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    New book on my investigation into the Congresswoman, the Iraq war vet & the cover-up of a DUI hit-and-run manslaughter scandal

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    By Peter Lance April 1st, 2024  In 2018 I was close to finishing a new investigative book set in Santa Barbara, when I put it on hold to pursue a probe into a legendary wrongful death case in my home town of Newport, RI. That work ultimately led to two pieces in Vanity Fair and my true crime best seller “Homicide At Rough Point.”

    Now, recent events in my adopted “home town” on the West Coast have caused me to revisit that earlier book, which is also a true crime investigation into a wrongful death set in a similar tony enclave.

    City Under The Influence focuses on my 2014 investigation into the manslaughter hit and run death of Mallory Rae Dies; an act of manslaughter that prompted an FBI-DOJ investigation that ultimately led to a $2.5 million dollar settlement for the Dies family that made international headlines with two separate stories in The U.K. Daily Mail.

    That settlement was the direct result of “Death On The American Riviera,” the five-part series I reported and wrote that was published in the now shuttered Santa Barbara News Press in mid-April of 2014. The links below are to pdf’s of the pieces as they appeared in print.



    At the time of her death, Mallory was a vivacious 27 year-old UCSB graduate, beloved in the Santa Barbara downtown community. Her family used the award to set up a foundation that has already succeeded in reducing the number of DUI accidents among young people 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. The driver who killed Mallory, Raymond Victor Morua,  — sentenced to 20 years to life in state prison — was working at the time of the collision for veteran Congresswoman Lois Capps, then, one of the most influential and respected Democratic Members of Congress from California after former-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

    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.

    The Feds quietly settled with the Dies family just days before Mrs. Capps’ election to a ninth term. While the ongoing scandal may have influenced her decision not to seek a 10th term or 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 FBI and Justice Department prosecutors seemed determined to ignore. So the investigation continues and my additional findings will be published in the book.

    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 a pursuit of the truth. I’ve worked it now, off and on, for nearly a decade.

    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 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 40 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 could keep him in prison for 17 years

    Two days earlier, on this website, I started publishing my copywritten five-part investigative series “Death On The American Riviera.” 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 a lawyer for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Office of General Counsel may have attempted to obstruct justice by asking the then Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley, a close political ally of Mrs. Capps, to “segregate” what the attorney 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 Robert Stoll, Jr. of their intent to file a civil suit for wrongful death against Mrs. Capps and the federal government.

    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 then press aide Chris Meagher to comment on my findings, but the only statement they made to The Santa Barbara Independent and was that the series was “full of inaccuracies.”

    When pressed for details, however, both Mrs. Capps and Mr. Meagher had no comment. To this date, no one in government or the media has challenged a single finding in the series.

    On May 1st, 2014 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.”


    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 District Attorney Joyce Dudley sent a five-part series from The News-Press to the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California in Los Angeles.”

    While acknowledging that the investigation was being conducted by the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section in Washington, Mrs. Capps’ office told the L.A. 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 was 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 Federal probe which commenced May 27th, 2014 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 Resident Agency (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 my 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, 2014, 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.


    On August 3rd, 2014, 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 Golden 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 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, Congress member Capps and her intrepid troupe made a 180-degree turn…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 News-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, which initially referred my findings to the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section in Washington.”


    Unknown to me at the time I published that Op Ed, the Feds had already settled the case after Mr. Stoll agreed to remove Mrs. Capps’ name from the caption of his civil action.

    On Saturday, November 1st, 2014, three days before the closest race in Mrs. Capps’ career, AUSA Ms. Zatz negotiated a settlement in Mr. Stoll’s law office, 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 and the book should be finished by the late Spring of 2024. Most of the links below are still active, but some to The News-Press, now in bankruptcy court, have  broken.

    PART ONE:        Memories of Mallory
    PART TWO:       Everybody Loved Raymond
    PART THREE:   The Hero And The High Speed Chase
    PART FOUR:     Damage Control
    PART FIVE:       The Cover-up

    PDF’s of the series as printed in the News-Press:


    FOLLOW-UP STORIES in all media

    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 April 24th, 2014
    California rep sued over DUI death,
    questions raised about ties to driver May 6th, 2014
    Petition calling for Fed Prosecutor to probe
    News-Press charges has 1000+ signatures 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 June 7th, 2014
    FBI-DOJ open probe into findings in News-Press
    investigative series on Lois Capps June 9th 2014
    FBI, DOJ reportedly probing ties of
    California rep’s staffer to driver in DUI death June 11th, 2014
    SB Indy finally covers FBI probe; Capps spokesman
    Chris Meagher calls it a, “fact finding inquiry”

    L.A. Times June 12th, 2014
    Federal officials to investigate fatal DUI
    involving former House aide.

    The Associated Press June 12th, 2014
    Feds probe aftermath of crash involving House aide July 12th, 2014
    The Congresswoman who can’t escape the
    DUI manslaughter scandal that haunts her August 3rd, 2014
    Target of FBI probe was 2012 Electoral College
    delegate for President Barack Obama November 2nd, 2014
    The Ethics & Public Life of Congresswoman Lois Capps November 5th, 2014
    Chris Mitchum loses race to Lois Capps;
    Campaign refused to raise Morua
    DUI-manslaughter issue December 6th, 2014
    The unanswered questions in the DUI hit-and-run
    manslaughter death of Mallory Rae Dies

    U.K. Daily Mail December 30th, 2014
    Parents of woman killed in hit-and-run by
    drunk U.S. congressional aide, win $2.5 M
    settlement from federal government. 














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