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
The Orange County District Attorney's Office claims that sex-crime prosecutions are a top priority. So why is one accused serial child molester still free and awaiting trial after nearly four years?
One answer might be connections. Jeffrey Ray Nielsen is not merely a former intern in the DA's office. He's a prominent Republican activist in a county controlled by the Republican Party, a man with close ties to the former and current heads of that party; Huntington Beach Congressman Dana Rohrabacher; and Michael Schroeder, adviser to the county's top law enforcement officials, DA Tony Rackauckas and Sheriff Mike Carona.
Both Rohrabacher and Schroeder want this known: there is no direct evidence that anyone has interfered with the case. But chronic delays in the case have raised courthouse suspicions. The trial, which already has been delayed a whopping 42 months, was most recently set for mid-December. But at a Nov. 17 hearing—conducted mostly in whispers at the judge's bench—both Nielsen defense lawyers and the prosecution were granted yet another delay. The tentative trial date is now Jan. 22.
When Superior Court Judge Gary Paer asked Nielsen if he agreed to postpone his trial once again, Nielsen quickly replied, "Yes, I do, your honor." It's doubtful Nielsen will ever answer otherwise. The 36-year-old isn't just free from a potential prison cell—he still works at a prestigious Irvine law firm, drives a late-model BMW, lives comfortably in a Ladera Ranch townhouse and maintains a MySpace.com account where he lists numerous teenage boys as online friends.
That sort of liberty is hard to square with the Jeffrey Nielsen who emerges in a series of letters he wrote in the mid-1990s to "Billy," a young boy in Northern Virginia.
Billy's parents rented a spare bedroom to Nielsen, whom they'd met at their church. The family is Christian and conservative, and Nielsen seemed like their kind of guy. His father was a high-ranking Republican and the mayor of Fountain Valley, and Nielsen himself worked as an aide to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in the congressman's Washington D.C. office. Nielsen preached the Bible, and berated liberals and homosexuals alike.
But once inside the Virginia house, Nielsen quietly began an intense romantic relationship with Billy (not his real name). According to interviews Billy gave the Weekly and county detectives in August and September, Nielsen used Billy as his sex partner at a time when the boy attended the seventh and eighth grades, discouraged Billy's budding interest in girls and insisted that he'd grow up to be gay.
"He tried to brainwash me," says Billy, who is now married. "He was very controlling."
Nielsen has refused to talk to the media or police about his relationship with Billy. In court papers, he has dismissed the stories as "rumor" and "speculation," hinted that Billy is "delusional" and demanded that Billy not be allowed to testify in an upcoming trial.
That trial deals with charges closer to home. After Orange County Republican Party boss and former Assemblyman Scott Baugh got him a job at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, Nielsen was arrested in 2003 for allegedly molesting a Westminster High School freshman boy and possessing a huge, illegal cache of man-boy pornography.
Nielsen defense lawyer Paul Meyer says that if Billy is allowed to testify in the upcoming Westminster case, he will "have to spend considerable time refuting the testimony by establishing a motive to fabricate a molestation claim."
Meyer may face a hurdle: Nielsen's own words.
In late 1996, Nielsen received personal character references from Rohrabacher and California GOP bigwigs Schroeder and Tom Fuentes to attend USC Law School. Nielsen moved from Virginia back to California. But living apart from the boy apparently tortured the then-25-year-old man. He documented his obsession—including demanding love from Billy—in a series of letters to a kid entering the ninth grade. Here are excerpts:
9/15/95, 1 p.m. (Pacific)
I called you yesterday after 3 p.m., but your sister said you weren't at home. I also called you the day before that and left a message for you. Did you get either message? Is something wrong? You should get my B-day card to you a few days before you get this. I hope you like the Cal Ripken card I sent you.
[. . .]
I promise that I will send you all of our future press clippings for USC games. I didn't send you the first ones because I thought that after not hearing from you or your family that you guys didn't want to talk to me at all. I still think that some people there might not like me too much. But, I hope that you write me A LOT, so we can stay in close touch. I miss you very much, and I think of you a lot. I'm always praying for you. Please try to use all 40 of the stamps that I gave you before next summer (to write me with). I'll give you some more then.
[. . .]
I've been so busy with my LSATs and trying to help get the campaign I'm working on going. The guy we're working for is Scott Baugh. He's a young lawyer running for the Assembly that we're recalling that lady Doris Allen from. If he wins, I might be able to get a job in his district office in Fountain Valley or Huntington Beach.