Lawsuit settlement halts fracking in Ventura County

A settlement reached by the Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres ForestWatch has preserved a moratorium on leasing federally owned land of more than 1 million acres in California for oil and gas development in spite of President Donald Trump’s signature promise to increase domestic oil production.

The settlement requires the Bureau of Land Management to rework a plan that could have auctioned off drilling rights on public land in the Central Valley, the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura Counties.

“This is a big victory for California and a major blow to Trump’s plan to turn our public lands over to oil companies,” said Brendan Cummings, the conservation director with the Center. “Despite the petroleum industry’s stranglehold on the White House, these beautiful wild places are still off-limits to drilling and fracking. That protects our water, wildlife and climate from fracking pollution.”

The settlement continues the moratorium on lease sales in California, the last occurring in 2013, when a federal judge ruled that the Bureau of Land Management violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving a Monterey County oil lease without providing an environmental impact review.

Child sues Oxnard farms for birth defects

Four Oxnard-area agriculture businesses have been named in a lawsuit brought by Erik Joe Morales, a 9-year-old boy, alleging that he suffered birth defects due to exposure to pesticides while he was in the womb.

Morales’s pregnant mother, Eulalia Lopez-Gomez, worked at an Oxnard strawberry farm in 2007 while she was pregnant with him. The suit alleges that Morales developed hemifacial microsomia, a condition in which one half of the lower part of his face is underdeveloped.

The trial began on Tuesday, April 25, in Ventura County Superior Court, with the four defendants being Soilfume Inc., strawberry producer; Well-Pict Berries and owner T.T. Miyasaka Inc.; and labor contractor Ramco Enterprises.

Morales has undergone numerous surgeries and finds it difficult to talk and eat, Morales’ attorney David Bricker told the jury; but attorneys for the defendants claim that there is no “known cause” for his particular birth defect and that there are no studies linking the chemicals used on the farm to the particular defect, either.

Expert witnesses testifying for the plaintiff have included Chensheng “Alex” Lu, a scientific expert from Harvard University, who spoke on the use of the particular pesticide in question, Captan. On the particular days Morales’ mother worked the fields of Anacapa Berry Farm, Lu testified, pesticide residue would still have been present. Though Lu said that he has never testified as to the amount of Captan needed to cause a birth defect, the pesticide has been linked with an increased risk of cancer and has been named by the state of California under the voter-approved Proposition 65.

The trial is expected to last up to two months.

Most charges dropped against Ojai pot cooperative president

Superior Court Judge Michele Castillo on Wednesday, May 3, dropped 22 of the 34 charges against Jeffrey Kroll, 66, president of the Ojai-based Shangri La Care Cooperative, citing lack of evidence for the charges.

Castillo found that there was insufficient evidence to charge Kroll with unlawful transportation of marijuana, child endangerment, money laundering and elder fraud stemming from charges brought against Kroll and his associates in a legal battle that has been underway since October 2015, when Ventura County Interagency Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit investigators searched Kroll’s business and personal property.

Kroll, along with Shangri La co-director Robert Hoffman and driver William Macneil, were arrested and charged in April 2016, but all have been out on bail since.

Castillo found that there was sufficient evidence to charge Kroll with 12 counts of filing a false tax return and failure to file a tax return, and one misdemeanor count of unlawful cultivation of more than six marijuana plants.

Kroll will return to court on June 6. Meanwhile, Kroll’s associates will return to court on various dates to face misdemeanor charges: Macneil has been ordered to return on May 26, on misdemeanor charges of possession of marijuana for sale and unlawful transportation; landowner James Hudson on misdemeanor cultivation charges; grower Nolan Gidley has been charged with misdemeanor possession and cultivation of marijuana and will appear on June 9 for a pretrial conference; and Ryan Brown will face misdemeanor possession and cultivation of marijuana charges. If convicted, all could face maximums of 180 days in county jail and/or $500 fines.

Ventura murder suspect denied bond

Photo: Potter County Detention Center

Details of the Dec. 6, 2016, murder of Ventura resident Spencer Turner have emerged as the trial begins, with alleged perpetrator Sadiki Shakur denied bond ahead of the hearing.

Prosecutors have alleged that Shakur fatally shot Turner in the parking lot of the Golden China Restaurant off Seaward Avenue in Ventura during the early morning hours and then ran him over with his vehicle as he fled.

Shakur has been charged with felony murder and attempted murder for allegedly shooting Turner’s friend George Harrison on the shoulder during the altercation.

Shakur’s defense attorney, Robert Sheahen, alleges that on the night prior to the shooting, Turner and Harrison brutally beat Shakur and his brother at his apartment, robbing him, and wrote in a motion to reduce Shakur’s bail that “Turner attacked these two young black college students in their home, took their money, intimidated them and based on his criminal record, these are just two victims of Turner’s violent history.”

Despite assurances of Director of Programs for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Youth Foundation Kathleen Van Antwerp as presented in Sheahen’s 56-page motion that Shakur would not pose a flight risk given, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Ryan Wright denied the motion to reduce the $2 million bail, noting that Shakur did flea the state following the incident and was arrested in Texas on Dec. 15.

If convicted, Shakur faces 84 years to life in prison.

Ventura restaurateur arrested on suspicion of arson

Chingchai Liampetchakul

Chingchai Liampetchakul, 58, owner of downtown Ventura’s Tipps Thai Cuisine, was in court on Friday, May 12, facing allegations that he set fire to the Odd Fellows Lodge, upstairs from his restaurant.

Liampetchakul pleaded not guilty to a single count of felony arson, and his bail was reduced from $1 million to $150,000.

It was reported that the Ventura Police Department believes that the April 17 incident was not financially motivated, but rather due to a dispute between Liampetchakul and the Odd Fellows. Deputies suspect that an accelerant was used to start the blaze, which was isolated to a small section of the Lodge. The Department is said to have security footage from the night of the fire.

Liampetchakul was arrested on Wednesday, May 10, after detectives served search warrants at his home and restaurant, and is due back in court on June 7.

Camarillo dentist sentenced on arson conviction

Leopold “Dr. Leo” Weinstein

Between June 2014 and January 2015, fires at several Camarillo dentist offices proved a pattern: Someone had a cavity to fill . . . with fire.

Leopold “Dr. Leo” Weinstein, 65, of Moorpark, operated a dental office on Ponderosa Road in Camarillo until his arrest on suspicion of arson at competing dentists’ offices. Police began investigating the incidents when a pattern emerged; and evidence, including security camera footage and eyewitness accounts, fingered Weinstein, who was arrested on Jan. 30, 2015.

Weinstein pleaded guilty to six felony counts of arson and attempted arson and, on May 3, was sentenced to 365 days in jail, but is expected to serve less than half that time due to time served while awaiting trial and having no prior criminal record.

Weinstein’s attorney William Haney told the court during the trial that Weinstein suffered brain damage from a stroke, which led him to the idea that by burning neighboring businesses, insurance providers would improve billing practices.