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Woman faces federal and state charges for allegedly paying DMV workers to provide fraudulent documents. Joel Rubin

Photographs by

Kirk McKoy Los Angeles Times

PLAYING THEIR CARDS: Patrons ring a blackjack table at Diamond Jim’s, a little 24-hour casino in the Mojave

Desert. But behind the scenes, shareholders are playing for stakes that are far higher.

Casino wears a poker face

On a spring day last year, a Pakistani man came to Shamsha Laiwalla looking for help. He told her he had recently jumped off a cargo ship docked in the Port of Los Angeles and was now looking to buy a new identity. On the surface, Laiwalla was not an obvious go-to person. She owns a seemingly innocuous vehicle registration company — one of the thousands in California that take care of DMV-related tasks for people willing to pay for the convenience. For years, however, the 44year-old Pakistan native has offered customers a startling menu of illegal services as the architect of an extensive fraud ring involving several DMV employees she regularly paid to

produce licenses and other documents, according to Los Angeles police and federal officials. The names of at least some of her alleged clients have surfaced in ongoing federal investigations into national security issues, said LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Downing. The Pakistani man was, in fact, an undercover detective in the Los Angeles Police Department’s counter-terrorism bureau, which is headed by Downing. For $3,500, Laiwalla told the detective, she could get a valid California driver’s license with his photo, an expertly forged birth certificate and a Social Security card, police say. All the documents would bear his new name, Francisco Gonzalez Rios. Laiwalla recently pleaded guilty to federal charges of identity theft stemming from the investigation and is awaiting sentencing. Last week, prosecutors in the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office filed 11 state charges against her. They also charged 13 of her alleged accomplices. She pleaded not guilty to the state charges Wednesday. [See Fraud, Page A41]

Friendly Diamond Jim’s fronts lawsuits, feuds and takeover attempts. Hector Becerra

ACTION: General manager Pat Berry, center, keeps an eye on players.

“It’s like ‘Cheers,’ where everyone knows your name,” says Lisa Klenner.

With a handbag over a shoulder and a bounce to her step, 47-year-old school psychologist Lisa Klenner bounded through the doors of the small casino in the Mojave Desert. Gerald Morris, the floor man of Diamond Jim’s, greeted her with a familiar smile and coaxed her to a table where a game of poker was already underway. Forty dollars worth of chips bought a chance to win a share of a $29,800 “Monster Jackpot” and to trade good-natured razzing with a diverse band of gamblers, including a man with an everlasting grin known as “Smiley.” “It’s like ‘Cheers,’ where everyone knows your name,” said Klenner, who lives nearby in Quartz Hill. The boxy white casino with blue trim is off California 14 in Rosamond, an unincorporated speck of a town surrounded by desert scrub and the tawny moun- [See Casino, Page A43]

THE WEEK

Pat Brown’s California takes a beating in Sacramento Cathleen Decker Forty-two years after Pat Brown left office and 13 years after he died, his California took quite a beating last week. The visionary governor swept into office in 1959, and by the time he was swept out eight years later, he had created the 16-dam, multipleaqueduct state water project, devised the three-tier college and university system, constructed nine major campuses and built more than 1,000 miles of freeways to connect

regions of his burgeoning state. To this day, much of what gets us where we are going — literally and figuratively — stems from what he did in his two terms. It was hard not to think of that era last week as his successor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Legislature agreed to a plan to deal with the state’s $26-billion deficit, mostly by cutting the kinds of programs Brown championed. The current governor looked buoyant as he greeted Twitter fans via video after the budget deal, wielding a very

large knife as if to dramatically underscore his plan to whack government programs. But it was less a victory for him than for a mind-set that stands in dramatic contrast to the spirit that abounded in California in Pat Brown’s day. Much has been made of the recent shift by state voters toward the Democratic Party, which has caused hand wringing and despair in national and state Republican circles. But even as they have conceded that battle, conservatives have won another sharply important one.

In Brown’s California, there was a broad consensus that government was a competent force for good. Now, among Californians of all political ideologies, there is the opposite: a repudiation of government and, even more, of any confidence in the governor and the Legislature to act competently. On that matter, at least, California as a whole has shifted to the right. It is tempting to think of those days as less fraught with the kind of drama that attends state budget matters now, but [See The Week, Page A41]

A bright future cut brutally short Lily Burk, 17, set out to run errands. Her body was found inside her car in a lot near downtown L.A. Margot Roosevelt and Ruben Vives She was set to star this week in her high school’s production of David Mamet’s “The Boston Marriage.” And she planned to volunteer helping the homeless this summer. Seventeen-yearold Lily Burk had a knack for writing and being funny, and while classmates at Oakwood School in North Hollywood carried backpacks, she lugged two canvas bags overstuffed with books, papers and binders. This girl was “cute and getting cuter,” her mother said. Lily was going places. Instead, she left her Los Feliz home Friday afternoon on an errand and never returned. Early Saturday her black Volvo was found parked in a lot surrounded by warehouses and lofts near downtown Los Angeles. Lily’s body was found on the front passenger seat, and police are investigating her death as a homicide. “She was my best friend,” Deborah Drooz, 54, said of her only child. “She was warm and funny and incredibly gifted verbally. We read books together.

Sarah Faulk

VICTIM: Lily Burk left her

Los Feliz home Friday afternoon. Her body was found Saturday morning.

We loved each other very much. She was looking forward to her life.” Sgt. Miguel Arana of the Los Angeles Police Department said there were signs of a struggle inside the car. Lily appeared to have head injuries from striking the passenger side of the front windshield, but the car did not show signs of having been in a crash, he said. Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz [See Slaying, Page A43]


:: The tale begins with George Hardie Sr., who founded and ran the Bicycle Club in Bell Garden. The card club was raided in the late 1980s by federal agents, who accused some of the club’s partners of building up the casino with laundered drug money. Hardie was cleared and he testified for the prosecution. The federal government took over, with Hardie as a manager. But in the mid-1990s, Hardie was accused — though never criminally charged — of allowing loan sharking and other illegal activities at the club. In a settlement with the state, Hardie agreed to surrender his California gaming li-

a homey place, regulars say, where discord is rare. It’s also a profitable enterprise, unbroken by the crushing recession. cense. About five years later, Hardie brought together a group of shareholders under the name Wizard Gaming Inc. to buy the Rosamond card club, then known as Sal’s Town. Without a gaming license, Hardie could not own or operate any casino in California. He set up a trust to run the club and made his son, George Hardie Jr., the beneficiary, essentially giving him a 42% stake in Diamond Jim’s. Hardie put more than $350,000 into the trust and lent at least $860,000 to the casino. Though the state Gaming Control Commission gave Hardie Jr. a gaming license, it prohibited him from being in-

volved in the operations of Diamond Jim’s, citing his lack of experience and steady income, outside of what he got from his father. The license allows him only to be a beneficiary of the trust. So one of Hardie’s close friends, Bob Cuicchi, was made trustee of Hardie Jr.’s trust. In 2005, Cuicchi died and the younger Hardie asked Cuicchi’s wife, Emily Jean, to become the trustee. Emily Jean Cuicchi, 64, said state officials had warned her and her husband what could happen if Hardie were found to be involved in operating Diamond Jim’s. “We were told that . . . it would be the kiss of death” for

Jay L. Clendenin Los Angeles Times

CRIME SCENE: An LAPD officer investigates the black Volvo in which the body of Lily

their running of the casino, she said. The 75-year-old Hardie insisted that he was just trying to take care of his son financially and that he was devoting his energy to opening a casino in Corozal, Belize, which he did in late 2006. “I was in Belize 95% of the time. Why would I care about Diamond Jim’s for?” Hardie said recently during a telephone interview from Las Vegas, where he was playing in the World Series of Poker at the Rio hotel. Cuicchi said that after Hardie Jr. got his license, his father became demanding, asking for repayment of the loan he’d made to the casino. Hardie complained when the shareholders wanted to install a large sign for the card club on the side of the freeway and argued that a higher percentage of the profits should be dispensed to the shareholders instead of going into remodeling, said Alan Isaacman, an attorney for Wizard Gaming Inc. In early 2008 the gaming commission rejected a request that Hardie Jr. be allowed to have a greater say in the operation of Diamond Jim’s. Cuicchi was replaced as trustee and another shareholder, George Deitch, a former Bell Gardens councilman and real estate owner, took her place. Isaacman said Hardie was angry because Cuicchi would not go along with his ideas. In October 2008, Deitch got his gaming license and was ap-

proved as trustee by the gaming commission. As trustee and with a stake in the casino, Deitch now stands to gain majority ownership of Diamond Jim’s as long as he gets an OK from the Kern County Sheriff’s Department. If that happens, Isaacman said, it would be like giving Hardie control of the card club. Deitch bristles at the notion that anyone is controlling him. “I don’t think I need Mr. Hardie pulling my strings,” Deitch said. Hardie said he is being demonized by people who once had no qualms about taking his money and advice. He said he is a father who lost a son and a daughter and is merely trying to take care of his remaining child. “I am their boogeyman,” Hardie said. The affairs of Diamond Jim’s took another twist last year when Hardie Jr. was arrested in the southern Mexican state of Quintana Roo after a July 13 shooting outside his father’s casino in Belize. The shooting broke out in the casino parking lot, leaving a patron wounded. The victim and another man who had been at the casino fled back to Mexico as Hardie Jr. and three Belizean security guards — all armed — pursued them. At the border, Mexican soldiers arrested Hardie Jr. and the security guards. Hardie said the two casino patrons initiated the shootout and that his son showed up lat-

prohibits a convicted felon from owning a casino or card club. Isaacman said details of Hardie Jr.’s conviction in Mexico have been sent to gaming authorities. Hardie said his son is innocent and expressed confidence that he will be cleared once a magistrate hears his appeal. Hardie alleges that his enemies have sent people to Mexico to buy information to use against his son. Isaacman, though, said Hardie has thrown around money to get his son out of jail, including paying the man who was injured in the shootout. Hardie said he gave the “socalled victim” money for his wrecked vehicle, for his injuries and his hospital stay. “If the appeal fails . . . my son has to put up his share up for sale,” Hardie conceded. But all of this is mere inside baseball for the regulars at Diamond Jim’s, who see the club as a homey place where conflicts are rare. “We’re a little bit nicer at Diamond Jim’s to each other,” said Pat Taylor, 67, who began to visit the card club after her husband died five years ago. “They don’t allow any bad language here. They’re very strict about that.” hector.becerra@latimes.com

Burk was found Saturday morning. Her death is being investigated as a homicide.

Girl found slain in car [Slaying, from Page A35] said that the cause of death appeared to be blunt force trauma and that there was “strong evidence” that Lily was killed by 5 p.m. Friday. He declined to disclose more details. Drooz and her husband, Gregory Burk, 59, said their daughter left home about 2:30 p.m. Friday to pick up exams for her mother, an attorney and an adjunct professor at Southwestern University School of Law on Wilshire Boulevard, near downtown. Lily picked up the papers and, more than an hour later, made separate calls to each of her parents, asking them how to get cash using her credit card at an ATM, police said. Lily seemed in a rush, her father said, but not frightened. She said she needed the money to buy shoes. Her parents said they told her to come home. When she had not returned by 5 p.m., her parents became worried. “I called the police when I got home from work and she wasn’t there. It took them forever to come,” Drooz said. “I called about 5 or 6 p.m. They didn’t get here until after 8,” Drooz said. “They said she might have run away. I said, ‘This is a kidnapping.’ They said, ‘We’re going to write it up as a missing person.’ ” The parents were upset, believing that police were handling the case as a missing-person investigation rather than an abduction. The girl’s parents said they told police that they had contacted the cellphone and credit card companies. Their information showed repeated attempts to withdraw money from an ATM using the credit card, they said. Drooz said she told police that their daughter’s cellphone calls were mov-

ing farther east. The parents also were upset that they were not notified that their daughter’s body had been found until hours after police arrived at the crime scene Saturday. “It pains me to contradict a grief-stricken mother,” Diaz said. “But this case was always taken very seriously, and if they are implying that we dismissed it as a runaway, they would be mistaken.” He said police records show that the first call from the parents came in at 7 p.m. Friday and that a night watch detective from the Northeast Station went to the family home about an hour later. The detective remained in contact with the family throughout the night to gather information that he had asked the parents to obtain from Verizon. The parents, Diaz said, could have been under the mistaken impression that it was being treated as a runaway case because the detective requested that they keep contacting the girl’s friends to ask about her possible whereabouts. Detectives worked through the night on the case, he said, searching for her in the Little Tokyo and skid row area. Diaz said that when the Volvo was discovered at 6:15 a.m. Saturday it “almost immediately” was connected to Lily Burk. The detective handling the case was notified and began working with homicide detectives. Diaz said the delay in notification was an unfortunate but unavoidable result of the work detectives had to do at the crime scene before they could contact the parents. Detectives notified the family a few hours after the car was discovered. On Saturday night, the cou-

ple could not keep from crying as they recalled their child. “She’s dead, she’s dead,” Drooz sobbed on the telephone to a caller on the other line. “They found her. . . . She was only 17.” Lily’s SAT scores sat on her bed. She was a National Merit Scholar, which came naturally to her, her mother said. She did not lack for friends. They went to the Coachella Music and Arts Festival together and planned surprise parties for each other. “She was dearly loved by a great group of kids,” her mother said. “It’s going to be hard to watch them grow up.” Lily wanted to be a writer. She would carry around a tiny notebook and pen, constantly pulling them out to write thoughts or draw pictures. She especially enjoyed writing short stories. She wrote a cheeky review for an animated movie for L.A. Weekly — where her father, a journalist, used to work — while she was in middle school. “If your child forces you to go to ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!,’ remember that there’s no law against iPods in movie theaters,” she wrote. The teen had a soft spot for sick birds, which she would take in whenever she found them. With her mother’s help, she would nurse them back to health. “She was a really beautiful young woman, full of energy, just really smart,” said Rick Wartzman, 44, whose daughter was one of Lily’s best friends. “She was the kind of kid who walked into a room and lit it up.” margot.roosevelt@ latimes.com ruben.vives@latimes.com Times staff writers Hector Becerra and Joel Rubin contributed to this report.

BERMAN, Janice J.

ADAMSON, Elsie Elizabeth

Dec. 15, 1921 - July 17, 2009 Beloved wife of Vernon, mother of Michael, both preceding her in death. Beloved sister of Rick Slead. Beloved aunt of Dennis and Dick Adamson, James and Teri Baron, Dan Youngberg and Garrick Youngberg. "Liz," as she was known by all who loved her, was a unique and unpretentious soul. She still worked calling Bingo at the Santa Clara Senior Center. She will be missed by all. Services will be held at Valhalla Memorial Park & Mortuary, 10621 Victory Boulevard, North Hollywood, California 91606. Chapel services at 9 a.m. to be followed by graveside services at 10 a.m., Wednesday, July 29.

AMANO, Masashi R

Beloved husband and father passed away on July 20, 2009. He is survived by his wife Jeffrey, his children Randall Amano and Karen Amano-Tompkins, and many other relatives and friends. Mas worked for 37 years as an aeronautical engineer at Hughes Aircraft Company. In lieu of flowers the family suggests contributions be made to Doctors Without Borders. A memorial service will be held Saturday, August 1, 2009 at 10:30 am at Centenary United Methodist Church, 300 S. Central Avenue in Los Angeles.

ARMADA, Jeremias C.

Armstrong Family, Directors

To place an obituary ad please go online to:

latimes.com/placeobituary

or call Ms. Smith 1-800-528-4637 Ext. 77242

Malinow & Silverman Mortuary

BROCK, Matthew Wolfe

BENJAMIN, Micky

March 15, 1929 - July 8, 2009

Micky Benjamin of Del Mar, California passed peacefully at her home on Wednesday July 8, 2009. She is survived by her sons Warren and Louis Benjamin. Micky spent over 15 years in the Los Angeles area and was well known for her love of family and friends. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Micky was married to Milton Benjamin. The family left New York for Los Angeles, California in 1960 to seek a better life. Upon the passing of her husband in 1972, Micky moved to San Diego as her permanent home. She worked in retail sales in both Del Mar and Solana Beach and was always seen in stores, at community functions or simply around town with her unique style and grace and a kind word for all. Micky is survived by her two sons, daughter in-law Karen Benjamin and Warren’s partner for life Mare Contrare, her favorite nieces Melody Fast and Jeanie Lee and grandchildren Seth, Erika, Danielle, Sophia and Charlie. A memorial service and celebration of her life is scheduled for Wednesday July 29, 2009 from 5-8pm at The Powerhouse Community Center, 1700 Coast Blvd, Del Mar Ca. Memorial donations may be made to Silverado Hospice, 3750 Convoy St, San Diego Ca. 92111. For further information call (305) 394-3469. A remarkable life for a remarkable woman who will be missed.

To place an obituary ad please go online to:

latimes.com/placeobituary or call Ms. Smith 1-800-528-4637 Ext. 77242

Born March 3, 1975, beloved son of Pamela (Bernard) Geller and John Brock (Jennifer Friedman), passed away on July 22, 2009. Matthew is survived by his parents and loving and devoted brothers, Joshua, Aaron (Kristi) and Paul Brock. In lieu of flowers the family requests gifts be sent to Ocean Park Community Center (OPCC), attn: Donna Miller, 1453 16th St., Santa Monica, CA 90404. Services will be private. A Celebration of Matthew's life will take place at a future date. Gates, Kingsley & Gates, Moeller Murphy, Santa Monica (310) 395-9988

COCHRAN, Roger

August 26, 1941 - July 6, 2009

Roger Cochran passed from this life after a lengthy, courageous battle with cancer. He worked for LAUSD where he began his career as a gardener at Taft HS and retired from the district after 40 years of dedicated service as a Maintenance and Operations Director. He spent his retirement traveling, hiking, reading, and spending time with family and friends. Roger was a compassionate, strong, and optimistic man who made friends wherever he went. He will be missed by all who knew him. He is survived by his wife, four children, son-in-law, and three grandchildren.

CONTERNO, Rose Marie

BRYANT, Donald Fay

Born Nov. 21, 1926 in Pasadena, CA to MayBelle and Jesse Fay Bryant. Died July 18, 2009 of OLD AGE at home in Santa Ana, CA. Married 61 years to Joanne Schaffer Bryant, who preceded him in death in 2008. Survived by four children; Kim Bryant-Lisch, Blair Bryant, Stephanie Kimball, and Devin Hand, seven grandchildren, and two greatgrandchildren. Enlisted in the Marine Corps January 1944. Saw action at Okinawa, and the Ryukyu Isalnds during World War II and participated in the occupation of China. Earned an AA Degree in Engineering at Pasadena City College where he played football and met his future wife. He began work as a surveyor for the county of Los Angeles, but spent most of his career in the sales of heavy construction equipment. He enjoyed his retirement traveling extensively with Joanne and restoring a 57 T-bird and 41 Ford Woodie. He was an active participant in the Thunderbird Club of Orange County, Early Ford Club, and the Southern California Woodie Club. He was a great storyteller with a wonderful sense of humor. He will be greatly missed. Memorial Services will be held on August 22nd in Santa Ana. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Heart Association.

October 31, 1909-July 15, 2009 Loving mother of Jackie (Dan) Cathcart and Kathy (Michael) Kearin. She is survived by her sister, Ann Bisetti, six grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren. Her husband Nick predeceased her in 1996. Rose spent many years in the family business - F&M Importing Co. founded by her father Agostino Martinet and uncle Costantino Favero. She lived a long life dedicated to her family. Services will be private. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to The St. James Inn, 2718 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90061.

To place an obituary ad please go online to:

latimes.com/placeobituary

or call Ms. Smith

1-800-528-4637 Ext. 77242

Lily Burk ATM Murder - July 26, 2009  

Lily Burk ATM Murder - July 26, 2009

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