The Capps political dynasty ends. The unanswered questions in the DUI-manslaughter scandal that may have kept Laura out of Congress and spared Hillary’s campaign another ethics issue.

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By Peter Lance © May 6th, 2015.  All the pieces were in place. Laura Capps and political power broker husband Bill Burton had purchased a home in the 24th District. Bill recently relocated to the West Coast. Her mother Lois announced she was retiring after nine terms. Most of the local political pundits from Nick Welsh to Jerry Roberts had hinted that she would throw her hat in the ring.

Then, in a surprise announcement Laura said no, citing the excuse many politicians use for bowing in and out of office: her personal life.

“I’ve decided that now is not the right time for me, Bill and our four year-old-son, and I will not be seeking election to Congress in 2016,” Laura Capps said in a statement. “I have great respect for members of Congress who have young families, and hope there will be more of them, but a cross-country commute would make it hard for me to be the mom I try to be every day.”

As recently as November 4th, facing the same duties of motherhood that she does now, Laura posted this homage to the political process entitled “Election Day – For Mom and Country.” In it she described her mother’s first race for congress:

“She won and has gone on to win eight more general elections and serve our district well. Today, once more after 20 years, her constituents will go to the polls to decide if she deserves another term. And as just as it’s been for the past 20 years, I’ll be by her side as we traverse the district, absorbed in the time warp of a day that for us is now a wonderfully nostalgic family tradition: Election Day.”

So what happened to the family tradition?

WAS THERE ANOTHER REASON WHY LAURA PASSED?

On April 18th, the Santa Barbara Independent — an unofficial Capps house organ — announced that Laura Capps is “‘Seriously’ pondering a run for Congress” to replace her mother Lois who only the week before announced she was retiring after her current (9th) termMrs. Capps made the surprise announcement in an official video posted by rollcall.com.

In the Indy’s online piece attributed to the “Indy Staff,” Laura Capps was quoted as saying, “It’s a big life decision. It was important for me to give my mom the space and time her decision and announcement deserved. Now that she has, I am doing due diligence and will have a decision to share soon.”

If she’d run Laura would have cemented a regional political dynasty that began when her father Walter H. Capps, a religion and ethics professor at UCSB was elected in 1996. After he died suddenly of a heart attack a year into his first term, his wife Lois, a former nurse, ran to succeed him, promising before her election in 1998 that she would step down after three terms. But she continued getting re-elected and in November, narrowly won a ninth term in a hotly contested race.

But Laura’s prospective race could not only have affected local politics, where two Democrats and two Republicans have already declared their candidacies, but with her links to the Clinton and Obama presidencies and a series of unanswered questions about a DUI-manslaughter case involving one of her mother’s former staffers, Laura’s campaign could have impacted Hillary Clinton’s run for the White House.

That’s because ethics was a hallmark of her father’s short political career. The think tank founded in his memory at UCSB is called The Walter H. Capps Center for The Study of Ethics Religion and Public Life, and in her retirement announcement Mrs. Capps noted that after his election her husband was “guided by the principal of Thomas Jefferson to restore the bond of trust between the people and their government.” More importantly, Laura Capps enjoyed a pedigree unknown to most first-time congressional candidates and one of her top tier associations could effect the most important race in 2016.

DIRECT CONNECTIONS TO TWO PRESIDENTS

The younger Capps is a former Clinton speechwriter and aide to then Senior White House Advisor George Stephanopoulous. In 2007, as reported in The New York Times, she married Democratic strategist Bill Burton. He went on to become Deputy Press Secretary for President Obama and left in 2012 to form Priorities USA, the first significant pro-Obama super PAC.

The Capps family has long enjoyed a close relationship with the Clintons. Not only did sitting president Bill Clinton fly to Santa Barbara in 1996 to campaign for first time candidate Walter Capps, but in 1997 he spoke at a congressional tribute to the late congressman, describing Laura as “part of our family.”

But her association with the former First Family cuts both ways. At the time of the Monica Lewinsky scandal Laura was a White House intern. She was cited along with “Other White House Personnel” in Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s Report to the House.  

After the scandal broke Laura sided with the President. According to pages from the report published by The NYT, Lewinsky told investigators that she believed “LAURA CAPPS told the press” a story that Lewinsky was “embarrassed that she saw STEPHANOPOULOS” at a nearby Starbucks.

As for her congressional prospects, Burton had moved to Santa Barbara permanently from Washington where he was in a perfect position to call the shots in his wife’s campaign. He’s now West Coast Managing Director of the progressive consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker where he’s a sought-after political pundit. As recently as April 18th he was quoted on Mrs. Clinton’s campaign in a USA Today piece.

As for his former boss, immediately after her mother’s announcement, Laura published a statement from President Obama on her Twitter feed citing Mrs. Capps “lasting legacy.”

If Laura had thrown her hat in the ring, however, Burton would have his work cut out for him. Not only was Mrs. Capps’ victory last November her closest race in 16 years; but that ongoing scandal involving her former District Rep., Raymond Victor Morua, still haunts her.

Until either Mrs. Capps or her daughter answered questions about the case, which resulted in Mr. Morua being sentenced to 20 years to life in state prison, Laura’s run would have been dogged by a number of unresolved criminal issues.

THE DUI MANSLAUGHTER HIT-AND-RUN DEATH OF MALLORY RAE DIES

March 20th would have been the 29th birthday of the UCSB double major who was killed after being struck December 6th, 2013 by Mr. Morua, a decorated Iraq war veteran who was then Mrs. Capps’ District Representative.

Following my five-part investigative series into that homicide, “Death on The American Riviera” published a year ago on this website, Julie Zatz, the Assistant Chief of the Civil Division in the office of The U.S. Attorney for the Central District in Los Angeles, met secretly with a lawyer for the Dies family and agreed that the government would pay $2.5 million to settle their wrongful death suit.

That sub-rosa meeting took place on November 1st, three days before the congressional election, when Mrs. Capps was in a neck and neck race with GOP Challenger Chris Mitchum. In fact the margin between them had narrowed to the point where Mrs. Capps’ campaign began running a series of ads which effectively misquoted Mitchum by cutting him off in mid-sentence.

The Capps campaign later pulled the ads, but Mitchum, who lost by less than 8,000 votes, has since sued Mrs. Capps alleging defamation.

ALLEGATIONS OF INACCURACY 

Previously in comments to FoxNews.Com and The Santa Barbara IndependentMrs. Capps and her press secretary Chris Meagher, a former reporter for the Indy, charged that my five-part series was “full of inaccuracies.”

But when pressed for comment on specifics, they refused to talk, pending the civil suit. Since that litigation has now been settled, I’ve asked them to cite any inaccuracies in my 20,500 word series or my follow-up stories which can be accessed here

So far neither Mrs. Capps, nor any member of her staff has responded, but in an upcoming congressional bid, Laura Capps would have been forced to, especially when the Federal Government considered Mr. Morua’s on-the-job behavior so egregious that they agreed to pony up $2.5 million.

Also, there’s a  strange kind of ethical disconnect in all of this, considering how Walter Capps’ own career in Congress began.

ALCOHOL AND POLITICS

As fate and irony would have it, when he was in the middle of his first successful bid for office, the late congressman owed his victory, in part, to a drunken driver. Back in 1994, Mr. Capps had lost his initial run for the House to Andrea Seastrand, a first-time Republican conservative who swept into Congress as part of the “Republican Revolution” led by ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

But two years later, trying to unseat her, Mr. Capps was the lucky beneficiary of what his spokesman called “significant sympathy” after he and his wife were struck head-on in their Lincoln Town Car by a motorist who was intoxicated.

In a piece with the sub-headline “Auto Crash Is Seen As Campaign Help,” Michael Janofsky reported in The New York Times that “the accident has given the campaign a new way to present Mr. Capps: as a fighter and survivor.”

After recovering from a series of fractures and internal injuries, Mr. Capps appeared in a wheelchair outside Santa Barbara Rehabilitation Institute at a press conference covered by six newspapers, three TV outlets and a radio station.  He delivered an emotional speech, comforted by his wife, who had sustained cuts and bruises in the crash herself.

“I would never wish for a car accident like this,” he said. “But I have learned from it. … Love and caring for one another (are) at the core of what links us.”

Taking advantage of what The San Francisco Chronicle called “a steady stream of local media coverage any politician would envy,” Mr. Capps went on to defeat Mrs. Seastrand in what would be the start of an 18 year Capps family lock on the Santa Barbara congressional seat.

UNRESOLVED CRIMINAL ISSUES 

But while the civil suit has been settled, Laura Capps still faces the issue of potential criminal violations by Mrs. Capps and her staff, including District Director Mollie Culver; not to mention possible charges of obstruction of justice involving Mary Beth Walker, the House lawyer who first defended the Capps’ staff against the Dies family’s wrongful death claim.

Finally, there is the lingering question of possible misconduct by personnel at the Desert Pacific Network of  The Veterans Administration.

In late May, 2014 the FBI and DOJ commenced an investigation into the allegations of potential criminal wrongdoing reported in the series, but it was short-lived.

What follows is a piece I first filed December 6th, 2014 – one year after the accident – citing the unanswered questions that continue to dog this story; questions that could impact Laura Capps’ hopes of ever succeeding her mother and bleed over into the 2016 Clinton campaign.

1) Beyond Mollie Culver and staff members in Rep. Lois Capps’ D.C. office, who else was involved in the scheme to get Mr. Morua out of jail and into a V.A. funded treatment facility (New Directions in L.A.) in the four days immediately following Mr. Morua’s DUI hit-and-run accident which sent Ms. Dies to the ICU at Cottage Hospital?

As reported in Part Four of my series, Damage Control, when I contacted officials at New Directions to ask if anyone there was aware of that scheme, Cindy Young, vice president of development and marketing, had this to say:

“There are many steps that would need to occur before a veteran could be court-ordered to New Directions. For starters, a court process involving a judge, public defender and district attorney would have to occur that would lead to a decision to make an alternative sentencing order for a particular veteran. New Directions has no power to bring a veteran into its program that would somehow sidestep this court process.”

2) To what degree was Craig Lea, a re-entry specialist at the VA’s Desert Pacific Network in Longbeach, CA involved in the scheme?

As I reported Ms. Culver had sent the first of two official forms to Mr. Lea in which she had forged Mr. Morua’s signature. That first form VA 10-5345 was an authorization to release Mr. Morua’s medical records to Mrs. Capps’ Santa Barbara office. Ms. Culver also filled out and forged Mr. Morua’s signature on a VA form 10-10 EZ, an application for health benefits which would have sent him to New Directions if approved.

After sending in the first form on or about December 9th, three days after the crash, Ms. Culver, according to Teresa Montoya who later married Mr. Morua, met with her in person and urged her to send in the second form to Mr. Lea which Mrs. Morua did. At the time she didn’t know that she might be violating federal law since that form calls for “a fine and/or imprisonment for up to 5 years for concealing a material fact or making a materially false statement.”

As reported in Part Five of my series Cover Up, I contacted Mr. Lea during the research phase of my series and he agreed to talk with me, but later VA officials refused to make him available. However, on April 4, Mr. Lea paid a visit to Mr. Morua in Santa Barbara County Jail, and according to Mrs. Morua, her husband confirmed for Mr. Lea  that those were not his signatures on the forms that had been sent into the VA. Therefore:

3) What if anything has the Veterans Administration done to investigate my findings on this scheme to defraud the VA?

As of this date no one from the VA Inspector General’s Office, the DOJ or the FBI has contacted me to get the originals of the forged documents which Mrs. Morua gave to me. Nor, to my knowledge, has anyone from the VA sought to investigate the evidence of possible fraud by Ms. Culver and others in Mrs. Capps office.

4) What happened to the investigation of my findings by the FBI and Public Integrity Section (PIN) of  The U.S. Justice Department which was the direct result of a referral by Santa Barbara County D.A. Joyce Dudley to André Birotte, then the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California in Los Angeles?

In mid-May, according to an email from Ms. Dudley to Matt Dies, the father of the victim, Mr. Birotte sent my five-part series to PIN and on May 27th Marquest J. Meeks, an attorney from Main Justice traveled to the Santa Barbara area to investigate the V.A. allegations.

As first reported on this website and later picked up by The News PressFoxNews.com The Associated Press and The Los Angeles Times the federal investigation first involved an interview of Mrs. Morua by Mr. Meeks and two Special Agents from the Bureau’s Santa Maria Resident Agency (RA) Dieter Willcomm and Marni Barton.  That night, after Mr. Meeks had departed for Washington the two SA’s interviewed Mr. Morua in County Jail in the presence of his then attorney Darry Genis and the following Monday, June 2nd, they interviewed Mr. Morua’s mother Rose Saucedo

All three interview subjects confirmed my findings regarding Ms. Culver’s scheme to get Mr. Morua out of jail and into New Directions, but the probe apparently ended there.

5) If the FBI and DOJ were interested in confirming my findings of federal crimes, why didn’t they ever ask to interview me or request the original VA forms which are in my possession?

In the research and reporting of my series I relied on no confidential sources. Since this was a matter of public interest, I sent repeated emails to Mr. Meeks copying SA’s Willkomm and Barton along with senior FBI officials offering to cooperate. But not a single official from the FBI or DOJ followed-up or even asked to examine the two VA forms for Ms. Culver’s fingerprints. Why?

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. So that apparent change in his status at DOJ leads us to this question:                                                      

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?

8) Why did the defense of the civil suit filed by attorney Bob Stoll on behalf of Matt and Raeona Dies shift from Mary Beth Walker, in the U.S. House of Representatives Office of General Counsel to Julie Zatz, an AUSA in André Birotte’s office — the very federal prosecutor’s office which had forwarded my series for investigation to The Public Integrity Section in the first place?

According to correspondence sent by Ms. Zatz to Mr. Stoll on May 28th (the day after the FBI-DOJ investigation began) she asked that Mrs. Capps’a name be removed from the list of defendants in the wrongful death suit, substituting “The United States of America” as a defendant.

In Part Five of my series I raised the question of whether Ms. Walker might be guilty of obstruction of justice for sending a letter to Santa Barbara D.A. Joyce Dudley asking to “work with (her) and (her) office and/or investigators to segregate” what Ms. Walker termed “sensitive official information” from Mr. Morua’s office iPhone 4 seized on the night of his arrest.

 

 

 

 

If the D.A. or SBPD had acquiesced to Ms. Walker’s request, evidence that might have helped the Dies family’s civil case (or a potential criminal prosecution of Ms. Culver) could have been removed.

When I asked Mrs. Dudley for her assurance that no one from her office or the Santa Barbara Police Department had complied with Ms. Walker’s request, she replied,  “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.”

But when Mr. Genis received a download of data from Mr. Morua’s iPhone 4 and his personal iPhone 3 executed by the SBPD, it appeared that some material had been removed including Mr. Morua’s last text to his then fiancé/now wife Teresa Montoya at 12:06 a.m. just after he’d crashed his Dodge Caliber:

“Baby I’m Done,” were the words he texted that were received by Ms. Montoya on her iPhone but they were apparently missing from the download of data furnished to Mr. Genis by the SBPD, leading to these questions: 

 

 

 

 

 

9) Was Ms. Walker ever investigated by the Public Integrity Section for her attempt to “segregate” what she termed “sensitive official information” from Mr. Morua’s cell phone? And did her letter to Mrs. Dudley, lead to the defense of the case being handled by Mr. Birotte’s office?

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, the Assistant Chief of the Civil Division in Los Angeles?

And if, in fact, the Feds have dropped the ball and failed to further pursue an investigation of my findings of VA 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?

Mrs. Dudley only made the referral to the Feds after Mr. Dies got more than 1,000 signatures on a petition asking Mrs. Capps to come clean and tell the truth about my findings. The petition also called for the D.A. to call in the DOJ.

12) Now that Justice has apparently stalled in its probe, will the District Attorney, a close friend and political ally of Lois Capps, move forward?

13) Will Lois Capps finally tell the full truth about how much awareness her office had of Raymond Victor Morua’s prior criminal record at the time he was first brought on board as an intern and later promoted to District Representative? 

In 2006 Mr. Morua had two prior DUI arrests and a third arrest for a vehicular hit-and-run. In 2010, while working in Mrs. Capps office he was convicted of grand theft embezzlement. He had spoken openly about his problems with alcohol.

In the hours leading up to his manslaughter hit-and-run in which he struck Mallory Rae Dies at a speed (estimated by an SBPD detective) of 60 m.p.h. he consumed no less than eight drinks, including two bourbons at dinner and six vodkas at the Santa Barbara Independent’s annual Holiday Bash, an invitation-only event at which I proved he was working for Mrs. Capps. See Part Two of the series, Everybody Loved Raymond.

14) One of the Capps staffers present at the party, whom Mr. Morua texted Ms. Montoya he was with, was Chris Meagher, Mrs. Capps’ press secretary and a former reporter for the Indy. Why couldn’t Mr. Meagher or anyone else at that party who watched Mr. Morua consuming so many drinks, have pulled him aside and asked for his car keys before letting him walk out into the night? 

Mr. Morua, for his part, took responsibility and pled guilty to his crimes. He’s now serving 20 years to life at Wasco State Prison. Mrs. Capps and Mr. Meagher were quoted by The Independent and FoxNews.com as charging that my series was “full of inaccuracies.” But they have refused to cite a single fact or allegation in the 20,500 word series that was incorrect.

15) When will Lois Capps, who won a 9th term in November, take responsibility for Ms. Culver and the other members of her staff who watched Mr. Morua develop into a ticking time bomb and tell the full truth about this case? 

 

One Response to The Capps political dynasty ends. The unanswered questions in the DUI-manslaughter scandal that may have kept Laura out of Congress and spared Hillary’s campaign another ethics issue.

  1. Greg Dies Reply

    December 7, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Peter,
    Why have all these questions gone unanswered for so long? The congressional carpets must look extremely large and lumpy after sweeping these all under. What can I do to force these people to do their jobs? I will devote whatever time and effort it takes.

    Thanks for all,

    Greg

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