Shelter-in-place ordered in gas leak
Six charged in unemployment fraud
SANTA BARBARA — A Santa Barbara woman was among six people named in a felony complaint Wednesday in connection with identity and unemployment benefit fraud.
Named in the 275 count complaint were: Rosa Maria Bradley, 40, of Santa Barbara; Gordon Alan Welterlen, 37, of San Diego; Nicole Michelle Milan, 31, of San Diego; David Zarate, 44, of Oxnard; William Lee Gormley, 35, of San Diego; and Christina Renata Hesler, 40, of San Diego.
The complaint alleges two counts of accessing and using a computer system of Wolf & Associates Property Management, one count of multiple identifying information theft, six counts of unlawful transfer of identifying information for identity theft, one count of conspiracy to commit multiple identifying theft, one count of conspiracy to commit unemployment insurance benefit fraud, and 263 counts of unemployment insurance benefit fraud, according to District Attorney Joyce Dudley.
In addition, a white collar crime enhancement charges the suspects of taking more than $500,000.
An investigation is ongoing. Anyone who completed an application with Wolf & Associates between 2017 and 2020 may have had their personal identifying information compromised. Those who suspect they are victims can contact the district attorney’s office at email@example.com.
Ms. Milan, Ms. Bradley and Mr. Welterlen were arraigned Wednesday. Mr. Bradley is being held on $250,000 bail. Ms. Milan and Mr. Welterlen are being held on $1 million bail in a related case.
The next hearing in the case is Aug. 21.
— Mitchell White
Vegetation fire near Lompoc
LOMPOC — A small vegetation fire broke out Wednesday afternoon near the Santa Ynez riverbed off East Ocean Avenue and North 12th Street near Lompoc, authorities said.
The River Fire was reported around 1:30 p.m. The blaze burned less than a half acre, though crews had difficulty accessing the blaze in the middle of the dry riverbed, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
Another small brush fire occurred Monday night in the area of South Bradley Road and Via Mavis, known as the Bradley Dip near Orcutt.
The Dip Fire broke out around 5:25 p.m. and arriving units found roughly one acre that had been charred. Crews knocked down the head of the fire by 6 p.m. and forward progress was halted, authorities said.
Structures were threatened when the fire broke out, though no structure damage was reported.
The cause of both fires is under investigation.
— Mitchell White
Decision upheld in NRA lawsuit
SANTA BARBARA — The 11th Circuit federal appeals court upheld a decision Wednesday to reject a lawsuit filed by a National Rifle Association lobbyist against local attorney and mediator Lol Sorenson.
The appeals court denied Marion Hammer’s lawsuit against Mr. Sorenson. Ms. Hammer initially filed a federal lawsuit in Florida in 2018, seeking more than $2 million in damages from five men, including Mr. Sorenson. The lawsuit was in response to emails sent to Ms. Hammer which caused emotional distress amongst other things.
Ms. Hammer’s lawsuit was dismissed due to a lack of ‘legitimate purpose’ as defined under Florida law, the appeals court ruled.
— Jorge Mercado
County Jail inmate dies
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department announced Wednesday that a Santa Maria man who previously tested positive for COVID-19 was found dead in his cell Tuesday night.
Eduardo Velazquez, 38, was discovered unresponsive in his cell around 9 p.m. Tuesday. Custody staff and WellPath jail medics immediately began performing life-saving measures until fire and medics arrived and took over. Mr. Velazquez was pronounced dead at 9:36 p.m., said Raquel Zick, sheriff’s spokeswoman.
Mr. Velazquez was arrested July 11 by the Santa Maria Police Department and was housed in an intake quarantine area. He tested positive for coronavirus July 16 and was rehoused in medical isolation. He began experiencing COVID-19 related complications and was hospitalized from July 17 to 29, Ms. Zick said.
After being released from the hospital, he remained in medical isolation and was routinely checked. His last check up occurred at 8 p.m. Tuesday and he “exhibited no significant health issues at that time,” Ms. Zick said.
He was being held on $1.25 million bail following his arrest on a warrant for a number of felony charges. Mr. Velazquez was booked on suspicion of kidnapping to commit rape, aggravated sexual assault of a minor, oral copulation with force, lewd and lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14, rape by force, two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a minor, aggravated oral copulation of a minor and continual sexaul abuse of a child, authorities said.
“While his death appears to be due to natural causes, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office is conducting a death investigation to determine the official cause, manner, and circumstances of death,” Ms. Zick said, adding that next of kin had been notified. “A final determination is pending an autopsy, toxicology, and lab results.”
— Mitchell White