San Diego Reader
Year-Round Santa Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20120627(San Diego Reader June 27, 2012)

Benito Cristobal is surveying the house he lost last year to a foreclosure defrauder, and he is emotional as he recalls the $30,000 worth of improvements he made to the home. The 51-year-old Mexican-American maintenance man, his son Efrem, a high school senior, silent by his side, steps slowly around what he once possessed, his gestures grand, his voice regretful. He says he got rid of the garden and laid concrete walkways. He covered the ground under the three lemon trees with redwood chips. He bought a new water heater, new windows, gutters. He built a patio with a roof, though he had to remove the roof and saw off the struts once the city discovered the unpermitted structure. He built a low cement-block wall, with a black wrought-iron fence atop, to surround the four 30-foot palms. For seven golden years, this three-bedroom, two-bath, two-car-garage abode was his and his family’s — at least on paper.

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Tased and Subdued, Throttled and Killed Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20120222(San Diego Reader February 22, 2012)

It was March 2009 when the British-born siblings Gillian Ison and John Graham Watson met at Zermatt, a resort in the shadow of Switzerland’s Matterhorn. There, with family members, they indulged a passion for skiing: Watson, an alpine expert, loved running the fall line, the steepest and fastest route down the slope. A traveler, an adventurer, the 64-year-old relished high-performance sports as much as he did his career with pharmaceutical and biotech firms. Balancing business and play had made his life storybook-successful. The self-made Watson had just retired, a multimillionaire.

The odd thing his sister Gillian Ison recalled about the trip to Zermatt was her brother’s “friend.” The man, a financial planner named Kent Thomas Keigwin, showed up with his daughter Parisa, surprising John. It was true the two had met in San Diego. And, according to Keigwin, Watson had invited him skiing. No, he hadn’t, Watson told his sister. Keigwin had invited himself. “He was,” she remembered, “nothing like he made himself out to be.”

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Debt. Arson. Murder. Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20111005(San Diego Reader October 5, 2011)

John Nesheiwat was parked in his car, a rosary on the seat beside him, about a mile from the North Woodson Drive rental home owned by James Kurtenbach, a 4000-square-foot luxury house in one of the few but posh golf-course communities next to Ramona. Minutes before, John had dropped off his younger brother Joe — an amiable 24-year-old, with short-cropped hair and an Arabic tattoo on his arm, who was about to do a big favor for Kurtenbach.

Forty-seven-year-old Kurtenbach was Joe’s employer at Stars Petroleum, a flagship gas station in town. Jim Kurtenbach and Joe thought of each other as father and son: Jim had given Joe a job at Stars eight years previously, lots of responsibility, and eventually the night manager’s post. He also supported Joe and John’s mother, Terry Sellers, and the rest of family, four brothers and a sister, with gifts and loans. You might say Joe owed him.

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Is He a Citizen? Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

is_he_a_citizen(San Diego Reader September 21, 2011)

On Sixth Avenue, across the street from the block-long Family Court building, stands a row of converted single-family Victorian homes, their yards parking lots, their windows barred. Today those residencies are family-mediation agencies and immigration law offices. In the lawyers’ waiting rooms, one finds a new class of clients: illegal immigrants, most from Mexico, who’ve been in San Diego for years and whose chances of gaining citizenship are getting as slim as winning the lottery. They’re seeking attorneys’ aid, frightened by the anti-immigration movement in American politics, and especially the d word: deportation.

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Outside on the Night Shift Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20110802(San Diego Reader August 2, 2011)

“Basically,” says Aaron Meleen, a deputy sheriff traffic investigator working the night shift in Poway, “we don’t have much going on right now.” It’s a Monday evening, the onset of his 12½-hour shift, and we’re strapped in his shock-worn Crown Vic, bouncing out of the station onto Civic Center Drive. The cruiser’s front compartment is a mélange of computer screen, keyboard, gun rack, intercom, dash-mounted radar scope, and handheld devices such as a cell phone and a clip-on video camera. Meleen, 27, sports a slicked-back hairstyle, short sidewalls with pronounced sideburns — a bit Guido, a bit Presley. Perhaps it’s the holstered gun or his cockpit of electronic gear that makes him seem unruffled. What will surprise me is just how fast he can Jekyll-and-Hyde that peace officer’s calm to an arresting tough.

Soon the radio dispatcher’s got his ear. The car’s GPS screen blips a code, brackets an address: fellow deputy Darrin Smith and his partner are at a “family disturbance,” two minutes away. Before Meleen can explain his night’s tasks, mostly stopping drivers for vehicle violations, we’re on our way, the Crown Vic responding with giddy-up enthusiasm. Pulling into an apartment complex, he says, “You’re welcome to come along but hang back a little. If you see any guns, let me know. It’s always nice to have an extra pair of eyes.”

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Hog Wild Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20100804(San Diego Reader August 4, 2010)

The only sign of life in Julian at 5:00 a.m. this April morning are men in white paper toques rolling out pie dough at the bright-lighted Julian Bakery. It’s a deep black morning when I meet Marc, a hunter who’s agreed to lead me by starlight to a semisecret spot, down several ravines in the Cleveland National Forest. There we’ll track and surprise and he’ll shoot, if he’s lucky, San Diego’s newest and most elusive game animal, the Russian boar.

Five miles southwest of town, driving into the headlighted darkness, we stop at an access point, a chain barring our entrance. Marc leaves his Dodge Durango running, and we talk in the red glow of his taillights. Of the few admonitions he offers up — the 40-year-old French-Canadian and 9-year Julian resident prefers I not use his last name — is this: “If you don’t mind, don’t say where we are. If we get a pig today, tomorrow there’ll be 50 people from PETA and 200 hunters converging on this spot.” Though I can’t see the playful tease in his eyes, I get the seriousness in his voice — some things are worth keeping secret. Especially to hard-core hunters.

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Till Death Do Us Part. It's the Only Way We Will. The Murder-Suicide of Ginger Wolbers & Frank Bass Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20100602(San Diego Reader June 2, 2010)

When Ginger Bass filed for divorce from her husband Frank in November 2007, she hoped he would not contest the dissolution. She offered to buy out his interest in their Lakeside home so both could move on. For months, Frank stayed in their home. It ­wasn’t until the following April that he left and roomed with a buddy, who, after three days, asked him to go. Frank moved into a cheap motel, but he said it was “killing” him. Soon he was back, pleading with Ginger not to divorce him. He broke down and cried like a baby. He said ­he’d change. He said he was depressed and ­couldn’t live without her. He told her he wanted to return to their first love, trapshooting, which had brought them into marriage eight years before. And he said he was sorry about the other women. He promised that phase was ­over.

But if there was one thing that stuck in ­Ginger’s craw, it was the women. She was so embarrassed by his cheating — and his roughing her up when she complained about it — that very few friends or family members knew. Into the first several months of 2008, while their divorce proceeded, Frank was still in the Lakeside house, forcing her to have sex with him and believing this would win her back. As often as he got his way, Ginger got hers, which was to fight him off and flee the ­house.

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