April 17th, 2014 The Cover-Up
© 2014 By Peter Lance pdf of printed edition
The only thing more surprising than the revelations uncovered in this series is the reaction from most of the local, state and federal officials named in it. Except for Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley, all of the principal figures identified in the series have either refused to talk or issued “no comments.”
There has been no reaction from Rep. Lois Capps or her press secretary, Chris Meagher, even though he was present at the Santa Barbara Independent’s Holiday Bash at The Savoy nightclub the evening of Dec. 5, 2013, where Raymond Victor Morua III, in his role as a district representative for Mrs. Capps, reportedly drank six vodkas before leaving at 11:30 p.m. Soon he was behind the wheel of his Dodge Caliber driving at a reported 40 mph on Anacapa Street, where he struck 27-year-old pedestrian Mallory Rae Dies outside EOS Lounge just after midnight, a hit-and-run that eventually took the life of the vibrant UCSB graduate.
As the News-Press was first to report earlier in this series, Mr. Morua, 32, accepted a plea deal on Tuesday, admitting to among other things gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. At sentencing late next month, the decorated Army veteran with a penchant for doing work on the congresswoman’s behalf while toting a Captain America shield, could receive 20 years to life behind bars.
Also refusing to comment is Mrs. Capps’ district director, Mollie Culver, whom the evidence suggests tried to get Mr. Morua out of jail and into a treatment facility days after the crash only to disown him after Mallory’s death.
Silent too has been Judge George Eskin, who had retired after 10 years on the Santa Barbara County Superior Court bench; going back “on assignment” – a traveling judge of sorts – taking the oath just four days before he helped get Mr. Morua a private attorney, Sam Eaton, who also withdrew once Mallory passed away after being taken off life support Dec. 11.
STONEWALL FROM THE VA
Among the many unanswered questions raised by the evidence published so far is: What role did officials of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs play in the effort to remove Mr. Morua from Santa Barbara County jail and get him into New Directions, a multimillion dollar treatment facility in Los Angeles, at a time when he was facing charges of gross vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of a crash?
After apparently signing Mr. Morua’s name three times on two official VA forms – one to get his medical records released and the other to get him federally funded benefits to cover his stay at New Directions – Ms. Culver met with Teresa Montoya, Mr. Morua’s fiancé and told her to send the second form to Craig Lea, a re-entry specialist with the VA’s Desert Pacific Network in Long Beach.
Mr. Lea was effectively the gatekeeper who would facilitate Mr. Morua’s approval by the VA for this special treatment for alcoholism.
After reportedly sending in the first form on Dec. 9, Ms. Culver called Ms. Montoya to an urgent face-to-face meeting the next day and warned her that if Mallory were taken off life support, there was little Mrs. Capps’ office could do for Mr. Morua.
Before he withdrew, Mr. Eaton warned Ms. Montoya that Mallory’s death was a game changer, because removing her from life support would subject the former Capps aide to charges under what’s known as the “Watson Murder Rule.” Based on the 1981 conviction of Robert Lee Watson, who killed two people while driving drunk, the Watson rule provides that a suspect like Mr. Morua is charged with second degree murder if the injuries to the victim prove fatal. To prove the charge, the district attorney must establish that the suspect exhibited “implied malice.”
That would not be a difficult hurdle to overcome in this case, given Mr. Morua’s two prior DUI convictions and a hit-and-run. The argument would be that, knowing his own history of driving intoxicated, when he got into his vehicle that fateful night with what police say was a blood alcohol level of .17, he showed a conscious disregard for human life.
A SPECIFIC REFERRAL TO CRAIG LEA
Ms. Montoya says that during their meeting, which took place Dec. 10 on the steps of the apartment house where she lived with Mr. Morua on De la Vina Street, Ms. Culver handed her a manila folder. It contained the VA application for health benefits = already filled out by Ms. Culver and signed in Mr. Morua’s name. It also contained a page from a yellow legal pad with Mr. Lea’s name, phone number and email address.
According to Ms. Montoya, Ms. Culver, who made those notes in the same blue ink she used to fill out the health benefits application, told her that she needed to fax in the application to Mr. Lea as soon as possible.
“Trusting her that she knew what she was doing, I sent it by email that afternoon,” says Ms. Montoya, who had no idea at the time that in submitting that form which Ms. Culver had apparently filled out and signed in Mr. Morua’s name she might be violating federal law.
Making a material false statement or concealing a material fact on that form is punishable by a fine and imprisonment of up to six years. Subornation, or the act of inducing a person to commit a crime, is a separate crime unto itself.
CRAIG LEA AGREES TO TALK
When contacted March 20 for the purpose of finding out whether Mr. Lea had prior dealings with Ms. Culver in her efforts to get Mr. Morua into New Directions, he replied, “I can’t confirm or deny that Mr. Morua has a case with us.”
He then said that if Mr. Morua filled out and signed a VA Form 5345 authorizing the release of medical records or health information, he would talk. Mr. Lea even emailed a blank copy of the form at 2:52 p.m. with this message: “Please complete the Request for and Authorization to Release Medical Records or Health Information form and return to me, FAX # 562-826-5987.”
Mr. Morua’s attorney, Darryl Genis, had an associate visit Mr. Morua in County Jail where he signed the form, authorizing Mr. Lea to discuss “any matters relating to” him with Mr. Genis and this reporter “particularly the FORMS … filled out by Mollie Culver of Cong. Lois Capps Office on 12.9.13.”
CONFIRMING RECEIPT OF MS. CULVER’S FORMS
Mr. Genis faxed the new Form 10-5345 to Mr. Lea with Mr. Morua’s signature on March 21. Three days later, Mr. Lea responded in an email: “Your fax was received to include a completed VA Form 10-5345 … Following regulations surrounding confidentiality I will need to verify the authenticity of the forms sent before I can release any information.”
In this case he was talking about the forms prepared by Mollie Culver and sent to him Dec. 9 and 10 pursuant to her plan to get Mr. Morua into New Directions. Mr. Lea was making a tacit admission that he’d received them. But it’s unclear what, if anything, he did when those forms were sent to him back in December.
It appeared hopeful that Mr. Lea would provide some answers when he wrote, “I will prioritize this with Thursday likely the earliest we can address your questions.”
Pressing the matter with the VA two days later, on March 26, resulted in this response from Ada Clark, the public information officer in Los Angeles: “We appreciate the opportunity to provide you comment. Unfortunately, VA does not have a position to take on this issue as we have no reason to believe any documents we received are other than authentic. We have no further comment.”
That response was telling in that it seemed another admission that the VA forms Mollie Culver prepared were received by Mr. Lea. But suddenly, without further investigation or a request to provide copies of the forms showing the difference in Mr. Morua’s signatures, the VA, per Ms. Clark, was accepting them as authentic.
Further, after complying with Mr. Lea’s request to fill out the medical records release and Mr. Morua’s willingness to have Mr. Lea discuss his case with this reporter and Mr. Genis, the official position of the VA was “no comment.”
Pressing the matter with Ms. Clark resulted in a phone call from Andrea Phillips, a Department of Veterans Affairs privacy officer, who said the release form from Mr. Morua would have to be resubmitted. That same day she sent a letter to Mr. Morua, whom VA officials knew to be locked up in County Jail, but had it delivered to this reporter’s address by UPS. In it, she wrote: “Dear Mr. Morua, We received your written request on March 21, 2014 to have employee Craig Lea orally discuss matters related to you with Mr. Genis and Mr. Lance. Your request has been denied. VA is not obligated to have this employee speak to them.”
Ms. Phillips then suggested that if Mr. Morua disagreed with the VA’s decision he could appeal in writing and mail it to the VA’s Office of General Counsel in Washington.
“This is a serious matter involving the death of a beautiful young woman,” says Robert Stoll, attorney for the Dies family. “It is disturbing that the Department of Veterans Affairs will not cooperate in an investigation involving possible violations of federal laws which, in some cases, constitute felonies.”
MORUA CONFIRMS SIGNATURES NOT HIS
There’s new evidence that at least one VA official is taking the matter seriously. On April 4, Mr. Lea paid a visit to Mr. Morua in Santa Barbara County Jail, a conversation Mr. Morua related to his fiancé, Ms. Montoya, 10 days later.
“Raymond told me that Mr. Lea asked him about the authenticity of the signatures on the two forms that Mollie Culver had filled out and the new form Raymond signed authorizing him to talk about the VA plan with Mr. Genis,” she says. “In no uncertain terms, Raymond told him that that those were not his signatures on the two documents that Mollie filled out and the VA received in early December.”
“He did confirm that he had authorized the release of information to Mr. Genis and that his signature on that document signed on March 21 was genuine,” says Ms. Montoya.
CRUCIAL EVIDENCE ON MR. MORUA’S CELLPHONES
Mr. Morua was arrested by Santa Barbara police officers after crashing into a palm tree near Stearns Wharf, at State Street and Cabrillo Boulevard, about a half-mile from where he ran down Mallory Dies. At the time of his arrest, police seized the two cellphones: Mr. Morua’s personal iPhone 3 and a newer iPhone 4 that was his work phone provided by Mrs. Capps.
Both phones contain hundreds of text messages, pictures and other data compiled by Mr. Morua. The data on his personal phone dated back to Sept. 3, 2011; his Capps office phone to Feb. 10, 2012. From each he sent text messages to the personal cellphone of his fiancé, Ms. Montoya.
Messages he sent to her Dec. 5, 2013, from his work cellphone are particularly relevant to the issue of whether he was “on the job” and working for Mrs. Capps in the hours prior to the Holiday Bash, as Mr. Stoll contends.
On Dec. 22, Ms. Montoya allowed all of the texts from Mr. Morua’s phones to be downloaded using PhoneView, a third-party program designed to show texts from iPhones as they appear on the Apple IOS software.
Video from The Savoy nightclub where the Independent’s party was held shows Mr. Morua arriving and handing in his invitation at the door at 7:09 p.m. Minutes before, at 7:03 p.m., he texts Ms. Montoya that he’s with Chris Meagher, Mrs. Capps’ press secretary who used to cover crime and the courts for the Independent.
Earlier Mr. Morua had driven to the congresswoman’s house to drop off some documents.
At that point, Ms. Montoya was on her way to meet Mr. Morua’s brother Joe and she texts her fiancé to let him know she’s arrived. She then asks: “Still with Lois?” Mr. Morua’s reply: “No. Woh Chris,” then corrects his typo a few minutes later writing “With.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he was referring to Chris Meagher,” Ms. Montoya now says.
The Holiday Bash formally ended at 9:30 p.m., but as established in this series Mr. Morua didn’t pay his $90.44 bill until 10:31 p.m. And he didn’t leave The Savoy until 11:03 p.m. At 9:32, he texts Ms. Montoya again to say “I am talking business, talk to you when I eat jkne.” He corrects that typo immediately with the word “Home.”
Mr. Morua sends Ms. Montoya a picture showing him with several people, including KEYT reporter John Palminteri. The next morning, Mr. Palminteri filed a report with the headline “Capps Aide Arrested in Near-Fatal DUI Hit and Run.” He used a close-up of Mr. Morua from the photo taken at the Holiday Bash to illustrate the story, but failed to note that he’d been within him hours earlier.
BABY, I’M DONE
After leaving the party, at 12:04 a.m. Dec. 6, Mr. Morua was heading down Anacapa Street at speeds witnesses estimated at more than 40 mph when he struck Mallory, who was in a legal crosswalk outside EOS Lounge in the 500 block. He then paused to look down at her body and took off, according to witnesses, running a red light on Haley Street.
As documented in Part Three of this series, he was doggedly pursued by Devin Shaw, a 20-year-old house painter from Buellton who witnessed the accident from behind the wheel of a VW Jetta about to exit City Lot 11. Mr. Shaw was the designated driver for his girlfriend, Eva Pagaling and her cousin Steffanie Colgate that night and he took off after Mr. Morua, following him to a freight yard where Anacapa Street dead-ends at Highway 101, then chased him at speeds up to 80 mph as Mr. Morua ran multiple lights on State Street in an effort to escape.
He hit the palm tree on Cabrillo Boulevard minutes later. After police arrived responding to a 9-1-1 call from Ms. Pagaling, Mr. Morua was able to send a final text to Ms. Montoya before his arrest.
HOUSE LAWYER ASKS D.A. TO “SEGREGATE” EVIDENCE
On Dec. 23, after Mr. Stoll served a notice of claim on House Speaker John Boehner, signaling his intent to sue the government on behalf of the Dies family, Mary Beth Walker, an attorney for the House Office of General Counsel, sent a letter to Mr. Stoll’s law firm informing them that her office was representing Mrs. Capps and her staff.
But she took the position that “Raymond Morua was not acting … in his capacity as an employee of Congresswoman Capps. Rather he was … acting in his personal capacity.”
That position would preclude Mallory’s family from collecting any damages from the government in a wrongful death action because the civil law doctrine of respondeat superior makes Mrs. Capps liable for Mr. Morua’s actions only if he was working as her employee that night.
A large body of documentary evidence, however, suggests that throughout the day of Dec. 5, from the moment he got up in the morning through the hit-and-run outside EOS Lounge, Mr. Morua was in the course and furtherance of his work for Mrs. Capps. And some key evidence to establish that fact is contained on his office iPhone 4. On Jan. 2, Ms. Walker sent a letter to District Attorney Joyce Dudley in which she commented on a search made of Mrs. Capps’ office by Detective Jaycee Hunter of the Santa Barbara Police Department on Dec. 13, a week after the fatal hit-and-run. She asked for copies of the evidence seized and then made another request:
“That’s an astounding assertion,” says Mr. Morua’s attorney Darryl Genis. “How could Ms. Walker have any idea what was relevant to the state’s case against my client? Further, the fact that she’s asking Joyce Dudley to ‘identify and segregate’ what she calls ‘sensitive official information’ could mean information that would benefit Mr. Stoll in his civil case because it proves Raymond was on the job that night.”
THE DA COMMENTS
When asked by email April 3 for her assurance that no one from her office or the Santa Barbara Police Department would acquiesce to Ms. Walker’s request, Joyce Dudley, the district attorney, replied the next day: “To answer your question, and to my knowledge, the DAs office has not done anything with the cellphone records. I can’t speak to what the SBPD may have done or will do.”
On March 18, in response to a request from Mr. Genis that all of the content on both of the iPhones be sent to him as so-called “Brady material,” relevant to his defense of Mr. Morua, Detective Hunter transferred files from the two cellphones onto a thumb drive.
The download by the department was done using UFED, a proprietary program created by a software company called Cellebrite. In a memo to the file on Mr. Morua’s case, Detective Hunter wrote that he “turned the thumb drive over to one of” Mr. Genis’ “office staff” and “showed her how to access the data from each phone stored on the drive.”
But Mr. Genis and his staff were unable to locate the “Baby, I’m Done” text.
After a thorough analysis of the download from Detective Hunter on the thumb drive, the last text found was Mr. Morua’s text and picture sent to Erin Weber of the Orfalea Foundation at 10:35 p.m. It’s shown in the nearby screen capture as the last text sent from Mr. Morua’s phone the night of Dec. 5, 2013, according to the UFED download received by Mr. Genis from Detective Hunter. The UFED program lists all times as Greenwich Mean Time = seven hours ahead of Santa Barbara. So this text, which the program shows as being sent at 5:35:38 a.m. on Dec. 6, was actually sent on Dec. 5 at 10:35:38 p.m.
If the “Baby, I’m Done” text was missing from the Police Department’s download, could something else be missing?
In an email April 7, Detective Hunter was made aware of the district attorney’s comment – “I can’t speak to what the SBPD may have done or will do.” – and he was asked if Mr. Genis could visit police headquarters to download the data from both of Mr. Morua’s phones using the PhoneView program.
In a separate email, he was asked whether “any officer, detective or employee at the SBPD sent any material from either of Mr. Morua’s cell phones to Mary Beth Walker, House Counsel … or the offices of Lois Capps?” Another question for the detective was whether he “removed any material from either of those phones such that the UFED download (given to) Mr. Genis wouldn’t reflect the complete contents of both phones at the time they were seized by the SBPD?”
He didn’t respond.
But in an email to Mr. Genis the next day, the detective writes, “Darryl … I know that, a couple different times over the past few weeks, I tentatively agreed to permit you to connect the evidence phones up to your lap top and allow you to use a program you possess to peruse the evidence cell phones but, after doing some research and analysis into this concept, I have decided that I cannot permit you to do this.”
Detective Hunter continues: “If you were to hook the phones up to your lap top, I would have to sit and stare at every key stroke you made in an endeavor to see if you made, either intentionally or unintentionally, a substantive change in the data.”
He adds: “The copy of the digital evidence that you possess contains all digital data available on the phones at the time of the download on 12-6-13. No segregation has been employed in the making of the copy I provided you. The phones will remain in the custody of the Police Department, indefinitely. All decisions as to what occurs with the phones will go through me and/or the Department Command Staff.”
PROOF DATA WAS TRANSFERRED FROM ONE OF THE PHONES
Detective Hunter’s admission that the UFED download from both iPhones was done on Dec. 6 is important to the question of whether any data beyond what attorney Mr. Genis received was removed from the cellphones.
That’s because on the last bill for Mr. Morua’s personal iPhone 3 received by his family, his carrier, AT&T, indicates that between Dec. 10 and Dec. 11, 2013, 1,500 KB of data was transferred to an unknown source. Since 1 KB of text contains 1,024 characters, 1,500 KB could constitute literally hundreds of text messages. For Mr. Genis, the question is, “Where did they go?”
“If those phones were in the exclusive possession of the SBPD as Jaycee Hunter suggests, and he did the entire UFED download on Dec. 6, the day of the accident, who was getting this other data? That unanswered question is very disturbing in light of Mary Beth Walker’s letter to Joyce Dudley asking her to ‘segregate’ what she called ‘sensitive official information from his office iPhone.’ ”
Ms. Walker was asked via email April 3 whether she would permit Ms. Capps and her staff to talk about the issues raised in this series. She never responded.
Earlier, on March 20, Mollie Culver, Mrs. Capps’ district director, said she was not permitted to talk on the advice of House counsel.
There’s also been silence from the other significant figures cited in this series, including Judge George Eskin; his wife, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson; attorney Sam Eaton; Mrs. Capps; Chris Meagher, Mrs. Capps’ press secretary and a former Independent reporter who was a witness to the activities of Mr. Morua at his former employer’s Holiday Bash on Dec. 5, 2013.
The one person who did respond beyond the district attorney was Deedra Edgar, the deputy public defender who represented Mr. Morua initially.
In an email April 4, she writes: “I am not going to comment on this case.”
“The community of Santa Barbara needs to know if there’s a cover-up,” says attorney Robert Stoll, who is about to file a formal wrongful death action on behalf of the family of Mallory Dies.