By Peter Lance April 4th, 2016. What follows is the five-part investigative series I wrote in 2014, published in The Santa Barbara News-Press. It prompted an FBI-DOJ investigation that ultimately led to a settlement for the family of crash victim Mallory Rae Dies; a $2.5 million dollar award which they’ve used to set up a foundation dedicated to reducing the number of DUI deaths and injuries throughout Santa Barbara County. But while there was a resolution of the civil wrongful death claim, a number of questions in the criminal investigation remain unanswered, which is why I’ve stayed on the story.
Those questions are particularly troubling because of the parties involved. As it turned out, Raymond Victor Morua III, the driver who killed Mallory — now serving 20 years to life in state prison — was working at the time of the collision for veteran Congresswoman Lois Capps, perhaps the most powerful and influential Member of Congress in California.
Further, the woman at the heart of the scandal, Mrs. Capps’ District Director Mollie Culver, was not only the former political director of the California Democratic Party, she was also one of the 55 Electoral College Delegates who voted for President Obama in 2012. In short: a political power broker.
While the scandal surrounding those unanswered questions may have led to Mrs. Capps’ decision not to seek a 10th term and her daughter Laura Burton Capps’ decision not to succeed her, my investigation uncovered probative evidence of fraud and obstruction by Ms. Culver and other members of Mrs. Capps’ staff — crimes punishable by years in prison — which the Feds seem determined to ignore.
Right now I’m continuing the investigation and working on a book based on my reporting. As a lifelong Liberal who voted for Mrs. Capps six times, I’m approaching the facts, as I have from the beginning, without regard to politics. For me this inquiry has always been an attempt to uncover the truth. I’ve worked it now, off and on, for more than two years and the scandal is unlike anything I’ve encountered in more than three decades as a newsman.
It’s the stuff of Hammet and Chandler: murder, privilege, arrogance, back-door deals and the obstruction of justice at the highest levels of California and Washington — a spider’s web of corruption in one of the most beautiful cities on earth.
THE DUI MANSLAUGHTER HIT-AND-RUN
The accident happened just after midnight on December 6th, 2013 following The Santa Barbara Independent’s annual holiday party which Mr. Morua attended as Mrs. Capps’ District Representative. After consuming at least eight drinks in the previous six hours, he got into his Dodge Caliber and struck Mallory as she crossed Anacapa Street. At that time he was traveling at a speed estimated by police at 60 mph and her body was thrown more than 20 feet from the point of impact.
Then, after eyeing Mallory lying on the street, bleeding from a serious brain injury, Mr. Morua took off, tried to hide and was finally arrested when he crashed his SUV following a high speed chase, during which he was pursued by Devin Ryan Shaw, a heroic civilian driver.
After Mallory’s death, Mr. Morua was charged with a hit-and-run and gross vehicular manslaughter. On April 15th he appeared in court and pled guilty to crimes that will keep him in prison for 17 years
Two days earlier I started publishing my copywritten five-part investigative series “Death On The American Riviera” on this website. At the same time The News-Press began running the initial series in their printed and online editions.
The series contained disturbing evidence that in the days following the manslaughter crash, Ms. Culver forged official VA forms to get Mr. Morua out of jail and into a government-funded LA treatment facility, only to disown him after Mallory was taken off life support.
There was additional evidence that Mary Beth Walker, a lawyer for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Office of General Counsel may have attempted to obstruct justice by asking Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley, a close political ally of Mrs. Capps, to “segregate” what Ms. Walker termed “sensitive official information” from Mr. Morua’s office iPhone 4 seized by police after his arrest.
Some of that information might have been helpful to the family of Ms. Dies who, by then, had served notice through their lawyer of their intent to file a civil suit against Mrs. Capps and the government for wrongful death.
In the course of my research and as each installment of the series was published I made repeated efforts to get Mrs. Capps or her press aide Chris Meagher to comment on my findings, but the only statement they made to The Santa Barbara Independent and FoxNews.com was that the series was “full of inaccuracies.”
On May 1st, Matt Dies, the father of the victim, got more than 1,000 signatures on a petition asking Mrs. Capps, then in her 8th term, to “tell the truth” about the allegations raised in “Death On The American Riviera.” The petition also asked Mrs. Dudley to “call for the appointment of a special prosecutor by the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.”
THE FEDS OPEN A PROBE
On June 12th, The L.A. Times reported that “The U.S. Justice Department is looking into the events surrounding a fatal car accident last year that sent a former California congressional aide to prison, according to a statement from U.S. Rep Lois Capps’ office.
The DOJ’s investigation began after Santa Barbara Dist. Atty. Joyce Dudley sent a five-part series from the Santa Barbara News-Press to the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California in Los Angeles.” While acknowledging the investigation, which was being conducted by the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section in Washington, Mrs. Capps’ office told the Times that Mr. Morua “was attending (a) holiday party of his own volition; he was not asked to attend and had no official role on the congresswoman’s behalf at the event.”
That position is in direct conflict with the evidence uncovered in my investigation and published in Parts Two, Four and Five of the series.
The DOJ repeatedly refused to comment on the probe which commenced on May 27th when Marquest J. Meeks, a Public Integrity prosecutor from Washington interviewed Teresa Montoya, Mr. Morua’s then fiancé. That same night, Special Agents Dieter Willkomm and Marni Barton from The Bureau’s nearby Santa Maria RA, interviewed Mr. Morua in the Santa Barbara County Jail. Several days later they spoke to his mother Rose Saucedo.
In each instance, the interviewees confirmed the findings in the series with respect to Ms. Culver’s attempt to get Mr. Morua out of jail and into a V.A. funded treatment facility following his arrest. That seemed to be the narrow focus of the FBI-DOJ probe at that point, according to Mr. Morua’s attorney.
As recently as August 9th, when Ms. Montoya, who, by then had married Mr. Morua, attempted to get his personal effects from The Santa Barbara Police Department, including his personal iPhone 3, she was told that the items could not be released because the federal probe was ongoing.
CONTINUING TO REPORT THE STORY
On August third, I reported on this site that Ms. Culver, had not only been political director of the California Democratic Party but one of 55 Electoral College Delegates from the state who had voted for President Obama in 2012.
Throughout her ninth congressional campaign Mrs. Capps was dogged by questions about the accident, which she refused to answer “on advice of counsel.” On October 8th at a rally for her GOP opponent Chris Mitchum covered by KEYT-TV protesters called for Ms. Culver’s resignation.
Two weeks later, In a KEYT campaign profile piece , Mrs. Capps dodged another question about Mr. Morua put to her by reporter Tracy Lehr.
That same day, October 22nd, in a piece published in The Santa Barbara Independent entitled “Lois Capps: Does Character Matter?” Matt Dies, the victim’s father wrote:
“…while we are suffering so, Congressmember Capps and her intrepid troupe made a 180-degree turn and shift their focus and deny that Morua was representing her office that fateful night that he drank, drove, and caused my child’s death. He must have taken the invite off of someone’s desk” is floated by Capps’s office as a theory and excuse, which was clearly rebutted by the string of texts exposed in Peter Lance’s series in the Santa Barbara News-Press.”
On Nov. 2nd, two days before the election I wrote an op ed piece published here and in The New-Press in which I reported that, “While the FBI investigation appears to have stalled, Mrs. Capps is now being defended by Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Zatz from the very Central District prosecutor’s office in Los Angeles that initially referred my findings to the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section in Washington.”
THE UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
On December 6th I filed another story on this site citing 15 “Unanswered Questions in the DUI hit-and-run manslaughter death of Mallory Rae Dies.” In the piece I reported that two key players in the case had left for other jobs in the government:
“By September, three months after his trip to Ventura County where he interviewed Mrs. Morua, Mr. Meeks was no longer working at The Public Integrity Section of Main Justice in Washington. Instead had been re-assigned as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Louisiana. On October 6th he made the opening argument in the trial of a traffic court accountant charged with embezzlement.
“6) Did Marquest Meeks’ investigation of possible forgery and fraud by Mollie Culver, whom I reported was one of 55 members in the California delegation of the Electoral College voting for Barack Obama in 2012 lead to a demotion?
“7) Further, did politics play any role in the apparent unwillingness of the Justice Department to pursue charges against Ms. Culver who is also the former political director of The California Democratic Party?
“In mid-September, around the same time that Marquest Meeks left Main Justice, Ms. Walker left the House Office of General Counsel to take a job in the Office of the Solicitor of the U.S. Patent and Trademarks Office. Her departure was marked by a ‘Tribute’ in the Congressional Record by GOP Congressman Darrell E. Issa.
“10) Did Ms. Walker’s departure have anything to do with the way she initially handled the representation of Mrs. Capps and her staff and, was her exit related to the takeover of the defense by AUSA Julie Zatz?
“And if, in fact, the Feds have dropped the ball and failed to further pursue an investigation of my findings of V.A. fraud and possible obstruction of Justice:
“11) Will D.A. Joyce Dudley commence an investigation since forgery and obstruction of justice are also state crimes?”
QUIETLY, THE FEDS SETTLE THE CIVIL CASE
Unknown to me at the time I published that story, the feds had already settled the case after Robert Stoll, attorney for the Dies family agreed to remove Mrs. Capps name from the caption of his civil action.
On Saturday, November 1st, three days before the closest race in Mrs. Capps career, AUSA Ms. Zatz negotiated a settlement in the offices of Mr. Stoll agreeing to pay the family $2.5 million. In a piece filed in the News-Press December 29th, City Editor Scott Steepleton reported on the settlement, sourcing Matt Dies:
“Mr. Dies credited Ms. Zatz for being the first federal employee involved in the matter to ‘show some integrity’ He described her reaction to the information in Mr. Lance’s series as ‘horrified…’ Her indication was that she had read Peter’s series and we had been treated pretty horribly by the government.’”
The next day the U.K. Daily Mail reported on the settlement noting, “Investigative journalist Peter Lance published a lengthy exposé in which he details an alleged cover-up on the part of Capps staffers, aimed at sparing their boss the embarrassment of having hired and publicly praised Morua.”
Meanwhile, my reporting continues.
Links to the series on peterlance.com:
PDF’s of the series as printed in the News-Press:
FOLLOW-UP STORIES in all media
News-Press April 17th, 2014
Victim’s parents to sue Capps, government, DUI driver
U.K. Mail April 23rd, 2014
Parents of woman killed in DUI hit-and-run
sue CONGRESSWOMAN after top aide
downed 8 cocktails while “working the room”
for her before getting behind the wheel
FoxNews.com April 24th, 2014
California rep sued over DUI death,
questions raised about ties to driver
News-Press April 27th, 2014
Dies family circulating petition for Capps investigation
News-Press May 1st, 2014
Mallory’s dad calls for special prosecutor:
District Attorney Dudley won’t publicly comment
News-Press May 11th, 2014 (Editorial)
Capps right behind Morua in fleeing the scene?
peterlance.com May 16th, 2014
D.A. tells Matt Dies that the U.S. Attorney in L.A.
has referred the Lois Capps “matter” to
the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section
News-Press May 28th, 2014
Mallory Dies’ killer: “I would trade places with her”
News-Press May 29th, 2014
Former Capps aide sentenced to 20 years to life;
Raymond Morua apologizes to family of victim
News-Press June 10th, 2014
FBI looks into possible wrongdoing by Capps staff:
Peter Lance’s Series on Mallory Dies prompts investigation
The Associated Press June 12th, 2014
Feds probe aftermath of crash involving House aide
Santa Barbara Independent October 22nd, 2014
Lois Capps: Does Character Matter? (op ed)
peterlance.com November 2nd, 2014
The Ethics & Public Life of Congresswoman Lois Capps
KEYT-KCOY-KFX December 5th, 2014
Former Lois Capps Aide Appears in PSA Videos
KEYT-KCOY-KFX December 7th, 2014
Family and Friends Remember Mallory Dies
Santa Barbara News-Press December 29th, 2014
Mallory’s dad: “No amount of money can replace her”