Details pending after officer fires gun at the end of a pursuit

In this photo from January, a Goshen police officer places a blanket over Joshua Perry, 34, Goshen, the driver of a car who reportedly led police on a low-speed pursuit. Perry was shot and injured by Goshen police Lt. Michael McCormack at the end of the chase in downtown Goshen.

Editor’s note: This story is the first of two parts about the 2019 news in review.

The year 2019 started with trouble for police officers in local agencies on the public safety front, while throughout the rest of the year, police also investigated a wide range of criminal activity that included fraud, thefts, child abuse and murder. The Goshen area experienced more tragedies on roads, from the air and by fire.

In local courts, several defendants, including teens, either went to prison with murder and attempted murder convictions or started the legal process with murder charges hanging over their heads. Two defendants avoided murder convictions in their strictest forms.

Police lieutenant shoots suspect after pursuit

No charges against Goshen officer in pursuit shooting

Joshua Perry, left, and Goshen Police Lt. Michael McCormack

On the night of Jan. 9, Goshen Police Lt. Michael McCormack fired his service weapon and shot and injured Joshua Perry, 35, after a lengthy pursuit ended with police surrounding Perry’s car at Third and Washington streets in Goshen.

Perry allegedly fled an attempted traffic stop and led police on a slow-speed chase from Goshen to New Paris and back into downtown Goshen where he stopped the car he was driving. Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Becker said as Perry refused orders to keep his hands visible, he thrust one out of a window. McCormack fired, believing he’d been shot, and Perry was struck three times.

A grand jury decided not to charge McCormack in the case.

No charges against Goshen officer in pursuit shooting

Perry was charged with resisting law enforcement after he was treated for his injuries. A new case charging him with counts of possession of methamphetamine, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and residential entry was filed in March. Perry is currently scheduled to go to trial in both cases in March 2020.

Former officer admits OWI

Goshen police officer Brody Brown submits resignation

Brody L. Brown

Goshen police officers disciplined in wake of OWI arrest, gunfire investigation

Goshen Police Chief Jose Miller speaks during a news conference in February surrounded by, from left, Assistant Chief of Police Shawn Turner, Investigations Division Chief Keith Miller, Patrol Division Chief Bill Hubbard and Mayor Jeremy Stutsman.

UPDATED: Goshen police officers disciplined in wake of OWI arrest, gunfire investigation

Later in January, former Goshen police officer Brody Brown pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. He was later sentenced to a year of probation.

Brown was arrested in December 2018 following a traffic stop on Elkhart Road at the C.R. 17 overpass. Two other officers — former Goshen Sgt. Kyle Kalb and Elkhart officer Leonard Dolshenko — were with Brown in the vehicle he was driving at the time. Another Goshen officer had stopped Brown while investigating sounds of gunfire coming from the area.

Goshen officer quits after failing to complete required alcohol education; citizen commended for helping police

In addition to his sentence, Brown received a 50-day suspension in February. He resigned from the department in October because he failed to complete disciplinary steps ordered in his sentence.

Kalb, meanwhile, resigned in February amid an investigation into allegedly fired shots. Becker criticized procedural screw-ups for failing to produce evidence of gunfire, which kept her from filing charges.

Captain resigns, charged as part of theft investigation

Charges filed against now-former police captain

James Bradberry

At the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office, former Capt. James Bradberry was charged in March with misdemeanor counts of false informing for hindering a case against three former process servers charged with payroll theft.

Bradberry, who resigned when he was charged, pleaded guilty to one of the counts in September and was sentenced to probation. He admitted he withheld some information during an investigation and subsequent grand jury proceedings in the theft case. Bradberry had informed his superiors and the prosecutor’s office of the situation in January before he was charged.

Trio charged in sheriff's department. payroll scheme have trial dates set

From left, Mary Letherman, Steven Mock and Susan Graves.

Suspended sentences for former process servers in payroll theft case

The former process servers — Susan Graves, Steven Mock and Mary Letherman — pleaded guilty to counts of criminal conversion in April, admitting they collected pay by claiming hours they didn’t actually work. Each received sentences suspended to good behavior with orders to pay restitution.

Injured bystander settles suit

Bystander shot by Goshen police settles lawsuit with city

In this April 5, 2017, file photo, a crime scene investigator walks past an SUV that was driven by Michael Alcaraz, who was shot dead during a gun battle by Goshen police in the parking lot of Double D’s Bar and Grill. A bystander, Fernando Cuevas, was shot and seriously injured by a Goshen officer. Cuevas has settled a lawsuit against the city out of court.

The city of Goshen settled a federal lawsuit in August with Fernando Cuevas, who was shot by Goshen police during a pursuit two years ago.

Cuevas was a bystander when he was shot by a Goshen police officer, resulting in him being paralyzed from the waist down. He sued the city and, as part of the settlement, the city agreed to pay its $10,000 insurance deductible. The Goshen Board of Works and Public Safety approved the payment in September.

Bystander shot by Goshen police settles lawsuit with city

The case stemmed from a situation in which police pursued Michael Alcaraz, 19, of Bristol in April 2017 after he allegedly tried to carjack three women with a shotgun on Goshen’s southeast side. Alcaraz also fired on a Goshen officer as he responded to the situation.

Police pursued Alcaraz to Double D’s Bar and Grill along Lincolnway East. He allegedly fired at officers, and they fired back, killing him.

During the situation, another officer ran behind the building, saw Cuevas at a minivan, and shot him, believing at the time he was involved in the incident.

Becker deemed the officers were justified in using lethal force to stop Alcaraz in June 2017.

MURDER TRIALS AND CASES

Several murder cases resulted in convictions this year. One ended with an acquittal, while another resulted in the defendant placed in a mental health facility. Several more cases are still progressing through the court system.

Johnson sentenced in double homicide

Ligonier murder victims identified

Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson of Fort Wayne was sentenced to 170 years in prison on Jan. 11 for, a month after he was convicted of murder and attempted murder charges in a Noble County court.

Johnson was accused of shooting and killing Justin Adams, 30, and Amanda Feldstein, 39, in an apartment at the Riverside Villa complex in Ligonier in March 2018 during an apparent scheme to steal back a reportedly $10,000 Prada purse. Shots were also fired at another woman, Amberly Brown, but she was not injured.

Killer of two Ligonier residents gets 170-year sentence

Two women were also charged in the case.

Kyra Frost, 27, of Roanoke was sentenced to four years of home detention and two years of probation in September after she pleaded guilty to counts of assisting a criminal.

Tiffani Cox, 32, of Ligonier, was sentenced to eight years in prison in October 2018 after she pleaded guilty to a count of aiding an attempted armed robbery.

Castillo sentenced in husband’s murder

Wife sentenced to 45 years in husband's murder

Angelica Castillo

Angelica Castillo, 41, of Elkhart, was sentenced to 45 years in prison in March in Elkhart County Circuit Court after she pleaded guilty to murder. The plea amounted to an admission she shot and killed her husband, Elder Castillo Sr., at their home in May 2018.

Castillo left the area after her husband’s death. She was arrested in August 2018 in Adel, Georgia, where police learned she had assumed a different identity.

Wife sentenced to 45 years in husband's murder

Castillo filed for post-conviction relief on Dec. 20, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel and her plea was involuntary.

In a filing, Castillo said her attorney didn’t investigate her case, telling her he wouldn’t be able to win a murder trial. She said she was told her situation was hopeless and she would have to accept a plea, “unless I wanted to die in prison,” the filing states. Castillo said she was represented by public defenders Jeffery Majerek and Christopher Peterson.

Teen sent to mental health facility for killing stepmother

Elkhart County Courthouse file

A 16-year-old girl, identified only as J.T. in court records, was ordered held at a mental health facility in Ohio in April in a homicide case. The girl admitted in Juvenile Court she stabbed and killed her stepmother, Maria Torres, 50, after setting fire to her bedroom in the family’s apartment in Elkhart in July 2015.

Teen admits killing stepmom, placed at mental health facility

The prosecutor’s office wanted to try the girl for murder as an adult in Circuit Court. But, Juvenile Court Magistrate Deborah Domine decided to keep the case in her court due to the girl’s significant mental health issues. The Indiana Appeals Court upheld Domine’s decision earlier in April.

Davis convicted in girlfriend’s strangulation

Benford Davis

Benford Davis

Benford Davis, 52, was sentenced to the maximum of 65 years in prison after he was convicted of murder at a trial in August.

Convicted murderer gets 65-year sentence

A jury in Circuit Court found Davis guilty of killing his girlfriend, Sherry Houston, 58, by strangling her at her home in Elkhart in March 2018.

Davis fled the area by bus the night Houston died. Investigators tracked him to Indianapolis, where he was arrested on a warrant in February.

Smith acquitted of murder

A jury found Michael Smith, 32, of Tennessee, not guilty of murder at the end of his trial in Circuit Court in October.

Defendant found not guilty of murder

Smith was accused of shooting and killing Drake Muncie during a fight outside Muncie’s home in Elkhart in August 2009, 10 years before the trial began.

He was charged in April 2018 after investigators followed up on a tip and linked his DNA to evidence on glasses found at the crime scene. Smith’s attorneys challenged the evidence and how it was obtained, including with a pre-trial motion to suppress the evidence.

The jury deliberated nearly four and a half hours before reaching the not-guilty verdict.

Gregory charged in shooting death

Iman Gregory

Iman Gregory

Iman Gregory, 25, of Elkhart, faces a murder charge, accused of shooting and killing Ishmael Porter, 25, during an argument at a house in Elkhart on May 26.

Murder suspect appears in court following return to county

Gregory fled the area and was tracked to Atlanta, where she was arrested in September. The charge was filed a few days after Porter’s death, but the case was sealed for nearly three months while investigators sought her.

Gregory’s trial is currently scheduled to begin March 2 in Circuit Court.

Carruthers charged with stabbing, killing husband

Wife appears in court charged in husband's death

Knesha Carruthers

Trial for woman accused of killing husband is rescheduled

Knesha Carruthers, 34, of Elkhart is charged with murdering her husband in July. Police said she stabbed and killed Jimmie Lee Gillam, 33, during a dispute at their home.

Carruthers’ attorneys intend to pursue a defense that she acted in self-defense and experienced battered women’s syndrome at the time.

Her trial is currently scheduled to begin Feb. 17 in Circuit Court.

DNA challenged in Corbett case

Winston Corbett

Winston Corbett

The attorney for Winston Corbett, 24, of Goshen has sought to suppress DNA evidence gathered in the murder and attempted murder case. The motion was filed in June, challenging the constitutionality of how it was collected during the investigation.

Corbett is charged with killing Goshen College professor James Miller and injuring Miller’s wife at their home in Goshen in 2011. Corbett was arrested as the suspect in the case in October 2018.

Trial from professor's murder pushed back six months

The case is currently scheduled to go to trial in Circuit Court July 6. Case documents, including the affidavit laying out the reason for charging Corbett, remain sealed from the public.

Three killed in homicides/suicide in Elkhart

Gunman, victims named in fatal Elkhart shootings

In this file photo from July, Elkhart police establish a perimeter amid an investigation into fatal shootings at the Stratford Commons apartment complex. 

On the morning of July 31, gunfire erupted at Stratford Commons as a resident of the apartment complex in Elkhart shot three people before killing himself.

Gunman, victims named in fatal Elkhart shootings

Lawrence Faso, 76, opened fire in an apartment building, 2601 Oakland Ave., injuring an employee and killing Gail Shield and Jon Malk, both 66, before turning the gun on himself. The shootings apparently rose out of a dispute over grilling.

Shields’ family filed a wrongful death suit Dec. 20 against Stratford Commons, the company that manages the subsidized elderly housing complex, APT Management Inc., and Faso’s estate.

The case alleges the company was negligent by failing to protect Shields and residents from Faso despite apparently knowing of his “potential to violently harm other residents” there, the suit states.

The lawsuit specifies a claim that managers failed to provide a meaningful resolution to Faso’s “unfounded” complaints against residents, including those that involved Shields sunbathing in a courtyard and smoke coming from her grill.

The suit also claims management failed to enforce a rule prohibiting residents from having firearms on the property, and to address how Faso allegedly cut a peep hole in his window blinds.

Teenager charged as adult in murder

Alphonso James III

Alphonso James III

Alphonso James III, now 15, was charged as an adult with murder in August after he was moved out of Juvenile Court and into Circuit Court.

Teen suspect in murder case could claim self-defense

James is accused of shooting and killing Jaren Minies as the two fought over a gun in Elkhart in September 2018. He then fled to Ithaca, New York, and was later arrested in a gang assault case there.

James was extradited back to Indiana to face the local murder accusations.

His attorney intends to argue James acted in self-defense at trial, which is scheduled to begin May 18.

Shooting deaths investigated

Shootings led to the deaths of two people in Elkhart in September and November.

The body of Jaiden Cooper, 16, was found on railroad tracks in the 900 block of Wagner Avenue around 12:30 a.m. Sept. 7. He had multiple gunshot wounds, police said.

Then, on Nov. 23, a 26-year-old man was killed, and a 25-year-old woman was injured in a shooting in the 300 block of Wagner Avenue in Elkhart.

The cases are under investigation.

Duo charged in woman’s murder

Life in prison on the table for men charged in woman's murder

(From left) Donald Owen Jr., Mario Angulo Jr. and Matthew Murzynski

Mario Angulo, 19, of Elkhart, and Donald Owen Jr., 20, of Elkhart were both charged with counts of murder, robbery and criminal confinement this month.

Becker alleged the two tortured and killed Kimberly Dyer, 31, of Columbia City in October while confining her at a house along Old Orchard Lane in Elkhart as part of gang activity. A third man, Matthew Murzynski, 24, of Elkhart, was charged with helping confine Dyer.

The three were also charged with injuring Robert Porter, 32, of Sturgis, Michigan, while robbing and confining him at the house around the same time.

Life in prison on the table for men charged in woman's murder

Becker also said she intends to seek sentences of life without parole against Angulo and Owen due to the circumstances of the case.

The probable cause affidavit in the case was sealed.

Angulo and Murzynski were jailed in Elkhart County around Dec. 20. Owen was arrested Dec. 18 in Waco, Texas, following a pursuit that stemmed from a robbery investigation. He faces extradition back to Elkhart County.

TRAUMATIC INCIDENTS

Duck barn destroyed by fire

In this file photo from April, fire, fueled by winds, destroyed a duck barn and two other buildings at a farm along C.R. 42 and C.R. 37 near Millersburg.

Several families experienced trauma as a result of various situations throughout the year. Such incidents included fires and vehicle crashes, sometimes leading to the loss of life. One person also died in a plane crash near Goshen.

The following is a collection of some of the stories that were covered in 2019.

Apartment fire displaced 10 in Bristol

Fires damage Bristol apartment, houses

In this file photo from January, 10 people were displaced following an early morning fire at the Golfview Manor Apartments in Bristol.

Fire damaged a building at Golfview Manor Apartments along West Vistula Street in Bristol at the end of January. At least 10 people, as well as animals, lost their homes as a result.

No injuries were reported in that incident.

Suspect died after fleeing pursuit

Myles Owens, 29, of Cromwell evaded police during a pursuit near New Paris in the early morning hours of Feb. 9. Police later found the vehicle he was driving abandoned in a field, but they came up empty-handed in a search for Owen.

Police, responding to a missing person report out of Noble County, searched the area where Owens’ vehicle was found. His body was found about a week later near a home in the 15000 block of C.R. 52.

Father, two daughters die after crashing into river

Father, two children killed when car slides into Elkhart River

J.J. Reyes and his daughters, Zulia and Valeria, of Ligonier, died after the vehicle they were in slid into the Elkhart River along Ball Road in February 2019. The submerged car is shown in the upper left portion of the image.

JJ Reyes, 50, of Ligonier, and his two daughters, 15-year-old Zulia and 13-year-old Valeria, died after Reyes’ car slid into the Elkhart River near Ligonier on Feb. 11.

Father, two daughters killed when car slides into Elkhart River

Reyes had lost control of the car he was driving on a snow-covered curve where C.R. 700 West and Ball Road meet. The car crashed into a ditch, then dropped into the river where it was carried 180 feet downstream before overturning and submerging.

Zulia Reyes was a sophomore at West Noble High School. Valeria Reyes was an eighth-grader at West Noble Middle School.

Plane crash claimed auto dealership owner’s life

plane crash 01

In this photo from Feb. 22, investigators work at the site of a plane crash that killed pilot Neal Myers, 55, of Middlebury. His plane struck a power line and went down in a field about 550 yards west of C.R. 33 near C.R. 42 the night of Feb. 21.

A Piper single-engine plane piloted by Neal Myers of Middlebury struck high-tension power lines then crashed into a field at C.R. 42 and C.R. 33, about a mile-and-a-half east of Goshen Municipal Airport, the night of Feb. 21.

Myers died in the crash.

Middlebury pilot remembered as business leader, charitable volunteer

A file photo of Neal Myers standing next to his airplane

Federal investigators found Myers was making a practice approach to the airport. In the process of turning to begin landing on a runway, his airplane struck the power lines.

Federal report says Goshen plane crashed after striking power lines

Myers, 55, owned and operated the Max Myers Motors dealership in Middlebury. He was also an experienced pilot, known for volunteering to fly patients to hospitals through the Angel Flight program.

Goshen man died in house fire

Charles Grise, 71, died as a result of a fire at his home at 425 N. First St. on March 7.

Grise was alone in the house at the time and unable to get out. A neighbor said he was paraplegic and couldn’t move.

The fire apparently started accidentally.

Fire destroyed RV plant

NWS GN0313 forest river fire_tomi kehr_2.jpg

In this contributed file photo from March, a large fire destroyed Forest River Plant 59 in Elkhart.

Forest River Inc.’s Plant 59 was leveled by explosions and a fire at the site, 411 C.R. 15, in Elkhart the afternoon of March 12. A gigantic black column of smoke rose from the site and could be seen for miles.

Nobody was injured.

The Elkhart Fire Department could not determine a cause of the fire following weeks of investigation.

Windswept fire destroyed duck barn

Duck barn destroyed by fire

In this file photo from April, a firefighter sprays water onto flames as a fire destroyed a duck barn and two other buildings at a farm along C.R. 42 and C.R. 37 near Millersburg.

Duck barn destroyed by fire

Multiple ducks were killed in a large fire that destroyed a barn at 12925 C.R. 42 near Millersburg on April 9.

Strong spring winds apparently fanned the flames of a small outdoor fire, spreading it to a smaller building, and then to a second building before igniting the barn, fire personnel surmised at the time.

Nobody was reported injured.

Homeless man, dog killed in crash

Henry Wrightsman Jr., 48, and his dog Honeydew died after the mo-ped they were riding collided with a pickup truck on Ind. 19 north of C.R. 38 near Wakarusa at the end of April.

Wrightsman and Honeydew, who were said to be homeless, were well-known in Wakarusa. A person who knew him said after his death he wouldn’t accept help and usually donated what he had to charity collections.

Two killed in back-to-back crashes at 6 and 33

Fatal crash

A medical helicopter lifts off from the scene of a two-vehicle crash on U.S. 6 between U.S. 33 and C.R. 43 in this file photo from September. The crash killed Devon Click of Kimmell and injured Rosalia Hernandez of Goshen and her four children.

Two drivers died in separate crashes a day apart from each other in September at U.S. 6 and U.S. 33 south of Goshen.

POLICE NEWS: Police identify driver in fatal crash

In the first crash, a car driven by Devon Click, 22, of Kimmell, crossed the center line of U.S. 6 and collided head-on with a car driven by Rosalia Hernandez of Goshen on Sept. 11.

Click died at the scene.

Hernandez was seriously injured, as well as her four children in the car with her.

Huntington woman killed in crash at U.S. 6, U.S. 33

The next day, Sharon Cuttriss, 29, of Huntington, was killed when the van she was driving turned from U.S. 33 onto U.S. 6 was struck by an oncoming tractor-trailer driven by Bryan Culp of Wakarusa. Culp was not injured.

Police said Cuttriss had failed to yield the right of way to the truck.

Girl died in fire in Topeka

Topeka Fatal Fire

This file photo shows a home, 215 W. Pine St., in Topeka where a fire claimed the life of Melody Gangwer, 8, in October.

An investigation is currently underway following a fatal house fire early Friday evening at this Topeka home, located at 215 W. Pine St.

Victim of fire 'always had a hug'

Eight-year-old Melody Gangwer died after a fire started in a second-story bedroom of a home at 215 W. Pine St., in Topeka on Oct. 25.

Firefighters found Gangwer in an upstairs room. She was flown to a hospital in Indianapolis, where she later died from her injuries.

Gangwer was a student at Topeka Elementary School.

Animals killed in barn fire in Middlebury

Middlebury Barn Fire

Black smoke billows into the air as flames consume a large animal barn at 59832 C.R. 35, Middlebury, on Dec. 12.

Middlebury barn destroyed by fire

Fire destroyed a barn, killing dogs and chickens inside, at 59832 C.R. 35 in Middlebury on Dec. 12.

A malfunctioning heat lamp may have started the fire. The property owners was using the lamp to keep the animals in the barn warm.

About 10 calves were also in the structure at the time. They survived after being chased out amid the fire.

LOCAL POLICE CASES

Elkhart officers now face federal charges in alleged beating

In this file photo, security video obtained by the South Bend Tribune and ProPublica shows Elkhart police officers allegedly beating a man in January 2018. The officers, Joshua Titus and Cory Newland were indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday on civil rights violations.

Mixed into all the criminal cases that progressed through local courts in 2019, a few involved Elkhart police officers. Two were resolved with suspended sentences, while one ascended to the federal level amid a brutality controversy.

Meanwhile, two Bristol officers were investigated for firing on suspects. And the former head of Kosciusko County’s Community Corrections program now faces criminal charges.

Elkhart police brutality case goes federal

elkhart officers

Joshua Titus and Cory Newland

A police brutality case against Elkhart police officers Cory Newland and Joshua Titus moved from local courts to the federal level in the spring.

State dismissing charges against two officers as federal case proceeds

The two were initially charged with misdemeanor counts of battery, alleging they punched a handcuffed man, Mario Guerrero Ledesma of Elkhart, while he was being booked into jail in a domestic battery case. Ledesma allegedly ignored orders to stop spitting at Newland before he was struck.

A federal grand jury indicted Newland and Titus on a charge of violating Ledesma’s civil rights in March. Becker followed up by dismissing the local cases in May. The federal case is still underway.

Bristol police shootings

Bristol police officer Kyle Hamood was placed on administrative leave, as part of protocol, during an investigation into a situation where he fired at a suspect amid a police pursuit in March.

The pursuit started in Bristol and ended in near White Pigeon, Michigan.

Bristol officer shoots, kills fleeing driver after patrol car rammed

And then on Oct. 18, a Bristol police officer shot and killed David Sanders, 46, of Three Rivers, Michigan, during a pursuit which also led into White Pigeon, Michigan.

Police said Sanders rammed a Bristol squad car with his vehicle, and the officer reacted by firing a gun. Sanders was shot and died at the scene.

Elkhart officers get probation in separate cases

Elkhart officer arrested for OWI

Scott Haigh 

Two criminal cases against Elkhart police officers ended with suspended sentences.

Cpl. Scott Haigh was sentenced to one year of probation on Oct. 30 after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

Haigh was arrested in December 2018 after Elkhart police responded to a crash he was involved in at Third and Franklin streets. Haigh was off-duty at the time.

POLICE NEWS: No jail time for ex-detective in harassment case

And former detective Scott Hupp, 50, was also sentenced to a year of probation in November after he pleaded guilty to counts of residential entry and harassment. The charges stemmed from accusations he reached through a window of his ex-wife’s house and called her multiple times in 2018.

Community corrections director, others charged

Former Kosciusko County Community Corrections director Anna Bailey was charged in a corruption case along with her former assistant, Taylor Pagan, and a program participant, Steven Gasaway of Syracuse on Dec. 17.

Investigators found Bailey of Walkerton allegedly sought to cover up a relationship Pagan had with Gasaway in September and October while Gasaway was on home detention. Bailey also allegedly had documents altered to hide how passes she approved for Gasaway to visit Pagan’s home violated program rules.

Former director, two others charged in community corrections investigation

Bailey is charged with felony counts of obstruction of justice and official misconduct. Pagan and Gasaway were both charged with counts of escape by violating home detention orders.

Court information shows warrants for Pagan and Gasaway were served Dec. 17, while a warrant for Bailey’s arrest is apparently still pending.

Bailey reportedly resigned from community corrections in November.

FRAUD CASE, LAWSUITS

A few cases alleging fraud rose to make headlines in 2019. One saw a mother-daughter duo criminally charged in a Victoria’s Secret scam, while another alleged the head of Elkhart’s parks department embezzled money. The heads of two local companies also faced fraud accusations in civil suits, with one having a national impact.

Mother and daughter charged in Victoria’s Secret scam

Nappanee mother-daughter accused of defrauding Victoria's Secret, re-selling clothes

Alexis McCartney, left, and Wendy Skwarcan-Stoll

Wendy Skwarcan-Stoll, 41, of Nappanee, and her daughter Alexis McCartney, 18, of South Bend, were arrested by Nappanee police in February from an investigation into a scam involving fake Victoria’s Secret coupons.

Police said the two counterfeited the coupons, used them to get discounts while purchasing merchandise from stores in several states, and then re-sold the products through a Facebook group.

Daughter pleads guilty in Victoria's Secret fraud case

McCartney pleaded guilty to a count of corrupt business influence and was sentenced in June to three years probation. Skwarcan-Stoll then pleaded guilty in July to counts of corrupt business influence and forgery, and she was sentenced to seven-and-half years of probation.

Both were also ordered to pay $100,082 together in restitution to the parent company of Victoria’s Secret.

IOI goes bankrupt, former CEO accused of wire fraud

IOI declares bankruptcy amid wire fraud claims, new lawsuit

Najeeb Khan

Elkhart-based payroll processing company Interlogic Outsourcing Inc. filed for bankruptcy in August, about a month after former CEO Najeeb Khan was sued on claims of wire fraud and breach of contract.

Leaders at KeyBank in Cleveland claimed in a federal lawsuit in July that Khan ordered more than $200 million in wire transfers using funds moved into an account from another bank for payroll services. The problem was, there were insufficient funds involved in the account transfers.

IOI declares bankruptcy amid wire fraud claims, new lawsuit

After Khan stepped down, IOI’s new leaders sought federal bankruptcy protection, showing assets of $1 million to $10 million while liabilities amounted to an estimated $10 million to $50 million. The filing also listed more than 7,200 creditors nationwide as the company served thousands of clients in multiple states.

A civil suit, headed by a South Bend law firm with dozens of companies as plaintiffs, was also filed in in Elkhart County in August. The complaint alleged IOI withdrew funds from client accounts, but failed to use that money to pay federal and state payroll taxes as part of the payroll services.

Parks head charged with embezzlement

Randall Norton, the superintendent of the Elkhart Parks and Recreation Department, was charged in July with embezzlement in southern Michigan.

The charge followed a Three Rivers police investigation into missing funds and accounting irregularities at a mentoring program where Norton served as executive director prior to working in Elkhart.

RV company head accused of fraud

Judge sides with RV CEO in fraud suit

Travel Lite RV headquarters in the 6 & 13 Technology & Industrial Park in Syracuse is seen in this file photo.

A civil suit filed in September accused Travel Lite RV CEO Dustin Johns of cheating the plaintiff, Michael DeWitt, out of money in a $4 million real estate deal in Syracuse.

The suit in Kosciusko County shows DeWitt agreed to sell Johns property near Lake Wawasee in Syracuse for about $1.9 million in cash and $2.1 million in shares of Travel Lite stock in 2018. But DeWitt alleged Johns misrepresented the value of the stock with fraudulent corporate financial information.

Judge sides with RV CEO in fraud suit

Johns sought to have the case dismissed on grounds the information in the allegations didn’t meet Indiana trial standards. A judge agreed, but gave DeWitt another shot at meeting the standards.

DeWitt filed an updated complaint Dec. 16, and Johns responded with another request to dismiss the case.

The lawsuit was filed while Travel Lite shut down operations in New Paris and its new headquarters near Syracuse for a restructuring.

NOTABLE CASES

Last, but in no way least, several criminal cases either opened or were resolved in 2019, and caught attention for the brutal or unusual circumstances involved. Cases in this category included crimes like the death of a child, child molesting, terrorism, a severe baseball bat beating and a burglary that cost a local landlord cash and valuables amounting to six figures.

Couple charged in child’s death

Court document: Meth contributed to autistic child's death

(From left) Erica Reschke and Brandon Hobbs

Erica Reschke, 30, and Brandon Hobbs, 34, both of Cassopolis, Michigan, were arrested in February after the couple was charged in Elkhart County in the death of Hobbs’ daughter.

Court document: Meth contributed to autistic child's death

The 10-year-old girl, who was described as autistic with an apparent eating disorder, had consumed a toxic amount of methamphetamine and died in June 2018 Reschke was hired to clean on Wood Street in Elkhart. Investigators said Reschke admitted she brought meth into the house and hid it from the rest of the family.

Reschke is charged with two Level 1 felony counts of neglect of a dependent resulting in death and a Level 6 felony count of neglect. She’s scheduled to go to trial in Elkhart County Superior Court 3 in April, court information shows.

Hobbs pleaded guilty to two Level 6 felony counts of neglect and was sentenced in June to three years in prison and a year of home detention.

Century sentence for Goshen man in attempted murder case

Man who shot at 3 sentenced to 105 years

Michael Ortiz

A jury found Michael Ortiz guilty of three counts of attempted murder during his trial in May.

Man who shot at 3 sentenced to 105 years

Ortiz, 39, of Goshen was accused of firing a handgun at a truck with three people inside while the truck’s driver argued with members of the Sinland motorcycle club near the New Paris Speedway in June 2017. Ortiz was president of the club’s local chapter.

The people in the truck were not injured despite seven bullets striking the vehicle.

Ortiz was sentenced to 105 years in prison, or 35 years on each attempted murder count.

Teen guilty of attempted murder

Teen sentenced to more than 30 years in attempted murder case

Byron Harris Jr.

Byron Harris Jr., a 16-year-old boy from Elkhart, was convicted of attempted murder in June stemming from a shooting over a video game in Elkhart.

Teen sentenced to more than 30 years in attempted murder case

Harris was tried as an adult on accusations he shot and injured a man on a playground at the River Run Apartment complex in June 2018. He allegedly believed the victim had stolen a game from him.

Harris was sentenced to 32 years in prison and five years probation.

Youth group leader charged with molesting multiple children

Scott Christner

Scott Christner

Scott Christner, 44, of Goshen is scheduled to stand trial March 23 on 12 counts of child molesting and sexual misconduct with a minor.

Trial date set for former youth group leader charged with child molestation

He was first arrested Nov. 21 after a boy told police Christner inappropriately touched him in July while Christner helped lead The Olympians, a youth group through First Baptist Church in Goshen. Christner was stripped of his role at the church following his arrest.

Four more victims came forward a short time later in late November and early December to also accuse Christner of touching them inappropriately over the past several years.

The charges were filed in two cases in Superior Court 3.

Former Rise’n Roll manager accused of child molestation

Vincent Banks of Claypool was sentenced to three years in prison and two years of probation in September after he pleaded guilty to a felony count of child molestation.

Banks formerly managed a Rise’n Roll doughnut franchise in Warsaw.

Doctor charged with groping patients

Dr. Darryl Henry of Fort Wayne was arrested in August on two counts of sexual battery. He’s accused of inappropriately touching two patients during occupational physical exams at Windsor Work Care in Elkhart.

The next hearing in the case is set for Jan. 6 in Elkhart County Superior Court 1.

Landlord targeted in burglary, three charged

Drug bust nabs suspects in $400,000 Goshen burglary

Matthew Smiechowski

Drug bust nabs suspects in $400,000 Goshen burglary

On the night of July 28, four people allegedly broke into a house owned by landlord Ronald Davidhizar along Middlebury Street in Goshen. They left with a bag stuffed with cash plus antique pocket watches, money orders and other documents. The amount was said to be $400,000 that the group divided evenly among themselves.

Two night later, two of the suspects, Matthew Smiechowski, 25, and Katelynd Landess, 23, were arrested in the parking lot of Meijer. Police found a bag of cash, pocket watches and pills in their SUV.

Goshen police arrested a third suspect, Jeffrey Fisher, 34, in August as part of the investigation.

Smiechowski is awaiting trial on a burglary charge. The case was transferred from Circuit Court to Superior Court 3 in November due to a judicial conflict.

Fisher was sentenced to seven years in prison and two years of probation Nov. 25 after he pleaded guilty to charges of burglary and possession of methamphetamine in Superior Court 2.

Landess pleaded guilty to burglary in September and was sentenced in Superior Court 2 to five years of home detention and two years of probation.

Former Kroger worker stole nearly $170,000

Kevin Escobedo of Goshen was arrested in August on theft charges. He allegedly stole $168,000 in increments over two years from the Kroger store on Chicago Avenue where he worked while caught in a cocaine addiction.

Escobedo pleaded guilty to theft and was sentenced Dec. 17 to three years in a community corrections program and two years of probation, and he was ordered to pay $168,000 in restitution and not trespass on any Kroger property.

Man beaten with baseball bat over loan

Battery investigation

Goshen police investigate a battery at a house along South Main Street in this file photo from September.

Princeton Holiday, 34, of Goshen was arrested in September on accusations he beat another man so severely he had to have brain surgery.

Goshen man arrested after man seriously injured with baseball bat

Holiday had been staying with the victim, David Ratcliff Jr., and Ratcliff’s parents at their home along South Main Street. He had loaned Ratcliff $500, and then became enraged when he realized he probably wouldn’t be repaid because Ratcliff was blowing the money on meth, according to a court document.

Holiday allegedly struck Ratcliff with a baseball bat and left the house. Police later found Ratcliff in an alley near the house, dazed and with his ear torn. Because of his injury, Ratcliff was taken to Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne where doctors had to remove part of his skull to repair bleeding in his brain.

Holiday was charged with aggravated battery in Superior Court 1. He underwent a mental competency evaluation in November as the case continues to progress.

Woman admits to federal terrorism charge

Samantha Elhassani

Samantha Elhassani

Samantha Elhassani, 34, who formerly lived in Elkhart, pleaded guilty to a count of financing terrorism in November in federal court in Hammond.

Widow who lived in Elkhart pleads guilty in terrorism case

Elhassani admitted she helped her now-late husband, Moussa Elhassani, and his brother prepare to move to Syria and join the Islamic State by smuggling gold to Hong Kong. The family, including two children, entered Syria in 2015 and lived in the ISIS capital of Raqqa for two years. Moussa was killed in an airstrike in 2017. Samantha fled with the children until they were captured by Kurdish troops and held for months.

The family was extradited back to Indiana in July 2018 where Elhassani was taken into custody on federal counts.

She is scheduled to be sentenced in March. As part of her plea agreement, she faces up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a lifetime of supervised release.

Standoff leads to robbery arrests

20191209-nws-swatoperation swat truck 2.jpg

Police stage behind an Elkhart County SWAT truck during a standoff outside a house in the 23000 block of U.S. 33 in Dunlap in this file photo.

Daniel Jaramillo, 31, of Elkhart was arrested by Elkhart County police the night of Dec. 8 following an approximately two-and-a-half hour standoff at a house in the 23000 block of U.S. 33 in Dunlap.

Jaramillo was wanted as a suspect in a robbery at an apartment in Elkhart in March. He and another man, Sam Hudspeth, held two men at gunpoint and demanded money. A dog in the apartment was also shot and had to be euthanized.

Hudspeth, 24, of Elkhart was later arrested on a warrant.

Both men are charged in Circuit Court with felony counts of armed robbery, criminal confinement and killing a domestic animal.

Aimee Ambrose can be reached at aimee.ambrose@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 316. Follow her on Twitter at @aambrose_TGN.

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