A Riverside attorney and his wife were convicted of engaging in a scheme to extort minority, immigrant-owned businesses. Rogelio Morales and his wife Mireya Arias, both of Riverside, were convicted Monday of extortion, attempted grand theft, burglary and hate-crime allegations.
Between April 2016 to June 2016, Mr. Morales and Ms. Arias entered eleven hair salon and dry cleaning businesses in Riverside County and obtained minimal services from each. Within days, Mr. Morales would deliver court documents to the businesses claiming his client, Ms. Arias, was filing suit for violations of the Gender Tax Act of 1995 and Business and Profession Codes for amounts ranging from $20,000 to $123,000.
The victim business owners, all Hispanic and Asian, would contact Mr. Morales’ law firm listed on the paperwork, or Mr. Morales would call the business offering to settle the case out of court for a smaller sum, usually around $10,000. The lengthy investigation determined Mr. Morales and Ms. Arias would enter these businesses with the clear intent of extortion.
While the criminal investigation continued, the victim businesses hired attorneys. The victims and their advocates believed they were targeted because they were small immigrant owned businesses. One community activist/attorney, Rosa Elena Sahagun, organized a protest at Mr. Morales’ law firm to bring attention to Mr. Morales’ actions.
Shortly thereafter, Sahagun began receiving threatening comments and posts to her professional social media account from social media accounts later linked to Mr. Morales and his law firm, the Law Offices of Rogelio V. Morales.
This caused the Sahagun to seek and obtain a civil harassment restraining order due to the threats of harm he made toward her. Mr. Morales continued making social media posts containing threats of harm and litigation toward Sahagun in violation of the restraining order. He also continued to contact the attorneys representing victim businesses with threats of litigation if the victims do not pay him $10,000, with the most recent made in December 2016.
Morales was also convicted of felony stalking and a dozen misdemeanor contempt-of-court convictions stemming from violating the restraining order against him for harassing attorney Sahagun.
Sentencing has been scheduled for January 8.
Press Release Provided By the Riverside Police Department