Thursday, January 4, 2007
chief in Ashland
By SUE WATSON
One of California’s highly recognized crime fighters has moved to Holly Springs and taken the reins of the Ashland Police Department.
Chief Marcel Jojola and his wife Joy, who spent their entire lives in California until September, have decided to retire in Holly Springs, after unusual circumstances introduced them to the area.
The circumstances included a visit celebrating the birth of a grandson in Jackson, Tenn., and a case of identity theft in Bear Valley, California, where he served the remainder of a 14-year stint as police chief.
Jojola said while in Jackson he decided to drive to Tunica to look over surveillance tapes of a check that was cashed there on an account of a victim in Bear Valley.
He arrived in Tunica on day 31 and learned that the casino keeps tapes only 30 days.
“So I was going to Booneville where another check was cashed and drove over Highway 4 to Holly Springs and looked at the town, gassed up at Ashland, drove through Ripley and arrived at Booneville,” he said. “Luckily enough, they had the crook on tape.”
Jojola and a Booneville detective drove to Selmer, Tenn., to pick up the suspect who they learned was a “local Selmer crook,” he said.
“The suspect thought he was going to be extradited to California, so he gave up the names of seven Californians on parole in the crime ring - white supremacists - who were part of an identity theft ring operating out of Selmer,” Jojola said.
Not nice guys
The investigation of identity theft widened to include a number of Californians on parole involved in identity theft and drug trafficking from California to Selmer.
The FBI, ATF, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and McNairy County Narcotics Task Force were all involved in the investigation in Tennessee and seven agencies in California worked the investigation there.
“When it was all over we cleared 447 cases of identity theft, three homicides and made seven arrests in Tennessee and seven in California,” Jojola said. “These were not nice people.
“They were bringing methamphetamine from California to Selmer and buying guns with the money to sell to gangs back in California.”
One associate of the identity theft ring in Selmer worked for a bank in California where he had access to the victims’ account information. He sold the identities of numerous victims - up to 49 victims of check and identity fraud were uncovered in Bear Valley. Some of the victims’ identities he sold to the crime ring in Selmer.
The Selmer group used the account information to obtain the birth certificates of the victims, then used the birth certificates to obtain driver’s licenses which contained the victims’ identity information and their own photograph. They created fictitious accounts to forge counterfeit checks with the stolen identity information.
Then falsified driver’s licenses were used to cash the homemade checks or to make purchases with them. The lowest check amount was written for $900, according to a Tennessee investigator who was interviewed by the Independent Appeal.
Jojola said the bank employee was finding out how much money was in the victims’ accounts and then selling the account numbers to the group in Selmer and elsewhere.
One of the ring members in Selmer used the alias “Shotgun,” Jojola said.
Shotgun thought one of his associates was ratting on him, so he pulled all his associates teeth out, shot him in the head, stuffed his body in the trunk of a car and set the car on fire, Jojola said.
Shotgun, at age 37, was a career criminal for most of his life.
To intimidate others he would pull out the bag of teeth and rattle them in the face of his adversaries, the Jojola said.
Choosing a place to retire
The check fraud and identity theft case in Selmer and Bear Valley was under investigation in the fall of 2003 and winter of 2004. Jojola retired from the Bear Valley Police Department in July that year.
Jojola had served as a police chief in five cities in California - beginning in 1972 as chief of police of Rio Dell, California, a small town of 3,500 in Humbolt County in the northern part of the state.
He was 28, one of the youngest police chiefs in the state when he took the job in Rio Dell.
After three years in Rio Dell, Jojola accepted the chief’s position in the city of Calexico, a border town of about 25,000 residents. The town had one of the largest business districts for its size in the United States and adjoined Mexicalli, Mexico, he said. Jojola left after serving three years in Calexico to take a position as police chief in El Centro, near the border, with population of about 35,000. He served there two years, then taught for a while at one of the state colleges.
Huron, a central California town was the next place Jojola was called to serve - a town of 13 bars and three churches.
“It (Huron) is not Benton County, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “It is a combat zone filled with mostly illegal immigrants.”
The chief’s four years in Huron were spent in community policing. The town was so infested with criminal gangs that police officers drove seniors for shopping, delivered their medications from the pharmacies and carried youth to little league games. It was in Huron that Jojola received the Gold Badge from NBC television for community policing which turned the drug and crime problem around in the city. Huron was one of the poorest towns in all California, he said.
“We took them (the children) to games and ran social programs,” he said.
The next 14 years, Jojola served as police chief in Bear Valley, an affluent town in the mountains northwest of Los Angeles covering 48 square miles and consisting of gated communities. The elevation ranged from 4,800 feet to 7,000 feet.
Jojola said he took the jobs before coming to Bear Valley at the request of the State of California.
Recognitions and awards
Other than NBC’s Gold Metal award for community policing in Huron, Jojola has been recognized for service by many other groups.
In May 1972 he was presented the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s award for meritorious service as police sergeant.
In 1985, he was awarded the Gold Badge by the local NBC television station affiliate for providing youth programs and fighting the war on drugs.
In September 1987, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors presented Jojola an award for meritorious service.
In June 1993, Jojola was presented the J. Edgar Hoover Distinguished Public Service Award from the Police Hall of Fame.
In October 2004, the California Legislature recognized Jojola with the Chief Emeritus title at his retirement from the Bear Valley police department. The California Senate at the same time recognized him with a resolution.
Settling on Holly Springs
Jojola said the trip to Tunica to check on a fraudulent check bearing the account number of a widow in Bear Valley was his first introduction to Holly Springs.
Both he and his wife were born in Los Angeles and they lived their entire lives there, working in cities in the far north, central and southern border with Mexico. In 2004 the couple began looking at possible retirement sites in Nevada, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona.
Lojola said in 20 years California has changed dramatically in terms of population. It is a state of immigrants, not the California he once knew.
The new generation of immigrants are not, in the main, assimilating into the culture as U.S. patriots, he said.
“So, my son was living here in Tennessee and we flew to New Orleans and drove through Holly Springs again and decided to settle in Holly Springs,” he said.
The Jojolas researched every retirement community they were interested in and had followed developments in Holly Springs and Marshall County via the Internet for a while before making their move. A call to former Holly Springs Police Chief Robert Burby in Texas City, Texas, drew a favorable recommendation as a good place to live, he said.
Chief Jojola saw an opening for a part-time police officer and sent his resume to the Ashland Police Department. After seeing his resume the city offered him the chief of police job.
Ashland PD operates with five part-time officers and a full-time police chief.
Jojola said he is pleased to join the area’s strong leaders in law enforcement, Marshall County Sheriff Kenny Dickerson and Holly Springs Police Chief Robert Pearson.
“The bottom line, I met Chief Pearson who has excellent credentials,” said Jojola. “He’s my type of cop.
“I’m old school - when you got a crime you go out and take care of it. You don’t let them (cases) sit around (unresolved).”
Joy Jojola, wife of the chief, is equally glad to be living in Mississippi and Holly Springs.
“Last year at Christmas, if you would have told me I’d be spending Christmas in a new house, I wouldn’t have believed it,” she said. “The people here are great. They are wonderful and very kind.”
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