Riverside attorney and wife convicted of more than 60 counts of extortion, other charges
UPDATED: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2 p.m.
See original story below.
RIVERSIDE — A Riverside attorney and his wife were convicted Monday, Dec. 3, of more than 60 counts of extortion, grand theft, burglary, and stalking. Some of the allegations were considered by the jury as hate crimes because the couple targeted small businesses owned by minorities and immigrants, typically Asian or Hispanic.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Samuel Diaz Jr. found Rogelio Morales and his wife Mireya Arias, both of Riverside, guilty and immediately ordered both back into custody without bail.
LEADING THE RCNS HEADLINES:
Officials alleged that between April 2016 to June 2016, the married couple entered eleven hair salon and dry cleaning businesses in Riverside County and obtained minimal services from each.
According to officials, within days of each business visit, Morales would deliver court documents to the businesses claiming his client, Ms. Arias, was filing suit for violations of the Gender Tax Act of 1995 and Business and Profession Codes.
Court documents indicated Morales would typically demand payments ranging from $20,000 to $123,000.
When the victim business owners would contact Morales’ law firm, he would eventually offer to settle the case out of court for a smaller sum, usually around $10,000.
Based on their investigation, officials determined the couple would enter these businesses with the clear intent of extortion.
As Riverside PD’s more than year-long criminal investigation continued, several of the victim businesses hired attorneys, who believed the victims were targeted because they were small, immigrant owned businesses.
One community activist and attorney, Rosa Elena Sahagun, eventually organized a protest at Morales’ law firm to bring attention to the couples’ criminal activities.
“Shortly thereafter, Sahagun began receiving threatening comments and posts to her professional social media account from social media accounts later linked to Mr. Morales and his law firm, the Law Offices of Rogelio V. Morales,” officials later explained.
Based on the ongoing harassment and threats, Sahagun obtained a civil harassment restraining order against Morales. Despite the order, “Morales continued making social media posts containing threats of harm and litigation toward Sahagun in violation of the restraining order,” said RPD.
He also continued to contact the attorneys representing victim businesses with threats of litigation if the victims refused to pay him $10,000. The most recent threat was made in December 2016.
In addition to his other charges, Morales was also convicted of felony stalking and a dozen misdemeanor contempt-of-court convictions stemming from violating the restraining order against him for harassing Sahagun.
Sentencing for the couple has been scheduled for January 8.
Original story: Riverside attorney, wife, arrested for extortion, other charges
RIVERSIDE – Officials have announced the arrest of a Riverside area attorney and his accomplice, following a lengthy investigation into the couple’s alleged criminal activity dating back to April, 2016.
The investigation culminated with the couple’s arrest Thursday, April 20. After their arrest, both were booked into the Robert Presley Detention Center on multiple counts of extortion and burglary.
The pair, described as being in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, were identified as Rogelio Vergara Morales, 39, and Mireya Arias, 32. Both are Riverside residents.
Morales faces 51 felony charges, including extortion, sending a threatening letter with intention to extort, burglary, stalking and attempted grand theft, according to Superior Court records.
Superior Court Records also showed Arias is facing 40 charges similar to Morales’.
The Riverside Police Department’s Robbery-Homicide Unit began investigating Morales’ and Arias’ reported acts of extortion after receiving complaints from numerous businesses that were victimized by the couple.
According to Riverside police officials, between April and June 2016, “Ms. Arias entered eleven hair salon and dry cleaning businesses in Riverside County and obtained minimal services from each.
“Within days, Mr. Morales would deliver court documents to the businesses claiming his client, Ms. Arias, was filing suit for violations of the Gender Tax Act of 1995 and Business and Profession Codes after the targeted businesses allegedly charged women more than men. The amounts the couple sued the businesses for amounts ranging from $20,000 to $123,000,” officials explained.
The victim business owners, who were all described as Hispanic and Asian, would typically contact Morales’ law firm listed on the paperwork, or Morales would contact the business offering to settle the case out of court for a smaller sum, usually around $10,000.
During their investigation, detectives determined Morales and Arias would enter these businesses “with the clear intent of extortion,” said officials.
Many of the business owners believed they were targeted because they were small, immigrant-owned businesses.
While the criminal investigation continued, some of the victimized businesses hired attorneys to help them fight the spurious lawsuits and allegations against them.
One such community activist and attorney, Rosa Elena Sahagún organized a protest at Morales’ law firm, the Law Offices of Rogelio V. Morales – located at 5906 Magnolia Avenue in Riverside, to bring attention to Morales’ criminal actions.
The victimized business are being represented in court pro bono by lawyer Bryan Owens.
“Shortly thereafter, the activist began receiving threatening comments and posts to her professional social media account from social media accounts later linked to Mr. Morales and his law firm,” according to officials.
The activist/attorney was sufficiently disturbed and frightened enough to seek and obtain a civil harassment restraining order due to the threats of harm that officials allege Morales was making toward her.
Despite the restraining order, officials allege that Morales continued making social media posts containing threats of harm and litigation toward the attorney.
As the criminal investigation continued, Morales continued contacting the attorneys representing the victim businesses, with threats of litigation if the victims do not pay him $10,000.
The most recent demands for payment were made in December 2016.
Riverside police detectives concluded their investigation and submitted their criminal case to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office on March 15, resulting in arrest warrants being issued for Morales and Arias.
According to to Morales’ arrest warrant, Morales told detectives investigating the multiple incidents that he would sue the detective and the Riverside Police Department for false arrest.
The Riverside Police Department’s METRO Team located and arrested both suspects as they returned home to their Riverside residence near Van Buren Boulevard and Doolittle Avenue last night.
When Riverside police detectives confronted Morales with evidence and allegations against him regarding the threatening and harassing social media posts, Morales admitted the profile was fake and that messages may have been sent to Sahagún from his computer; however, he claimed he did not make or send the threats. Morales also stated that if he did make and send the messages and threats they were within his free speech rights.
An online jail records search revealed Morales was released from jail the day after his arrest, after he posted $770,000 bail. He is scheduled to be arraigned at the Riverside Hall of Justice June 22.
Arias remains in jail on $275,000 bail. She is scheduled to be arraigned April 25 at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
Anyone with information related to this investigation, or anyone who believes they were similarly victimized by Morales, Arias and the Law Offices of Rogelio V. Morales, is encouraged to immediately contact Riverside Police Detective David Smith at (951) 353-7103 or by email.
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Trevor Montgomery, 47, moved last year to the Intermountain area of Shasta County from Riverside County and runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for several other news organizations; including Riverside County based newspapers, Valley News, The Valley Chronicle, and Anza Valley Outlook; as well as Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County and Mountain Echo in Shasta County.
Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back, and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident. (Click here to see segment of Discovery Channel documentary of Trevor’s accident.)
During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations; including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center, and Lake Elsinore Station; along with other locations.
Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team, and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.
Trevor has been married for more than 28 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and his “fluid family” includes 13 children and 15 – but soon to be 16 – grandchildren.