Senior reporter goes on raid with department at La Perla market
■ Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
Operation “Dirty Pearl” consisted of numerous law enforcement agencies gathered in the briefing room at the Hemet Police Department at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 7 in preparation for a raid on the La Perla Carniceria and Market located at 571 East Florida Ave. in Hemet, as well as the owner’s residence in the 200 block of Peregrine Lane in San Jacinto. Warrants were obtained for both prior to these actions.
The first raid took place at the Peregrine Lane address as the owner/suspect, 39 year old Ontivero-Angulo, was intercepted while attempting to leave the area and taken into custody a half block from the residence, at the wheel of a Black Cadillac Escalade that was confiscated and removed by a tow truck. After his arrest officers attempted to access the home by knocking and announcing their presence. Receiving no response the officers used a battering ram to bust the door open. Inside they recovered evidence of illegal activities pertaining to the case.
Officers were already stationed at the La Perla Market located at the Southwest corner of Florida Avenue and Santa Fe Street in Hemet, where customers and employees alike were not allowed in. Following a search of the owner’s residence the forces moved to the market and did a thorough search of the premises and carried out several brown paper bags.
According to Hemet P.D. Lt. Eric Dickson, “This operation took time to plan and included officers from Alcoholic Control Board and Federal agents.” Dickson explained further, “We received information earlier this year that the market was conducting fraudulent Electronic Benefits Transfers [EBT] formerly known as ‘food stamps.’”
Early on in the investigation, it was noticed that an unusual number of vagrants were hanging around outside the market. It was determined through a source who traded EBT coupons in the store for cash. For instance, a $100 EBT coupon was worth $50 in cash while the store owner pocketed the other $50.
It was suggested that at least $50,000 may have been fraudulently charged through EBT based on evidence collected at both locations. Additional charges may be added, according to Dickson. Riverside County Department of Environmental Health conducted a subsequent inspection and determined the market was unsafe to remain open and closed the business down until it could be brought into compliance.
Capt. Glen Brock, head of the Hemet Police Department’s Community Services Division, later declared, “This man is taking advantage of families who truly need the funds this program provides. Taxpayers are the real victims here.”
Officials reportedly said that the fraud investigation is active and ongoing at this time and there may be future arrests of those fraudulently using EBT cards at the market. This reporter has been on a number of police raids during his career, but I have never seen such efficiency as in the manner this one was handled.
One more aspect of this raid tossed out old stories I’ve heard; judges do not give carte blanche warrants to the police. At the 6 a.m. briefing the warrant conditions were read out word for word, line for line so that there would be no misunderstanding as to what the warrant allowed.
Said Brock: “Thanks to our Measure U funds we are able to train more officers and our task forces are better to crack down on these illegal activities.”
During the almost four-hour experience I received an up-to-date education on the way a modern police force works. Things ain’t what they used to be. Our law enforcement in Hemet is doing just fine and as Capt. Brock says, “It will improve thanks to Measure U.” Just sayin’
Rusty Strait is a senior reporter with The Valley Chronicle and can be reached at email@example.com.