By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Gregory Scott Haidl seems a typical teenager—except for the fact that he's at the center of not only Orange County's latest sensational sex crime but also an unprecedented grand jury investigation into police corruption. He's 18, but baby-faced. His clothes fit poorly on his lanky frame and skinny limbs. His awkward gait belies a skateboarding talent. He's a master of the adolescent bored look: when Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno asks him a question during preliminary court hearings, Haidl frequently looks up, seemingly surprised, straightens in his seat and replies in quick, hushed, respectful tones.
But there's another side to Haidl. Along with friends Kyle Nachreiner and Keith Spann, Haidl was arrested in July 2002 on charges he participated in the videotaped gang rape of an unconscious minor after she'd been rendered senseless with marijuana and alcohol. He might never have been arrested if he hadn't immodestly shown his homemade sex DVD to high school classmates, one of whom thought the girl was dead and notified police. When police moved him from juvenile detention to the courthouse for an early hearing, Haidl—dressed in a orange, county-issued jumpsuit and shackled at the waist—flipped off observers. Following publication of a few articles in the Weekly about his case in late December, Haidl took a break from the defense table, scanned the courtroom, caught my eye and held it. He was actually mad-dogging me.
Suspects facing up to 55 years in prison aren't usually cocky, but Haidl's attitude is no mystery. Consider his surroundings. There's his overprotective mother, whom prosecutors allege posted fliers seeking dirt on the alleged 16-year-old rape victim (despite the fact that the mother's phone number was listed on the flier, she denies any role in the opposition research campaign); his doting, wealthy father, Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl, has publicly expressed outrage that prosecutors filed charges; another ranking Sheriff's Department official tried to hinder a Newport Beach police probe of the incident; Haidl's professional public-relations consultant has portrayed prosecutors as the villains in the case; and a six-member legal-defense team which insists their client's arrest is "reverse discrimination."
Not many criminal defendants—teenage or otherwise—have such an ensemble at their disposal. But then not many kids have a dad worth an estimated $90 million. The elder Haidl struck gold by winning government contracts to sell vehicles seized by local governments around the country; the money has made him one of Orange County's richest individuals and a powerbroker in local law enforcement races. He received a political appointment to oversee the OC sheriff's reserve units after he generated big contributions to Sheriff Mike Carona's 1998 election campaign.
Even though he carries a badge now, Haidl's past activities drew repeated law enforcement scrutiny in the late 1980s and '90s. According to an Orange County Register investigation in 1999, the state of California conducted three separate probes into suspicions that Haidl's businesses skimmed as much as $1 million from public agencies. The paper discovered that at least one of the investigations ended prematurely after a Haidl friend in the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department convinced state officials to drop it. In the other cases, Haidl paid $104,000 before trial to settle civil suits that he defrauded more than 36 public agencies including almost a dozen in Orange County. Thirteen years ago, Haidl paid $260,000 to a former associate who'd accused him of buying law-enforcement connections with money, jewelry, guns, vehicles, alcohol and prostitutes.
Despite the father's colorful background, Haidl defense lawyer Joseph G. Cavallo has cast his client as a quiet, well-disciplined kid. "He's nice to his mother," Cavallo told a reporter immediately after the rape arrest. His grandmother has said, "He's a good boy."
Whatever his personality, it was undoubtedly influenced by his parents' troubled 23-year marriage, which ended in 1998. One law enforcement source who knows the Haidls said the estranged couple used Gregory as a pawn in their own war, each parent reportedly showering the boy with gifts to win his favor. Don Haidl eventually remarried.
Gregory lived mostly with his mother in the Inland Empire. While at Rancho Cucamonga High School his talent for skateboarding won him a corporate sponsorship for five years, according to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. One classmate said that Haidl thought of himself as "hot stuff . . . he tells people he can get away with things." A girl who briefly dated Haidl called him "perverted and pushy."
But it would be Haidl's interest in videotape that would come back to haunt him. He dreamed of a career in the film industry and owned an expensive Sony Hand Held camera—the one prosecutors say he used to record the rape. Matt Cataldo, a video production teacher at Rancho Cucamonga High School, told reporters Haidl is "one of those kids with great vision when it comes to video . . . He tapes everything."
There are now two video recordings held in evidence at the Orange County Courthouse that show that Haidl is, at best, a budding juvenile delinquent or, at worst, a drug-using rapist. You're probably already familiar with the 21-minute rape case DVD: Haidl and his two buddies taped themselves laughing as they unloaded their sexual fantasies on an unconscious girl tossed on a pool table in the garage of Haidl's Corona del Mar house during a late-night beer party. Haidl says the girl consented before passing out; the prosecution says that's not true, and that even if she had consented, it's still illegal to have sex with a minor.