From the daily archives: Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Authorities seized 107 fraudulently obtained or altered travel documents including 60 U.S. Passports during a week-long, joint operation in Southern California by the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego.

From June 7 through June 13, “Operation Goalkeeper” targeted persons attempting to use stolen, lost, counterfeit, or altered travel documents to illegally cross into the United States at ports of entry along the California/Mexico border: San Ysidro, Otay Mesa, Tecate, Calexico, and Andrade.

CBP officers stopped 47 individuals with counterfeit or altered passports or visas and 60 imposters, persons with a genuine document that does not belong to them.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting 27 cases of passport fraud and eight cases of visa fraud brought by special agents of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) and 12 cases that CBP’s Criminal Enforcement Units, working with DSS agents, prepared for prosecution.  Approximately 60 individuals using U.S. passports or visas illegally were formally deported to Mexico in lieu of criminal prosecution.  The documents were seized and the violators will never be granted lawful entry into the United States.

According to federal officials, the joint enforcement operation disrupted smuggling and trafficking efforts along the California-Mexico border and developed information on illegal travel document vendors, trafficking cells, and border smuggling methods and operations.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), implemented June 1, 2009, requires U.S. and Canadian citizens, age 16 and older to present a valid, acceptable travel document that denotes both identity and citizenship when entering the U.S. by land or sea. WHTI approved-travel documents include a valid passport, a U.S. passport card, a Trusted Traveler Program card, or an Enhanced Driver’s License from a participating state or province.

Under WHTI, CBP is able to run automated checks against law enforcement databases more easily. CBP also can validate the travel documents against information from their issuing agency, thereby substantially increasing the ability to identify fraudulent documents and the fraudulent use of legitimate documents.

WHTI is the joint Department of State-Department of Homeland Security plan that implemented a key 9/11 Commission recommendation to establish document requirements for travelers entering the United States who were previously exempt, including citizens of the U.S., Canada and Bermuda.

“The word is out that you need an approved travel document to cross the border into the United States,” said Paul Morris, director of CBP field operations in San Diego. “We have seen those attempting illegal entry adjust to this new requirement from last year, and have observed increased illicit use of U.S. passports and visas by smugglers. We will recommend vigorous prosecution of those we apprehend with fraudulent documents.”

CBP officials note that Tijuana and Mexicali serve as key transit points for illegal aliens seeking entry into the United States. From October 1, 2009 through April 30, 2010, CBP officers in the San Diego Field Office seized 2,238 U.S. passports and 11,712 border crossing and legal permanent resident cards that were used by aliens attempting to enter the United States illegally.

U.S. travel documents have a high value for criminals and smugglers. This fact prompted the initiative, which included DSS agents from offices in San Diego, Los Angeles and the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Mexico.   In terms of numbers, duration and scope, this was the largest DSS-led operation ever conducted along the California-Mexico border.

“The success of this investigation and enforcement operation – more than 100 cases of documents seized – shows that the Department of State and the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) are committed to protecting the integrity of U.S. passports and visas – the most sought after travel documents in the world,” said Garth Pettijohn, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the DSS Los Angeles Field Office.

“DSS has a very strong relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and many other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in Southern California,” he said. “With this type of collaboration and teamwork we can more effectively combat travel document fraud and illegal entry into the country.  There are foreign nationals who fraudulently acquire U.S. passports and visas to carry out criminal activities inside our borders.  These crimes threaten the national security of the United States, plain and simple.”

The agencies look forward to conducting regular joint enforcement initiatives in the future. These initiatives are important to maintain control and security at the international border.

U.S. citizens or legitimate document holders will be prosecuted in cases where it has been determined they sold or made their documents available for others to use, officials said.

United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy said, “The Southern District of California has six land border ports of entry through which millions of people enter each year, including San Ysidro, literally the world’s busiest. This high volume of traffic presents very real and tangible national security issues.  Therefore, in all cases in which false or stolen documents are used for entry, the United States Attorney’s Office is committed to reviewing the evidence and determining the viability of prosecution.”

Those convicted of passport and visa fraud face a maximum of 10 years in federal prison. Offenders also may be charged with aggravated identity theft, which carries a minimum mandatory sentence of two years to be served consecutively with the underlying offense.


By Mario Conde

In a much divided decision by the Council, the governing board of Calexico decided to continue with the discussion of the budget for next year when the city is facing a $5.5 Million dollar deficit.

The Calexico City Council had in its agenda a resolution to declare a state of fiscal emergency that would take effect immediately upon adoption for the start of the next fiscal year that starts June 30th. The resolution would have freeze all vacant positions, make 15% in salary cuts  for all unions, miscellaneous employees shall pay 7% and Firefighters pay 9% of the employee share of the retirement contribution, take furloughs, and have employees pay a percentage of City/employee contribution for the monthly premium.  In the other item, the budget for this year called for the layoff of permanent, part time, temporary employees that would save the city money that would be able to take the shortfall to $0.

Jacob Regalado from the SEIU-CMEA said that the unit tried to meet with the City early in the year so they can have an early approval of the budget. He said that they were not giving the information about the budget numbers or were not told about the emergency resolution or the fiscal emergency even when they were negotiating in good faith with the City. He asked for the continuation of the negotiation and not unilaterally approve this resolution.

Councilman elect Bill Hodge said that this resolution is wrong since there was no proper time to study this item. He said that the resolution contradicts the budget proposal since the emergency resolution states that the cuts will take action immediately after its approval and the budget proposal allows for the meet and confer unions to discuss how many will get layoffs. Hodge said that the council needs vision and negotiate with the unions to come to a good conclusion. Other employees questioned the council as to why they bought new pickup trucks and approve the purchase of the trailer for the water plant if the city in financial trouble.

Councilman Daniel Romero said that the situation is hard for the city and the issue of fiscal emergency is to help the city to get back to its feet. He said that the property and tax revenues have fallen and said Measure H will help but it’s not the solution and it will take two years for the city to turn around but the city cannot move forward by overspending. Councilman Guillermo Hermosillo said that his should have been done a year ago since, he said, that the council was acting like if everything was doing fine and if they don’t do anything the City would go bankrupt and this is a consequence of not doing anything to cut spending since last year. Councilman Castro said that in his two years in the city council he has work with Ralph Velez and later with Victor Carrillo as City Manager and has not seen an improvement in management.

He said that the City should be reorganizing the department heads since they are the ones managing the departments and work as a team with the City Manager but said he has not seen the improvements with the city manager position in this past year. Castro said that as City Council they need to balance the budget by working together with department heads and the new council and asked to table it. Castro asked to reorganize the city so it can be more efficient. Moreno said that it a difficult time for the city and mentioned that there was always money for Calexico to use as reserves but said those times is over. Moreno wanted more options before going with this fiscal emergency.

Mayor David Ouzan said he agreed with some of the comments made by the people that spoke for and against the measure. He agreed that is not good for the city to be using 2010 pickup trucks and said that he doesn’t know why is there any emergency to pass this resolution and asked to table it. He said layoffs should be the last resort.

Ouzan, Moreno, and Castro voted in favor of continuing the negotiations while Hermosillo and Romero voted against it.


By Mario Conde

The County Board of Supervisors heard an appeal about a landfill expansion on Dogwood Rd. in Imperial.

Allied Waste of Imperial Valley requested an appeal from the County Board of Supervisors in regards of the expansion of their landfill after the County Planning Commission denied the expansion after three hearings on this item. Planning and Development services requested the planning board to deny this item which they did. The applicant requested to change land use designation from “agriculture” to “Special public” west of the existing MSW landfill for a new 89-acre disposal cell within the 160-acre parcel.

County Staff reported that allowing for the expanded landfill new cell with the approval of a conditional use permit; a conditional use permit to construct/operate an 89-acre new cell for MSW disposal; and a variance to increase the height of the proposed existing a new landfill cell from the 80 feet allowed within the “Government/Special Public Zone” to 145 feet over the life of the project. The Development Services Department requested the Board of Supervisors to uphold the denial of this project.

Chris Coyle, General Manager of Allied Waste Services of Imperial, said that this project is vitally needed to provide needed disposal capacity for the residents of Imperial County. “This capacity is needed to prevent illegal dumping on County roads and privately-owned farmland, to provide locally controlled disposal and recycling facilities for the surrounding communities, to financially support County road improvements, and to provide a source of revenues for County programs. Without the expansion, the site will close in 17 to 18 months, leaving the county without readily available disposal options.” Coyle said.

After a 4 ½ hour meeting the County Board of Supervisors will continue the deliberation until Thursday to review and deliberate on this issue.


By Luke Phillips

The Holtville City Council waited until the last minute, but finally passed a budget for the new fiscal year at their meeting Monday.

City Manager Laura Fischer warned the council that if the budget was not passed at the meeting Monday, an emergency meeting would have to be held to extend the June 30 deadline.

She also explained that passing the budget doesn’t mean that changes can’t be made later.

“Your budget is a fluid document,” Fischer said. “Any time you want to modify it, you can. Any time you take action as a council that increases your bottom line, whether it’s for an additional project or an additional project scope, you will, in effect, modify your budget.”

Mayor Colleen Ludwig started discussion on the resolution by urging her fellow council members to adopt the budget.

“I hope that all of us will adopt this budget,” Ludwig said. “If there’s any discussion that needs to be done later, after the budget is adopted, we can always go back and deal with them.”

Council member Jerry Brittsan continued his opposition to the budget and cast the only dissenting vote. Brittsan took issue with what he sees as rampant spending by the city.

“We’re spending everything like it’s going out of style,” Brittsan said. “It was also pointed out to me that it appears every city employee has either a vehicle, a cell phone, a computer or all of the above.”

Brittsan also spoke out against the city spending money to maintain a planned nature trail along the Alamo River. The construction of the trail is being paid for by a grant from the California Parks and Recreation Department.

“This park by the river is the same situation as a person winning a million dollar home in the lottery,” Brittsan said. “Once he has that home, he has no means to pay the taxes on it. In this case, it means that the city is going to have this park that they have to maintain.”

Brittsan also took issue with a utility tax resolution that was passed in 1991. Brittsan says that the city could owe tax payers as much as $400,000 in over payments on utilities.

“Approximately $100,000 has been added to the budget for the last five years, but it should have been returned to the voters,” Brittsan told the council. “In 1991 the council was told that they were in dire need of this utility tax, and that it would only be for a short period of time. That was 19 years ago. Nothing has been done to rescind this.”

Ludwig responded to Brittsans comments by reminding him that the budget needed to be passed and changes could still be made.

“I know how tense you are with these issues,” Ludwig said. “You brought out some perspective thoughts and feelings, and we do need to consider some of the impacts if they are established. However, for the present, we need to approve this budget and go forward.”

The council voted 4-1 to pass the budget resolution with council member Brittsan dissenting. The budget includes$2.9M for the general fund, $1.6M for water operations, and $1.2M for sewer operations.


By Bob Hurst

As the weather heats up, so do tempers.

Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano was caught on camera in yet another meltdown, yelling at first baseman Derrek Lee and storming through the dugout after the first inning of last Friday’s game against the Chicago White Sox. And Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton got into a heated discussion with teammate Evan Longoria in Sunday’s game against Arizona.

Zambrano’s tirade was triggered in the first inning, when he apparently became angry at Lee, and third baseman Aramis Ramirez for not diving for hard-hit balls down the line. Zambrano also gave up a three-run homer to Carlos Quentin, putting the Cubs down 4-0.

“That’s something that can’t be tolerated,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of Zambrano’s tantrum.

Zambrano (3-6) did not return to the game and was sent home by Piniella. The pitcher was suspended for three games and then placed on the restricted list this week. Zambrano will get help from doctors for anger management problems, and will return to the team after the All-Star break, probably in the bullpen, where he spent five weeks earlier this season.

“We’ve obviously had a lot of transgressions in the past with Carlos,” Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. “So I think we all agree it’s time he got help. You’re hopeful that maybe once and for all he can put some of his problems he’s had with teammates and in other areas behind him and move on.”

At Tampa Bay, Longoria was upset that center-fielder Upton didn’t position himself properly nor run hard after a ball hit to the wall by the Diamondbacks’ Rusty Ryal for a triple in the fifth inning. Gerardo Parra followed with a two-run homer in Arizona’s 2-1 victory. It was the Rays 11th loss in their last 16 games.

“It’s a byproduct of a frustrated team,” Longoria said. “We’re trying to win games and guys are going to have differences of opinion. I just wanted to know what was going through his head. The bottom line, we’ve talked about it and it goes no further than today.”

AL wins interleague play, again: The American League continued its domination in interleague play this season, going 134-118 over the National League. That’s seven straight years the AL has topped the NL.

The Chicago White Sox had the best interleague record at 15-3, followed by Texas (14-4), Boston (13-5) and the New York Mets (13-5). Mark Buehrle went 4-0 for the White Sox, who won 11 straight with sweeps over Pittsburgh, Washington and Atlanta and two over the Cubs before their streak ended on Sunday. Jake Peavy had a 0.78 ERA in 23 innings pitched and Bobby Jenks recorded eight saves for the White Sox.

Offensively, the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton led interleague hitters with a .472 average. Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder, Baltimore’s Adam Jones and the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Napoli slugged seven home runs each. David Wright drove in 24 runs for the Mets.

Interleague play began in 1997, and the NL held the early edge, 4-3, through 2003. But in the past five years, the AL is 712-548 vs. the NL, and has won 10 of 14 years of interleague play.

Prior bids for return: Former major league pitcher Mark Prior was scheduled to work out before big league scouts this week at USC, according to FOX Sports’ Tracy Ringolsby. Prior, 29, hasn’t pitched in a major league game since 2006 with the Chicago Cubs. He was signed last season by San Diego, but did not appear in a game and was released.

Prior, who has been plagued by shoulder and arm injuries for most of his career, was drafted in 2001 by the Cubs behind Joe Mauer. His best season was in 2003, when he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA, 245 strikeouts and 50 walks. Prior helped the Cubs reach the NLCS that year.

In five major-league seasons, Prior was 42-29 with a 3.51 ERA.

StatsWatch: Here are the major league’s RBI leaders (through Monday) —

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers, 66

David Wright, Mets, 61

Vladimir Guerrero, Rangers, 60

Corey Hart, Brewers, 60

Josh Hamilton, Rangers, 57

Paul Konerko, White Sox, 56

Troy Glaus, Braves, 56

Ryan Howard, Phillies, 55

Alex Rodriguez, Yankees, 54

Diamond Notes: Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia is out with a broken left foot, suffered on Friday after he fouled a ball off his instep. Pedroia, who was batting .292 with 12 home runs, is expected to miss six weeks…Edwin Jackson, who threw a 149-pitch no-hitter for Arizona last week, will skip his scheduled start on Wednesday. Jackson’s next start will be Friday or Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers… Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer gave up his record 506th home run on Sunday, a two-run shot by Toronto’s Vernon Wells. Moyer passed former Phillies Hall of Famer Robin Roberts for the most homers allowed in a major league career.

Copyright © 2010  Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.

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