By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
To block testimony of a second rape victim featured in a Sept. 28 Weekly article, accused child molester Jeffrey Ray Nielsen claims that his Orange County prosecutor may have worked "in sync" with that victim's demand of $100,000 in exchange for "continued silence."
"After the deadline for payment passed, [Deputy District Attorney] Dan Hess abruptly notified" him that he intended to use this new victim as a witness at a future trial, Nielsen attorney Paul S. Meyer advised the court on Sept. 29.
Meyer also told Superior Court Judge Gary Paer that "he had a clear impression that [the victim's] call [to Nielsen] was a pretext, placed with the direction or knowledge of law enforcement."
"If the prosecution or police contacted [this victim] before the extortion call and solicited him to act as a government agent to elicit a confession by Mr. Nielsen, such conduct would flagrantly violate [the law], and would amount to an endorsement of—if not outright participation in—criminal conduct by a prosecution witness," Meyer added.
Hess said that neither he nor any law-enforcement officer "committed any of the malicious deeds attributed to us by the defense." In a brief to the court, he argued that "the People had no knowledge that John Doe #2 called the defendant." A preliminary DA investigation found that the second victim (identified as John Doe #2 because he was 13 and 14 years old at the time of the alleged sex crimes in Virginia) demanded $100,000 and an apology in a moment of anger and frustration two months ago.
The Weekly's Sept. 28 article reported John Doe #2's allegations and noted that DA Tony Rackauckas' office, where Nielsen once worked as an intern, had let a staggering 40 months lapse without a trial. To Nielsen's delight, the delays mean possible diminished witness recollections and this key fact: future jurors won't ever see the adolescent face of John Doe #1. They'll see a young man who has aged almost four years since the alleged crimes.
This reality helped provoke the second victim to reveal his 10-year-old secret. He says he was in the seventh and eighth grades when Nielsen sexually abused him. The boy's parents had rented a room to Nielsen in their northern Virginia house after meeting him at a church where Nielsen volunteered as a youth counselor for 10 males in junior high school.
At the time of those alleged molestations, Nielsen—whose dad was a Republican mayor of Fountain Valley—also worked as a fiery conservative activist and congressional aide in Washington, D.C., for Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.
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After his 2003 arrest for his relationship with the Westminster High School freshman, Nielsen came out of the closet, joined liberal-leaning organizations and has attempted to portray his legal woes as anti-gay discrimination. Last year, Nielsen managed to get Orange County Registerreporter Richard Chang to boost his public image with a story that hailed his concern for—you can't make this stuff up—kittens made homeless by the Katrina disaster in Louisiana. That story did not mention the sexual predator charges. (Ken Brusic's Register, often a shameless if effective arm of the local Republican Party, has refused to tell its readers about Nielsen's arrest.)
"It's hard to believe nothing has happened to Jeff after all that he's done," John Doe #2 told the Weekly during a recent telephone interview. "He's free and he still has his [law] license."
Nielsen—longtime close pals with Rohrabacher (a former Register employee) as well as California Republican bigwigs Scott Baugh and Tom Fuentes—has declined to cooperate with police since his July 2003 arrest by Westminster police detective Scott Storey. Storey says the then-33-year-old Nielsen committed more than a half dozen felonies while repeatedly using a 14-year-old boy as a sex partner. He'd met the boy in an online gay chat room and, according to law enforcement reports, led the student to believe that they were much closer in age. Police also believe that Nielsen took the boy to dinner, sent him love letters and gave him flowers.
An investigation later uncovered more than 400 pictures of man-boy sex on Nielsen's home and office computers. At the time of his arrest, Nielsen worked as a lawyer at Manatt, Phelps & Philips, a job he obtained from his benefactor Baugh, current chairman of the Orange County Republican Party and a man who doubles as a $250,000-a-year lobbyist for the county of Orange. Nielsen entered USC law school in 1997 thanks to character references by Rohrabacher and Michael J. Schroeder, top political strategist to DA Rackauckas. In a recent interview with the Weekly, Rackauckas said he was baffled and angered that Nielsen had avoided a trial for so long.
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Meyer's latest excuse to delay the trial came on Aug. 24 after he says John Doe #2 called Nielsen at his current place of employment, the Irvine office of Dahnke Cruz Law Group. The firm does not list Nielsen as an employee, but he's worked there for more than a year.
In court documents, Meyer claims John Doe #2 said, "Unless you make an apology and pay me $100,000 by next Thursday [Aug. 31], I will go to the papers and tell them you sexually abused me for two years. . . . The only reason you are not in prison now is because I have denied the charges."
Nielsen told Meyer he replied, "I don't know what you are talking about" and asked the victim if he was "delusional." The lawyer supported Nielsen's version of the call with a declaration by Jeannine Watson, Nielsen's law firm colleague. Watson claims she secretly listened to the conversation and took notes.
The phone call gave Meyer the first break (other than delaying the trial, of course) that he's had in a dismal case. A crafty legal veteran known for his connections and ability to finagle special favors in courthouse chambers, Meyer quickly contacted the local FBI office, portrayed Nielsen as a victim and demanded a formal investigation. He followed up in court by suggesting that Hess or other law-enforcement officers had tried to "ambush" his client with a role in the alleged extortion call.
Those who know Hess—a mild-mannered, ethical prosecutor who gained publicity for his role in the Haidl gang rape case—can only smile at Meyer's tactics. Hess responded in a court filing last week by saying Nielsen's attempt to discredit the second victim are meritless. To help prove his Westminster case, he wants a jury to know that there is more than one boy who claims Nielsen molested him. DA investigators have found multiple independent witnesses—including a boy who grew up to become an FBI agent. Those East Coast men have backed up John Doe #2's claims with eyewitness statements, according to court records.
"Several witnesses described inappropriate activities between the defendant and John Doe #2," Hess told Judge Paer on Sept. 29. "Some described the defendant kissing, touching and fondling" the 13-year-old boy when he lived in Virginia.
The defense insists those witnesses don't exist. Whatever the truth, this much is certain: a trial that's been delayed more than 28,800 hours has been once again postponed. It's now tentatively set for Dec. 4.
The ironies are plentiful. Meyer, who unsuccessfully defended Orange County Superior Court Judge Ron Kline against sex crimes involving underage boys several years ago, has asked Judge Paer for a special ruling at the next pretrial hearing on Nov. 17. He wants all testimony by or about John Doe #2 to be excluded from future jurors because—get a whiff of this—its introduction into evidence would violate Nielsen's constitutional right to a speedy trial.