La Jolla Crime and Public Safety News for Feb. 12

Alleged consignment scams operators face numerous felony charges

Bird Rock piano store owner facing 14 felonies vacates space

Bird Rock-based Schroeder Piano Company vacated its space at 5680 La Jolla Blvd. Thursday, Feb. 5 after the remainder of its lease was bought out by a Bird Rock-based home-builder.

Last fall, the San Diego County District Attorney’s office charged Schroeder Piano Company owner Pete Schroeder with 14 felonies, including fraud, grand theft and elder abuse (the latter charge levied because many of his alleged victims were at least 65 years old).

Schroeder’s victims allege they placed pianos on consignment with him and never received full payment or the return of their instruments. (Read more in a La Jolla Light story at

Home builder Mark Scialdone, co-founder of El Cartel Tequila and a Bird Rock resident of 10 years, said he drove by the closed shop filled with languishing pianos and saw its potential. Scialdone spoke with the landlord and struck a deal to take over the 2,000-square-foot space.

“The landlord said if you can get him out, I’ll give you a new lease,” Scialdone said. “I just saw an opportunity to better the neighborhood. I want to get something cool in there, whether I do it myself or get some cool tenants … something that’s fun and sustainable and benefits the neighborhood … from a yoga studio to a sidewalk café.”

Scialdone said he intends to use a portion of the space as his office and rent out the remaining 1,350 square-feet. He said Schroeder is in possession of any pianos that were left in the shop last week.

Schroeder has pleaded not-guilty to the charges against him. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Feb. 25 in San Diego Superior Court, 220 W. Broadway in downtown San Diego.

La Jolla jeweler could get 20 years in prison for alleged crimes

The subject of a 2014 La Jolla Light investigation into consignment scams, Karl Winchell of Winchell Jewelry Designs, is headed to trial on numerous felony charges, including grand theft of personal property, fraudulent appropriation of property and 10 counts of theft from an elder or dependent adult.

For nearly three decades, Winchell operated a shop at 1123 Wall St., which closed last summer, just months after customers’ allegations of jewelry and monetary theft surfaced in the Light, eventually leading to a San Diego Police investigation.

During a preliminary examination in San Diego Superior Court Jan. 28, Judge Lorna Alksne determined there was enough evidence to bring Winchell to trial. According to Cari Philpott, a deputy district attorney in the economic crimes division of the San Diego County District Attorney’s office, there are 69 counts against Winchell (including 56 felonies) representing 34 alleged victims who say they left jewelry with Winchell to either be sold at consignment, repaired or repurposed.

An arraignment on the information is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. March 2 in Department 11 of San Diego Superior Court, at which point a trial date will be set.

“If this does go to trial and he is convicted of all counts, he is facing a maximum sentence of over 20 years in state prison,” Philpott said. “His exposure is quite big due to the amount of victims and charges.”