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
Taken for a Ride
Did crimes Kamran Mashayekhi witnessed put his life in danger? Some law-enforcement officials aren't so sure
On a sticky table at a bustling Norms restaurant, laminated pictures of pancakes peek through splayed white pages, folded newspaper articles and an orange envelope.
"I'm marked for death," a thickly accented, graying Iranian-born man at the table says. Kamran Mashayekhi, 66, wears a neat, checkered sport coat on top of a button-up shirt. "Look," he says, placing his hands over a 23-page emergency-room report. "Those motherfuckers tried to kill me."
At Mashayekhi's cursing, a man sitting at a nearby table with his family lifts his eyes from his prime rib and glares in irritation at him.
"Those murderous gangsters are like al-Qaeda," Mashayekhi declares. "They are the terrorists."
Perhaps the subject of the too-loud assertion makes the man with the prime rib decide against telling Mashayekhi to keep it down. At another nearby table, an elderly couple has stopped talking.
"The police will do nothing to protect me. The Anaheim police are waiting for my blood," Mashayekhi says. "The Buena Park police are waiting for my blood. They take from you; they use you. And then they throw you into the lion's den."
A young Latina waitress walks over to the table. Smiling, she leans over to fill two coffee mugs. "Let me open those blinds for you," she says. She pulls down the string, the window revealing midday Main Street in Santa Ana. Mashayekhi spots two young Latinos on the sidewalk and quickly averts his gaze, shielding his face with his hand.
From an envelope, Mashayekhi pulls a pile of old, washed-out-looking photographs. One is a poorly scanned Kodachrome of young Mashayekhi wearing aviator shades. An indiscernible burly, bearded man in fatigues salutes behind him. Fidel Castro, he says.
Another is of Mashayekhi with Elizabeth Taylor. With George H.W. Bush. With Anwar Sadat. With John Wayne.
"I was a reporter," he says. "See, look at these pictures."
He pulls a folded newspaper from the pile. "Look, read this," he says. "Mr. Dana Parsons at the Los Angeles Times wrote about me.
"I'm sleeping from motel to motel every night. But I cannot leave. If I don't stay to testify, the district attorney will have no case, and these murderous gangsters will get away free. But I am not scared.
"You must promise me you will write my story," he insists. "If I am killed, I will not go silently."
The article Mashayekhi points to, "Beaten Man Says He Won't Bow to Gangs," is familiar. Not only did it run on the front page of the Los Angeles Times Metro section on Dec. 8, but copies had been arriving in the mail at the Weekly for more than a month, too. The folded sections of newspaper were often accompanied by cryptic handwritten messages, such as "Anaheim Police are waiting for my blood."
On the afternoon of Nov. 29, 2007, Mashayekhi was allegedly assaulted in a Buena Park garage by 26-year-old Gilbert Carrillo Jr. and another man who has never been identified. He claims it was a gang-related hit because he worked as an informant for the police and was possibly responsible for some of Carrillo's associates being incarcerated.
Carrillo was released on bail in December, and with police not seeming to take threats to Mashayekhi's safety seriously, more information may yet be revealed. A preliminary hearing in which the district attorney's office will lay out its case against the defendant is scheduled for March 13 and could provide answers.
Parsons' first Times column echoed Mashayekhi's version of the story, but in a follow-up column on Dec. 20, he seemed to back away from the excitable Iranian by including a mysterious statement from Buena Park Detective Sergeant John Swisher.
"The more and more we look into this," Swisher told Parsons, "the more we thought what happened at first may not be exactly what happened."
Buena Park detectives would not speak to the Weekly about this case or this quote. Parsons declined to comment on his two columns, saying he may write about Mashayekhi again.
* * *
The story began one night two years ago when Mashayekhi, then a taxi driver, stayed in a seedy Anaheim motel. Peering out the window, he noticed a group of six or seven men disappearing into a nearby room, lugging what appeared to be a dead body wrapped up in a blanket, he says. He immediately called the police.
This wasn't the first time he'd blown the whistle on crimes, he says.
Back then, he carried a card in his wallet with the cell-phone numbers of several local detectives. Mashayekhi proudly recounts a history of informing. The paydays were usually between $30 and $200, but he says he did it to be a "Good Samaritan."
He pointed out the locations of meth labs, crack houses and whorehouses. He led the police to a child-pornography operation and provided inside information on local Muslim extremists. He gave up the names of drug and gun dealers. He even acted as a decoy, pretending to buy drugs under the supervision of detectives, he says.
Police departments contacted by the Weekly declined to confirm Mashayekhi's involvement in any investigation—or the identities of any confidential sources.
As a driver working nights in some of the tougher parts of the landlocked cities on the western edge of Orange County—including Cypress, Stanton, Westminster, Buena Park and Anaheim—suspicious-looking passengers are easy to come by, he says. He admits that throughout his career as first a taxi driver and now an independent chauffeur, he has given rides to some of the wrong people.
"If you discriminate too much—you know, this one looks like he's in a gang, this one looks like a criminal—you get no action," he says. "The majority of people who want to take a taxi in some of these places are shady people."
That night at the Anaheim motel, soon after he notified police about the body rolled in a blanket, they stormed the hotel and arrested the men, he says. Moments later, as he was talking to the cops, he spotted one of his regular rides lurking around: a 6-foot-tall, 200-pound woman named Angela.
On his way back to his room, he says, Angela blurted out, "You're a snitch."
Mashayekhi says he never found out what happened to the arrested men or the body in the blanket.
By last November, it had been two years since he'd seen her, but suddenly, out of nowhere, there she was. Angela was standing on the exact same corner he used to always see her, he says. She told him she had been in prison and was now on parole.
She paid $20 for a ride to a neighborhood, somewhere on the western edge of Anaheim or eastern edge of Buena Park. She told him to wait around the corner. She left, and then she returned a few minutes later. "I wasn't very comfortable with her because she knew I was a snitch," he says. "But what can she do in the car? I did make her sit in the front because if she sat in back, she could hit me in the head or something."
But nothing happened. She returned and got a ride back. He gave her his card, made of yellow construction paper with the words "Towncar Ride Good Price" and his phone number. She'd call him for a ride next time, she said.
* * *
Ten days after seeing Angela, "Hector" calls. He says he knows Angela. He says he wants a ride to LAX. Mashayekhi says he considers himself streetwise, but the prospect of a $150 ride to LAX and a couple of other factors helped him let down his guard.
"I'm pretty crafty; I'm very alert," he says. "I've been doing this a long time, and I've never been hurt before.
"But two things fooled me. One was that the house was in a nice residential area. It wasn't in a drug area. And the guy's sitting around, decorating his Christmas lights. He says, 'Do you like these lights?' He has a big smile on his face," he says.
"But I saw he had a shaved head, tattoos. I was a little apprehensive. But then again, the Christmas lights, decorations, the residential area. And again, 99 percent of the Mexicans are good people. They're a traditional people, hardworking people."
Mashayekhi leans over the Norms table and, in a low grumble, says, "Only 1 percent of these murderous gangsters are around."
When "Hector" asked him into the garage for help with his luggage, Mashayekhi followed.
Moments later, Mashayekhi says, he was on the floor, bloodied and groveling for his life. Another man, a chubby-cheeked kid of about 19 walked in. He pulled off his shirt to show off his gang tattoos, Mashayekhi says.
"I'm the type of guy that faints when I get a shot, so imagine, me in the locked garage. The blood is flowing. I touch my eye, I said, 'I'm bleeding.'
"[The kid] said, 'I don't give a fuck. You're a rat. You turned in our bros.'"
Mashayekhi says the two proceeded to torture him for the next hour and a half, all the while letting him know that at any moment, they were going to kill him, wrap him in a blanket and bury him in the desert. They shocked him in the face with a Taser, he says. They threatened him with a hammer, and they painted his hands orange in what he can only assume was a gang ritual to mark snitches, he says. They took his money, his cell phone and his identification.
But just then, something happened.
"All of the sudden, a phone call came in to the kid," Mashayekhi says. "The kid was supposed to take me to the desert and kill me."
"[The kid] says [into the phone], 'You want me to leave now; I'm supposed to take this guy to the desert.'
"I'm sitting in my chair listening. I'm petrified, and he's just watching me.
"Then the kid says to ["Hector"], 'I can't take him to the desert; can you?'
"He says, 'No, I have my family here at the house; I can't leave.'
"Then the kid left. He put on his jacket and left."
Unable to pull off the killing, the remaining man let Mashayekhi leave, but "Hector" warned him: "If you go to the cops, I know where you live. I'll kill you," says Mashayekhi.
Mashayekhi found the nearest pay phone—at a Carl's Jr.—and called the Anaheim Police Department. They said the house where he was assaulted was actually in Buena Park. Mashayekhi felt dread as they told him they would dispatch the Buena Park P.D.
* * *
Mashayekhi had refused to set foot in Buena Park for the past five years, specifically to avoid its police officers, he says. (Only later, he says, he realized it was the same neighborhood he drove "Angela" to 10 days earlier.)
According to the police report from that night, officers immediately confronted the people in the house where Mashayekhi was allegedly assaulted.
Mashayekhi remembers that the officers, who wore SWAT-style bulletproof vests, bathed the entire house in floodlights.
"It was like a motion-picture set," he says.
Police found clues in the garage—including an overspray stain from orange paint that had been used on Mashayekhi's hands. However, the paint itself, the Taser, the hammer and Mashayekhi's belongings—money, wallet, cell phone—were gone.
Mashayekhi says he refused medical treatment so he could be near the bust and identify his assailants. He identified the man who had been calling himself "Hector"; his real name is Gilbert Carrillo Jr.
Two hours later, police arrived at Mashayekhi's place, he says, and a forensics officer took his clothes. He says other officers walked in and began visually searching his room. One of them asked to use the bathroom, he says.
"What do they think, I was trying to flush something down the toilet?" Mashayekhi asks.
Carrillo was charged with robbery, false imprisonment, threatening a witness and a possible sentence enhancement for threatening with a deadly weapon (the hammer).
Even though the men who assaulted Mashayekhi also threatened to kill him if he went to the cops, Mashayekhi says he wouldn't let himself be intimidated.
Carrillo, who has prior convictions for weapons and drugs, posted $100,000 bail three weeks later. A month later, at Norms, Mashayekhi sees danger on every corner. He recounts a harrowing story about how a group of young Latinos spotted him driving to his favorite halal market in Anaheim. They began to chase him in his car. He thinks they were gang members.
"I went through a red light, and then another red light, and they stopped," he says. "But I couldn't call the police because that's like crying 'wolf,'" he says.
Since he was forced to abandon his apartment and forfeit his deposit, he's been hurting for money, he says. He's been staying in different dive motels from Long Beach almost all the way to San Diego. To keep afloat, he's had to rely on a no-interest loan offered through the help of a local mosque, he says.
But even though he is the prosecution's only witness in this crime and claims his life has been threatened, he has been denied victim/witness-relocation assistance.
He believes it is because the Buena Park police are being "vindictive" toward him.
When the check comes at Norms, about $4 for two bottomless cups of coffee, Mashayekhi insists he pay.
* * *
Even though Mashayekhi claims to have a crime-fighting, police-assisting background, his history with the Buena Park P.D. has been troubled.
Although once their informant, he says, an incident on July 26, 2002, ended that relationship and began a legal battle that wouldn't end for nearly four years.
According to a Buena Park police report from that night, a woman under surveillance was arrested for drug possession moments after she entered Mashayekhi's cab.
Mashayekhi, who was not questioned by the police, told the cops where to find him if they needed a statement. He would be at a now-shuttered $30-per-night hotel called the Villager's Lodge in Buena Park.
When questioned, the woman told police she was on her way to Mashayekhi's room to "party."
By "party," she meant do "speed," the police report said, and by "speed," she meant methamphetamines.
So a few hours later, those same officers came pounding on Mashayekhi's door. He answered the door wet and wearing a towel, according to the report.
Mashayekhi and police disagree on how the cops ended up searching the room. Mashayekhi says they forced entry without a warrant. The police report says they were invited in. When the cops entered the room, they headed directly to the bathroom to check for other people in the room, according to the report, and found the screen had been popped out. Outside the window, the report says, cops found two "speed" pipes and some plastic baggies.
According to the report, they also claim that inside the hotel, officers found 4-inch plastic straws for "snorting."
The officers wrote in the report that Mashayekhi had "white residue" under his fingernails and on his tongue and a heart rate of 132 beats per minute. They charged him with drug possession and being under the influence.
Once Mashayekhi was in jail, a nurse and two officers held his arms and legs and took a blood sample. The results were never entered into evidence.
Mashayekhi's version differs from the police report. Although the police wrote they went to the hotel looking for drugs, Mashayekhi says police claimed he had a "fugitive" in his room. Police barged in on him when he was alone and shirtless in his hotel room, he says. He claims they hurled racial slurs and insults at him, calling him "taxi jockey" and "towel head."
In court filings, Buena Park police disputed claims of racial insults; the department would not comment for this story.
Mashayekhi claims he might have looked drugged-out because he just returned from a more-than-20-hour marathon shift of taxi driving. To stay awake, he drank coffee and took caffeine pills, he says, as well as over-the-counter cold medication. He says he also has a nervous tic: he sometimes forcefully sniffs air through his nose.
The "speed" pipes were not his, he says. In a 2004 deposition, he said when he checked into the hotel that night, none of the rooms had been cleaned. He was so tired it didn't matter. Inside his room, he says, a previous guest left a bag of clothes and other miscellaneous belongings. Besides, he says, the hotel was so "cheap and sleazy" that it wouldn't be surprising to find "dirty needles under the mattress."
After the arrest, he refused to plead guilty, even when detectives he'd worked with as an informant told him to just accept it, he says. Eight months of jury trial delays later, the charges were dropped.
Mashayekhi filed a lawsuit in September 2003 for unlimited damages, more than $25,000 worth, claiming his civil rights had been violated and that he was falsely arrested.
Much like the recent case with Carrillo, Mashayekhi put his knowledge as a former reporter to work. According to documents, Mashayekhi wrote letters to Los Angeles Times reporters Jean Pasco (no longer with the paper) and David Reyes, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. He told them about his work as an informant for the police and included pictures of himself with John Wayne, Fidel Castro and Elizabeth Taylor.
Although Mashayekhi repeatedly brought up his history as a police informant, the city countered with the help of one of Mashayekhi's former contacts for the police, Garden Grove Detective Rick Wagner.
Wagner wrote and signed a statement saying Mashayekhi, whom he had known four years prior to the arrest, admitted he was guilty.
"I had discussions with Mr. Mashayekhi concerning his arrest by the Buena Park Police Department. . . . In those conversations, he admitted to me that he was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of his arrest, and the drug paraphernalia . . . in fact belonged to him," the letter signed Nov. 13, 2003, reads.
Wagner is no longer an investigator, but he still works on patrol. He did not return calls as of press time.
In June 2006, after three years, the city of Buena Park successfully had Mashayekhi's lawsuit dismissed.
According to city clerk Shalice Reynoso, the city paid a contracted law firm $22,370 to fight the suit.
After the suit was dismissed, Mashayekhi says, he feared retaliation from the Buena Park police.
"When you sue the police, they always remember you," he says. "I wouldn't go there because I figured Buena Park police have a hard-on for me."
That case wasn't the end of Mashayekhi's legal troubles. Civil court records show that an ex-girlfriend, Tina Murphy, attempted to serve him with a restraining order in February 2006. The motion was denied.
Mashayekhi says Murphy has "mental problems" and he has not seen her in a year. He says he doesn't know where she is now.
A call made to a phone number listed in court documents was answered by a sober-living facility in Santa Ana. A woman who did not want to be named said Murphy is "back in prison." Murphy's criminal record shows a long list of convictions, most recently in December for burglary and forgery; there are others for drug-related offenses.
* * *
When contacted by the Weekly, DA's officespokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder says Mashayekhi was never denied victim/witness-relocation assistance. He had not completed the required forms.
"We've asked him to fill out the proper paperwork," she says. "We've reached out to him, and it's never too late for him to reach back."
Mashayekhi says he began hotel-hopping after the late-November assault, but documents show that living in hotels and feeling unsafe is nothing new to him.
In a 2004 deposition, Mashayekhi says he lives in weekly rate motels "for security reasons" because of the dangers of being a snitch.
"I missed four times being killed because the justice system in this country is like a revolving door; they get arrested, and six months later, they are out, and they pinpoint that I did it and I run into them.
"I'm in a taxi, you run into them all of a sudden, and they say, 'I remember you. You're a snitch.'"
When asked by the Weekly why he had not filled out the paperwork for victim/witness-relocation assistance, Mashayekhi says he thought he had. A few days later, he followed through.
About a week after that, he was denied.
Following the denial, Mashayekhi told the Weekly in a telephone interview that he was told an additional supplemental police report prepared by Buena Park Detective Sergio Lepe might have alleged he was involved in a crime and could not receive relocation assistance.
Lepe, who confirmed to the Weekly that he was assigned to the case, declined to comment on the contents of the report.
"The supplemental reports were submitted, but I cannot comment on those," he says. "That information will come out at the trial."
Mashayekhi says he has no idea what crime he could have been allegedly involved in. Asked whether it could be related to his first trip to the Buena Park neighborhood with Angela 10 days before his assault, when she, an admitted felon, briefly visited the home of Carrillo, who has a 2003 conviction for possession of controlled substance with intent to sell, Mashayekhi says he doesn't know.
Miles Bristow, spokesman for the California victim-compensation and government claims board, says that although all victim files are confidential and he isn't familiar with this case, there are several possible reasons Mashayekhi has been denied victim/witness-relocation assistance.
In addition to possibly having contributed to a crime, Bristow says, there are other reasons the police might have denied Mashayekhi relocation assistance. It could be that they determined Mashayekhi was not cooperating with the investigation.
Lepe denied responsibility for Mashayekhi not receiving relocation assistance, saying, "Relocation goes through the court, not through us."
Bristow notes that the victim-compensation board relies heavily on police opinions when making its decisions.
A letter from Lepe to Mashayekhi prior to his filing the supplemental report seems to express frustration with his lack of cooperation, as well as his seeming attempts to go over Lepe's head by contacting newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times.
"I have been having an extremely difficult time trying to contact you," the letter signed by Lepe states. "I made countless efforts to find you and noticed you have held three P.O. boxes in various counties. . . . I have received numerous duplicated copies of the newspaper articles which you have initiated, as well as old photos of you with government officials. Unfortunately, your newspaper articles and photos have not helped me with this investigation. . . .
"If I do not hear from you by Friday, Jan. 18, 2008, I will assume you do not want to assist me with this report."
Mashayekhi says he didn't receive the letter in time to respond and rebuts the claim that he is difficult to reach, saying Lepe could have called him on his cell phone before sending that letter.
He also believes the mention of his three P.O. boxes was calculated, saying the other boxes are from years past when he lived in other counties. He has not kept them. Mashayekhi says police are grinding their ax because of the lawsuit.
"He's saying that to make me look bad, that I'm some kind of shady person jumping around from mailbox to mailbox," Mashayekhi says. "This is their way of getting back at me."
Orange County Assistant District Attorney Carol Henson is assigned to prosecute Carrillo on the Mashayekhi case. She says she has been instructed not to speak to the media about it. She did say, however, that more will likely be revealed at the March 13 hearing.
"It's one thing to see it on paper," Henson says. "But even we sometimes learn things at the preliminary hearing."
Police have promised Mashayekhi that an armed plainclothes officer will escort him to court for his protection. Until then, Mashayekhi will be passing in and out of hotels throughout the county, trying to keep a low profile.