FBI-DOJ open probe into findings in News-Press investigative series on Rep. Lois Capps
By Peter Lance © June 7th 2014. On May 27th, the day before Raymond Victor Morua III was sentenced in the DUI hit-and-run accident that took the life of Mallory Rae Dies, the FBI began an investigation on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section into possible wrongdoing by Mollie Culver, the District Director for Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA).
The initial focus of the probe was centered around one of the revelations in my five-part series published April 13-17th in The Santa Barbara News-Press: that Ms. Culver may have committed fraud by forging Mr. Morua’s name on two separate Department of Veterans Affairs forms in a scheme to get him out of jail and into a VA-funded treatment facility in the days immediately after the accident December 6th, 2013.
The Bureau’s investigation commenced after Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley, sent my series to André Birotte Jr., the U.S. Attorney for The Central District of California in Los Angeles, and he, in turn, referred the matter to The Public Integrity Section which prosecutes criminal misconduct by public officials.
On Tuesday, the 27th, Marquest J. Meeks, a Public Integrity trial attorney from Washington traveled to Santa Barbara where he interviewed Teresa Montoya, the former fiancé of Mr. Morua along with two Special Agents from the Bureau’s Santa Maria Resident Agency (RA) Dieter Willkomm and Marni Barton.
In my series I reported that Ms. Montoya, an innocent party, had been induced by Ms. Culver to send in one of the two fraudulent forms to Craig Lea, a re-entry specialist at the VA’s Desert Pacific Network in Long Beach, California.
According to informed sources, Ms. Montoya spent an hour and a half with Mr. Meeks and the special agents, fully cooperating with their investigation. Later that same day Mr. Willkomm and Ms. Barton interviewed Mr. Morua in Santa Barbara County jail in the presence of his attorney Darryl Genis.
The next morning, Mr. Morua, taking full responsibility for the fatal DUI, pled guilty and was sentenced to twenty years to life. He will begin serving out his sentence at Wasco State Prison in Kern County.
Prosecutor Meeks was not present for the county jail interview but on Monday, June 2nd special agents Willkomm and Barton continued their investigation of the alleged VA fraud by interviewing Mr. Morua’s mother Rose Saucedo.
As reported in Part Four of my series, on December 9th, three days after the accident, Mrs. Saucedo was pressed by Ms. Culver for a series of personal details so that Mrs. Capps’ District Director could fill out the VA forms in Mr. Morua’s name.
In perpetrating that scheme, the evidence I uncovered demonstrates that Ms. Culver forged Mr. Morua’s name on two separate VA forms: 10-5345, an authorization to release his medical records to Mrs. Capps local office and 10-10-EZ, an application for health benefits.
The unauthorized release of medical records constitutes a violation of federal law under The Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) and carries heavy civil and criminal penalties. At the same time, if convicted of making material misstatements of fact on the VA benefits form, Ms. Culver could face up to five years in prison.
As I reported, Ms. Culver had received the two partially pre-filled VA forms from Mrs. Capps’ Washington office at about 3:30 p.m. on December 9th Then using blue ink, she reportedly signed Mr. Morua’s name in three places on the two forms and sent in the medical records release form to the VA herself. They next day she suborned Ms. Montoya into sending in the second form to Mr. Lea. Subornation, or inducing another person to commit an unlawful act, can constitute a separate crime.
When I questioned Mr. Lea during the research phase of my series he initially agreed to talk with me and then VA officials stonewalled, refusing to make him available. It’s not clear at this point whether the Bureau has questioned him or any other VA personnel.
On June 2nd the day of Mrs. Saucedo’s interview, I called Laura Eimiller, the FBI’s press liaison in Los Angeles. Conforming to standard Bureau protocol she refused to “confirm or deny,” the existence of the probe.
However, Mr. Meeks sent a letter to Mr. Genis on June 5th thanking him for “coordinating the interview” with Mr. Morua at the County Jail. He also noted that he would contact him if “we need anything further.” At this point it’s unclear what other interviews, if any, the FBI has conducted and whether the scope of the probe will widen beyond the VA fraud issue.
ORIGIN OF THE FBI INVESTIGATION
The path from the News-Press series to the investigation by The Public Integrity Section actually hinged on a second major revelation in my series: the evidence that Mary Beth Walker, the lawyer for the U.S. House of Representative Office of General Counsel, who is representing Mrs. Capps & Ms. Culver, may have obstructed justice in asking Mrs. Dudley to “sequester” what Ms. Walker termed “sensitive official information” from Mr. Morua’s office iPhone 4 seized by the Santa Barbara Police Department after his arrest.
When I asked Mrs. Dudley about that request she gave me this reply: “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.”
Since any tampering with the content of that office iPhone 4 and Mr. Morua’s second personal iPhone 3s (also seized by the SBPD) could constitute a crime or crimes and since Mrs. Dudley couldn’t be sure that the police department had maintained the integrity of the evidence, she was not in a position to investigate this scandal objectively.
So on May 1st, under pressure from Matt Dies, the father of the victim, whose non-profit Vow4Mal.org had collected more than 1,000 signatures asking for the D.A. to call for an outside Special Prosecutor, Mrs. Dudley sent my series to Mr. Birotte.
After I informed Mr. Dies that the U.S. Attorney had been nominated by President Obama to a federal judgeship, making it unlikely that he would commence an investigation of Mrs. Capps on his own, Mr. Dies pressed Mrs. Dudley who placed a phone call to Mr. Birotte.
On May 16th, she emailed Mr. Dies: “I just got off the phone with André,” she wrote. “Mr. Birotte informed me that the Matter has now been referred to the Public Integrity Division for their analysis.”
REACTION FROM THE DIES FAMILY
“The fact that the FBI and Justice Department are taking these matters seriously is a great comfort to my wife and me,” said Mr. Dies in an interview. “I only hope they go all the way and leave no stone unturned in trying to get at the truth. At this point Lois Capps, who just got nominated for a 9th term, has been morally bankrupt, first in falsely claiming that Raymond Morua wasn’t working for her at the time of the accident and second in claiming that the News-Press series was “full of inaccuracies” but not providing any specifics – just hiding behind repeated ‘no comments.’
“She got national media exposure by visiting the vigil for the IV victims – which was certainly appropriate – but she hasn’t once visited the vigil for Mal on the corner of Anacapa and Haley that remains to this day.
“Lois Capps has never spoken to us, which is reprehensible, since she has repeatedly said that her heart ‘goes out’ to us. As far as we’re concerned, after first having her staff go to the extreme of getting Raymond out of jail – proof that he was working for her – she then did a 180 degree turn after Mallory was taken off life support and Mollie Culver went so far as to tell the police that Raymond wasn’t authorized to go to the (Santa Barbara) Independent’s party that night where he drank six vodkas and got into his car with a .17 BAC. All of this is beyond the pale, especially since the evidence Peter Lance had in his series proved that Mollie encouraged Raymond to drink.”
Ms. Walker, who represents Mrs. Capps and her staff, has taken the position that Mr. Morua attended the Indy’s Holiday Bash “in his personal capacity.”
In civil legal terms that means that if the Congresswoman prevails in court, the Dies family will have no chance of recovering for the loss of their daughter or the hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills incurred during the five days Mallory clung to life in the Cottage Hospital ICU.
NO RESPONSE FROM MRS. CAPPS
I made multiple attempts to get Ms. Culver’s side of the story including talking to her by phone and sending her a series of questions as early as March 20th nearly a month before the series ran. She never responded.
As to Mrs. Capps and her press secretary Chris Meagher, a former reporter for The Indy who attended the party with Mr. Morua the night of the accident, he has ignored a series of questions which I sent to the Congresswoman on her website. I sent the same questions to him via email.
Further, Mr. Meagher refuses to be specific about the so-called “inaccuracies” he told FoxNews.com were in my series. Mrs. Capps, who made the same claim to The Independent, has also stood mute on that issue, refusing to provide any proof of a single inaccuracy in the series.
HOW FAR WILL THE FBI GO?
“The biggest unanswered question of all at this point,” says Mr. Genis, “is how far is the FBI willing to go in investigating these criminal allegations? After all, Lois Capps is an eight-term Member of Congress, from the same party as the President who controls the Justice Department. It’s widely rumored that her daughter Laura plans to seek her seat after Lois serves a final term; thus ensuring a Capps dynasty on the Central Coast.
“Just how far will a federal prosecutor like Marquest Meeks go in ferreting out the truth in Peter Lance’s series? At this point my client and his family have fully cooperated. But who else will the Bureau agents question? And if news of the investigation prompts other witnesses, previously reluctant to talk, to come forward now, will the FBI agents pursue those leads? Only the Department of Justice can answer those questions.”