OC Mass-Murder-Case Victim Helped Todd Spitzer Become DA, Now Feels Betrayed

Paul Wilson: Why can’t we have an honest criminal justice system? (Photo by Bryan Sheehy / OC Weekly)

During Orange County’s infamous jailhouse-informant scandal, Todd Spitzer—a county supervisor eyeing the top prosecutor job—occasionally visited the courthouse when District Attorney Tony Rackauckas held press conferences. A natty, decades-younger Spitzer would stand behind the gaggle of print, radio and television reporters and watch an aging Rackauckas mumble semi-coherent answers or outright lies to questions. The supervisor’s presence unnerved the DA, who couldn’t compete with him rhetorically. Instead, he shot dead-eye expressions at his lurking, fellow Republican nemesis.

At one of these events in 2015, Bethany Webb, who’d lost her sister Laura in Orange County’s worse mass shooting, displayed disgust that Rackauckas defended once-secret law-enforcement corruption in hopes of securing the death penalty for the shooter. Those tainted government actions, which we’ve previously outlined, stalled the case for years and only prolonged trauma for Webb and other victims who wanted their criminal-justice-system nightmare over. But she was also not happy with Spitzer’s appearance.

“What is he doing here?” Webb asked Paul Wilson in what sounded more like a statement than a question. Wilson, who’d lost his wife Christy in the same 2011 mass killing, smiled awkwardly and shrugged his shoulders. At the time, he and Spitzer, who had spent years promoting himself as one of California’s leading victims’-rights advocates, were in the midst of forming a bond. He believed Spitzer sincerely felt Rackauckas had botched the case, though others disagreed.

“Most of the families [of the victims] hated Todd,” Wilson recently recalled. “They thought he was only around for the politics and said he was a bozo. I genuinely liked the guy. I thought if I helped put him in place at the DA’s office, he would right the wrongs.”

But the relationship has unraveled in anger for Wilson and frustration for Spitzer. There’s no mystery about the timing: It was in the wake of Spitzer’s impressive underdog November victory over Rackauckas, who’d been in office for two decades. Or the cause of their friction: Lingering issues from the government’s informant cheating as well as Wilson’s view he was used, then backstabbed by the incoming DA.

“He just became a different guy after he won,” said Wilson.

The rift underscores how swiftly relationships change in politics. Until the election, Wilson was a significant face and voice of Spitzer’s campaign. The two often chatted on the phone and attended events together. The challenger even convinced Wilson to use his weighty status in the victims’-rights community to do an anti-Rackauckas television commercial months before the election. Then, on the eve of the contest, Spitzer asked him to record a mass-produced robo-call ad.

“My name is Paul Wilson, and my wife and seven others were murdered in cold blood at the Seal Beach salon massacre here in Orange County,” Wilson read from a script written by the campaign. “The current DA, Tony Rackauckas, told me to my face that he would have my back during the trial. Instead, he cheated on the case and got caught. The judge kicked him off the case. Rackauckas betrayed us, and he is a complete failure in every regard. Crime is off the charts. We are not safe. We must elect Todd Spitzer as our new and vibrant DA. Todd Spitzer is a tireless victims’-rights advocate and has handled thousands of criminal cases as a veteran prosecutor. . . . Join me in fighting to restore justice in Orange County. I’m urging you to vote for Todd Spitzer on Nov. 6.”

At an election-night rally, Spitzer invited Wilson onto the stage. “He’s been through so much,” Wilson remembered Spitzer saying.

Within weeks of the election, however, Spitzer made a series of moves that alarmed his buddy. He kept longtime Rackauckas loyalist Ebrahim Baytieh—an accomplished homicide prosecutor but a Machiavellian bureaucrat who helped run taxpayer-funded publicity downplaying informant-scandal cheating—in a top management position.

“I know the protection that guy gave Tony,” Wilson explained. “Baytieh stood side by side with him. He delivered a more articulate version of Susan Kang Schroeder’s usual nonsense media spin. Keeping him in the new administration was a bad choice.”

(Schroeder served as Rackauckas’ reality-adverse, hot-headed media flack.)

Tensions grew worse when word leaked that Spitzer was also protecting Dan Wagner, who’d worked as the lead prosecutor of Scott Dekraai, the killer in the salon massacre. For several years, Wilson believed every word out of Wagner’s mouth, especially that he cared about the victims’ families. But over time, he became convinced the prosecutor was remorseless about his role in the informant scandal. Wagner had even self-demoted as head of the homicide unit into a lower-ranking post with greater civil-service protections from firing if Rackauckas lost. Spitzer then surprised everybody by promoting Wagner to run DA operations at North Court in Fullerton.

“There’s a major guy in the snitch scandal, and he’s able to teach all of his bad habits to the young people in the office,” Wilson said. “Wagner lied to us. He caused me and the families pain and suffering. Him getting promoted by Todd was a slap in the face. Remember, he told me that Wagner and the other DAs involved in the scandal were guilty and that it wouldn’t have happened under his watch.”

A chronic court watcher nowadays as he works to expose dirty law-enforcement officials, Wilson believes Spitzer is continuing Rackauckas’ efforts to block public accountability for the snitch controversy. On numerous occasions since the new DA’s swearing-in ceremony, Wilson has witnessed deputy DAs pretend the scandal (which wrecked at least 20 felony cases) didn’t happen. He’s also watched them work to keep embarrassing records secret from defense lawyers such as Scott Sanders, the assistant public defender who revealed the systemic snitch-related cheating after intensive investigations.

Unwilling to ignore what he sees as flip-flops, Wilson confronted Spitzer in text messages and phone calls. Emotional sentiments flew back and forth. He says the DA dismissed Rackauckas’ snitch-scandal woes, and thus him, as a reason for his victory. “It got pretty bad,” Wilson said. “I’m just blown away that he could so quickly turn on me. He told me that I needed to be more trusting of him now that he’s in the politics game.”

Those conversations heightened distrust. “There are more important things than politics, like making sure we have an honest criminal-justice system,” Wilson said.

For his part, the DA feels saddened by the feud, believes he is truly an agent for reform, and says he’s blocked from fully airing his side.

“I’ve spoken to Paul directly, but I’m not in a position to talk about anything at this time while I’m in the middle of the Department of Justice [DOJ] inquiry [into informant-scandal cheating],” Spitzer said. “So, you’re just going to have to print whatever you have to print with a clear understanding that while this is pending, I’m not able to say anything.”

In February, Spitzer—a former state assemblyman, school-board member and reserve Los Angeles cop—was willing to talk extensively with the Orange County Register where he complained about the DOJ probe. He said it was too time-consuming for his rookie administration, wanted federal officials to stop demanding access to records, and called on them to quickly issue findings before moving on elsewhere. That announcement caused Wilson to chuckle.

“He just doesn’t want to give up any more documents because it’s going to hurt,” he said. “The funny thing is I still think Todd is better than Rackauckas. But I’m not fooling myself. It’s business as usual inside that DA’s office. There’s no real sign of change. I thought this guy was a friend, and now I feel manipulated.”

On March 25, fate put Spitzer, his armed security entourage and Wilson in the same cramped Santa Ana courthouse elevator. The DA shook Wilson’s hand, hugged him and tried small talk. But this victim—a life-long law-enforcement champion before seeing criminal-justice-system warts up close—wasn’t in the mood for pleasantries. And he still has the same question: How can Spitzer employ prosecutorial scoundrels while declaring his agency cleansed?

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; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.

18 Replies to “OC Mass-Murder-Case Victim Helped Todd Spitzer Become DA, Now Feels Betrayed”

  1. Paul…. Keep the fight for the good and decent people of OC. This story is not surprising, but is upsetting. I feel for you Paul and the family members of all the victims that have to continue to endure the injustice.

  2. Todd Spitzer’s record of harassing individuals and sticking the taxpayers with the bill to cover up his actions and settle claims makes him an untrustworthy choice for District Attorney. Our new DA just put a guy who is currently being tried in Riverside for battery, allegedly against a minor, in charge of the Juvenile Justice Center. This means that we now have a Deputy District Attorney on probation for battery against a minor, overseeing the kids in the juvie system. Todd Spitzer sure is off to a great start

  3. Many folks have a short memory and forget Spitzer had been employed by & part of T-Rack’s “DIRTY CREW” two separate times in his “career” (prior to becoming the OCDA.)

    Many of the people Spitzer used to work with are still there at the DA’s Office. Can you imagine the history??

    Spitzer was around to, at the very least, witness T-Rack’s “win at all costs” game show. Witness manipulation, witness perjury-but looking the other way. Yep, saw it in action. Deputy DA’s & DA Investigators-Dirty As Fuck! All about the win & getting that promotion!

    Mr. Wilson, as another poster said, keep up the good fight! You don’t need Spitzer or any of those other idiots to continue your outstanding work!

    Between the DA’s office, OCFA, and the Sheriff’s Department, Orange County has become a gigantic, smelly embarrassment.

  4. No matter how you view this issue the whole system in this county is dirty and corrupted and this comes from being caught up in it. I have been unfortunate to be one of the persons that has been in the system and subjected to the actual corruption and wrongful ways of this system. Dont get it confused i do have respect for the law but when it comes to being in the grip of this county’s law system its all about the money and in regard to being RIGHT & FAIR FORGET ABOUT IT… I wish someone would step up and show the people who pay these peoples salarys(the tax payers) exactly what these DA’S,COPS,JUDGES,&Some Attorneys. Are really doing in OC’s (so calledl) justus system…

  5. The State Bar is obviously covering up for all the dirty DAs in Orange County. Why is that? They should all be disbarred.

    1. You’re absolutely right. It’s not just the DA’s office. The head of the State Bar and handfuls of OC estate/trust/will attorneys are all part of a mass mob. “The Making of America” industry and finance. Insurance fraud, probate, draining assets. If you or someone you love has an attorney that graduated from Western State Law – beware of the con.

  6. Dan Wagner is one the most honest men I know. This story is full of rehashed lies. If you want the truth check with the sources, not yellow journalists who want to sell papers and power hungry defense attorneys who will do anything to “win,” including causing more hurt and pain for the victims of this horrific murder. Tragically, twisting the truth sells papers. The press has a lot to answer for in this case, and so does the defense attorney.

  7. Where was Spitzer when that former Chairperson of the Orange County GOP, former Judge, former Chief Probation Officer and finally former Director of Health. She and all her Friends Smoked so much Marijuana at her residence in the City of Anaheim that her neighbors would call our Probation Records Unit complaining about all the Marijuana fumes floating over to their houses. She used all her positions of POWER to Hire and Promote her numerous Drug Abusing Lesbian Friends to positions that should of gone to more qualified applicants. Then there was that Asst. Chief Probation Officer who Smoked so much Marijuana while on duty that my co-workers gave her the AKA/Marijuana Nancy, she had her very own Gang of Drug Dealers, most of them Deputy Probation Officers. There were times that our Cafeteria was FULL of Local Law Enforcement Officers and the STENCH of the Marijuana was overpowering and NO ONE did a thing about. One day I was in the elevator with 2 Police Officers and the Marijuana was pouring out of the air vent, I looked at both of them and NOTHING was said or done about it. Someone needs to question Spitzer about this, just because you have direct contact with the Nixon and Reagan White House, doesn’t mean that you can send criminals to Prison or Jail for what you were doing. You know what the GOP says “Never say anything bad about another member of the GOP, NO MATTER WHAT.

  8. The truth is there, if only the media would fairly examine all sides . These prosecutors are honorable men. Politicians wanting to advance their careers and the press, in an effort to sell more papers and push their own agenda, made every effort to find dirt on the Orange County D.A. The Grand Jury found no evidence of corruption with the DeKraai case, but sadly salacious rumors sell newspapers and the media was only too willing to stir the pot. Why would the media or politicians want to ruin innocent people’s lives? Was it to sell newspapers or to advance political careers? I have a degree in journalism. We were taught to get three different sources, hopefully with opposing views and we were expected to write without bias, to give fair coverage for all…but I guess that doesn’t happen anymore. Shame on you!

    1. Hey, Ruth…so corruption is ok even if someone is not formally convicted for it? Got it.

      Moxley reports the facts. If that bothers you then move to Russia you heartless cunt!

  9. Hello Ruth…..Congrats on your journalism degree, I hope you are using it well. Please let us all know where we can read your reporting, I’m sure many would be interested.

    As far as the OC grand jury(which was lead by a T-RACK supporter and retail sales clerk) I’m sure they know much more than the APPELLATE COURT which held up a very honarable judges decision and findings that there was “systematic corruption” within the OCDA/ OCSD. I think you may need to use your ” journalism” degree little more effectively before you speak.

    I can tell you an answer to all of the above….. I LIVED EVERY MOMENT OF IT!!!!


  10. Todd Spitzer is only concerned about one critical issue – his previous employment as a Prosecutor using Illegally gathered Informant information to win cases.

  11. Dear Jessica, I didn’t know you were there in the prosecutor’s office seeing everything unfold or that you were in the defense attorney’s office seeing him scramble as his client had already admitted he killed eight people in the beauty salon that day. The defense attorney did the only thing a “must-win-at-all-costs-attorney” could do. He attacked the prosecutors to save his reputation as a rising star combatting injustice. Except he could not, so he made things up. The press was all too willing to be complicit. Good people-innocent people have had their lives and reputations smeared. But heck, it sells papers, and who cares about the truth? Well, I do.

    1. Hey Ruth,
      No, you care about covering someone’s behind! You’ve clearly had too much of the “law enforcement can do no wrong” kool-aide.
      And don’t you dare act like I don’t care Dekraai MURDERED eight people. But he was caught red-handed and the DA STILL had to cheat? Besides, you act as if this particular case happened in a vacuum…as if OC law enforcement was clean as a whistle up to that point! But, heck, don’t let the truth get in YOUR way.

  12. Todd Spitzer continues to coverup other illegal cases conducted by Tony Rackauckas and Local Law Enforcement. I imagine that evidence is around. I’m sure if someone looks, they could find this evidence – maybe security videos? 😉

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