted an area search and located a male transient, holding the trash can insert in the 200 block of Park Ave,” Sgt Cota said. “The male was identified as Roberto Torres. He appeared to be under the influence and was making unintelligible statements.”

Roberto Navarro Torres, 55, was positively identified by the victim and subsequently arrested for alleged assault with a deadly weapon. 

“It was later determined Torres also used the metal object to strike two occupied vehicles on South Coast Hwy,” Sgt Cota said. “One of the vehicle owners declined a report and a vandalism report was completed for the other owner.”

Bail was set at $25,000.

Editor’s Note: An arrest contains allegations that a suspect has committed a crime. Every suspect is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court. 

  -By Suzie Harrison

Police Files

Driver falls asleep at the wheel, drives off cliff

On Wednesday, Feb 12, at 12:29 a.m., LBPD officers were dispatched to a traffic collision involving a single vehicle that drove off the roadway. 

According to LBPD Spokesperson PIO Sgt Jim Cota, “Officers arrived in the area and spoke to the driver who told them he fell asleep while driving and drove off the road, over a cliff, and landed in some bushes near Vista Del Sol and S Coast Hwy. An officer located the vehicle a long way down the slope and buried in the bushes,”

Sgt Cota said, “The tow truck driver was unable to extricate the vehicle at that time of the evening because a crane was needed to lift the vehicle out and daylight would be useful.” 

The tow company was scheduled to return later in the morning to remove the vehicle.

Two coyotes sighted by LBPD at Brooks Street

Two coyotes, likely a mother coyote and her pup, ran past two LBPD police officers at approximately 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb 12. 

According to LBPD Civilian Services Administrator Jim Beres, “The officers were searching for a male subject they thought might be hiding in a vegetated area near Glenneyre Street and Brooks Street. While conducting the search for the male subject, the coyotes suddenly ran out from the vegetated area past the officers and ran up Brooks Street.” 

Beres said, “One of the coyotes did brush up against an officer’s leg, as it ran past the officer. The coyotes did not attack the officers and were likely startled as the officers were walking through the vegetated area at 3:30 a.m.” 

In an abundance of caution, Animal Services will be posting “Coyote Alert” signs in the vicinity of Glenneyre Street and Brooks Street. 

“Additionally, Animal Services will be conducting a Living with Wildlife community meeting somewhere on Brooks Street in the next week or two,” Beres said. 

-By Suzie Harrison

Police Files

Laguna Beach resident sentenced to nine months in college admissions scandal

Doug Hodge, 62, formerly the chief executive of PIMCO and a Laguna Beach resident, was sentenced to nine months in prison for paying $850,000 in order to get his four children into Georgetown University and USC as fake athletic recruits.

Hodge was charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering in the college admissions scandal.

Hodge is the latest person to be sentenced in the William “Rick” Singer college admissions fraud scandal. Singer, of Newport Beach, worked as a college admissions consultant.

Hodge will also have to pay a fine of $750,000, serve 500 hours of community service and remain on supervised release for two years.

Female cyclist taken to hospital after being struck by Porsche

On Saturday, Feb 8, at 1:11 p.m., LBPD officers responded to a report of a cyclist versus auto collision at 20327 Laguna Canyon Rd. 

According to LBPD Spokesperson PIO Sgt Jim Cota, “Upon arrival, officers indicated it was a cyclist riding the wrong way on Laguna Canyon Road, which was struck by a vehicle making a left onto Laguna Canyon Road.”

The vehicle that hit the rider was described as a white Cayenne Porsche.

Sgt Cota said, “The cyclist was transported to Mission Hospital with minor injuries.

“This report and investigation is still ongoing.”

Driver loses control in wet conditions, hits fence

On Sunday, Feb 9, at 10:18 a.m., LBPD officers responded to a report of a traffic collision with unknown injuries. 

Sgt Cota said, “Officers arrived on scene and discovered it was a single vehicle into a chain link fence near the off ramp of SR-73 and SR-133.”

“The solo occupant of the vehicle was not injured and lost control in the wet conditions,” Sgt Cota said. 

His vehicle was towed from the scene and a report was taken.

Editor’s Note: An arrest contains allegations that a suspect has committed a crime. Every suspect is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court. 

  -By Suzie Harrison

Police Files

Man starts fire in canyon, also admits to fire at bus depot

On Tuesday, Feb 4, at 11:36 p.m., LBPD officers and LBFD responded to a vegetation fire reportedly near the ASL, at the 20500 block of Laguna Canyon Road. Officers arrived on scene and extinguished the 5’ x 10’ brush fire with their fire extinguishers. 

According to LBPD Spokesperson PIO Sgt Jim Cota, “Upon arrival, officers contacted homeless subject Michael Garcia next to the flames. LBFD personnel was on scene and investigated the unlawful fire.” 

Sgt Cota said, “Garcia admitted to starting the first fire on the cement pad as a warming fire and the second smaller fire he lit to illuminate the creek to look for a female friend. Garcia also admitted to causing the fire at the bus depot a month prior.”

A fire investigator was notified and will conduct a follow-up investigation.

Garcia was on probation, so his probation officer was notified. 

“Garcia was arrested for fire-related charges and violation of his probation terms,” Sgt Cota said.

No bail was set.

Alleged stolen vehicle arrest also leads to meth

On Monday, Feb 3, at 6:44 p.m., LBPD officers were alerted to an alleged stolen vehicle traveling inbound on Laguna Canyon Road. Officers located the vehicle as it passed through the 600 block of Laguna Canyon Road.

Sgt Cota said, “A high-risk traffic stop was conducted in the 1500 block of South Coast Highway. A female driver and male passenger were detained from inside of the vehicle. Marijuana, methamphetamine, and paraphernalia were found inside of the vehicle.” 

“The driver, Christin Shanna Hill, 34, was arrested for [alleged] possession of a stolen vehicle, possession of a stolen property, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of narcotic paraphernalia,” Sgt Cota said.

Bail was set at $50,000.

Editor’s Note: An arrest contains allegations that a suspect has committed a crime. Every suspect is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

  -By Suzie Harrison

Police Files

Illicit drug bust: Man arrested with meth, cocaine, and PCP

On Thursday, Jan 30, at 10:17 p.m., an LBPD officer made a traffic stop at South Coast Hwy and Vista Del Sol, and contacted the driver Jonathan Ditmer. 

According to LBPD Spokesperson PIO Sgt Jim Cota, “A vehicle search was conducted which resulted in officers finding a large amount of drugs. The drugs included marijuana, MDMA, methamphetamine, psilocybin, PCP, edibles, concentrated cannabis, cocaine, and an unknown white powder.”

Sgt Cota said, “Ditmer had the drugs separated into multiple smaller bags. $6,620 in cash, a digital scale, cell phone, and a soda can with a false compartment concealing multiple baggies of drugs inside were also found.”

Police Files drugs Police Files Jonathan Ditmer Police Files marijuana

Photos courtesy of LBPD

Suspect Jonathan Ditmer with drugs found in his vehicle

Jonathan Robert Ditmer, 44, was placed in custody for alleged possession for sales of controlled substances, in addition to several other narcotic charges. 

“It should be noted that Ditmer was also arrested on Sept 22, 2019 by LBPD,” Sgt Cota said.

Bail was set at $100,000.

Editor’s Note: An arrest contains allegations that a suspect has committed a crime. Every suspect is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

Pedestrian hit by car found at fault, according to LBPD

On Saturday, Jan 25, at 8:57 p.m., LBPD and LBFD responded to a reported vehicle versus pedestrian traffic collision at the intersection of South Coast Hwy and Ocean Avenue.

According to Sgt Cota, “The driver was a male Beverly Hills resident. The pedestrian was identified as a homeless female. Independent witnesses stated that the driver was driving his BMW north on South Coast Hwy in the number one traffic lane driving at approximately 35 mph.”

Sgt Cota said, “The traffic signal was green as he entered into the intersection. At the same time, the [subject] crossed South Coast Hwy, walking west to east against the red ‘DON’T WALK’ signal.”

Sgt Cota said, “The driver’s side view mirror of the BMW collided with the pedestrian and one of the drivers’ side tires drove over the top of her right foot.”

She was allegedly intoxicated and determined to be at fault, according to Sgt Cota. She refused medical attention and the only visible injury she sustained was a laceration to her foot. A report was taken.

-By Suzie Harrison

Police Files

Great white shark reported by diver at Boat Canyon, Marine Safety closes beaches in caution

On Tuesday, Jan 28, at 5 p.m., at the 600 block of Cliff Drive, LBPD received a report regarding a diver bumping into what he believed to be a great white shark. 

According to Marine Safety Capt Kai Bond, “At 5 p.m. on Tuesday, a diver snorkeling at Boat Canyon reported a sighting of a shark to Marine Safety personnel. And in turn, the Marine Safety Department took the following actions – we documented the incident utilizing the state shark policy incident report. In addition, we launched our Marine Safety drone, called Osprey One, to search the area from Crescent Bay to Main Beach.”

Capt Bond said although Marine Safety did see some pinnipeds and marine life, “we did not observe a shark.”

“Out of abundance of caution, we posted an advisory for one-half mile in each direction, where the location was reported of the initial sighting, which went from Crescent Bay Point to Bird Rock,” Capt Bond said.

The posting remained up for 12 hours. It was taken down the next morning after the Marine Safety drone was launched again and did a thorough search of the area.

“We didn’t see the shark and the posting was lifted,” Capt Bond said. “I’d like to reiterate that sightings are rare along our coastline. Typically, when they’re seen they’re passing through our waters.”

Doctor Christopher Lowe, Professor and Director of the CSULB Shark Lab Dept of Biological Sciences – HSCI 122, in Long Beach, is the expert in shark activity and information that Marine Safety refers to. Capt Bond reiterated how rare seeing sharks are near our coastline as substantiated by Dr Lowe’s expertise.

LPBD arrests man wanted on federal warrant for human smuggling

On Monday, Jan 27, at 12:42 p.m., at the 1700 block of Laguna Canyon Road, an LBPD officer conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle. 

According to LBPD Spokesperson PIO Sgt Jim Cota, “The driver, Coby House, was contacted and found to have an outstanding no bail with full extradition federal warrant for smuggling people.” 

Sgt Cota said, “The warrant was confirmed through federal probation as being signed off by a federal judge and enforced by U.S. Marshals.” 

“Coby Christopher House, 21, was arrested for the warrant and later taken to OC Jail,” Sgt Cota said.

No bail was set.

Editor’s Note: An arrest contains allegations that a suspect has committed a crime. Every suspect is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

Burglary at Rimcrest Circle reported

On Monday, Jan 27, at 12:43 p.m., LBPD officers were dispatched to a report of an attempted burglary in the 3200 block of Rimcrest Circle. Officers arrived and contacted the reporting party who stated an unknown subject had entered the residence earlier. 

According to Sgt Cota, “The RP’s relative was inside of the residence and the suspect was scared away. There was a loss of approximately $6,000.”

According to police reports, the rear slider was smashed, and the incident was caught on camera. The suspect covered their face. Two cameras and three camera lenses were taken.

 A report was taken and submitted to the Investigations division.

  -By Suzie Harrison

Police Files

Kitchen fire on Catalina Ave “damages entire house” 

On Friday, Jan 25, at 3:40 p.m., LBFD and LBPD personnel were dispatched to a report of smoke coming from a residence in the 31500 block of Catalina Avenue.

According to LBPD Spokesperson PIO Sgt Jim Cota, “LBFD extinguished the fire in the kitchen. The kitchen sustained minor fire damage, but the entire house was damaged by the smoke. The homeowners were not on scene initially but arrived soon after being called by neighbors. No injuries were reported.”

Man attempts to bring ecstasy pills into jail, reports LBPD

On Sunday, Jan 26, at 2:37 a.m., LBPD officers conducted an occupied vehicle check in the 200 block of Crescent Bay Drive. 

According to Sgt Cota, “Costa Mesa resident Michael Romero, 35, was placed in custody for false impersonation after providing a false ID belonging to his brother in attempt to avoid being arrested for an outstanding warrant.”

 Sgt Cota said, “During the booking process, Romero attempted to hide an unknown item inside of his mouth. The item was located and determined to be a plastic package containing several ecstasy pills. The charges of possession of a controlled substance and bringing contraband inside a jail facility were added to his charges.”

Bail was set at $20,000.

Editor’s Note: An arrest contains allegations that a suspect has committed a crime. Every suspect is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

  -By Suzie Harrison

Police Files

Spate of graffiti incidents strike town, tagger vandalizes every single step at Thousand Steps 

On Monday, Jan 20, at 7:45 a.m., at the 800 block of Manzanita Drive, LBPD received a call about a home that was vandalized with graffiti on the garage, driveway, and mailbox. 

Later, on Wednesday, Jan 22, at 6:49 a.m., an LBPD officer was dispatched to Thousand Steps Beach for a vandalism report in reference to a tagging incident using black and blue paint. 

According to LBPD Spokesperson PIO Sgt Jim Cota, “The RP stated someone had spray painted graffiti on every single step going to and from the beach. Officers arrived on scene and confirmed there was graffiti on every step.”

There are 220 steps total at Thousand Steps.

Sgt Cota said, “OC Parks arrived on scene and stated the damage was estimated at $3,000. Pictures were taken as well as a report to document the incident.”

-By Suzie Harrison

Police Files

Local arrested in alleged $3.2 million sober living fraud scheme

Laguna Beach resident Steven Lomonaco was recently charged, along with four other Southern California defendants, with multiple felonies for allegedly preying on vulnerable substance abuse patients to defraud an insurance company out of millions.

A joint effort by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) and the California Department of Insurance shut down the alleged $3.2 million healthcare fraud ring led by Lomonaco, 61, Mahyar “Christian” Mohases, 37, of Santa Ana, Robert Williams, 41, of Murrieta, Nicholas Reeves, 42, of Aliso Viejo, and James Frageau, 29, of Temecula. The defendants have been charged with multiple felony counts including insurance fraud and money laundering in connection with the scheme.

Police Files Steven Lomonaco

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Courtesy of OCDA

Steven Lomonaco

Mohases, Frageau, Williams, and Reeves are accused of finding patients across the country who were seeking help for substance use recovery and flying them to California to enter treatment at Casa Bella International Inc., which was owned and operated by Lomonaco in Laguna Beach. Now permanently closed, the sober living facility was located at 31365 Monterey St.

 In order to obtain payment from the insurance company for these patients, Mohases, Frageau, Williams, and Reeves allegedly directed employees to fill out policies for the patients using false information.

They are accused of lying on the insurance applications, stating that patients lived in California, when in actuality the addresses were for employees or businesses related to the co-conspirators. Lomonaco allegedly paid the other co-conspirators upwards of $10,000 per patient who stayed enrolled in treatment for more than 30 days.

“Sober living homes are valuable resources designed to facilitate recovery and healing for patients battling potentially life-threating addiction issues,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. 

“Instead of helping these patients, these individuals [allegedly] preyed on extremely susceptible people and exploited their addictions for profit. Working closely with the California Department of Insurance, we are cracking down on these [alleged] criminals and their predatory operations in order to protect substance abuse patients from unknowingly being trafficked, as well as protect their loved ones, and insurance companies from these unscrupulous operators,” Spitzer said.

In order to pay the insurance premiums, the defendants are accused of developing a massive money laundering scheme in which they filtered money through nonprofit, StopB4UStart, by providing “donations” from Mohases, Frageau, Williams, and Reeves under their corporation, Nationwide Recovery. These “donations” would be cashed out, it is alleged, and the owner of StopB4UStart would receive cashier’s checks in specified amounts based on the information he received from one of the other co-conspirators. More than 800 checks in total were allegedly used to pay the insurance premiums on the fraudulent policies.

Police Files exterior

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Courtesy of Google

Laguna Beach-based sober living facility is now closed

Lomonaco has been charged with two counts of committing medical insurance fraud, one count of fraudulent written claim to an insurance company, one count of medical insurance fraud, and one enhancement for aggravated white collar crime over $200,000. He faces a maximum sentence of 8 years 4 months if convicted on all charges.

Mohases, Williams, Reeves, and Frageau have each been charged with two counts of committing medical insurance fraud, one count of fraudulent written claim to an insurance company, two counts of money laundering in excess of $150,000, four counts of money laundering, and one enhancement for aggravated white collar crime over $200,000. They each face a maximum sentence of 14 years if convicted on all charges.

“The heartless nature of these [alleged] crimes [is] appalling,” said Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. “These suspects [allegedly] trafficked vulnerable substance abuse patients to California just to make a quick buck from the insurance company, with no regard for their lives, health or recovery. Thanks to the efforts of Department of Insurance investigators, and our close work with District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s office, there is one less fraud ring preying on unsuspecting patients.”

Mohases has pled not guilty and is out on $250,000 bail. He is scheduled for a pre-trial on February 5. Reeves has pled not guilty also. He is out on $100,000 bail and is scheduled for a pre-trial on January 22 and a preliminary hearing on February 13. Frageau is out on $250,000 bail and is scheduled for a continued arraignment on February 7. Williams turned himself into Huntington Beach Police Department on January 15. No arraignment date has been scheduled for him yet.

Futher details about whether Williams and Lomonaco are in custody were not available as of press time.

According to the Manta website, Casa Bella Recovery was established in 1990 and had 10-19 employees. 

According to a November 23, 2019 story in, parents of a 20-year-old former resident of Casa Bella who died two days into his stay filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Casa Bella and its staff. According to court documents obtained, a notice of judgment was entered in favor of Casa Bella and its staff on November 25, 2019.

The article states, “The wrongful death lawsuit filed by his parents lays the tragedy at the feet of the rehabs and their workers. It also apportions blame for the nurse who, they feel, rendered services that weren’t medically necessary, and with the oversight of a doctor who never saw him. At Casa Bella, Harrison was prescribed a lethal stew of drugs that depressed his breathing and killed him according to the suit.”

The website shows there are six sober living facilities in Laguna Beach and dozens in Orange County, especially along the coast. Together with LA County, the posh area has been dubbed “Rehab Riviera.” 

Editor’s Note: An arrest contains allegations that a suspect has committed a crime. Every suspect is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court. 

  -By Suzie Harrison

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

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Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Lynette Brasfield, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists. Scott Brashier is our photographer.

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