Newport Coast Offers Stunning Ocean Views and an Arsenic Mystery

[Moxley Confidential] Wealthy mother Anna D. Steiner, who complained about the poisoning of her children, finds herself in a police-state nightmare

From all outward appearances, Newport Coast—the prized real-estate development project of Orange County's wealthiest, most powerful man, Irvine Co. billionaire Don Bren—looks to be a slice of heaven on Earth. Elaborate gates and private guards protect hillside neighborhoods with sweeping, Pacific Ocean views. Mediterranean-style houses, some accurately called "palatial estates" in real-estate guides, can fetch $20 million or more. Even the palm tree-, succulent- and flower-lined, litter-free public roads suggest paradise.

It's the perfect setting for a crime or, at least, a bizarre mystery.

Just as Bren hails himself as the perfect, proud capitalist even though his private, cash-cow project is (cleverly) publicly subsidized, Newport Coast is built on a contradiction. Next to all those gorgeous estates is one of OC's largest toxic dumps: Beside Newport Coast Road, the 395-acre Coyote Canyon Landfill contains 60 million cubic yards of municipal solid waste generated from household, commercial, industrial, recreational and agricultural trash sources during a 30-year period.

Patrick O'Connor

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But the waste—so extensive it goes 200 feet deep—hasn't just been sitting there. County officials and Bren have allowed a gas-recovery company to burn the trash to generate power. Incinerating trash can have negative consequences for nearby humans through the release of dioxins and arsenic into the atmosphere. In January 2010, a decision to burn Coyote Canyon trash around the clock seven days a week doubled the cancer-risk threshold, requiring government air-quality officials to alert 200 Newport Coast households to the danger.

This is where our crime mystery begins.

After the decision to keep Coyote Canyon incinerators burning nonstop, Anna D. Steiner—a practicing medical doctor, single mother of three children and well-to-do Newport Coast resident—noticed that her children (ages 14, 12 and 11) began suffering unusual symptoms, including bloody noses and chronic abdominal pain. Concerned, Steiner took them for urinalysis testing. Arsenic—a lethal poison in large doses—was detected, but in levels considered normal. The kids continued to exhibit signs of sickness, and Steiner continued to test. In May 2010, her youngest child twice tested positive for above-normal levels of arsenic in her system.

The findings were understandably alarming. Steiner wondered if Coyote Canyon landfill activities caused the poisoning, or if a sneaky, would-be killer was loose. On the advice of a social worker and with the hope of solving the mystery, she went to the local police in Bren's home city for help.

According to Shawn A. McMillan, Steiner's San Diego-based attorney, "Instead of seriously considering [Steiner's] claim, the Newport Beach Police Department failed to conduct a good-faith, unbiased investigation into the source of the arsenic." Rather, reports McMillan, detectives Don Prouty and Penny Freeman quickly decided that Steiner's worries were imaginary. He says the police mistakes didn't end with indifference. In response to her complaint, the cops made his client a target for hostile government action, McMillan tells me. The woman had unwittingly entered The Twilight Zone.

* * *

On May 26, 2010, Steiner and her three kids awoke around 6 a.m., ate a breakfast of organic eggs and spinach, and then practiced piano lessons before getting ready for school. Steiner dropped off her youngest child at Newport Coast Elementary School and the two older ones at the Orange County High School of the Arts in Santa Ana. She then went to a Garden Grove medical clinic where she worked as an anesthesiologist.

Just before noon, Steiner received frantic telephone calls from her kids. Newport Beach police had seized them from their classes without notice. Government agents told Steiner her kids would be safer living at Orangewood Children's Home, a county-run facility, according to McMillan. At Orangewood, social workers stripped her children, conducted invasive exams and ordered vaccinations without Steiner's knowledge or permission.

"This was a case of the government using its heavy hand," says McMillan. "And it's not an infrequent problem at the Social Services Agency [SSA]. They are known to be abusive to parents. They'll make up trumped-up charges to take kids away."

Justices inside the California Court of Appeal based in Santa Ana have shared McMillan's view. For example, in an August 2010 decision, the appellate court berated SSA bureaucrats for an ugly history of concocting blatantly disingenuous excuses to rob parents of their kids.

"It damages the reputation of the Social Services Agency and causes parents to suspect the system is prejudiced against them, and social workers will use any excuse they can think of—whether credible or not—to deprive them of the custody of their children," wrote Justice William W. Bedsworth on behalf of a three-justice panel that included justices Eileen C. Moore and William F. Rylaarsdam.

To underscore the court's frustration with SSA, Bedsworth—a former county prosecutor, Governor Pete Wilson appointee and, in my view, the most brilliant member of the court—wrote in italics: "It has to stop."

While Bedsworth crafted that stinging opinion, county social workers wrote a court petition to justify taking Steiner's children by suggesting she might be the arsenic villain and was mentally ill—two assertions McMillan describes as "concocted" perjury. Never mind, he says, that SSA had no legitimate supportive evidence and that an examining doctor had determined Steiner "was, in fact, not mentally ill." Still, the agency refused to give back her kids.

"I don't think the social workers liked that she fought them and didn't show them the respect they wanted," says McMillan. "So they used their power against her. It was BS."

Ten months into the fight, Orange County bureaucrats offered the emotionally drained Steiner a deal: If she signed a statement affirming the social workers had been justified in their hostility, she could have two of her kids back immediately.

"It was a Hobson's choice," says McMillan. "It was, 'Tell us what we want to hear, and we'll give you your kids.' What was she supposed to do?"

Steiner reluctantly signed the deal. She never regained custody of her oldest child, who eventually was given to his father. In January, she filed a civil-rights lawsuit against Newport Beach police, Orange County, Orangewood and the SSA. Superior Court Judge Steven Perk will handle the case. Government officials have not yet responded to the allegations, but in the past, county lawyers have argued that, as with criminal prosecutors, social workers enjoy legal immunity.

"What happened was so offensive," McMillan says. "Think about this: If these social workers really believed that my client had tried to poison her own kids, would they have returned them to her custody? Of course not. They made false charges against this parent to gain control over her. It's a tactic, and it's scandalous."

This column appeared in print as "Newport Coast Offers Stunning Ocean Views and an Arsenic Mystery: A wealthy mother who complained about the poisoning of her children finds herself in a police-state nightmare."

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24 comments
SEALex
SEALex

Hey, loser. Your comment implies Christian churchgoers (the vast majority) are "amoral." You probably have been reading too many Christopher Hitchens books on the topic. What a shame. You'll probably burn in hell just like he is right now. Tisk, tisk...

Navytruthsayer
Navytruthsayer

There is quite a bit of arsenic in our water all over this State of California.I do not even go fishing at Irvine Lake because the run off from the dump is toxic, I would never eat the fish let alone live near the Coyote dump. I remember as a child going with my pops to the dump.I believe the mom about the poisoning, many parents are not tuned into their children and never notice subtle things because they are busy exercising , political functions , working and doing lunch with the girls.As it is we in Orange County are now drinking shit water that has been treated and infused into the aquifers because we live in a water limited desert.

Gina
Gina

why is this only in the OC weekly??????

CCGalAli
CCGalAli

Were any other children from Newport Coast tested to see if they ALSO had arsenic??

Bottom line, however, whether the arsenic came from the landfill or not - all the happenings from the Irvine Co. and county are very shady - try googling and searching for anything about the round the clock trash burning back in 2010 Scott mentions - nothing...hmmm...shady!!

BuggleB
BuggleB

If it was a case of arsenic poisoning from the landfill, how come there aren't reports of other kids experiencing similar symptoms in that area??

Mike King
Mike King

Well that is OC for You. Seems you give a little power to a peon and this what they do. You have ruined some peoples lives for ever. This should be a big indicator of there character, and these are the people who we want to trust with the children who really need their help. Not just them but the higher ups who back this move. I do feel they need to be fired. Let the people who really do care get these jobs and do some real good.Some thing has to change in this society.

zapf
zapf

was this so she could not bust them for the development next to arsenic?

FishWithoutBicycle
FishWithoutBicycle

So let me get this straight...a few citizens of Newport Beach complained about something as trivial as the smell coming from the fire pits on the beach and the rings are now slated to be removed...but Steiner reported legitimate concerns about her children experiencing arsenic poisoning from the landfill near her home and got labeled as a loon and had her kids taken?!!!

NewportHomeowner
NewportHomeowner

Just add this to the long list of abuses and corruption perpetrated by the management of the Newport Beach Police Department!

What a disgraceful record for the Newport Beach Police Department over the past few years. They have cozied up to the county’s highly political law enforcement officials (i.e. Sheriff Mike Carona, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens) and their relatively small group of major cash donors who control the puppet strings. The Newport Beach Police Department charter is to protect and serve all residents of Newport Beach; it should not be a private goon squad for a small group of wealthy donors.

Shame on you Newport Beach Police Department. The residents of Newport Beach and the dedicated men and women serving in the police department rank and file deserve far better.

wendyw
wendyw

This is terrible. I hope she wins, but unfortunately, the taxpayers have to foot the tab for such idiocy.

Cbksk
Cbksk

That is seriously screwed up. OC's crony capitalists are amoral scumbags and probably go to church.

Silence Dogood
Silence Dogood

Shady indeed. But there is a letter that was sent out by the landfill disclosing the trash burning and its negative impacts. That's when Steiner started attending the public meetings and making a fuss....quacking ducks get shot...right?

FishWithoutBicycle
FishWithoutBicycle

Bingo! Discredit the whistle-blower by painting her as mentally unstable. And having her children taken away from her without any kind of proof of mistreatment so the she could spend months in court trying to win them back (instead of investigating the potential arsenic poisoning) is just despicable. Poor kids.

silence
silence

Sound about right...your tax dollars at work.

Jralls7959
Jralls7959

I hope those writing here also write the ACLU, Amnesty International and our state legal representatives. It looks like the local DA, elected officials and even the local FBI turn away from obvious abuses by these police. They have a very scary job and they need top quality training and support.

Look at the case of Rubin Gallegos. Apparently, unlike Kelly Thomas, no one was around to film what sounds like a Rodney King type beating. And it's very unlikely that at 36 he died of heart disease..just happened to have a seizure the weekend before he was to testify. Hey..doesn't a seizure have something more to do with the brain than the heart? Could this man have been beaten? Sure looks like it from the booking photo.

And there's William Robert Wedgeworth, suicidal, usually taken for psych care but kept at the Newport station where he hung himself. And all proper procedures were followed. I'm a physician. In any faciliy where an event like this happeneded....the "proper procedures" would be revised. They are just scared of the consequences of admitting mistakes. But the best outcomes come from early openness and diaglogue. .

City Government needs to step up to the plate and intervene here and build bridges between these officers and the medical profession. They have to risk their lives, be social workers and psychiatric technicians and they are not given the proper training. That's the fault of the community, not just the police force.

Juile Ralls, M.D.

Merit
Merit

Listen if U are'nt Gay, Newport Beach Police Dept. does not have to have any respect for U. They don't have to serve you as an American Citizen with Rights.It is a Cowtown Mentality all together. U know KKK. It makes things funner in the Law enforcment Business that way.

Hopemerit
Hopemerit

She was taken in by the Dept of Social Services, they'll take peoples kids in an instant. No one say's they have to play fair. All the power in the world goes to them, what do you think will happen.You will lose your kids.That's that

Ivn
Ivn

U R Guilty Until Proven Guilty in Orange County Period. Fight for your CivilRights before you are in bad shape.

Aaron
Aaron

Is there chance that this isn't abuse of power by the OC SS because maybe they considered her to have munchausen by proxy syndrome? Just something to consider since no one has come forward with their families or nieghbors, etc saying the same thing about being ill with any similar symptoms. It's possible there's corruption or maybe the OCSS won't state their side of the case in detail due to her pursuing the agency.

silence
silence

No chance at all. There is no such thing as munchuasan's. It is a quack diagnosis. Everyone with any brains knows this.

 
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