Things That Matter

A Man Has Been Sentenced To 15 Years In Prison After Being Caught With 14 Meth Burritos

There are days when the thought of stuffing your face with a burrito can bring so much happiness into our lives. However, when authorities found 14 foil-wrapped burrito-shaped packages in Ricardo Renteria’s SUV in 2018, they weren’t so pleased. They weren’t filled with beans or cheese. Instead, Los Angeles police found the “burritos” filled with one key ingredient: about a pound each of methamphetamine. Renteria, 48, of Colton, California was sentenced on Monday to 15 years in federal prison for carrying more than 13 pounds of methamphetamine in his car.

People are stunned how this bait and switch “burritos” was pulled off.

Credit: @latimes / Twitter

Back on Feb. 3, 2018, Renteria was pulled over in the Angelino Heights neighborhood by Los Angeles Police officers after multiple witnesses reported a white Chevrolet Tahoe driving erratically. When police asked for his license, Renteria didn’t have it on him and was then allowed to search for his registration and insurance. While he couldn’t provide the correct paperwork, police determined the vehicle was registered to Renteria legally but found that his license was expired. That’s when Renteria let police search the vehicle. They would soon find a black garbage bag filled with 14 “foil-wrapped, burrito shaped” packages.

Authorities said that Renteria is a member of a neighborhood LA street gang and goes by the nickname “Flaco.” According to the Los Angeles Times, Renteria’s car was subsequently impounded after the arrest. During a later search of the vehicle, a fully loaded handgun was recovered from a secret compartment on the driver’s side door and more than $800 in cash.

“He has a very long criminal history,” Chief U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips said during the trial. “This was a large amount of methamphetamine — and the way it was packaged, it was clearly for sale.”

According to police, the street value of the methamphetamine ranged from $27,000 to $40,000.

Credit: @lapdhq / Twitter

During his one-day trial in March, Renteria was found guilty of possessing meth with intent to distribute, possessing a firearm during a drug trafficking crime and being a felon with a firearm, according to prosecutors.

During his sentencing hearing, Renteria asked Judge Phillips to “take into consideration (that) I have a family waiting for me — and I apologize for the situation I find myself in.”

Judge Phillips rejected the notion and said that a significant prison sentence was needed “to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant.” There was also a recommendation that Renteria undergoes a mental and physical health examination while serving time in prison.

“He wasn’t trying to sell a pound of meth disguised as burritos or trick anyone into thinking they’re real,” Ciaran McEvoy, a spokesman with the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Central District of California, told the News Observer. “But he was probably hoping to avoid detection this way.”

Police are familiar with this tactic and have previously seen creative ways that criminals try to disguise various drugs in the form of food.

“Narcotics dealers go to great lengths to conceal whatever narcotics it is they’re trying to move from one location to another,” Meghan Aguilar, a Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman told the Washington Post. “Soda cans, books cut out in the middle. Only the imagination limits how far drug dealers will go.”

This isn’t the first time we hear about someone trying to smuggle drugs in the form of a burrito.

Credit: @dailymail / Twitter

Just last week, a Colorado corrections officer tried to smuggle a drug-filled burrito into the Buena Vista Correctional Facility. Trevor Martineau filled the “burrito” with meth, heroin, marijuana, and painkillers and now faces a variety of felony charges. He’s also lost his job with the state. According to the Daily Mail, Martineau told investigators that he had drugs inside his lunchbox when he got to the correctional facility.

There is clearly a growing trend when it comes to hiding drugs in burrito shaped wrapping. This can only make us wonder what’s the next food item that people will be stashing away paraphernalia in. We just hope they leave tacos out of this.

READ: Not All Burritos Are The Same! Here Are 15 Varieties You Should Try ASAP

A Woman Scammed People Out Of $100,000 By Saying She Was A Psychic

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A Woman Scammed People Out Of $100,000 By Saying She Was A Psychic

Scam

At some point in our lives, we’ve all wished for some magical way to boost our cash flow—and earlier this year, several people thought they’d found it. Perlita Afancio-Balles, a 29-year old woman living in Sacramento, claimed that she was “psychic” and promised her clients that if they paid her, she would “bless” them by doubling their money. In total, Afancio-Balles scammed people out of more than $100,000, amounting to a federal felony charge for grand theft and obtaining money by false pretenses.

The scam first came to media attention back in October, when Afancio-Balles fled Sacramento after receiving the initial payment from her victims. Police told Fox40 News that Afancio-Balles had instructed victims to leave their money with her for a few days.

She promised that when they returned for the money, double the original amount would be waiting for them. But when the victims did so, Afancio-Balles was nowhere to be found.

Credit: Sacramento Police Department

Now, after being on the run for almost three months, Afancio-Balles is at the top of the Sacramento Police Department’s “most wanted” list. The Sacramento Police are seeking information about her whereabouts in order to bring justice to the fraud victims.

“Ultimately, most of these victims, or all of these victims, believed the psychic and gave her money. And, eventually, the suspect fled with all the money that was given to her,” said Sacramento Police Officer Karl Chan. “She also targeted the Spanish-speaking community.”

Afancio-Balles, who went by the name “Eva Maria,” lived in the neighborhood of South Natomas, where most of her victims also reside. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 30% of South Natomas residents are Latino or Hispanic. Afancio-Balles, as well as most of the people she scammed, belong to this demographic.

While her case is certainly extreme, Afancio-Balles’ story is not unique. Psychic scammers have long been at large in different parts of the world, targeting people who are desperate for financial stability. For con artists, feigning supernatural powers can be an effective way of acquiring very large sums of money very quickly.

Over the past few years, several situations like that of Afancio-Balles came to light, and numerous false psychics ended up behind bars.

Credit: Pinterest

In May of 2018, a clairvoyant known as “Psychic Zoe” was arrested by the New York Police Department for defrauding clients out of more than $800,000. Taking advantage of vulnerable clients in a fragile emotional state, Psychic Zoe—whose real name is Ann Thompson—convinced one woman to buy her a 9.2 carat diamond ring, claiming that if she did not, she would never love again.

Later that same year, Gina Marks was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to committing felony theft against five of her clients. Overall, she stole more than $340,000 after telling her victims that she could cast love spells and “cure them of curses.” Like Afancio-Balles, Marks also went by a different name professionally: her clients knew her as Natalie Miller. And just as Afancio-Balles did, Marks tried to flee after customers started reporting her suspicious activity. Marks was caught by a private investigator at the Miami International Airport, where she was ultimately arrested. Afancio-Balles is currently still at large.

And in fall of this year, Sherry Unwanawich—known to clients as Jacquelin Miller—was sentenced to 40 months in prison for swindling a single victim into paying $1.6 million over the course of several years for protection from a “curse.” The victim was allegedly grieving the death of her mother and struggling with medical school when she was led to believe that her family would be in danger from fake curse if she failed to pay.

Private investigator Bob Nygaard played a significant role in the cases of both Marks and Unwanawich—in fact, Marks was the very first psychic scammer that Nygaard investigated, catapulting his new career in this niche field of detective work. Nygaard is a former New York City police officer who has aided authorities in dozens of con artist cases, specifically in instances of false supernatural claims. In 2015, he estimated that he had recovered over $3 million for 21 victims across those dozen cases. But he says the overall number of defrauded funds in cases like these amounts to much more.

“The amount of money that these people are defrauded of by these self-proclaimed psychics is astronomical,” he said. “We’re talking in the billions of dollars.”

Nygaard says that police departments and district attorney offices don’t often take psychic crime seriously, often dismissing it as a “civil problem.” But as cases like these continue to emerge, the legal landscape is starting to change. In the case of Afancio-Balles, the Sacramento Police Department is remaining vigilant, requesting information from the public that might help locate her. 

A California City Is Being Sued Because Of Evictions Of Black And Latino Residents Considered Discriminatory

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A California City Is Being Sued Because Of Evictions Of Black And Latino Residents Considered Discriminatory

Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a lawsuit against the city of Hesperia and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department alleging discrimination against black and Latino renters. The suit, filed earlier this month, takes aim at a 2016 Hesperia rental ordinance that requires landlords to evict tenants who had allegedly committed crimes on or near their property. 

Making matters more troublesome is that the housing law was passed at a time when Hesperia, a Mojave Desert city of just under 100,000 people located 35 miles north of San Bernardino, saw it’s Latino and African-American populations growing. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of Latinos living in Hesperia rose 140 percent, and the number of African-Americans by 103 percent, according to Census Bureau data.

The housing law, called the “Crime Free Rental Housing Program” led to the eviction of countless families, including children, for alleged criminal activity that included one tenant or even some non-tenants. This was in addition to the eviction of family members who had reported domestic violence to the police. The housing act even involved allegations from authorities of criminal activity even if the individual wasn’t arrested, charged or convicted. 

According to federal authorities, city councilmembers’ statements in creating the controversial ordinance show that it was designed to reverse “demographic” changes in Hesperia.

The suit, alleges that the housing law was put in place for one primary reason, to drive minorities out of the city of Hesperia. The DOJ is seeking to stop future similarly discriminatory housing laws and for financial compensation for those tenants that were affected by the ordinance. The housing law was put in effect from Jan. 1, 2016 to July 18, 2017.

The DOJ says that the ordinance violated the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability. With the city’s sheriff’s department having determination in which tenants would be evicted, there was an instance when an older Latino couple was removed due to their adult son, who did not live with them, being arrested, the suit said. 

When the measure was initially being drafted, Hesperia Mayor Eric Schmidt made comments about the number of renters that were coming into the city from parts of L.A. County that were known for having large minority populations. According to prosecutors, Schmidt allegedly said that groups left L.A. County  “because it’s a cheap place to live and it’s a place to hide,” and that “the people that aggravate us aren’t from here,” they “come from somewhere else with their tainted history.”

Another questionable comment came from city councilmember Russ Blewett who allegedly said that Hesperia needed to “improve our demographic,” and that he wanted “those kind of people” that the ordinance would particularly target to get “the hell out of our town. 

“I want their butt kicked out of this community as fast as I can possibly humanly get it done,” Blewett said, according to the suit.

“The Fair Housing Act prohibits local governments from enacting ordinances intended to push out African-American and Latino renters because of their race and national origin, or from enforcing their ordinances in a discriminatory manner,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in the press release. “The United States Department of Justice will continue zealously to enforce the Fair Housing Act against anyone and any organization or institution that violates the law’s protections against race, national origin, and other forms of unlawful discrimination.”

As of now, the city of Hesperia has denied any and all wrongdoing in regard to the DOJ lawsuit. 

Rachel Molina, a spokeswoman for the City of Hesperia, told the Victorville Daily Press that the information presented in the DOJ lawsuit is “factually incorrect and grossly misleading.”

“First and foremost, I would like to say that Hesperia is a very diverse community,” Molina said. “We love and embrace diversity in Hesperia. At no time did the City’s crime-free ordinance discriminate against residents of any ethnicity. There are crime-free programs across the United States aimed at providing residents with safer communities — in the recent past HUD supported such programs.”

Before the DOJ filed its own lawsuit, the ACLU took legal action two years ago against the city on similar premises of housing discrimination. 

This isn’t the first time the city and it’s sheriff’s department have faced legal action over the ordinance. Back in 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California filed a suit on the claim that the housing law restricted housing and services for those individuals who had criminal records. In retaliation, Hesperia made adjustments to the law to make the program voluntary for landlords. Just last year, the city agreed to settle with the ACLU lawsuit for $485,000 dollars. 

That lawsuit was filed on behalf of Sharon Green, who leads the Victor Valley Family Resource Center, a housing nonprofit organization. Green told the LA Times that the DOJ suit is important in regards to other cities that might be considering similar discriminatory housing laws. 

The DOJ suit will “send a strong message to cities around the country that they cannot discriminate. Our homeless numbers are far too large and there are far too many obstacles to housing already to be dealing with this kind of foolishness.”

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