BY JULIE FARREN
Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin warned the audience at the Good Morning Beaumont Chamber of Commerce breakfast June 14 about an Americans with Disabilities Act fraud involving business owners, and provided the same presentation a few days later for the Banning Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast June 19.
Hestrin talked about a recent fraud case of the People vs. Rogelio Morales and Mireya Arias, a couple who would go into small businesses and claim they had been discriminated against.
The couple would cite violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and threaten to report the business owners to the state — unless they coughed up several thousand dollars for them to drop their claim.
But Hestrin said Morales would not go away, and would ultimately come back months later, anticipating that the violations they previously cited would not have been fixed, and scam the same business owners for more money.
“The underlying violation was never getting fixed,” Hestrin said.
Morales, who was a bona fide attorney, would focus on barbershops and hair salons and worked with his wife on those scams.
Sometimes, he demanded $10,000 for payment.
Hestrin said that Morales created a sense of fear in these business owners.
“Some of these business owners are so afraid they just paid,” Hestrin said.
Morales targeted Hispanic business owners and recent immigrants, because he knew they were less likely to go to the authorities.
Some victims would sue him in civil court, and had to pay for their own lawyers and fees, Hestrin said.
Morales, whose law office was in Riverside, was breaking the law.
“He wasn’t just threatening lawsuits. He was filing fraudulent lawsuits” and using them as leverage to settle for more money, Hestrin said.
The lawsuits could not be ignored, Hestrin said.
Morales had a jury trial, where he was convicted of multiple felonies.
He is serving 22 years in state prison, Hestrin said, while his wife is serving nine.
The district attorney encouraged the audience to call his office if it happens to them or someone they know.
A similar scam is playing out across the state, and the Riverside District Attorney’s Office is leading the charge, Hestrin said.
He also talked about the David and Louise Turpin case, the abusive Perris couple who kept their 13 children chained and caged up without feeding them, and leaving them for days at a time “in their own filth.”
“This really took it to a new level,” Hestrin said.
The couple faced multiple counts of abuse and torture and received a 25 years to life sentence. They are eligible for parole in 25 years.
Hestrin said the children are doing ok; the younger children are living in a group home.
Hestrin said the children did not know anything about the outside world and have never lived on their own.
“They wanted to be free to live their lives and not under a conservatorship,” Hestrin said.
The children lived nocturnal lives and did not go to school. They also were deprived of toys that were donated to the children.
Hestrin said that the parents were not diagnosed with mental illness.
Someone asked if anyone called Child Protective Services. Hestrin said yes, they did, and a similar situation occurred in Texas, where they were living before they moved to California.
The parents had planned to move the family to Oklahoma just days before their arrest in California.
Hestrin admitted that there is a problem with Child Protective Services in Riverside county.
“I’m working with the county to remedy this,” he said.
People can always call their local Police Department to do a wellness check on a family.
Again, people are encouraged to call the district attorney’s office if they feel something suspicious is going on at a house.
Hestrin said that the Turpins did show remorse for what they did to their children.
“The kids — they love their parents, still,” Hestrin said.
Hestrin also talked about human trafficking being the fastest growing criminal business.
He is starting a Human Trafficking Task Force, with a specialized prosecutors unit and is starting a prevention effort.
Staff Writer David James Heiss contributed to this story.