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 coroner ruled Andrea Nelson's mysterious 2003 death was accidental, never mind that her name surfaced only a few days earlier in connection with a Tustin Police Department internal-affairs investigation involving sex, drugs, corrupt cops and a since-closed Santa Ana strip club. Nelson's mother, Linda Cator, never believed it was an accident. She is certain her daughter was murdered. Now, with Cator's wrongful-death lawsuit just months from reaching a courtroom, one of the sleaziest and most-bizarre scandals in the history of Orange County law enforcement is about to get even stranger.
The most recent filings in the case—which are publicly available at the records room of the Orange County Superior Courthouse—refer to autopsy photographs allegedly overlooked by police showing evidence Nelson was strangled and beaten, and supposed statements by eyewitnesses asserting that a "snuff" film exists showing her rape and murder. If the case does go to trial, the records show, jurors will likely be asked to consider whether Nelson died because she exposed an upscale prostitution ring involving limousines, drug-addled strippers—and cops as security guards and drivers.
The back story: On Jan. 27, 2003, Homayan "Ray" Bakhtar, a 45-year-old businessman, brought the 20-year-old Nelson to Hoag Hospital. He said she had passed out in her car. Nelson never regained consciousness, and an autopsy revealed she had a lethal amount of cocaine in her system. Police searched Bakhtar's house. They found no cocaine but discovered several jars of GHB, the so-called "date rape drug." Bakhtar claimed he had consensual sex with Nelson at his house earlier that evening. When the coroner ruled her death accidental, the Orange County District Attorney's office declined to press charges.
Cator's suspicions, further aroused by facts reported in a series of stories by the Weekly(beginning with "Requiem For A Dreamgirl: A Tale of Sex, Drugs, Dirty Cops—and a Girl Who Knew Too Much," Dec. 1, 2005), prompted her to file suit.
Turns out that just before she died, Nelson had cooperated with Tustin police investigating several officers' ties to Nelson's ex-boyfriend, Sammy Johar, whose family owned Mr. J's, a Santa Ana strip club where he worked as a DJ. Nelson informed investigators that Johar provided some cops with access to the club's dancers—from lap dances to sex—in exchange for background checks and other favors.
Bakhtar admitted to Newport Beach police that he had frequented Mr. J's, but he insisted he didn't know Johar personally. However, several former Mr. J's employees told the Weekly that Johar and Bakhtar were friends who often partied together (see "Hey DA: Interview These Guys," Jan. 12, 2006).
Recent court filings attached to Cator's wrongful death lawsuit against Bakhtar paint a picture of Bakhtar and Johar's alleged friendship that is even more cozy—and suggest the existence of evidence that will ultimately prove Bakhtar was responsible for Nelson's death.
Crime scene photographs taken at Bakhtar's house show evidence of foul play, said Scott Shaw, an investigator hired by Cator, in a sworn declaration he filed last October. "Clearly evident to all who have looked at the photographs, yet missed and not mentioned in the autopsy report prepared by the Orange County Coroner, are bruises on the body of the deceased Andrea Nelson," Shaw stated. "The bruises can clearly be seen around the neck, wrist and ankles when the photographs are blown up 300 percent. Further, there appears to be blood on Nelson's finger that also appears on the mattress of Homayan Ray Bakhtar's bed. The mattress was not examined or seized by the Newport Beach police."
Police are aware of an eyewitness to Nelson's death, Shaw claimed. "In addition to information being developed during my investigation, a reporter who was covering this story for news media outside of Orange County was approached by an unidentified female who claims to have witnessed the murder," Shaw wrote. "According to details supplied to this reporter, Andrea Nelson died while Homayan Ray Bakhtar videotaped his rape of the decedent, Andrea Nelson, resulting in the filming of a pornographic 'snuff film.'"
Elsewhere in his declaration, Shaw stated that Bakhtar was a "long time family friend and associate of the Johars," contrary to Bakhtar's statements to police. According to Shaw, former Tustin police officer Anthony Bryant—who used to live with Johar and who lost his job thanks to Nelson's work as an informant—identified Bakhtar "as someone who he is familiar with and has been seen at the Johar residences and businesses."
Shaw says the friendship between Johar and Bakhtar was also confirmed during interviews he carried out with Johar's ex-wife, Valerie Metcalf, a former Mr. J's dancer and adult film star. "Valerie Metcalf said that she would regularly see Homayan Ray Bakhtar and Sam Johar together at Mr. J's," Shaw stated. "Further, she knew they were involved in a limousine/prostitution ring together where prostitutes were transported in limousines between Las Vegas and Orange County with police officers acting as limousine drivers and security."
Those statements mirror claims first published in the Weekly last year. Carlo Bonanni, a former Mr. J's bouncer, asserted that Bakhtar and Johar often partied together at Johar's house in Orange—parties that frequently drew noise complaints and police raids. And a former Mr. J's dancer who asked to remain anonymous claimed that Johar and Bakhtar were partners in a prostitution ring on wheels. "They were getting girls from Mr. J's and running them to and from Vegas—and the cops used to protect it," the dancer said. "Everybody knew about it. All the girls knew about it because it was the good thing to do. If you hung out with [Bakhtar] and Sammy, if you were a dancer, you got free drugs and could get a substantial amount of money."
In a brief courthouse interview last year, Bakhtar insisted he was innocent of any wrongdoing. Paperwork filed by his attorneys in opposition to Cator's lawsuit asserts that Nelson had overdosed on drugs in the past, that she was already intoxicated when she arrived at his house the night she died, and that Cator is pursuing conspiracy theories instead of coming to terms with her own failings as a mother.
Meanwhile, Johar's whereabouts are unknown—he skipped bail on drug charges shortly before Nelson's death. Shaw failed to respond to several interview requests for this story, and Cator's attorney, Norman Gregory Fernandez, refused to elaborate on Shaw's sensational claims. "We intend to meet our burden of proof," he said. "State Bar Association rules prohibit me from making any statements that would prejudice a potential jury."
However, David Brent, the DA's chief homicide investigator, confirmed that his office hasn't completely shut the door on a possible homicide case involving Nelson's death. He said his office has held at least one meeting with Shaw and has assigned an investigator to interview alleged eyewitnesses in the case. "We heard that there was some video," Brent added. "We asked for that, and for any evidence that they have. But we haven't gotten anything yet."