After historic recusal over ethical lapses in a case that garnered embarrassing national attention in 2015, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas stood in front of me wearing an outwardly emotionless face. I’d written a series of news articles over the previous year that chronicled rampant corruption in People v. Scott Dekraai. Judges, court observers, journalists, virtuous cops and prosecutors—even Dekraai’s victims—could not believe law-enforcement officials felt the need to cheat in a slam-dunk death-penalty case. After all, Orange County’s suburban-loaded juries rarely hesitate to support capital punishment, and this 2011 shooting committed inside a Seal Beach salon was the worst mass killing in local history.
For four decades, Rackauckas reigned victorious inside our courthouses. He began working as a prosecutor in the early 1970s, won a reputation as a hotshot homicide prosecutor by the 1980s, was appointed as a judge in the 1990s, and finished that decade by winning an incumbent-free election for DA in a locale with a population larger than 20 U.S. states. But at the twilight of his career, Rackauckas quietly seethed in the aftermath of his Dekraai recusal. I could see his jaw clench as he pondered what to say. No top prosecutor in California history had ever before been booted from a death-penalty case for a refusal to act honorably.
Along with Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ deputies, he and a warped clique of his staff had been caught trampling basic rules of fairness designed to ensure the integrity of the criminal-justice system. Evidence of the intentional transgressions alarmed the California Court of Appeal and then-Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals, a former prosecutor. Under the watch of Hutchens and Rackauckas, law-enforcement officials for years ran unconstitutional capers against pretrial inmates, hid or destroyed exculpatory evidence and committed perjury to mask their deeds. Nonetheless, in March 2015, the DA hoped the public would see his office’s conduct as a series of unintentional mistakes.
Just two months earlier, with protesters locked outside by armed guards, Rackauckas gave a speech in the Hall of Administration in Santa Ana to accept a fifth, four-year term. He told the audience that he was “privileged and humbled” to remain in the job to “do justice for the People.” The DA couldn’t resist taking a shot at reporters for spreading “lies” about him. In rambling, disjointed remarks, he also said, “As a prosecutor, we must do the right things, especially when no one is looking. We make the tough calls and sometimes make unpopular decisions—and must even look out for the rights of the guilty. . . . The district attorney’s office vows to go forward and reach for the stars. . . . Hope to see you in four years [to accept a sixth term].”
There’s no doubt Rackauckas expected his wish would be fulfilled, even though he’d be in his 80s during a craved 2019-2023 term. In previous contests, the DA either crushed opponents or faced no opposition. He’d enjoyed the benefit of an odd confluence. Both Republican and Democratic millionaire heavyweights saw him as their useful tool.
But June’s open primary election delivered distressing news to establishment players and the incumbent. More than 61 percent of voters wanted a new DA. Adding pressure, Supervisor Todd Spitzer, his top challenger in November’s run-off election, was substantially younger, better funded, and more articulate and energetic. Rackauckas possessed one major trait he could exploit: a win-at-all-cost mentality.
Dr. Grant Robicheaux, a Newport Beach surgeon, and his girlfriend, Cerissa Riley, never could have anticipated they would become pawns in the DA’s ploy to keep power. Both intelligent, attractive and nonviolent, Robicheaux—who once appeared on a Bravo dating show—and Riley were hard workers, but they also led an active, happy existence on the bass-thumping Southern California party circuit. There was plenty of sex, booze and such recreational drugs as marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy. Three-way bedroom encounters were not uncommon with fellow female partygoers, experiences Robicheaux openly filmed.
In the weeks before the run-off election, Rackauckas substantially trailed Spitzer by as many as seven or eight points in behind-the-scenes polling. His taxpayer-funded public-relations office issued a daily avalanche of press releases and media advisories selling the DA as a tough crime fighter. They arranged an Angel Stadium concert with Nick Jonas. They aired a dishonest cable-TV commercial implying they’d dug up Spitzer’s personal medical history and found evidence he was loco. But the polling didn’t improve, perhaps because the challenger’s ad accurately nailed Rackauckas as corrupt. The DA needed a big, sensational new case to bolster his campaign about 58 days before the election.
Two women—who’d freely partied with Robicheaux and Riley—separately told the Newport Beach Police Department in 2016 that the couple might have drugged them with sleep-inducing, illegal substances and committed rape while they were unconscious. A toxicology report on Jane Doe No. 1 at the time didn’t support her suspicions. Jane Doe No. 2 initially told police she’d awakened in the couple’s home because people had been punching and kicking her in the face. Doe No. 2’s best friend was present that night in the same house, but she saw no beating or rape and said the accuser had a history of post-traumatic stress disorder. Summoned police observed no injuries.
On Sept. 17—50 days before the election—Susan Kang Schroeder, Rackauckas’ media flack, alerted the local, state, national and international media with a teaser. The DA had elected to charge the 38-year-old doctor and his 31-year-old girlfriend based on the claims of Jane Doe Nos. 1 and 2 and the results of a January search of the couple’s home. To guarantee the presence of a horde of reporters, Schroeder declared in bold-face type, “Please note: No additional information or interviews will be available prior to the news conference.”
The following day, a breathless Rackauckas took the podium to make what he called “an important announcement.” To a hushed DA headquarters conference room loaded with the likes of a Good Morning America producer, Rackauckas claimed the defendants went to bars where Riley garnered the trust of unsuspecting woman, tricked their targets into intoxication, lured them home, plied them with knockout drugs, and then filmed themselves sexually assaulting their “unconscious or near-unconscious” victims. According to the DA, the raid on the doctor’s home found more than 1,000 videos documenting the rapes.
That story rapidly traveled around the globe and gave Rackauckas’ cash-starved re-election campaign easily $1 million in free media. “OC surgeon, woman accused of rape; may have preyed on up to 1,000 women,” an ABC News headline read. “U.S. surgeon and girlfriend suspected of multiple drug rapes,” the BBC in London declared. The South China Morning Post reported, “How California celebrity surgeon Grant Robicheaux went from reality-TV star to accused serial rapist.”
But there’s a huge problem with those reports, as well as for Rackauckas: There’s no credible evidence even now—more than a month after the arrests—that a single rape occurred. I’ll offer an alternative version of events: Unlike the sinister tones the DA places on the defendants’ trips to bars, they—like thousands of other people every night in OC—went to socialize with friends and new acquaintances. By their own choice, women visited the couple’s home and freely consumed booze and narcotics. They also willingly engaged in sex with the doctor and his girlfriend.
How can I make a statement so at odds with Rackauckas’ pre-election tale?
The Weekly has learned that investigators grabbed about 70,902 videos from the couple during the raid. Most of them recorded vacations, concerts and routine events. There are numerous sex videos involving clearly awake ex-girlfriends, none of whom have claimed rape. Fewer than 20 show group sex, which the DA must know is not a crime. Not one of those recordings shows anyone being raped while conscious or not.
In fact, the videos memorialize a long list of beautiful, fit, twentysomething women who found the doctor irresistibly attractive and sexually desirable. Women Rackauckas had labeled as unconscious are seen riding on top of a prone Robicheaux in bed, moaning and making statements such as “Oh, my God!” and “Ohhhh!” and “Oh, yeah!” The footage also shows all of the women engaging in one or more of the following acts: asking the doctor how he likes oral copulation performed, giggling, kissing him, walking, undressing him, dancing, fondling their own breasts, outright laughing, holding their legs up for intercourse, smiling, caressing him, joyously jawing into his camera, taking their own clothes off, making out with other females, and positioning themselves on all fours. One woman is seen wearing a birth-control patch on her ass as she walks around his bedroom. On a separate occasion, another wide-awake woman asks Riley for permission to perform oral sex on Robicheaux before their three-way encounter.
With those details hidden from the public and not content with his first round of accusations, the DA summoned reporters again three days later by adding kidnapping charges and requesting a bail increase to $3 million for each defendant. Robicheaux and Riley were an imminent threat to the community, he suggested.
But Rackauckas’ gamble to win election on a trumped-up case failed on Nov. 6, when voters finally rejected his candidacy. As it turned out, the race wasn’t a nail-biter. Rackauckas lost by more than 59,075 votes. And he didn’t graciously concede.
Not surprisingly, Spitzer was the first person to become suspicious of the Robicheaux/Riley mess. He’s been chronicling his nemesis’ mismanagement and offenses for years. After an early-January swearing-in ceremony, the supervisor will take control of the DA’s office. We can only hope he ushers in a new, cleansing era. He promised during a post-election chat that he won’t run a “dirty” operation.
That interview prompted thoughts back to Rackauckas standing in front of me after he’d been recused from Dekraai three years ago. When his stare ended and his clenched jaw relaxed, the DA broke into a disingenuous smile, the precursor to a smart-ass, rhetorical question. How should he proceed? I told him to clean up his act and fire the cheaters on his staff. He snorted and walked away.
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; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.