THIS IS ANOTHER CHAPTER IN A DECADES LONG STORY OF SCIENTOLOGY + CRIMINALITY. IN 2015, SCIENTOLOGISTS (Hanan Islam, 56, 2 of her daughters + a son — Nimat Islam, 39, Zakiyyah Islam, 36, + Ronnie “Rizza” Islam, 25 — + 2 other clinic counselors, Bayon Beverly Washington, 42, + George Edward Newby III, 43) INDICTED ON CHARGES THAT INCLUDED INSURANCE FRAUD, GRAND THEFT + FALSE MEDI-CAL CLAIMS BY KAMALA HARRIS (then, USA Attorney General of California, now, Democratic Party VP nominee), 2019 SOVEREIGN CITIZEN DEFENSE FAILED, January 12, 2021 criminal pretrial conference
As California’s Attorney General, Senator Kamala Harris Filed Felony Charges Against Scientologists for Grand Theft + Insurance Fraud
When she served as the Attorney General for the State of California, Democratic Vice-Presidential Nominee and Senator Kamala Harris filed felony criminal charges against a group of Scientologists who operated a fraudulent Scientology front group called the American Health and Education Clinics (AHEC). This group was part of another Scientology front group called the World Literacy Crusade.
Then Attorney General Harris’ action stands in stark contrast to Congressperson Karen Bass who spoke in support of Scientology at a Scientology event in 2010. The story of Bass’ support of Scientology went viral. That Bass’ association with Scientology greatly harmed her political career and reputation shows just how horribly the Church of Scientology is viewed in America. As has been said before, Scientology is career suicide.
As covered on Tony Ortega’s blog and this blog, the criminal charges Kamala Harris filed charges against the Scientology defendants arose from a $3.8 million MediCal fraud. Essentially, the Scientology defendants conspired with two Compton high school coaches and a principal to put high school students through an unnecessary program based upon Scientology’s pseudo-scientific Narconon treatment program. The defendants then fraudulently billed the State of California for the bogus services. The pretrial conference for the defendants is set for January 12, 2021 at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Downtown Los Angeles.
Ronnie Steven (aka: Rizza) Islam
Beverly Bayon Washington
The other defendants in the case plead guilty and have been sentenced.
The criminal charges:
Presenting False Medi-Cal Claims
Failure to File Tax Return
We reported on the arraignment of the defendants from the courtroom. The defendants presented a Sovereign Citizen defense which failed badly. Judge Pastor ruled that the evidence presented met the burden to bind the defendants over for criminal trial. A summary of our court reporting as live-blogged by Tony Ortega:
BACKGROUND: Update – Rizza Islam Out on Bail. Hanan Islam’s Bail Increased to $281,500.
Tony Ortega’s reporting in 2015 details what happened to the other defendants in this case:
Rudy Washington was principal of Chavez Continuation High School. Jesse L. Jones was principal of Centennial High School. And Keith Donerson was coach of the legendary Dons, the football team at Manuel Dominguez High School. When each were charged with Medi-Cal fraud in early October last year they were put on administrative leave, then were later fired.
According to Los Angeles County Superior Court records, the charges against Rudy Washington were either dismissed or not prosecuted, while Jones and Donerson were allowed to plead guilty to lesser charges.
The three educators allegedly supplied high school students to the clinic at the World Literacy Crusade, where Medi-Cal claims were submitted for drug rehab treatment, even though the football players and other students didn’t have addiction problems and were put through Scientology drills rather than drug counseling. The students themselves reportedly had no idea they were part of an insurance fraud scheme.
The fraudulent activity occurred between 2010 and 2013, according to Hanan Islam’s charging papers. In March 2014, the state’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse, a part of the state’s Department of Justice under Attorney General Kamala Harris, raided World Literacy Crusade and seized documents, which eventually led to the arrests and criminal charges.
and more BACKGROUND: Scientologists facing felonies try ‘sovereign citizen’ gambit in tense L. A. court hearing
Almost four years ago we broke the story here at the Underground Bunker of a wild criminal case developing in Los Angeles. A woman named Hanan Islam and three of her children and others were arrested and faced felony charges for running a multi-million dollar scam involving a jackleg Scientology drug rehab clinic in Compton, a working class suburb.
According to the indictments filed by state investigators, Hanan and the other defendants defrauded the state Medi-Cal insurance program with a scheme that involved shuttling unwitting high school students to the Scientology clinic for drug addiction treatments they didn’t need so Medi-Cal could be fraudulently billed.
The state’s investigation not only resulted in felony charges for Islam and her children, but three African-American educators — two high school principals and the head coach of the legendary Dominguez High School football program — also faced charges and lost their jobs, accused of supplying the students to the Islams for their scheme.
Since those charges were first filed in 2015, the criminal case against Hanan Islam, 60, her daughters Zakiyyah (37) and Nimat (42) and her son Ronnie (29), and a clinic employee, Bayon Beverly Washington (46), has moved glacially through the Los Angeles Superior Court. (Another defendant, George Edward Newby III, 47, pleaded to a lesser charge, as did two of the educators. The third did not face prosecution.)
Ronnie is better known as “Rizza” Islam, and we’ve watched how, even after being charged with two felony counts, he’s pursued higher visibility as both a Scientologist and member of the Nation of Islam, taking his anti-vaccination agenda to small media outlets, and, most recently, to the California state capital.
The unexpected death of Rizza’s Scientologist defense attorney last year was one of the many ways that the case was delayed. Then, earlier this year, defense attorneys asked for another delay because Rizza’s mother, Hanan, was on death’s door after a cancer diagnosis. Attorneys for Hanan’s children argued that the case should be dropped if Hanan died, and Judge Michael Tynan put the matter on hold for a few weeks, apparently to wait for Hanan’s imminent demise. (In the meantime, Hanan continued to offer non-medical cancer cures online.)
But then a photo turned up showing Hanan and her son at the premiere of a film he had something to do with, and she did not appear in extremis.
After more delays and continuances, all five of the defendants were back in Judge Tynan’s court yesterday, and they did not like what he did next.
Judge Tynan ordered the case moved upstairs to the 9th floor and the courtroom of Judge Michael Pastor for the long-delayed preliminary hearing to take place.
The defendants were apparently aware of the reputation of the courts of the 9th floor and Pastor in particular, who is known as a no-nonsense adjudicator who becomes thoroughly versed in complex cases and moves them along without delay.
The defendants were so upset to hear that their case had been moved upstairs, they deserted the courtroom en masse.
Judge Tynan said he would swear out warrants and revoke bail for the defendants if they didn’t immediately make their way to Pastor’s courtroom.
After their attorneys explained the situation to them, the defendants did go to Pastor’s courtroom on the 9th floor, but then they tried something truly bizarre.
Hanan and Rizza Islam claimed not to be the people the courts called “Hanan Islam” and “Rizza Islam.”
Those readers familiar with the odd court-clogging ways of “sovereign citizens” will probably recognize what the Islams were attempting to do.
We’ve written at some length about the sovereign citizen phenomena and how it has increasingly spread to the African-American community in recent years. Drawing on delusional conspiracy theories, sovereign citizens claim that they aren’t subject to US laws for bizarre reasons. Some of them have developed the idea that slight changes in the spellings of their name, for example, bestow some kind of legal loophole that can get them out of paying taxes, having to get licenses to operate a car, or to avoid criminal prosecution.
This was the gambit tried by the Islams, who claimed that the court was prosecuting fictional corporate entities that were separate from their “natural” selves, and so they should be able to walk away.
It was a tense atmosphere in the courtroom, and some trouble had apparently been anticipated as ten L.A. Sheriff’s deputies were on hand for the hearing.
Judge Pastor wasn’t amused. At one point he asked Ms. Islam if she had flown anywhere on airplanes in recent years. When she said that she had, he pointed out that she would have had to present personal identification to board the airplane. She responded that those documents spelled her name in all capitals, and that it didn’t represent her natural person.
But Pastor is no pushover. He announced that the remedy for this supposed identification mix-up would be to take the defendants into custody until their identities could be worked out.
At that point, the defense attorneys counseled their clients to drop the nonsense. When both the prosecutors and defense attorneys said they had no issue with the identities of the defendants, Judge Pastor moved on, saying that the preliminary hearing would take place Thursday morning at 10:30 am. If the defendants didn’t show up, he said, warrants would be sworn out for their arrest.
We just want to point out one more thing about this fascinating moment in court. This is a case that involves what was a notorious and shady operation for years in Compton known as the World Literacy Project, a Scientology front group that was involved in numerous scandals before it was shut down. It is also a case that ended the careers of three prominent African-American educators in the Los Angeles area, and that involved the use of children — unwitting high school students — to rip off about $3 million from the state of California. It also involves members of both the Church of Scientology and the Nation of Islam, and a woman, Hanan Islam, who has a long history of felony charges and questionable scams.
And yet, despite all of that, in the nearly four years since this story broke, there is yet to be a single word about the felony charges or the elaborate scam in the pages of the Los Angeles Times. We can’t help wondering if the Times had cared to cover this case whether it would have dragged on so long without a resolution.
As fascinating as yesterday’s court hearing was, no LA Times reporter attended.
Thursday promises to be an explosive day at the Los Angeles Superior Court. Will the LA Times bother to show up?
and more BACKGROUND: Scientologists will face trial after judge cites ‘sophisticated fraud’ scheme
Once again, Jeffrey Augustine was on hand as the preliminary hearing continued yesterday in the case of Scientologist Hanan Islam and three of her children, accused of a scheme using a Scientology Narconon drug rehab clinic, corrupt local educators, and unwitting high school students to defraud the state’s Medi-Cal program of nearly $4 million between 2010 and 2013.
This was the third day of testimony in the preliminary hearing, which has the state presenting an outline of its evidence, and the judge, in this case Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor, determining whether there’s enough evidence to justify a trial.
In yesterday’s session, the state finished up its testimony, the defense attorneys argued that the case should be dismissed, but Judge Pastor found otherwise, and bound over all five defendants for trial. He set a date of October 22 for an arraignment, and then trial is supposed to begin within 60 days after that.
After the hearing, Hanan Islam, 60, and her son Ronnie “Rizza” Islam, 29, were taken back in their blue jail clothes to the county lockup. Judge Pastor set bail for Hanan at $250,000 and Rizza at $100,000. Hanan’s daughters Nimat, 43, and Zakiyyah, 37, remain released on their own recognizance. The fifth defendant, Bayon Beverly Washington, 46, failed to appear last week but she did appear yesterday morning, so she was taken into custody.
Here’s Jeffrey’s report of how the day went…
8:00 AM: I’m in the cafeteria at the Los Angeles Criminal Courts Building Downtown. I arrived early to get coffee and do e-mails. I see one of the deputies and ask if Hanan and Rizza were released on Sunday. He tells me no and that both were transported to the Court earlier in the morning and are in holding cells.
8:50 AM: Nimat and Zakiyyah Islam are present in the courtroom. Bayon Beverly Washington, the one defendant who is not a family member, enters the courtroom. A deputy advises her not to leave the courtroom as there is an arrest warrant for her. Washington had failed to appear the previous week for the preliminary hearing as ordered.
9:15 AM: Six deputies are in the courtroom. The bailiff orders the courtroom cleared and Bayon Beverly Washington is arrested and taken into custody.
9:20 Hanan and Rizza Islam are brought into the courtroom in handcuffs in their jail blues. Both are handcuffed by their left wrists to chairs.
9:25 Judge Michael Pastor enters the court. The court is called into session by the bailiff. Judge Pastor orders Bayon Beverly Washington to be held with no bail. Because of Washington’s failure to appear last week, she cannot participate in the preliminary with her co-defendants as the trial is already underway; the State will conduct a separate preliminary trial for Washington.
Judge Pastor notes that Hanan has exercised her right to be present. He demands that she state her name and acknowledge that she is the named defendant. After some minor protestations, Hanan does both. Gone are all pretenses of her sovereign citizen defense. She promises to comport herself in court.
9:30 Supervising Special Agent of the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) Robert Olesniewcz is called to the witness stand by Prosecutor Vincent Bonotto. Olesniewcz testifies that AHEC was incorporated as an LLC partnership. In an LLC partnership, the partners divide the income according to an internally agreed upon formula.
AHEC LLC tax filings showed the following income:
2010: $293,102 with Hanan taking 90 percent of the net income. Hanan failed to file a personal income tax return and failed to report $263,792 in income.
2011: $525,233 with Hanan taking 90 percent of the net income. Hanan failed to file a personal income tax return and report $472,710 in income.
2012: $1,047,769 with Hanan taking 50 percent of the net income. Hanan failed to file a personal income tax return and report $523,880 in income.
2013: No LLC tax filing made. The FTB investigated AHEC bank records and found that LA County paid AHEC $1,398,639 in Medi-Cal payments. Hanan’s personal income was computed by the FTB at the previous year’s 50 percent partnership profit. By that measure, Hanan did not report $699,319 income.
On cross examination by defense, Hanan’s attorney asked about statute of limitations on examining tax returns. The statute of limitations is six years; the state began investigating in 2014. Therefore, this attempt by the defense to find something is without merit.
The state enters exhibits 1-19 and 21-37 as previously agreed to by all parties. The People rest.
The four defense attorneys each make a motion to dismiss the charges against their respective clients: Rizza’s attorney argued that he merely conducted classes and was not part of any scheme. The tactic here was to argue that Rizza was in no way part of any financial crimes as alleged. All he did was to collect sign-in sheets from students and these were turned over to the ghost writers by others. Rizza’s attorney then suggested he was merely being loyal to his mother. This “good son” argument was advanced with the implication that Rizza was the victim of his Machiavellian mother. I personally look for this to be part of the strategy when Rizza goes to trial.
Hanan’s attorney argued that the State did not challenge the quality of services delivered by AHEC. He reasoned that although the classes may not have been a full three hours as required by the Medi-Cal billing code, the classes were nevertheless conducted. The implication seemed to be that AHEC actually performed services for which it billed the State and the only real issue was that the classes didn’t go for the specified duration. He acted as if this was a rather trivial matter and the charges should be dismissed. As for the income tax charges, he argued that Hanan thought filing an LLC return eliminated the need to file a personal return. It was a simple oversight on the part of a person who had no training in tax preparation. The Judge noted that the court did not know if this assertion was accurate. No evidence had been entered either way as to Hanan’s skill, or lack thereof, in tax preparation.
Nimat’s attorney argued she was a low-ranking staffer and not part of any scheme. The implication is that she had no knowledge of anything substantial. Nimat’s attorney followed in the same vein as Rizza’s attorney: Nimat was a victim of Hanan, her mother.
Zakiyyah’s attorney argued that she too was a victim of Hanan.
Hanan sat expressionless as the other defense attorneys essentially characterized her as callously using her children for her own personal financial gain. Hanan’s taking virtually all the profits of the scheme certainly reinforces this perception and I can see how this argument would play out in front of a jury.
The Prosecutor rebutted by stating that AHEC operated as a fraud scheme and that none of the beneficiaries, i.e. the high school students, received any benefits from what AHEC presented. Bonotto emphasized that Rizza conducted 45-55-minute classes and AHEC billed for three hours and that this was a serious matter that cost the taxpayers millions. Bonotto also pointed out that none of the high school students needed or wanted AHEC’s services. Rather, the students were compelled to attend AHEC classes by the principals and educators who were part of the fraud scheme.
Prosecutor Bonotto showed how all defendants were part of the scheme and had knowledge of the scheme. For example, Nimat had threatened WLC employees with being fired if they did not sign up for Medi-Cal and take the AHEC classes. He pointed out that Zakiyyah worked with time sheets and the ghost writers. She also knowingly submitted fraudulent billings.
Prosecutor Bonotto argued that Hanan was part of three separate frauds. First, she met with educators and agreed to pay them money in exchange for access to students. Second, Hanan managed the ghost writers. Third, Hanan hired WLC tutors and ordered them to sign up for Medi-Cal and take the AHEC program. In addition to this, Hanan engaged in income tax fraud.
The Judge asked Prosecutor Bonotto to rank the culpability of the defendants in a hierarchy beginning with who had the most culpability. This is Bonotto’s ranking:
1. Hanan Islam
2. Zakiyyah Islam
3. Ronnie “Rizza” Islam
4. Nimat Islam
The question of the bail status was next raised. Since being charged in 2015, the defendants have been free on their own recognizance.
Before ruling on bail, Judge Pastor ruled that the People had met their burden to establish probable cause for the defendants to be bound over for trial on all counts. After four years of delaying tactics, the defendants will stand trial.
Judge Pastor cited the “dramatically changed circumstances” based upon the evidence presented at the prelimimary criminal trial. He allowed Nimat and Zakiyyah to remain free on their own recognizance as they have always appeared as ordered and have no prior convictions. Judge Pastor then turned his attention to Hanan Islam and said the evidence showed she had engaged in “an extremely aggravated fraud scheme” that involved educators and “innocent high school students.”
The Judge further stated that Hanan had played games with the court and engaged in nonsense. Here, he was clearly referring to Hanan’s time-wasting and contemptuous sovereign citizen defense that had gotten her five days in jail and a $1,000 fine. He further characterized her actions at AHEC as a “sophisticated fraud” in which she was “ripping off the taxpayers.” Accordingly, he set her bail at $250,000 and revoked her release on her own recognizance.
Judge Pastor set Rizza’s bail at $100,000 and revoked his release on his own recognizance. Judge Pastor upheld all special allegations made by the State.
Arraignment was set for October 22, 2019 at 8:30 in Department 100. According to California law calling for the right of defendants to a speedy trial, trial is to commence within 60 calendar days of arraignment. This means trial around Christmas time.
Rizza and Hanan were led away in handcuffs. Zakiyyah and Nimat left the courtroom.
Court was adjourned at 10:55 AM.
The pressure is now on the defendants to cut a deal before trial. In my view, the evidence presented was so thorough as to be insurmountable at trial. Further, the witnesses at trial will include the ghost writers, former WLC employees, and the educators who have already been convicted.
and more BACKGROUND: Scientologists led away in handcuffs after stunning evidence of fraud heard in L.A. court
At the conclusion of the first day in their preliminary hearing yesterday afternoon at Los Angeles Superior Court, Scientologists Hanan Islam, 60, and her son Ronnie “Rizza” Islam, 29, were led away in handcuffs to spend the night in jail.
Their hearing will continue this afternoon with more testimony from state investigators that the Islams ran a Scientology Narconon rehab in Compton using unwitting high school students supplied by corrupt educators to defraud the state’s Medi-Cal insurance program of about $3 million.
The Underground Bunker was fortunate to have correspondent Jeffrey Augustine on the scene for the dramatic day in court yesterday when Hanan and Rizza continued their “sovereign citizen” arguments and attempted to serve papers on the court “firing” Judge Michael Pastor from the case. When she refused to stop talking over the judge, Hanan was taken into custody in the courtroom and charged with contempt of court. Later, Rizza was also arrested and charged with contempt.
But Augustine tells us that beyond the bizarre actions by the Islams, the arrests, and other attempts to delay matters, the real story to come out of yesterday’s hearing was the devastating evidence spelled out by the state in its attempt to convince Judge Pastor that Hanan and Rizza, as well as Hanan’s daughters Zakiyyah (37) and Nimat (43), and another defendant, Bayon Beverly Washington (46), should stand trial for their alleged crimes.
Almost four years ago we broke the story here at the Underground Bunker of this strange criminal case which grew out of a notorious Scientology front operation, the World Literacy Crusade, operated by Hanan’s partner at the time, prominent African-American Scientologist Alfreddie Johnson. They had opened the rehab, American Health and Education Clinics (AHEC) at the WLC facility, and the Islams allegedly operated the scam from 2010 to 2013. (After Hanan’s 2015 arrest, AHEC and WLC shut down.)
Alfreddie Johnson was not arrested and has faced no charges, but yesterday’s testimony offered some explanation of that: Financial accounts at AHEC were in Hanan’s name or one of her daughters, Zakiyyah.
Augustine said that the state’s testimony offered much more detail about how the scam operated. AHEC had recruited corrupt educators in the Compton Unified School District (two high school principals and a football coach) who had access to records that indicated which of their students qualified for Medi-Cal coverage. (AHEC paid the educators for their part in the scheme, with one of the principals getting $60,000. All three lost their jobs after being arrested in 2014. They later pleaded guilty to misdemeanors.)
“AHEC employees, typically Rizza Islam, is alleged to have conducted 35- to 55-minute sessions, sometimes longer, to groups of as many as 50 students,” Augustine says. “The names of the students, gathered on sign-in sheets, would then be passed on to AHEC’s ‘ghost writers.’”
According to the state investigators, these ghost writers had been hired after being given creative writing tests, and they operated out of “Suite F” at the World Literacy Crusade. Their job was to invent progress reports, at five dollars a page, for the high school students.
The students might be shown an anti-drug film, for example, but it was the job of the ghost writers to create lengthy and bogus progress reports for each of the students, pretending that they had actually been through a whole series of drug treatments and not just sitting around watching a video. If the state ever audited the program, the Islams could show the fraudulent progress reports written by the ghost writers.
“The investigator gave the names of several AHEC ghost writers whom he had interviewed,” Augustine said. “Investigator Sam Richardson went into detail about how all the defendants were involved in the fraud. Hanan Islam as the president of AHEC. Zakiyyah was a counselor and did billing. Rizza and Nimat Islam and co-defendant Bayon Beverly Washington served in various capacities as counselors and signed off on billing documents. AHEC wrote checks to the education officials involved in the conspiracy. These checks and all other supporting documents were entered as exhibits.”
World Literacy Crusade staff were also pressured to sign up as Medi-Cal recipients or be fired from their jobs. The state presented evidence, for example, that two staffers who had taken no courses were used to bill Medi-Cal $14,500 and $5,000 as if they had been through drug treatment.
“Rizza Islam was shaking his head no during parts of the testimony by Investigator Richardson,” Augustine says.
The testimony also gave some idea of how the scam was found out: AHEC excessively billed a particular Medi-Cal code for “intensive outpatient treatment” for people with substance abuse problems. That brought the operation to the attention of Medi-Cal’s fraud investigation unit, and ultimately to a raid of the Compton facility.
“The sovereign citizen arguments and the mass attempt by the defendants to fire their attorneys were just delaying tactics, and none of them worked,” Augustine says. “It didn’t stop the staggering weight of evidence from being presented and made public in open court.”
The day’s session ended at 4:15 pm, and Hanan and Rizza Islam were taken away in handcuffs to spend the night in jail. The preliminary hearing will resume today at 1:30 pm.
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