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
Courtesy pool photographer
The Orange County RegisterAfter a nine-hour courtroom fight this week, red-faced millionaire businessman and former Orange County Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl appeared on the verge of a breakdown. Haidl removed his glasses, dropped his face into the palm of his right hand and appeared tearful as Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseño began to issue a pivotal order during a Nov. 16 hearing. Haidl's wife, Kathy, softly stroked his left hand and sighed.
For more than two years, Haidl promised his baby-faced 19-year-old son, Gregory—twice an accused rapist free on $200,000 bail—he'd never spend a night incarcerated. "The last thing this boy needs is jail," he told a newspaper earlier this month. So when Briseño revoked bail and said, "I'm going to order that the defendant be housed at the Orange County Jail," the elder Haidl winced as if the words burned.
Two hours later, sheriff's detectives escorted a handcuffed Greg Haidl into the jail. Following his July 2002 arrest for the first rape charge, he flipped his middle finger at the media before his father, then a high-ranking cop, quickly bailed him out of jail. This time there was no bail or bravado. Deputies fingerprinted, photographed, strip searched and then, because of his suicide threats, placed Haidl alone in a 12-foot-by-six-foot psychiatric-ward cell. He'll likely remain there until his numerous criminal matters are resolved next year.
Joseph G. Cavallo, one of nine Haidl defense lawyers, said the jailing "jeopardizes" his client and was "killing" the Haidl family. "Greg isn't a sociopath," he said. "He is a teenager, an adolescent and immature. He's just a kid who is lost. . . . The prosecution has it in for this boy. This is a black eye for the judicial system."
But the Haidl family nightmare scenario was a cause of relief for others. Since first accused of videotaping himself and two buddies gang raping and molesting an unconscious minor on a pool table at the family's Corona del Mar house in July 2002, Greg Haidl allegedly embarked on a crime spree. The issues ranged from the petty (illegal skateboarding, trespassing, vandalism) to the serious (causing a vehicle collision while high on booze and illegally obtained drugs) to the alarming (an alleged second rape of a minor). According to police reports, alcohol and drug abuse played a factor in most of the incidents.
Throughout the saga, Haidl not only evaded responsibility but was also rewarded by his family with expensive gifts such as trips to Hawaii, Mexico and England; new clothes; an expensive watch; a 2005 Scion; and an unsupervised, carefree lifestyle full of teenage parties. His legal-defense team angrily proclaimed innocence, attacked witnesses and blamed prosecutors and the media for all of Greg's troubles. Some members of the local media joined the bandwagon. Orange County-based Los Angeles Times columnist Dana Parsons, for example, saved his scorn not for the disgraceful conduct of Greg Haidl or his lawyers, but for District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. The offensive strategy worked for 28 months. It seemed as if the local criminal-justice system was incapable of holding accountable someone so wealthy and well-connected to law enforcement.
Cavallo recently berated reporters for suggesting his client is spoiled. Perhaps the lawyer's memory failed him. "Do you know who my dad is?" young Haidl asked cops after they found a bag of marijuana beneath his car keys and wallet in October 2003. He wasn't charged. After the Oct. 30, 2004, collision that injured two people in Santa Ana, police let Greg Haidl leave the scene even though he was under the influence of alcohol and a massive dose of the illegally obtained sedative Xanax, according to court testimony.
In hopes of avoiding bail revocation, Greg Haidl lied about his intoxication to police at the collision scene. He blamed his condition on "spicy Indian food." After it was evident prosecutors weren't as gullible as the Santa Ana P.D., he checked himself into a private ocean-view Laguna Beach hospital claiming he couldn't come to court for a bail hearing because he was, he promised, suicidal. Chief Assistant District Attorney Chuck Middleton raised his eyebrow and shook his head when asked if he believed Greg Haidl's latest excuse.
A Haidl-paid psychiatrist who hadn't known the defendant for more than 10 hours at the Laguna Beach hospital complained his patient nowadays "gets no pleasure from normally pleasurable activities" and didn't want to go to jail. "He felt that he was depressed," testified Dr. Irwin Rosenfeld. Middleton asked: How do you know he's truly depressed? "He had a sad face," said Rosenfeld, who wanted Greg to stay at the facility so he could enjoy daily walks in the ocean breeze, regular doses of anxiety medication and hours of group therapy.
"[Greg] said he'd rather kill himself [than go to jail]," Rosenfeld said. "He feels a lot of regret for what he's done wrong."
If true, that sentiment didn't reach Greg Haidl's lawyers. They continue to assert that Haidl did not violate the judge's bail orders, rape anyone or drive under the influence. "This is a kid who helps old ladies and children," said Cavallo, who—with colleague Pete Scalisi—begged the court to keep Greg Haidl at the private facility under guard. "Then we can say we have given Greg every single chance."
But the game was up. Briseño—who'd warned Greg Haidl in August that his bail would be revoked if he misbehaved again—had finally tired. "The facts of the underlying [rape] charges are strong," said Briseño, who then declared that the evidence is "clear and convincing" Greg Haidl ignored his bail rules and is a danger to himself as well as the public.
There's no mystery why CBS' 48 Hours will broadcast a story about the case on Saturday. The Haidl plot line is all about money, power, teen sex and injustice with the bonus of a Newport Beach setting. Network officials say the show won't contain any surprises for those of us who know the tale. That's too bad. They had comparatively limitless access to Greg and the Haidl family for the past two years. It would have been nice to learn the answer to one of the few remaining unanswered questions: If he had to do it all over again, would Don Haidl spend so much money, time and energy trying to shield his son from growing up?