The OC Serial Killer Who Became the County's Top Snitch

[Moxley Confidential] Law enforcement hid unholy alliance with Oscar Moriel, who wanted $50,000 to recall 'memories' against other defendants

The OC Serial Killer Who Became the County's Top Snitch
Bob Aul

Five years ago, Oscar Moriel's résumé contained impressive Mexican Mafia credentials: burglar, robber, carjacker, thug and convicted felon. Then 28, Moriel was also a serial killer with a body count of at least six, including one person he shot four times in the back and others he assassinated in drive-by shootings—or, as he calls it, "hunting."

Despite those accomplishments, the Delhi Gang member hoped to add snitch to his professional repertoire. The goal made sense. Already in pretrial custody for four years for a 2005 attempted murder, he faced California's Three Strikes law and the well-earned prospect of never returning to freedom.

To launch his informant plan, Moriel asked for a Feb. 17, 2009, meeting with Santa Ana Police Department (SAPD) officers David Rondou and Charles Flynn. The two homicide detectives came with all the sarcasm they could muster after years of working among lowlifes. Ignoring the officers' bravado, the gangster observed that SAPD appeared "stumped" solving killings, needed assistance to win convictions and could secure his memories for a price.

"I might be able to help you out if my memory can fall back in place," said a cocky Moriel. "It might not be able to fall back in place because [the killings occurred] a long time ago. People forget. If I can grab spots of my memory and make it seem like it was yesterday, then . . . I think a little bit more than consideration [in my own case], I'm looking for. Uh, options would be nice. Right now, I'm in a place with no options. I'm looking at a third strike. I'm looking at life in prison. So, the more options I have to work with and to choose from, the better position I'll be [in] to think more clearly."

With that offer, law-enforcement officials—including the FBI—partnered with Moriel. He'd supply "memories" of hearing confessions prosecutors needed to win convictions and serve as a mole inside the Orange County Jail (OCJ). In return, the cops promised they'd work to allow the killer to quietly emerge into civilized society.

Five months after that first meeting, detective Flynn and Orange County Sheriff's Department deputies Ben Garcia and Bill Grover met with Moriel. There was no cop chest-thumping this time. All the players were now teammates. "You're doing stuff for me, and then I'll be doing stuff for you," Flynn told the sociopath. "You'll get maximum consideration [in your own case] for everything you do. You do a lot, and we do a lot. You do little, and you get a little. . . . Understand?"

"Yeah, I understand," replied Moriel.

Because a jury is entitled to know of government witnesses' motives to gauge testimonial credibility in the pursuit of justice, prosecutors can't hide their deals with informants. That tenet is common sense. But Deputy Public Defender Scott Sanders spent a year studying the lack of prosecutorial disclosure in multiple murder and gang cases, and he concluded officials systematically cheated before hiding evidence of their misdeeds. Revelations made during unprecedented, ongoing evidentiary hearings inside Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals' courtroom repeatedly bolstered Sanders' argument.

In my column "Public Defender Makes Snitch Filet" (March 28), I reported that Sanders won the release of a bombshell document written by an Orange County district attorney's office homicide investigator who cautioned colleagues to hide key evidence from defense lawyers because the concealment "will likely greatly enhance the prosecution."

More recently, the Goethals hearings produced a recording between Flynn and Moriel in which the SAPD officer assured the informant his mission and reward will never be open to outsider inspection. "This [deal] just goes in my file, in my safe at the police station, and no one has access to it," Flynn said.

Moriel responded, "Good. . . . This is important."

It's also well-established law that police and prosecutors can't violate a pretrial inmate's constitutional right to not talk to authorities by secretly employing surrogates, such as other inmates, to ask the government's questions to obtain damning information. There's theoretically no problem when an inmate stumbles upon valuable information or squeals on another inmate if the evidence is not obtained at the direction of law-enforcement officers. But, as with ex-Mexican Mafia shot-caller Fernando Perez, Sanders uncovered evidence jail deputies rotated targeted defendants into cells next to Moriel, as inmates can use plumbing for communication. They also provided the snitch fake court and OCJ documents to maintain the appearance of a loyal hoodlum.

"I want fresh chitchat from [inmate and homicide suspect Isaac Palacios]," Flynn told Moriel. "I'm going to put you on that."

According to new evidence, the killer hoped his work would win him an off-the-books payoff of $50,000 in public funds, the expunging of his lengthy criminal rap sheet and a recommendation by law enforcement to enter the U.S. military.

"That's good shit," a satisfied Moriel said.

Grover replied, "You want to legally kill some people, huh?"

"Yeah I want to go. I want to go fight, if that's possible."

Detective Flynn said, "It's, uh, much nicer when it's Uncle Sam behind you on it."

"That's what I figured," said Moriel.

Replied the cop, "Then, you know, you get away with it."

"That's cool."

Flynn recommended the Army and observed, "Put your fucking hand up, and bam! You know you're on the way."

Moriel didn't hide his excitement, but Flynn reminded him "the sooner" he obtained alleged confessions, "the better" his chance for reward. For five years, prosecutors including Erik Petersen made "persistent efforts to conceal" the informant's "writings and other relevant discovery in order to manipulate the presentation of Moriel as a witness," Sanders told Goethals.

The informant might not yet wear a military uniform, but he has already won benefits. Though charged in the 2005 attempted murder, Moriel's case is in suspicious, never-ending hibernation. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas' office has delayed the trial 37 times in nine years, according to court records.

OCDA officials, who in February insisted they complied with all legal obligations and bitterly attacked Sanders as an unhinged conspiracy nut, conceded after Goethals' forced document production that prosecution teams fouled up more than 11 cases—including, incredibly, ones involving the death penalty—by robbing defendants of evidence during trials. In March and April, prosecutors softened attacks to argue all errors had been innocent (or to blame underlings or ignorance of the law or secrecy-obsessed federal prosecutors). But as Sanders continued to stockpile favorable evidence, outright anger resumed in May, with prosecutor Howard Gundy labeling the public defender's work "vile" and "outrageous." SAPD's Rondou testified he "prays" for Sanders' soul when he's not seething about the disclosures.

Because he has given Sanders the chance to make his case—a nod few other OC judges would have had the courage to permit, Goethals faces a potentially costly decision: How to punish years of government abuses? Whether he will cave to the dominant force in the county's legal system—the prosecutors—or slams them remains a topic of courthouse chatter. Either way, expect the political/legal establishment to kill his judgeship when Goethals—a 62-year-old former defense attorney and high-ranking OC prosecutor—faces the end of his term in January 2017. The public must believe our criminal-justice system is beyond reproach, right?

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30 comments
chavoyasa
chavoyasa

Mr. Moxley, I am a long time friend and former girlfriend of your "serial killer" Oscar Moriel. I was not surprised to read your findings. As a matter of fact, he called me this week to ask for a copy of the article. For many years I have questioned Oscar as to the delay in his attempted murder case and he always gave me the same answer, "They [prosecutors] don't have shit with this case. The feds want me, so they're holding me here." Although Oscar and I communicate regularly, he never has gone into detail regarding either case. I quickly knew that some shady shit has been going on in OCDA for almost a decade, with regards to the handling of information in his case and special privileges he was given while at OCJ.  

I will disregard the names with which you refer to him in your article ("serial killer" and  "sociopath"). I will go out on a limb and say it makes for a good headline and that your attack on my friend was necessary to support your premise. Agreed?  I believe my friend was a pawn for the SAPD, and they took advantage of his desperation at the time. They enticed him with the hope of freedom some day (which they continue to do) and Oscar took the bate.

He is a man who undoubtedly made some very poor choices in his life. He has always been very remorseful when talking to me about events from his past and his prior convictions. Should you ever have the opportunity to meet or speak with Oscar Moriel, you will be pleasantly surprised to find a bright, funny man who's interests range from  American History to Foreign Politics, and Ancient Biblical cultures. He is a  man who can carry a  conversation in nearly any topic, and who's humor can make you laugh so hard that your belly will ache. His burdens are his own and are his scars from life.

justiceforvm
justiceforvm

Thank you, Mr. Moxley! Nothing better than seeing the OCDA's office and others put on blast! This is just the tip of the iceberg, in relation to the OCDA's office "win at all costs" mentality. Encouraging trial witnesses to lie, screwing around with DNA results, utilizing jail informants, etc, etc, etc. And what happens to the turds who are involved in the nonsense? Of course, they get promoted. 


Bill Grover? The Bill Grover from the Lockup show? How's karma taste, you fucking idiot? "Worst of the worst" list? Yeah, you're on there. 


If you think all of this hasn't been going on in the jails for years and years, you're sadly mistaken. 


Judge Goethals is a man of integrity. Please continue to do the right thing. The general public needs to know the depths of the filthy, dirty inner workings of our county's "in"justice system.



tongue_twister_for_t
tongue_twister_for_t topcommenter

"I have absolutely no influence over the outcomes of the trials within these courtrooms". - Judge Derek Johnson Harbor Court (overheard him say this to court clerk in public area.)

tongue_twister_for_t
tongue_twister_for_t topcommenter

"The police report and the DA's complaint against you had all sorts of holes in it". - a Public Defender to me in elder abuse case.

tongue_twister_for_t
tongue_twister_for_t topcommenter

"The citizens have a right to protect themselves from the police". - OCDA Tony Rackaukas.

Bubblehead
Bubblehead

Yes, great job Mr. Moxley! I remain shocked and surprised that no major media (no offense!) is covering this. This is HUGE. The lack of comments from people in the legal community illustrate that, I think. Everyone is speaking in hushed tones until Goethals makes his rulings. Perhaps then the media will see that this is not a "defense tactic."

But I don't share your pessimism about Goethals' judgeship. Not at all. Not only are there signicant difficulties in running against a sitting judge (ostracization by all the bench, no way to really raise funds you would need, and the normally-winning ballot designation of "gang homicide prosecutor" not carrying the same cache' after this debacle), I believe Goethals and Sanders will be seen as heroes. I really do.

I look forward to more of your articles and Goethals rulings!

949girl
949girl topcommenter

It would be sad to hear that Judge Goethals isn't reelected over this in the future for doing the right thing.  Won't surprise me.

949girl
949girl topcommenter

I'm kind of mixed on this issue.  I think that if by circumstance you reveal more than you should to someone and they use it as a bargaining chip in their own defense then I think it's fair game.   I don't agree with the DA using informants to set someone up and also not fully revealing what they are doing.  However, one should have enough common sense to not talk about the specifics of their charges while awaiting trial but that would be hard to do I would guess.  Anyone in jail you talk to could be your worst enemy when it comes to them knowing what you did.  What else is there to do in jail but talk?  As far as keeping inmates/informants housed in jail for this purpose for years on end isn't right.  There have been many recent cases where a defendant has been convicted and then a year has gone by without sentencing so that they can bargain on the back end or testify against their codefendant when they previously didn't agree to.  I am just suspicious of any inmate, whether convicted or awaiting trial that is in county jail for an extremely extended period of time and the agency itself for keeping them there.

ltpar
ltpar topcommenter

Reality check folks. Our favorite TV Show "Let's Make A Deal" is alive and well in the American Criminal Justice System.  This article deals with the truth about one southern California dirt bag criminal, but there are worse stories out there in the Country, the Country that never sleeps.  .  

One such story is that of James Joseph "Whitey" Bulger, Jr.  who is an American convicted murderer and former organized crime figure.  U.S. prosecutors indicted Bulger for 19 murders. Beginning in 1975, Bulger served as an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). As a result, the Bureau largely ignored his organization in exchange for information about the inner workings of the Italian American Patriarca crime family.  Beginning in 1997, the New England media exposed criminal actions by federal, state, and local law enforcement officials tied to Bulger. For the FBI especially, this has caused great embarrassment.  In 1994, after being tipped off by his former FBI handler about a pending indictment under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), Bulger fled Boston and went into hiding. For 16 years, he remained at large. For 12 of those years, Bulger was prominently listed on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

Moral of the story is as long as there are criminals to be caught and promotions to be gained, the Criminal Justice System will continue to make deals with bad guys.  While this practice may be acceptable at the lower levels of the food chain, somewhere the line has to be drawn and criminals held accountable for what they have done.    

fishwithoutbicycle
fishwithoutbicycle topcommenter

::shudders:: I think I need to wash. :-( 


Excellent muckraking, as usual, Mr. Moxley. We need more reporters like you.





Dweezle
Dweezle

@949girl It is a lot to assume that he WILL make the "right" ruling. Anything is possible in OC

fishwithoutbicycle
fishwithoutbicycle topcommenter

@949girl 

It wouldn't surprise me, either. It's really disheartening to consider that Judge Goethals would essentially be punished for doing his job right. :-(

Dweezle
Dweezle

@949girl If serving on a jury I would not believe one word coming from a paid informant. That is a jailhouse informant testifying for reduced sentence or dropping of charges. All I hear of this DA has me skeptical of anything they say.

tongue_twister_for_t
tongue_twister_for_t topcommenter

@ltpar  and how many murders have the prosecutors allowed the police to get away with when they are paid criminals while on duty and are violating the laws.

Anonymous
Anonymous

@fishwithoutbicycle DITTO... this makes one physically ill, especially considering the FACT that this type of abuse has continued for how many TRack terms in office?

949girl
949girl topcommenter

@paullucas714 @949girl Wouldn't that be a red flag to other inmates to not talk to him?  I know someone who was housed with a known snitch in Theo Lacy and it was a known fact that he was a snitch.  It's surprising that anyone would talk to one.

949girl
949girl topcommenter

@Dweezle @949girl Yes, agreed.  Seeing a witness called up to testify in their orange jailhouse uniform would make me go hhmmmm.

ltpar
ltpar topcommenter

@tongue_twister_for_t @ltpar You need to pull your head out of your ass and get in touch with reality.   Your assinine comment doesn't merit a response and merely magnifies your anit-Police attitude.  

fishwithoutbicycle
fishwithoutbicycle topcommenter

@Anonymous @fishwithoutbicycle 

I don't know how these people sleep at night...but, then again, I'm not a narcissistic sociopath. I, personally, would need a volley of powerful drugs...because I have this pesky little thing called a conscience.

mrbelmont2000
mrbelmont2000

@ltpar @tongue_twister_for_t Cops get away with wayy too much

Dweezle
Dweezle

@ltpar @tongue_twister_for_t I tend to believe a lot of people share tongue twisters sentiments. I believe being a retired officer may have clouded your perception. Can you honestly tell me you never looked the other way when even an infraction has been committed? I believe the circle of time & attitudes have turned to what they were in the 1960's where people held law enforcement in contempt, or worse.

ltpar
ltpar topcommenter

@mrbelmont2000  Cops get away with far less than the average John Doe citizen.  Contrary to your uninformed opinion, screening standards for Officer Applicants are tougher than any thing you have ever gone through, assuming of course you have a job.  Only 1 out of ever 100 Applicants makes the cut.  Lastly, from Day 1 on the job, and reinforced throughout their career, each is reminded that by the nature of the "trust" position, they are being held to a higher standard of conduct both professionally and personally.  You get away with things that an Officer would be disciplined or fired for doing.  I know because of having recommended such discipline on occasion during my 35 years on the job.  


Lots of things are changing in America, most for the worst.  Many people have abandoned the principles and ideals the country was founded on.  They have substituted the "feel good" philosophy for the  Moral Code we used to live by.  Corruption and other gross misconduct  is rampant in both government and the private sector, leading to an all time lack of confidence by those who still believe in God, Constitution, Mother and Apple Pie.  Cops by God's design are still human beings and regardless of how well we screen them a percent of "bad actors" slip through.  It is when one of those ass holes screws the pooch that all of law enforcement gets broad brushed and a black eye.  This is what the slanted media likes to play up to sell newspapers.  How often do you see them giving the same coverage to the many good things Officers all over the country do above and beyond their job helping the people they serve?


In conclusion, I make no excuses for bad Cops and have helped remove a few over the years.  At the same time, others continue with their misconduct and are yet to be purged.  At the same time however, I believe from personal experience a majority of citizens still trust and support their local Cops.  On this, we can agree to disagree.     

ltpar
ltpar topcommenter

@Dweezle @ltpar @tongue_twister_for_t My retirement has clouded nothing about the job, the people I worked with, or how I conducted myself.  Since you asked a legitimate question, rather than casting stones, I will try and give you an answer.  

I must have missed something, because I started law enforcement in Costa Mesa in the mid-1960's and did not experience the contempt you reference.  Costa Mesa was very PR oriented and we had a good relationship with our citizens.  Inside the department, I was sheltered for years and it wasn't until becoming an Investigator that I discovered the magnitude of corruption both from the politicans and a few within the Police Department.  I was in no position to make a case against any of those people, even though I would have done it in a heartbeat.  Even the Feds tried and were unsuccessful.  Unfortunately, the bookmaker, the major fence of stolen property and the corrupt Cops never got the justice thy deserved.  That I still regret today.  

Then I moved on to Irvine, a new department in a relatively new city.  Very PR oriented and the Chief, Leo Peart implemented a concept called Community Policing, long before the title existed.  We worked on building a problem solving partnership with the stakeholders in the community and it worked well. Again there was no contempt or hostility and the citizens respected the job we were doing together.  There was also no corruption at City Hall or within the department and it was a good place to work.  That partnership with the citizens continued to grow for the next twenty seven years (until I retired) and is still going today.  Did all citizens love the Officers, nope and that will never happen anywhere short of utopia.  Those who did not were in a small minority and I believe that percentage holds today, even with the national distrust of government.  

On the question of looking the other way.  We give the men and women of law enforcement a great deal of discretion in handling incidents, making arrests and issuing traffic tickets.  I always had the option of writing a citation to a motorist, sending a borderline drunk driver home in a cab or mediating a family fight so neither party went to jail.  I used that discretion from time to time and do not see it as looking the other way.  While you might disagree, the people I gave a break to always got a warning and we never met again in the future.  This is the nature of the job and why when hiring new Officers judgement and discretion must be critical elements for them to have.  

Not making any excuses here and fully acknowledge that regardless of how tough we screen new Cops, a few bad apples slip through the process, do something stupid and we all get a black eye from it.  I can tell you without hesitation, the majority of honest, dedicated Officers do not support these people and find them as disgusting as you do.  

 
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