Entries in California (60)


'Exemplary Employee' Takes CFO Hostage

Image Credit: El Segundo Police Department(EL SEGUNDO, Calif.) -- An “exemplary” employee at a California food company is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday on multiple charges after she allegedly held the firm’s chief financial officer hostage at gunpoint, a day after she abruptly resigned.

Leonora Banuelos, 22, had worked for Popcornopolis, a gourmet popcorn company based in El Segundo, Calif., before allegedly entering the building on Tuesday with a handgun, then demanding to see another employee. She was “distraught over a failed relationship with another co-worker,” according to a police statement.

“She went directly into CFO’s office,” according to Lt. Raymond Garcia of the El Segundo Police Department. “Many of the employees fled out the front door and several fled into the back area.”

At 8:18 a.m. officers responded to the business location.

Garcia said there was no relationship to the CFO, but his proximity and rank as one of the front office workers likely made him a target.

Based on interviews with Banuelos and witnesses, “she wanted to kill him,” Garcia said of the unnamed co-worker with whom she had the relationship. That co-worker was not at the company on Tuesday.

“She was there with a handgun that she purchased specifically to do harm to the co-worker and turned her rage on the CFO,” Garcia said.

Banuelos could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said they will learn in court Thursday afternoon whether she has an attorney.

After a three-hour standoff, the CFO, who is not being named by police, was released and Banuelos surrendered to authorities, as first reported by KABC.

Wally Arnold, founder and CEO of Popcornopolis, said the company is “very grateful that everything resolved peacefully.”

“The CFO was selected at random, but thankfully through his calm demeanor and the work of the first responders, the situation was diffused,” Arnold said in a statement. “Ms. Banuelos abruptly resigned her position on Monday night. Prior to that, Ms. Banuelos had been an exemplary employee who had recently received a promotion.”

Garcia said the CFO was released unharmed and “in good spirits,” despite the ordeal. "He thought it was the end for him,” Garcia said.

Banuelos has been charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of making criminal threats. Prosecutors will ask her bail to be set at $300,000, according to a spokeswoman with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Calif. Town Offered $11M to Rename Itself

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Woodside, Calif., is one of the wealthiest communities in the country, and the owner of a unique dating site wants to take advantage of its rich history by offering the town $11.65 million to change its name -- to, U.S.A.

The fee might be small change for some residents of Woodside, which is located just north of Silicon Valley and includes people like Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle, actress Michelle Pfeiffer and rock singer Neil Young.

The dating website, which touts itself as creating love connections between doctors, lawyers and other professionals, is celebrating its 10th anniversary and CEO Steven Pasternack is looking to make his presence known.

“We thought it would be a great way to get the word out about our 10-year anniversary, and to be a permanent part of the rich history of California,” he said.

The stipulations of the town’s name change to include erecting a statue of Playboy icon Hugh Hefner near the town hall, renaming Woodside Public Library to “SugarDaddie Public Library,” and changing the Woodside Community Council to the SugarDaddie Community Council.

Woodside resident and store owner Bill Schneider says he’s open to the idea.

“Sure, give it a shot,” he said to ABC News affiliate KGO-TV.  “We have Woodside Road, so we can have a different name for the town.”

The Woodside town manager, Kevin Bryant, does not expect the $11.65 million offer to be a serious topic of discussion at the next Town Council meeting, but Pasternack says he is determined to rename a town somewhere.

“If we can’t get a favorable outcome with the folks in Woodside, Calif., we’re looking into other cities,” he said.  “We are hell bent on creating the first dating site-sponsored city in America.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Payment Dispute Leads to Hack of Gym Websites FRANCISCO) -- A website designer, who claims a California gym chain refused to pay his invoices for work completed, took the unusual step of hacking into and commandeering the client’s websites.

Fitness SF, a chain of California gyms, allegedly failed to pay Frank Jonen, who says he is a freelance web designer, photographer and writer/director in Idstein, Germany, according to his Facebook page. He then broke into the Fitness SF web site and reposted the home page with his rant on the company’s alleged failure to pay on time.

Instead of information about say, Pilates and hot yoga, consumers who log on to the site were greeted with this as of Friday:  “Dear Fitness Customer. Fitness SF preferred to ignore our invoices instead of paying them. As a result this website is no longer operational.”  Links to Fitness SF locations in Oakland, Marin, and SOMA and the Castro areas in San Francisco, also redirect to this message.

Jonen seems to see himself as somewhat of an activist, fighting for the rights of independent contractors everywhere.  “I am also writing this on behalf of the tens of thousands of freelancers and small businesses out there facing larger corporations who can afford to starve them out. …An injury to one is an injury to all of us. We need to make a stand against crooks like this.”

The screed ends with a plea for consumers to cancel gym memberships, Tweet, or post on their Facebook pages in solidarity with him.

According to Ad Age (the piece originally appeared on the Denver Egotist), Jonen had intimated on Twitter that he might do something rash.

“I bet these bastards still think I won’t fight back and let them get away with betraying me and escaping payment,” he tweeted to his more than 1,500 followers.  Another Tweet pointed people to the revamped web site: “They thought paying invoices was ‘optional’. They ignored all reminders.
Let’s see if they’ll ignore this:” he wrote.

In an email to ABC News, director of operations Don Dickerson of Fitness SF, said that its domain name had been “hacked and stolen.” He added that Jonen had been paid $5,000 on May 16, 2012 to develop a functional website for the brand, promising a 10-week delivery date.

“He missed numerous deadlines including our brand launch in September,” said Dickerson. “In December, he voluntarily passed the incomplete and non functioning website to our new design firm. Now, Frank is attempting to portray himself as the victim when truly the victim is Fitness SF.”

Jonen did not reply to an email request from ABC News.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Golfer Phil Mickelson Teed Off over Taxes

WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Phil Mickelson, estimated by Forbes to be the highest-paid golfer after Tiger Woods, on Sunday said ominously that he would have to make "drastic changes" in light of the fact that the State of California had recently jacked up his taxes, and because he was in the "zone" of rich folk being "targeted both federally and by the state."

Mickelson is not the first high-profile American to consider taking drastic action in response to higher taxes.

Eduardo Saverin, one of Facebook's co-founders, last year renounced his U.S. citizenship.  So did socialite Denis Rich.  Enough like-minded rich people are apparently flirting with the idea that the Wall Street Journal ran a headline asking "Should You Renounce Your U.S. Citizenship?"

Mickelson's remarks, which weren't specific about what he might do, earned him approving cheers (for having had the bravery to protest higher taxes) and also derisive hoots (for being a whining rich guy who gets paid a fortune for playing golf).

In response, Michelson issued a statement Monday that said in part: "I apologize to those I have upset or insulted and assure you I intend to not let it happen again."  One's finances and taxes, he said in the same statement, "are a personal matter, and I should not have made my opinions on them public."

California's highest tax rate until recently was 10.3 percent, second only to Hawaii's 11 percent.  But in November, voters approved a measure (Proposition 30), urged on by Gov. Jerry Brown, that increased California's rate to 13.3 percent on persons earning $1 million or more.

That would include Mickelson.

Last year, Forbes magazine ranked Mickelson the seventh highest-paid athlete in the world, earning $47.8 million.  He has 40 PGA Tour victories to his credit and last year was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

His Sunday gripes were made in La Quinta, Calif., after he had finished mid-pack in the Humana Challenge.  Politics, he told interviewers, were causing him to re-evaluate his future.

"I'm not going to jump the gun and do it right away," the New York Times quoted him as having said.  "But there are going to have to be some drastic changes for me because I happen to be in that zone that has been targeted both federally and by the state.  And, you know, it doesn't work for me right now.  So I'm going to have to make some changes.  If you add up all the federal [taxes] and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and state, my tax rate is 62, 63 percent.  So, I've got to make some decisions on what to do."

Tiger Woods, commenting on Mickelson's complaints, was quoted by Bloomberg News saying, "I moved out of here [California] in '96 for that same reason.  I understand what he was, I think, trying to say."

Copyright 2013 ABC News radio


Freezing Temperatures in California Threaten Citrus Crop

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- A deep freeze in California is imperiling the state's $1 billion citrus crop, the LA Times reports.

The National Weather Service said that many San Fernando and San Gabriel Valley areas recorded temperatures in the high 20s to low 30s overnight, while Lancaster and Palmdale recorded 16-degree lows. Long Beach, on the coast, even hit temperatures in the low 30s. A meteorologist with the NWS said it isn't unusual for California to get cold snaps at this time of year, but they haven't had one this cold in a while, the paper says.

Although the state's citrus farmers were off to a good start -- selling up to $300 million in citrus already -- the cold temperatures are causing concern, with $1 billion in oranges, lemons, tangerines and grapefruit still on trees, according to the LA Times.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Powerball Comes to California

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- Less than 24 hours after the winning Powerball lottery numbers were announced, California’s five-member lottery commission voted unanimously on Thursday to bring the Powerball jackpot to the state.

“We have to continually offer our loyal players a variety of entertaining lottery games, and we firmly believe that Powerball is a right fit for the California Lottery,” state lottery director Robert T. O’Neill said in a prepared statement. “I expect Powerball to add anywhere between 50 to 100 million additional dollars to supplement public education funding, which is our one and only mission. Plus, our customers were pretty clear that they wanted us to bring Powerball to California.”

Lottery spokesman Elias Dominguez told ABC News that the California Lottery Commission had been considering the move long before this month’s record $587 million jackpot.

“We’ve been discussing joining Powerball for over a year now,” said Dominguez. “But when Powerball went from $1 to $2, it put plans to join on hold.”

“We had to step back and see how it would affect sales for Powerball for other states,” he said.

Dominguez said the commission also had to consider how it would affect the state’s Mega Millions and Super Lotto Plus games.

California’s first Powerball sales will begin on April 8, 2013, with the first draw scheduled for April 10, 2013.

California will be the 43rd state to adopt Powerball.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Caviar Vending Machines Unveiled at California Malls

Beverly Hills Caviar(LOS ANGELES) -- It’s not uncommon for people to have champagne wishes and caviar dreams, even if they live on a beer budget. But a new invention from Beverly Hills Caviar is helping to make those highbrow fantasies more attainable to the regular blue collar crowd.

Kelly Stern and Brian Scheiner, husband-and-wife caviar connoisseurs, have developed a caviar vending machine. The first were unveiled Nov. 23 at Westfield Topanga, Burbank Town Center and Westfield Century City shopping centers in California.

“What I want to do is make caviar affordable for everybody,” Stern told ABC News. “What’s the point of being in business in America if you can’t sell to all of America? We decided to choose three separate malls because any normal person with kids is not living in West Hollywood. Normal people live in the suburbs. The caviar is accessible, not next to Louis Vuitton and not next to Armani or Burberry. It’s in a convenient place where you’re not uncomfortable with someone looking at you checking out.”

Stern said she wants their customers to be at ease while choosing the products they’re buying.

“We want everybody to just go there and play with it and have fun with it and buy what they want. Buy stuff for $50. Buy stuff for $5,000. No one is judging you,” Stern said.

The idea for the vending machines came innocently enough, from their now-5-year-old daughter’s obsession with cupcakes.

“Our daughter was three and half, and she came up with it when we bought a cupcake on the Sprinkles machine,” Stern said. “She looked at me and said, ‘Mommy can we put caviar in the machine?’ My husband was like, ‘Hmm, that’s a very interesting idea.’  She’s 5 today and here you go. We have the first caviar machine and they’re pretty amazing.”

The vending machines offer a range of caviar, from an Imperial River Beluga Caviar at $500 per ounce, down to actually-affordable Wasabi Tobiko caviar for only $10 an ounce, which has been much more popular with the crowd.

Caviar isn’t the only delicacy being offered. A full selection of other unusual gourmet foods, not typically found at your supermarket, include items like escargot, gourmet salts, and truffle oils. For your four-legged friends, there’s even a special assortment of caviar just for your dogs and cats.

The caviar is guaranteed fresh, too. The goods are dispensed in insulated boxes, and need about 30 minutes to defrost for the optimum dining experience.

“The caviar is preserved in perfect temperature and definitely no moisture,” Stern said. “It’s not manhandled, because you don’t want people to touch it. You don’t want a high-ticket item to be handled by people. We are trying to keep it as sanitary as possible. It comes in a sanitary bag, in a sanitary box with a mother of pearl spoon so it’s ready to eat.”

The total inventory retail worth is about $50,000, which also raised concerns about security and the possibility of items being stolen. Three cameras were installed in each machine to take your picture as you purchase.

“We have a lot of eyeballs on the machines,” said Stern. “A lot of people are looking. Even if it takes them a long time to make the move, we know as soon as they will, they’ll be clients for life. They were told all their life this wasn’t attainable, and now it is. We are here right now to just convince everybody to try it once.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


California Approves Higher Taxes to Save the State and Schools

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- With the state billions in the red, California voters on Tuesday passed Proposition 30 by about eight percentage points that both boosts the sales tax and puts heavier income taxes on the rich.

Gov. Jerry Brown hopes to generate at least $6 billion for the state, end college tuition hikes and halt the cuts to schools that include teacher lay-offs.

The governor, who will also have the benefit of a Democratic super majority in each legislative house, told reporters on Wednesday, "The real lesson here is that voters have trusted the elective representative...maybe even trusted me to some extent...and now we've got to meet that trust."

The income tax hikes will last seven years while the sale tax boost expires in four years.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Winner of California Lottery Comes Forward After Five Months to Claim $23 Million

Adam Gault/Thinkstock(PALMDALE, Calif.) -- The lucky winner of California’s SuperLotto Plus Jackpot has finally come forward to claim her $23 million, just 25 days short of forfeiting the prize.

“We had our winner come forward and claim the $23 million prize,” confirmed California Lottery spokesperson Alex Traverso to ABC News. “She said she just never checked the ticket.”

The woman’s daughter snapped a photo of her mother in the newspaper Thursday morning — the photo was taken from the surveillance video at the store where the winning ticket was sold — and sent her the picture.

“When her daughter sent her mother a picture of the newspaper this morning, she just went back out to the car and the ticket was sitting right where she left it. Pretty amazing.”

The winner filed her claim Thursday and, according to officials, should be receiving her check in four to six weeks. However, it’s been a long five months for California Lottery officials who had been searching for the mystery winner, who purchased the winning ticket at Michael’s Market & Liquor in Palmdale, Calif.

Before the individual came forward, liquor store manager Ben Sadi told ABC News he remembers the day the woman bought the ticket.

“I know what she looked like and I recognize who she is,” said Liquor store manager Ben Sadi.

Sadi’s store opened on May 1, and four weeks later, on May 28, the winning ticket was pulled.

The ticket matched all six numbers – 14, 7, 26, 31, 23 and Mega 5. After the liquor store learned they had sold the winning ticket, they posted signs outside the store along with photos from surveillance of the alleged winner.

“We have signs outside that say, ‘The millionaire made here,’ with the check that she won, the $23 million,” he said.

Sadi’s store will receive a bonus of one half percent for selling the winning ticket, which amounts to $115,000.

“I was really really happy, really extremely happy. Our first store, we hit the lotto,” said Sadi.

If the money was not claimed by Nov. 26, 2012, the prize would have been transferred to California schools.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


California Foreclosures at Lowest Level Since 2007

Hemera/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- The foreclosure rate in one of the hardest-hit states is at a new low, a real estate data firm says.

Foreclosure activity in California hasn't been this low since the start of the recession in the beginning of 2007. The firm DataQuick says foreclosures are down 64 percent compared to 2009.

 "A foreclosure happens when a homeowner owes more on the property than the property's worth. Otherwise it could be sold and the mortgage paid off. So foreclosures go up when home values go down. Prices in most areas today are up significantly from their low point in early 2009," said John Walsh, DataQuick president.

The areas still seeing foreclosures are now mainly in lower-priced neighborhoods where homes are selling at below $200,000. The least likely areas for foreclosures are now counties in the very pricey San Francisco Bay Area.

DataQuick attributes the decrease in mortgage defaults to a strong economy and housing market as well as more short sales.

"Additionally, during the past year," Walsh said, "we've seen short sales overtake the foreclosure process as the procedure of choice to deal with homeowner distress. That may change after New Year's because the temporary 'debt forgiveness' feature in the tax code is set to expire as part of the so-called 'fiscal cliff'," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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