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
'You Are Sick'
Sex-abuse victim confronts ex-Rohrabacher aide Jeffrey Ray Nielsen at his sentencing
During four years' worth of visits to Orange County's courthouses, the child molester put his tall, thin, thirtysomething frame inside dapper suits, wore conservative haircuts and occasionally propped designer sunglasses on top of his head. His frosty blue eyes emitted an unmistakable air of superiority. Other criminal defendants mistook him for a prosecutor.
This façade had served the 37-year-old Ladera Ranch man well, helping him get a job as a Washington, D.C., congressional aide to Representative Dana Rohrabacher, win close friendships with political heavyweights such as Orange County Republican Party bosses Scott Baugh and Tom Fuentes—oh, and lure impressionable seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade boys into sexual relationships.
But reality—and justice—finally caught up with Jeffrey Ray Nielsen, the now-former future Republican candidate for something.
On March 25, Nielsen could have worn a tuxedo into Judge David Thompson's eighth-floor Santa Ana courtroom, and nobody would have been fooled. The stigma of being a convicted serial pedophile overwhelmed any and all theatrics: salutes to Old Glory, Biblical quotations and rants about the liberal menace to society.
Nielsen seemed to get this. The man who used his shiny BMW to help seduce a Westminster High School freshman in 2003 came to court wearing rumpled khaki pants, scuffed black dress shoes and a wrinkled blue button-down shirt he hadn't bothered to tuck in. His eyes were puffy. His shoulders slumped. He looked like . . . well, like a frightened sex offender about to enter the notorious California prison system.
As far as Nielsen knew, his sentencing hearing was supposed to have been quick. Prosecutors Colleen Crommett and Matt Lockhart built a solid case that forced Nielsen to abandon years of angry denials, a public image campaign involving animals made homeless by Katrina, and intimidation tactics not just against the victims, but also a reporter (namely, me). In December, he pleaded guilty to lewd contact with minor boys in exchange for a three-year prison sentence. (A statute of limitations screw-up in the Orange County district attorney's office allowed him to escape conviction for possessing more than 1,000 images of man-boy and boy-boy sex.)
But the sentencing hearing didn't go as Nielsen had expected. One of his victims—a man I've kept anonymous for some time now (see "'Our Thing,'" Sept. 29, 2006) and whom I eventually gave the alias "Billy"—flew into LAX from Virginia to confront his abuser. Now 27 years old and married, Billy became Nielsen's first known victim at the age of 12. For two years in the mid-'90s, while he worked for Rohrabacher in Congress, Nielsen brainwashed the seventh-grader into a bizarre sex/love relationship that included public sex.
"We met in the church youth-group lounge," Billy said as he stood in court. "He was to be my discipleship leader in a group consisting of myself and four other boys, all 12 or 13 years old. From then on, he took a particular liking to me."
Nielsen sat quietly beside Paul S. Meyer, his defense lawyer. He didn't once look Billy in the eyes. The victim went on to tell how Nielsen seemed heroic at first, fooling even the boy's mother. She invited Nielsen to move into a spare bedroom in their home.
"I loved the idea," said Billy. "He could be like the brother I never had. He could take me places. We could go to the batting cages in his Jeep Wrangler with the top off. He could pick up candy for me on the way home from work and help me study.
"He loved the idea, too. Cheap rent, nice house—and a boy."
According to Billy, what seemed at the time as "innocent [physical] acts" like wrestling soon "blurred the boundaries of what was acceptable." Nielsen began caressing Billy's "killer abs," touching his crotch and placing his mouth on the boy.
"The first time he touched me underneath my clothes, the house was empty—just him and me," Billy told Thompson. "We were supposed to go to a movie but got caught in a conversation on my bed. He asked to touch my penis. I objected for two hours. But he was relentless. I wore down."
Billy glanced at Nielsen, who, frankly, looked sedated. "The train wreck was underway. He made me feel important, mature, on top of the world. He would buy me things my parents wouldn't. He called me his little brother and said he loved me more than his own two real brothers. . . . For nearly two years, he coerced me to sneak to his bedroom in the middle of the night, every night."
There was physical domination, too.
"He expected me to kiss him back and to tell him that I loved him when he dropped me off at middle school," said Billy. "Jeff was a master manipulator. If I displeased him, he would threaten a gruesome suicide. He once clobbered me with a fist to the mouth when he found out that I'd talked to a girl in my class who liked me."
Billy paused and looked at Nielsen. "Stop seeing yourself as a victim and own your actions," he said. "You are sick. Spend these next three years getting better."