Where in just one story could you find deranged, Nazi-loving gangsters; horny sheriff’s deputies; Dennis Rodman; reality-TV characters; senseless murder; malfunctioning, covert GPS equipment; sexting; government-sponsored heroin use; illegal interrogations; the Mexican Mafia; white supremacists’ interracial baby-making; two-faced confidential-informant criminals; McMansions; destroyed key government records; booby pics; a Motel 6; cops texting one another on duty about “bobbin’ for [dick]”; cover-up-eager prosecutors; and law-enforcement declarations magically transforming corrupt acts into public service deserving of honors, promotions and pay raises?
By now, Weekly readers know the answer: Orange County, a place where a too-often-warped criminal-justice system presently soiled by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Sheriff Sandra Hutchens seems determined to continually spew conscience-shocking scandals.
The tally of botched felony cases stemming from the Orange County jailhouse-informant scandal last week reached 18. That mess began with People v. Scott Dekraai, a slam-dunk death penalty case Rackauckas and Hutchens blew while promising all their ethical blunders were unintentional anomalies. Now, this same Laurel and Hardy crew has screwed up another easy homicide prosecution in People v. Craig Tanber, which is set for trial pending a bombshell defense-dismissal motion for outrageous governmental conduct. A onetime member of Public Enemy Number One (PEN1), a subsidiary of the Aryan Brotherhood, Tanber is accused of the September 2015 murder of Shayan Mazroei, an unarmed, 21-year-old college student who’d been partying inside Patsy’s Irish Pub in Laguna Niguel.
Based on that establishment’s video recordings, eyewitness statements and Tanber’s own words, there’s no mystery who caused Mazroei’s death. Differences in opinion have emerged over the killer’s motivation, with the victim’s family and friends categorizing the murder as a hate crime. Rackauckas rejects that conclusion.
However, as the Weekly revealed on Nov. 20, 2017, the case transformed into a sensational controversy over how Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) deputies captured Tanber, who’d been on the run for several days following the killing. Though they were blocked by the County Counsel’s office and Hutchens from sharing their proof, Tanber’s defense attorneys claimed deputies ordered Adriean Marie Vasquez to lure the suspect to a Motel 6 in Westminster, then knock him out with a needle, spoon and heroin doses.
Here’s where you’ll need a flow chart: Vasquez was not only a paid OCSD informant whose partying pals ranged from Nazi Lowriders to Mexican Mafia associates, but she’s also the mother of Tanber’s child and a convicted felon with a hefty rap sheet loaded with mostly narcotics-related crimes. In 2003, deputies raided the $3 million, gated community mansion she occupied that allegedly served as home for a massive meth-manufacturing operation. Her own mother—who has gone by the names Gina Peterson, Gigi Peterson and Regina Namen—boasts ties to The Real Housewives of Orange County. After her marriage to eventual Real Housewives character George Peterson collapsed, she dated Rodman before filing domestic-violence charges against him.
The parameters of this wild tale exponentially expanded late last week when Tanber public defender Alisha Montoro won a nearly two-year battle to place evidence of OCSD corruption on the public record. It turns out that Vasquez and her mother shared more than DNA. According to newly released documents inspected by the Weekly, they also had romantic desires for the same deputy: Victor Anthony Valdez.
Following Tanber’s capture, OCSD presented Valdez as the event’s primary hero. He’d located the suspect and waited patiently for a safe moment for a SWAT team to storm the hotel room. The deputy included the supposed feat in his glowing performance evaluation and won a promotion.
But the new documents present a muddier history supportive of Montoro’s version of events. The day before Tanber’s arrest, Valdez gave Vasquez, a known heroin addict, hundreds of taxpayer dollars. She drove to a dope pad near Stanton with OCSD in heavy surveillance mode and using GPS trackers. When Vasquez returned to the hotel room, she used a syringe to inject multiple rounds of heroin into Tanber’s arm while maintaining cellphone contact with Valdez.
About six hours later, and with deputies expressing elation for the overtime pay they expected, Vasquez, who was also high, alerted Valdez it was time to enter. Officers knew their target was stoned out of his mind, but they still conducted an interrogation without giving the suspect a Miranda warning while transporting him to the Orange County Jail; a second interview with him after his arrival in lockup included rambling, incriminating statements. Rackauckas’ office demanded the tainted interviews be introduced at a future trial but backed off once news of the heroin trick reached the public defender’s office.
In Montoro’s view, OCSD attempted to mask Valdez’s mastermind role in the drug scheme by fabricating a seemingly plausible explanation for how the narcotics landed with Tanber. Deputies claimed their GPS trackers must have malfunctioned and officially memorialized a laughably implausible whopper. They said they observed their unarmed suspect leaving the hotel room, walking downstairs to the parking lot and taking something that must have been drugs from a man sitting in a vehicle.
In her September 2017 brief the sheriff’s lawyers didn’t want reporters to see, Montoro ridiculed OCSD’s “shoddy” diversion tactics. She asked a series of questions: If the deputies’ story were true, why hadn’t they arrested Tanber when they had him surrounded? Who was the person in the vehicle? What was the make, model and license plate? Why hadn’t they detained this mystery person for questioning? Why had they later ordered Vasquez, who was paid more than $2,000 by the department for the case, back into the room if she didn’t need to deliver the heroin?
Given she knows the snitch exchanged risqué messages and photos with Valdez’s work cellphone, Montoro also believes the two shared an inappropriate sexual relationship. The deputy permanently erased his phone’s contents after discovering the defense wanted to inspect it. On the advice of his police union lawyer, he also refused to answer “any questions about his relationship with Vasquez or drugging Tanber,” according to court records.
Neither move alarmed Rackauckas or Hutchens. Incredibly, the sheriff appointed Valdez’s own unit colleagues to investigate for any improprieties. Tape recordings of their interviews show these deputies giggling before vouching for his conduct.
But Montoro’s not laughing. She believes the deputy lied under oath, then invoked his right to remain silent and followed up by destroying phone evidence of his complicity, as well as violated department policy by meeting privately with Vasquez when she was being pressed to explain their relationship. To this public defender, the entire affair is “repugnant to our criminal justice system.”
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; earned six dozen other reporting awards; and been hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.