NAMBLA Fantasy

Republican activist Jeff Nielsen says he didnt know the object of his affection was a 14-year-old boy

Photos by Jack GouldI just wanted to give you a heads up. I got a call today, and the OC Weekly is going to write something on me. I don't know when. I don't know if they will try to contact you. If they do, please don't talk to them.

—April 7, 2005, e-mail from Jeff Nielsen to friends



Accused child molester Jeffrey Ray Nielsen has been buddies with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, former Orange County Republican bigwig Tom Fuentes and Sheriff Mike Carona. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas once hired him as a prosecution analyst. Mike Schroeder, the top political adviser to Carona and Rackauckas, successfully recommended Nielsen for USC law school.

Nielsen's even closer to Scott Baugh, the onetime minority leader of the state Assembly, now chairman of the local Republican Party. Baugh has partied and traveled with Nielsen, employed him as a top aide, and, when term limits forced him from office, displayed the type of generosity usually reserved for a best friend. Baugh got Manatt, Phelps & Phillips—"the powerhouse law firm"—to hire himself and Nielsen as lawyers.

When he was arrested on sex-crimes charges in 2003, sources say, the 35-year-old Nielsen called Baugh first.

Dominated by a small group of politically minded conservative businessmen, Orange County is a place where ambitious guys like Nielsen thrive. Sure, he was a closeted gay man, but that was hardly rare in the local GOP. Tall and handsome, he had formidable academic credentials and even better connections. It didn't hurt that he'd also been a foot soldier for conservative causes or that his father, Ben, also a Republican, had served as mayor of Fountain Valley. Some observers believe the Republican establishment was grooming Nielsen for the local judiciary.

Although he liked to engage underage boys in chat rooms and e-mails, Nielsen's future seemed limitless. He hobnobbed not just with the most powerful people in Orange County but in California. With a reported six-figure income, he purchased a BMW, ate at the best restaurants, relaxed at out-of-town gay bars, accumulated an impressive wardrobe and, according to friends, spent an enormous amount of energy creating the persona of an active, single straight guy. He bought a three-story home in Ladera Ranch for himself, his dog and the stuffed animals that adorned his bed. More than once, Fuentes, the godfather of the local Republican Party, where only open homosexuality is discouraged—visited Casa de Nielsen for parties.

Now Nielsen's meteoric rise is apparently over. It's not a pretty way to escape the closet, but his arrest two years ago forced him finally to acknowledge that he's gay. Nielsen has pleaded not guilty to six criminal counts of repeatedly molesting a 14-year-old Westminster boy. He's free on $10,000 bail but faces potentially more than six years in prison if convicted.

His situation grew worse in March when authorities added a new charge: possession of a huge, illegal cache of man-boy pornography. Many of the images show men having sex with prepubescent boys.

* * *

You might guess that a man facing sex-crimes charges would appear distraught or embarrassed, but Nielsen seems relaxed during his monthly pretrial court appearances. In fact, he often looks downright cocky, joking with his father in courtrooms crowded with other, far less natty defendants whose faces show nothing but fear.

There could be good reason for the nonchalance. Either through luck, hidden assistance or the work of Paul S. Meyer, his well-connected lawyer, Nielsen has managed to delay his trial for each of the past 28 months. He's flatly told friends that prosecutors will eventually drop the case without fanfare.

"The defense is hoping the case just goes away," said one of Nielsen's friends who spoke on condition of anonymity. "And they want it done quietly."

And this is where the story becomes convoluted.

The DA insists through spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder that the case will be handled judiciously. But Schroeder is the wife of Nielsen's friend Mike Schroeder, and she has excluded the Nielsen prosecution from her office's weekly list of cases for the media to watch. "We list only the cases we believe the media is interested in," she said. But she insists Nielsen has gained no insider advantage.

Schroeder blames the slow pace of the case on several factors: sex-crimes prosecutor Dan Hess has been busy pursuing other defendants. A complicated investigation required a special master to inspect Nielsen's home and office computers.

"Our office is handling the Nielsen case like any other," said Schroeder. "He's received no special treatment. Remember, it's my office that's prosecuting him."

But after two years of pretrial motions, a trial date still has not been set. Whatever is stalling the case, one undeniable impact must delight the defense. Jurors won't get to see the skinny, baby-faced 14-year-old high school student Nielsen met, romanced—police believe the boy was given roses—and allegedly used for oral and anal sex.

The boy is now growing into a man. He's 17 years old and could be in college before he testifies.

* * *

If law enforcement records are accurate, details of the case are simple. Nielsen had an adult boyfriend when he logged in anonymously to a gay online chat room in early 2003. There, he found the 14-year-old we'll call John Doe because of his age. Doe, an energetic youth who viewed himself as bisexual and lived with his mother, had been surfing the Net on a computer at Westminster High School. Police say Nielsen somehow bonded with Doe after shaving about six years from his age, telling the kid he was 26. They exchanged pictures and arranged to meet.

On March 27, 2003, Nielsen picked Doe up after school and drove him 35 minutes away to his Ladera Ranch home. In Nielsen's third-floor bedroom, the two stripped and had sex, according to law enforcement sources. Afterward, they cleaned up and Nielsen drove the boy 30 miles back to Westminster.

Following a flurry of e-mails, Nielsen left work on April 2 and drove to the boy's Westminster home. Except for the boy, the house was empty. It was a Wednesday afternoon. The boy's mother was at work. On the floor beside her bed, they had sex again, the boy told authorities.

Nielsen didn't know that, shortly after, Doe revealed details of the relationship to a female schoolmate at a Starbucks. They talked, and the boy decided he would not see Nielsen again. But the girl later told police detectives that Nielsen "conned" Doe into another encounter. On April 25, Nielsen drove to a Mexican restaurant in Westminster, picked up Doe for the last time and took him again to his Ladera Ranch bedroom. Police found an e-mail Nielsen sent the boy: "Maybe we can do something again on Sunday just like last week."

Alarmed, the boy's girlfriend told school officials about Nielsen. The officials confronted the boy, who reluctantly told enough of the story that a child-abuse report was filed. A police investigation and raid on Nielsen's property followed. Cops determined that the boy had not fabricated the relationship.

During a Sept. 6, 2005, preliminary hearing, prosecutor Hess asked Westminster police officer Scott Storey if Doe knew details of Nielsen's home and bedroom. Storey said the boy described the contents of the bedroom, even correctly identifying the color of Nielsen's bed comforter.

"It was," said Storey, "exactly as John Doe had described."

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