Stories That Made a Difference
We like the hot, hot adult ads; the advertisements for cosmetic surgery; and the ads for Mercedes-Benz, Washington Mutual, Puma and Starbucks as much as the next laboring guy or gal whose paycheck depends entirely on ad sales. But what we like most about working at the Weekly is the chance we have to make a difference—to clothesline the corrupt politicians, to spring from jail the innocents, to liberate hip-hop fans from the burden of additional reading material. As we celebrate our 10th year, we recount here some of the stories that changed the world, or maybe just embarrassed us so badly that we wish we'd chosen that art school in Rhode Island.
ROBERT K. DORNAN
"The Secret Lives of Bob Dornan" by R. Scott Moxley, Oct. 18, 1996
Stark, raving Dornan
Orange County Congressman Robert K. Dornan lived comfortably as the nation's scariest bully politician before the Weekly opened its doors in September 1995. Combining a rare mix of oratory, religious fervor, unbridled ego, historical obsession, emotional instability and an unnatural interest in gay sex, Dornan believed he was leading a crusade that would land him in the White House. Like the movie that would become his favorite, Braveheart, Dornan loved big body counts and didn't reserve his wrath just for liberals or reporters, who often cowered in his presence. He'd savage fellow Republicans too, once calling a prominent official a "closet homo" and Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam War POW, a traitor. If a national survey had been taken, many Americans would have described Dornan as a "nut," but The Orange County Register had a different title: "military expert."
Such crap got us thinking: What's the real Dornan story? During a nine-month investigation, Moxley dug into every aspect of the congressman's persona and emerged with this pre-November 1996 election story. Among the revelations: contrary to his image as a gung-ho military man, Dornan had skipped Korean War combat duty to enroll in acting school in LA. When the war ended, he enlisted in the Air Force, where he served as "writer, director and emcee" of an entertainment troupe that toured the southern United States, performing a near-life-threatening 64 engagements.
Orange County Soccer Club v Real Monarchs SLC
TicketsSat., Jun. 3, 5:00pm
Premium Seating: Los Angeles Angels v. New York Yankees
TicketsMon., Jun. 12, 7:07pm
Los Angeles Angels vs. New York Yankees
TicketsMon., Jun. 12, 7:07pm
Premium Seating: Los Angeles Angels v. Kansas City Royals
TicketsThu., Jun. 15, 7:07pm
Days before publication, Dornan—who refused to cooperate for Moxley's story—showed up unannounced at the Weekly, claimed Moxley was a prostitute and drug dealer, and unsuccessfully urged editor Will Swaim to kill the story or, at least, delete the chapter on his missing military heroics. They shook hands, and the article ran. Someone distributed thousands of copies to voters throughout the congressional district on the weekend before Dornan faced Loretta Sanchez. Dornan panicked. Shop owners in Garden Grove witnessed him dumping stacks of the paper in his SUV.
It was too late. When he discovered he'd lost by just 970 votes, he first blamed the Weekly in a written legal threat before eventually deciding to claim he'd lost because of a massive illegal-immigrant voter fraud scam. The OC bureau of the Los Angeles Times shamelessly championed the accusation, unable or unwilling to see the ridiculousness of Dornan's belief that a house of nuns was part of the conspiracy against him. Moxley investigated all this too, spending weeks poring over voting records, interviewing experts and hunting down alleged fraudulent voters. For more than 15 months, he alone in the media predicted that Dornan's cries were factless. The bitter, defeated ex-congressman responded by calling Moxley a "homosexual hit man" who had carried "wetbacks" across the Mexican border to vote for Sanchez. (In a moment of lovely irony, it was Moxley who had revealed before the election that Sanchez's campaign adviser was a convicted felon.) Nevertheless, a Republican-controlled Congress and a Republican federal judge humored Dornan, allowing him to subpoena Moxley's investigative files and commanding him to appear at a deposition.
The Weekly fought the subpoena, Moxley refused to cooperate, and a debate erupted on the floor of the House of Representatives over whether to hold him in contempt of Congress. The move attracted national media attention, and the subpoena was quietly killed. Dornan went a little more nuts, grabbing Moxley's throat at a special congressional hearing on the case in Santa Ana. The Weekly, he declared on television, was "Satan's instrument" and a "scabrous, scandalous, calumny-spreading homosexual tool of Bill [sic] Swaim."
Bob, we miss you.
When there were no more sensational headlines to milk, the Orange County DA, secretary of state, attorney general and the head of the congressional oversight panel—Republicans all—dropped the case. The Times too finally conceded what Moxley had said all along: there was no proof of a stolen election.
Looking for redemption, Dornan sought a 1998 rematch against Sanchez and was trounced. Once again, he claimed he'd won. He blamed his apparent defeat on Republican Congressmen Christopher Cox and Dana Rohrabacher. In a Nov. 5, 1998, piece, "White Trash Disco," Moxley chronicled Dornan's pathetic final minutes of glory at a GOP election-night party, a speech that included references to D-Day, "The Beast," talk radio, Martin Luther King Jr., strong women, Newt Gingrich, sexual predators, serial adulterers, unappreciative Latinos, Yeats and the "Antichrist." Dornan concluded, "A fog of evil has rolled across our country," a signal, it seemed, for drunken members of his entourage to start brawling with fellow Republicans who'd shouted for the ex-congressman to get off the stage. As fists and blood flew, Moxley stood in the middle of it all, scribbling furiously on his note pad. And he smiled.
THE WHITE STRIPES
"Tears, Glam & Revelations" by Rich Kane, July 7, 2000
"The White Stripes appear strange and weird and nerdy at first—just a brother and sister onstage, Jack White playing guitar and blowing the harp while Meg bangs the drum kit (a kit with a bass drum painted to look like a big, red-and-white peppermint candy, no less). If you hadn't heard a lick of their music, you'd think they were gonna fart out Monkees covers or something just as sugary and safe. But then they totally surprise you with these great, noisy, wicked electric-slide blues songs that sound like the Reverend Horton Heat getting balled by Robert Johnson (at least that's what happened on their cover of "Stop Breaking Down"). They were, on this eve, a whiskey keg full of sonic splendors—Jack was albeit a trippy one all by his lonesome, with a freakily high singing voice that was equal parts Adam Sandler and Robert Plant, while the grooves he laid down were stitched-together Sabbath and Cheap Trick. Yet, through all the fuzzy pop tones that you wanted to believe they were kicking out, it was instead, unmistakably, undeniably the Blues, as authentic and honest and real as it gets." It's September 2005. You know where the White Stripes are now, don't you? There you go.
"The Painful Truth" by R. Scott Moxley, Nov. 29, 1996
"El Dia de Nuestro Seor Nativo" by Gustavo Arellano, Dec. 20, 2002
Photo by Davis Barber
When the mainstream media supported Rep. Bob Dornan's claim that he lost his 1996 race with Democrat Loretta Sanchez because of a "massive" voter fraud plot by Nativo Lopez, a Weekly investigation discredited the assertions and predicted exoneration. "Only the Weekly took the time to independently investigate Bob Dornan's smear campaign," Lopez said. Investigations by California's secretary of state, Orange County's district attorney and a House congressional committee—all headed by Republicans—failed to prove the Republican congressman's allegations.
But time wounds all: in late 2002, Lopez faced a recall. Parents unhappy with his support of bilingual education wanted him off the Santa Ana Unified School District board of trustees. But it wasn't until we dropped in on a fund-raiser Lopez supporters held Dec. 12—the same day as the feast day of Mexico's patron saint, Our Lady of Guadalupe—that we became interested and the recall effort became more than a conservative-funded effort. The sparsely attended rally was a disaster, with Lopez tying his ordeal to that of Jesus and the Holy mother. Lopez was also offended—by us. "I read with extreme disgust the piece Gustavo Arellano's 'El Dia de Nuestro Seor Nativo.' I found it offensive and distasteful," Lopez wrote us. But it was too late. After that, we revealed that Lopez improperly influenced district contracts and accepted contributions from PR firms whose clients he had said were victims of racism. Soon after, Lopez's friends fell away. In February 2003, 71 percent of Santa Ana voters recalled Lopez. Lopez hasn't been quite the same since; we hear he now performs at quinceaeras.
JOSHUA "BIG J-MO" MOORE
"Bad Rap" by Nick Schou, March 2, 2001
Photo by Jack Gould
In November 2000, a baby-faced kid from Lakewood named Joshua Moore was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the armed robbery of a Fullerton video store. The case against him relied on contradictory eyewitness testimony, gangster rap lyrics culled from Moore's high school notebook—and his rap music moniker, "Big J-Mo." As it turned out, Moore's biggest crime was that he hung out with black kids, one of whom was arrested in a holdup in which Moore drove the getaway car; he later claimed he didn't know his passenger had a gun, and the police report states that he pulled over just blocks from the scene. His problems might have ended there, but when the Fullerton video store robbery occurred and witnesses said a white guy and a black guy did the crime, cops immediately suspected Moore was the white guy.
But in a series of articles following Moore's conviction, the Weekly revealed that police, prosecutors and even his own defense attorney had failed to check his alibi: that he was selling golf clubs in Huntington Beach when the Fullerton robbery took place. One of those articles, "DA: Please Call this Guy!" featured a photograph of Sean Barbosa, the manager of the golf store, who remembered Moore never missed a day of work and could not have driven all the way to Fullerton and back on his lunch break to rip off a video store. Shortly after that article ran, the DA's office rechecked evidence collected in the trial—including golf store sales receipts stamped at exactly the time the video store robbery occurred. A lab test discovered Moore's fingerprints on those receipts, proving he was working the cash register in Surf City when someone else ripped off the video store. After being set free 10 years early, Moore told us he'd still be in prison if not for the Weekly. "In Orange County," he added, "if a cop arrests you, takes you down to the station and books you, you're guilty."
"Crack Cop" by Nick Schou, July 13, 2001
Photo courtesy Costa Mesa P.D.
People don't get much more mysterious than Ronald Lister, a former Laguna Beach police detective who quit his job and formed a globe-trotting security company just in time to cash in on Ronald Reagan's war against the Nicaraguan contras. Busted by drug agents during a 1986 raid on his Mission Viejo house, Lister claimed he worked for the CIA and that he knew the cops were watching his house. No drugs were found, but Lister continued to deal cocaine, avoiding jail time by working as an informant. In 1989 his luck ran out, and Lister spent three years in prison. In August 1996, his name became synonymous with the CIA-crack-cocaine connection, thanks to then-San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb's expos "Dark Alliance." Dismissed as a con artist by the mainstream media—which worked overtime to debunk Webb's stories—Lister also recounted his previous allegation of CIA ties. "Crack Cop" proved Lister may have been a con artist, but he also had friends in high places—like William Nelson, a corporate executive at then-Irvine-based Fluor Corp., whose previous job was covert operations chief for the CIA. The FBI has refused to release uncensored copies of files on its investigation of Lister's security company and the company's relationship to Nelson. Fired from his paper and unable to land another job in daily journalism, Webb committed suicide last December. Lister's whereabouts are unknown.
"HB's Secret Santa" by Anthony Pignataro and Dave Wielenga, Dec. 10, 1999
Photo by Jack Gould
Injustice takes just a second; justice moves more slowly. This Weekly story revealed that Huntington Beach Mayor Dave Garofalo attempted to sell ads in his own newspaper to people with business before his City Council. It looked like a conflict of interest to us. Three years later, following a district attorney's investigation sparked by the story, Garofalo finally quit the council—and then pleaded guilty to one felony and 15 misdemeanor counts of political corruption. A judge barred him from ever seeking political office in California. By then, the Weekly had run some 30 stories on Garofalo. "My life has been in turmoil for over two years. I simply cannot take it anymore," he complained. "I know of no one in modern times more closely investigated than I have been." You're welcome.
"Condo-mania" by Nick Schou, Oct. 17, 2003
After Huntington Beach Mayor Dave Garofalo left office and narrowly avoided jail time thanks to the Weekly, you'd think his replacement would keep her nose clean. You'd be wrong. "Condo-mania" revealed that Pamela Houchen, who took over the mayor's job from Garofalo and doubled as a local real estate agent, had illegally converted apartment buildings into condos. For months, nothing happened. In July 2004, the Weekly kept the heat on Houchen with "Arrest Houchen Now, Ask Questions Later," an open letter to Surf City's police chief, Kenneth Small. That story pointed out that, while Houchen had violated a rather obscure city ordinance in illegally converting condos, hundreds of city residents had done jail time for drinking on their front lawns, which also violated an obscure city ordinance. Small never wrote back.
But Houchen's days in office were numbered; both she and Jan Shomaker, her planning commissioner—who doubled as her boss at Pier Realty—resigned last year. The Weekly's coverage led to an FBI investigation. On Aug. 29, the U.S Attorney's office announced it had reached a deal with Houchen: she'll plead guilty to eight counts of mail and wire fraud, pay restitution to people who bought her bogus condos, and could spend up to five years in federal prison. Such a deal.
"There and Back Again With Dios: Chris Ziegler spent 25 days on the road with Dios—maybe the 25 most important days of their career—and he ended up in a Detroit hospital" by Chris Ziegler, June 4, 2004
The crucial moment arrives: "We were leaving as soon as the Pixies song was done. Girlfriends and their clean soft beds were waiting 31 hours away. Dios was one of the bands that liked going home; other bands never went back, became homeless except for their van on tour for years at a time, sleeping on couches and floors and fist fighting at rest stops. Promoters talked about them like they were ghost ships. The merch girl from the headlining band gave me a little plastic pig—we'd been flirting like we were on a semester abroad; she'd run away from Alaska on a boat when she was 17, and she drank lots of whiskey. She'd been out for weeks, and she thought we were going home too early." Sappy closing paragraph makes at least four girls cry.
CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF ORANGE
"I Would Have Nothing to Offer" by Gustavo Arellano, Nov. 28, 2003
Photo by James Bunoan
When my editor asked if I would investigate the Catholic Diocese of Orange sex-abuse scandal in late 2003, I did what any good Catholic would do: I prayed. I asked God for a sign, any sign, and God provided one. A sex-abuse survivor visited my newspaper's offices unannounced one afternoon. The survivor carried stacks of damning documents showing the relationship between former Orange County GOP chair Tom Fuentes and various characters in a pedophile-shuffling fiasco that had continued with little reprimand for 27 years.
For the next year and a half, I lived and breathed the scandal—taking time out to write a popular food column. Orange County survivors of priestly sex abuse credit the Weeklyfor exposing a church hierarchy that had long refused to hear their story or offer them a monetary settlement for their pain, even while Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown secretly drew up plans for a new multimillion-dollar cathedral down the street from South Coast Plaza and bought million-dollar homes for his priests. Church officials tried to discredit the Weekly at every opportunity—in parish bulletins and in public. But rarely did church officials speak to us directly. When we called him for comment on one story, diocesan spokesperson Joseph Fenton memorably screamed, "You must think I'm a complete and utter idiot!" But in January, Brown agreed to pay 90 victims of sexual abuse $100 million, then the largest settlement in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. He also released more than 10,000 pages of personnel files that showed what officials had long denied: church officials ranging from previous bishops to Pope John Paul II knew about the clerical sex abuse occurring in Orange County, and they did nothing to stop it.
"The Kid Is Innocent" by Bob Emmers, Sept. 17, 1999
Photo by Jack Gould
Arthur Carmona was just 16 years old in 1998 when police picked him up in a dragnet search for a Latino with a shaved head between 20 and 30 years old. This article by Bob Emmers revealed a chain of bad police work and prosecutorial indifference that shackled itself to Carmona and led to his 12-year prison sentence. It began with his original interrogation by Irvine police detectives. A transcript shows they repeatedly but incorrectly told Carmona they had evidence—including videotape—that he had committed a robbery. Witnesses and jurors told Emmers that police and prosecutors compounded their early mistakes by misleading them about evidence linking Carmona to the crime. There wasn't any. The "evidence" was a Lakers hat found at the crime scene, which police simply placed on Carmona's head to facilitate his prosecution—a move that not only violated basic police work but also permanently destroyed DNA evidence.
After the Weekly's coverage—and that of Los Angeles Times columnist Dana Parsons—put pressure on prosecutors, they vacated the charges against Carmona. He had already spent more than two years behind bars. Before they did so, he had to promise not to sue. Adding insult to Carmona's injury, DA Tony Rackauckas provided a bizarre but perfectly appropriate ending to a Kafkaesque trial, implying that Carmona had gotten off easy. Speaking directly to Carmona, he said, "Arthur, it's a rare event that a convicted defendant gets this kind of break. You are getting a second chance. Don't let yourself or your supporters down. When you get out, find a job, improve your skills, [and] have a good and productive life—do not commit any crimes!"
"Get Everywhere: The Willowz's positively possibly true tales" by Chris Ziegler, Nov. 7, 2003
Photo by Matt Otto
Like the title says, Ziegler made no claims for the veracity of the stories the Willowz told about themselves: "The following stories about the Willowz could not be verified at press time: The Willowz did all but one show of their first national tour with a fiftysomething transsexual named Kat Kitty as their chauffeur. The Willowz had reps from Island and Atlantic or whatever majors at their first show, rounded up by the producer of the Donnas, who heard the demo they recorded in a Whittier garage and dragged the whole West Coast industry out to gnash and drool at them. The Willowz are 19, 19 and 17. And the Willowz are the most hated band in Anaheim." The phrase "the most hated band in Anaheim," originally sourced from a classmate who didn't get along with Richie in high school (though it was still true among the two or three other Anaheim bands), made it (presumably) into the Willowz' press kit and metastasized from there via reporters too lazy to construct a conceptual framework of their own to glossies like Rolling Stone and (via one of OCW's own freelancers!) alt.-papers like LA Alternative Press, Los Angeles Citybeat and Time Out Chicago. This is how myths are made: Chris Ziegler's brain types something funny about you.
ASCON-NESI HAZARDOUS WASTE DUMP
"How Not to Run a Toxic Waste Dump," by Nick Schou, Aug. 1, 1997
Used to be that Huntington Beach's most toxic chunk of real estate—several oil lagoons and an open pit containing more than 250,000 cubic yards of cancer-causing sludge—looked like it might stay there forever. This story included up-close photographs of the toxic pools, which tended to suggest that despite the dumpsite's incredibly dangerous contents, it was child's play to penetrate its perimeter. Indeed, the only things preventing neighborhood kids from reaching their oily doom were a few decrepit signs reading, "Hazardous Waste—No Trespassing," and a chainlink fence with numerous gaps. Obvious signs of intruders lay everywhere: rusting children's bicycles, cigarette butts, beer bottles, lawn chairs and discarded mattresses. It was as if some derelict had turned the place into a condo project.
Days after the story appeared, the fences were mended and freshly painted warning signs were hung. Efforts to remove the waste began again in earnest. The story also won a 2000 commendation from the Orange County grand jury, which investigated failed cleanup efforts at the site. So now it's, what, eight years later, and the waste is still there—but is supposed to be removed before next winter's rains send thousands of gallons of toxic goo flooding into nearby homes.
"No More!" by Chris Ziegler, Sept. 19, 2003
Photo by James Bunoan
"During 'Jealous Again,' singer Dez Cadena had obviously had enough, plucking a beer cup off the PA and firing it into the audience. He'd been spit on—by girls, too!—and yelled at and fucked with all night, but now he was getting mean. He grabbed a mic stand—very slowly and deliberately—and sort of half-assedly raked a stage-diver. Seconds later, a bolt of ice and booze hit the side of his head. You could see every bad memory flood back, every argument he'd had with himself about whether this cat-benefit reunion thing was a good idea suddenly explode into his bloodstream. He dropped his shit and pushed his way offstage, settling in at the bar so angrily that not even the eight-foot skins went near him, and when the CD player started a new song, Greg Ginn stopped it, waved the drummer to a halt and started packing up. That was it. The end. Go home. Everyone looked confused, which was weird because this was exactly like every Black Flag show we'd ever heard about. It's good to see that, after all these years, they still got it." That single review reminded countless readers of just why they grew up.
"The Kids (Still) Aren't Alright" by Anthony Pignataro, Feb. 28, 1997
Even before he became head of the county's Children and Youth Services (CYS), Bernard Rappaport had a penchant for controversy. As a court-appointed juvenile psychiatrist, he once justified the molestation of a 4-year-old girl by a teenager. The girl, Rappaport noted, had acted "coquettish." After being promoted, he ignored complaints concerning at least one psychiatrist who gave patients at the Orangewood Children's Home potentially dangerous drug combinations; illegal office drinking parties at one CYS clinic; a supervising psychiatrist who was allegedly making dangerous misdiagnoses; and an Orange County grand jury that described him as "unaccountable." The net effect? Not much. Rappaport remained chief of the county's juvenile psychiatrists for years after reporter Anthony Pignataro exposed the sordid details of his tenure. He died in 2001 but lives on in the Weekly's annual Orange County's Scariest People Bob Dornan Hall of Fame.
"Wrong Side of the Tracks" by Gustavo Arellano, Sept. 26, 2003
For years, Placentia officials threw millions of dollars in city funds into OnTrac, a $440 million plan to redevelop the city's historic downtown, but instead plunged the tiny North County community millions of dollars into debt. A Weeklyinvestigation detailed how Placentia Council Member Scott Brady personally benefited from the project, how the council wanted to appoint Roy D. DePaul—a businessman with a shady past—as OnTrac's main developer, and how the city purchased one property above market rate—a property that belonged to OnTrac board member and former Placentia mayor George Ziegler. Following those articles, DePaul resigned, Brady recused himself forever from OnTrac votes, and the Orange County grand jury launched an investigation into the Ziegler transaction. Last month, city officials killed the OnTrac project. Last stop: oblivion.
"A Tale of Two Shootings" by Nick Schou, Aug. 1, 2003
On May 20, 2003, Derrick Watkins attended a triple-header classic-rock marathon at LA's Staples Center featuring REO Speedwagon, Journey and Styx. After the show, Watkins carpooled back home to Orange County with several law-enforcement pals. As their SUV raced down the 91 freeway through Compton, Watkins got trigger-happy: he took out his police-issue handgun, aimed it out the window and started firing. Watkins was never charged with a crime. As this story pointed out, Watkins happened to be a Santa Ana cop attached to the department's gang unit. Also in the SUV were two gang-unit prosecutors who worked alongside Watkins in an office at the Santa Ana Police Department. The passengers had recently teamed up in an effort to send Gustavo Orejel, a young Santa Ana resident, to prison for life. His crime? Allegedly shooting a gun in the air after a car full of gangbangers sprayed his house with bullets.
Although no physical evidence tied Orejel to the shooting—and somebody else ultimately confessed to the crime—Orejel faced a life sentence after two neighbors said they thought they saw him with a gun at the scene. The Weekly revealed that those eyewitnesses didn't come forward until a week after the shooting (a shooting in which nobody was injured), and even then failed to say they saw Orejel actually shoot at anybody. His freedom hung in the balance for another year.
This February, Orejel shot himself in the foot. Not literally, though—he was busted by cops who raided his house looking for drugs. Orejel pleaded guilty to drug charges and is now an inmate at Wasco State Prison. His shooting case, meanwhile, quietly disappeared. Instead of spending the rest of his life in prison, Orejel will spend the next three years and four months behind bars.
"Springboard for Hitler: Anaheim's the Shack has become Nuremberg-rally central for OC racists" by Rich Kane, Sept. 7, 2001
"Clandestine White Power shows aren't unheard of in Orange County. What's weird is that a commercial venue like the Shack would host one—or, rather, several—since the club underwent an ownership change in February 1999. [The owners] have offered evolving responses: (1) they have denied such shows ever took place; (2) they have said they are not sure White Power bands perform at their club because they're not much interested in the politics of their bands and can't understand the lyrics; and (3) they have said the shows have gone on, but hey, it's a free country, even for Nazis. No. 3 is undoubtedly true, but it contradicts Nos. 1 and 2. And the Shack's fear of publicity raises questions about its commitment to No. 3, regarding which, let's say this: for two years, ending around the night of Sept. 2, the Shack's ownership worked assiduously to keep the Nazi shows top secret, staging most of them on unadvertised Sunday afternoons, referring to them as 'private parties.' And until recently, they succeeded in maintaining a low profile." Kane's story helped close the Shack. The space became a Mexican club in April 2003, and remains one of the most popular venues in Orange County.
"Shot in the Back" by Nick Schou, June 6, 2003
Mark Wersching may be the most expensive cop in Huntington Beach history. On May 5, 2001, he fatally shot Antonio Saldivar, an unarmed 18-year-old Costa Mesa resident, in the back after mistaking him for a gangbanger he'd been chasing moments earlier. His justification—that Saldivar had aimed a rifle at him—evaporated when the rifle was determined to be a toy gun on which Saldivar's fingerprints could not be found. In May 2003, a jury awarded Saldivar's family $2.1 million for its loss.
Jurors reached their verdict without reviewing Wersching's disciplinary record, which was later obtained by the Weekly. That record—more rap sheet than report card—suggested he should have been fired long before he had the chance to shoot an unarmed kid in the back. It included several allegations of excessive force and a couple of incidents that would have landed anyone but a cop in jail.
Take the time Wersching and a fellow officer stole a bundle of confiscated fireworks from an evidence locker at the Huntington Beach Fire Department—and set them off at the HBPD union headquarters. After months of investigating, Wersching was suspended for 30 hours without pay. On another occasion, Wersching and several other off-duty cops and their wives and girlfriends celebrated a victorious softball game by barhopping around the city. Late that night, Wersching took a detour, drove onto the city beach and raced along the shore at speeds of 50 mph—until he crashed into a cement ditch and totaled the car.
A passenger suffered a partially collapsed lung and broken ribs. Rather than report the accident and request an ambulance—or take a sobriety test, for that matter—Wersching had another passenger drive her to the hospital and then called the police dispatcher to send a tow truck to pull his car out of the sand. He received a 60-hour suspension for improper conduct, failing to report acts of misconduct and violating the law. Shortly after shooting the unarmed Saldivar, Wersching was promoted to detective.
Article info deleted from website due to embarrassment, Aug. 6, 2004
A freelancer turns in an article on Method Man sagging with massive factual errors—Method Man's real name is Manny Methodson, Method Man is a Methodist, Method Man wrote the monster '70s hit "More Than a Feeling"—and due to using a fact checker who—at best—did not insert his own custom surprise errors into articles, and also due to no one in OC Weekly editorial ever listening to any hip-hop that isn't 20 years out of date, article goes to press, triggering massive two-letter backlash. Said freelancer was blacklisted from OC Weekly but appeared in the very next issue of LA Weekly. When contacted, he did not apologize for severely fucking up. However, the Method Man madness made life easier for the local hip-hop community, absolving them of having to pay attention to OC Weekly.
EDGAR DALE "EDDIE" ALLEN
"God Bless America" by R. Scott Moxley, Oct. 5, 2001
To persuade patriotic Republicans to trust him with their life's savings, Eddie Allen claimed for decades that he was a financial genius who managed "assets in the billions" for wealthy investors; earned a law degree at Harvard University; played baseball for the New York Yankees; flew Air Force Onefor President John F. Kennedy; as a colonel in the Air Force, was injured and held as a Vietnam War POW in the 1960s after performing covert CIA missions in Southeast Asia; was rescued personally from the Viet Cong by Henry Kissinger; and frequently dined with Ronald Reagan.
As Moxley discovered through months of research and dozens of personal interviews (including high-ranking espionage officials), none of it was true. Allen, married to Jo Ellen Allen—an Orange County Republican Party official, Southern California Edison executive and self-styled Christian conservative—may have been the most colorful con man in local history. Moxley found dozens of people across the U.S. who'd been victimized by Allen's multimillion-dollar scams. One, Mrs. Lee Pickett of Washington, was nearly blind, her husband on his deathbed, when Allen tricked her out of $553,000—her life savings. She pleaded with Allen to return her money but failed and lost her home. Pickett later thanked the Weekly for helping to expose Allen as a crook. "What Eddie did to us is so despicable," Pickett said in 2001. "We are the victims. He has to be stopped from doing this to anyone else."
Allen once ran from Moxley in a parking lot and, on another occasion at his office near John Wayne Airport, pretended he couldn't hear his questions, but the Weekly's series put an end to Allen's big paydays. Having kept millions of stolen dollars and apparently immune from prosecution thanks to his wife's connections with local prosecutors, he never paid for his crimes. A 73-year-old Allen died quietly of a heart ailment in February 2004.
SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE JAMES M. WATSON
"Juvenile Justice" by R. Scott Moxley, Feb. 18, 2000
Watson issued an order that anyone—lawyers, cops, jurors, witnesses, court observers—with HIV must publicly declare their status prior to entering his courtroom. When asked by the Weekly if his order was discriminatory, Watson said, "I don't care." He cared later. After the story was published, Watson rescinded the order and found himself apologizing to the state's commission on judicial conduct.
"Mr. Big Mouth" by R. Scott Moxley, March 12, 2004
When the Weekly exposed the assistant OC sheriff for potential conflicts of interest involving a Newport Beach company that paid Jaramillo and his wife $25,000 for consulting, Jaramillo was quick to respond: "I have good reason to hate you guys." Within days of the Weekly expos, Sheriff Mike Carona fired Jaramillo, the FBI raided his office, and the DA opened an investigation that ended with Jaramillo's arrest. Case pending.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY TONY RACKAUCKAS
"Who the Hell's in Charge?" by R. Scott Moxley, March 23, 2001
Moxley exposed the DA's friendship with a businessman who concedes he'd been a longtime mob suspect by the DA's own mafia squad. Said Rackauckas, "We don't have organized crime, you know, any of the traditional [New York or Chicago Mafia] families operating out of Orange County." Two years to the month after our expos, the LA Times mirrored our report: Rackauckas and Patrick N. Di Carlo remain pals.
DR. EDWARD ALLRED
"The Abortionist Who Funds Pro-Life Republicans" by R. Scott Moxley, June 26, 1998
We love Orange County for precisely these kinds of stories: Moxley's revelation that OC's vociferously anti-abortion Republican politicians, including Dana Rohrabacher, Scott Baugh, John Lewis, Ross Johnson and the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, took contributions and accepted dining or racetrack invitations from a man who owns abortion clinics in several states and proudly claimed he's conducted about a half-million abortions. The politicians acknowledged Allred's financial support but denied any hypocrisy. In June 2005, one of Allred's abortion clinics in LA was sued for wrongful death after allegedly failing to remove all of a dead fetus from a 32-year-old woman's uterus.
"Haidl Your Daughters" by R. Scott Moxley, May 7, 2004
Photo courtesy pool photographer
Michael Goulding/The Orange County Register
This is where it all began, with a Weekly exclusive describing the disturbing videotape contents from the gang rape of an unconscious minor in Newport Beach. Haidl's numerous lawyers claimed the girl, 16 years old at the time of the 2002 incident, raped the defendants. After a hung jury in the first trial, a second panel convicted Haidl, Kyle Nachreiner and Keith Spann of multiple felonies. They await sentencing.
"Anyone But Bob! But Why Loretta?" by R. Scott Moxley, April 12, 1996
Sanchez tried to hide the fact that her campaign was being run in part by Howard Kieffer—who had served prison time for stealing the assets of an elderly woman. But she sent her faxed denial to the Weekly from a machine inside Kieffer's office. Kieffer hinted that he'd sue if we published the story. We did. He didn't—and he still lurks in liberal OC politics.
"Rogue Statesman" by R. Scott Moxley, Sept. 6, 2002
Rohrabacher claimed he was the "authority" in Congress on the evils of the Taliban, but the Weekly discovered that the Huntington Beach Republican had, in fact, once lobbied on behalf of the Afghan government and blamed "the liberal media" for misrepresenting them as uncivilized. Rohrabacher initially refused to respond, but one of his numerous teenage volunteers wrote just to say, "You guys suck."
DR. STEVEN KOOSHIAN
"My Conscience Is Killing Me" by R. Scott Moxley, July 27, 2001
Our investigation discovered that the OC doctor allegedly gave AIDS patients fake injections with saline or vitamins but charged their insurers as much as $9,000 per shot. The doctor said the stories "slaughtered" his good reputation and demanded a retraction. Prompted by the Weekly's article, the FBI opened an investigation that culminated in July 2005 with Kooshian's indictment and arrest.
"Size Matters" by R. Scott Moxley and Anthony Pignataro, March 29, 2002
Agran promised voters he'd convert the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station into a "Great Park," personally guaranteeing an open parkland of "2,800 acres." Angrily called the Weekly "naysayers and pessimists" for doubting his claim. Noted presence in paper of penis-enlargement ads. Strip away the Orwellian land-use language, and the park is now planned to be just 367 acres—a fiction-to-truth ratio of nearly 8 to 1.
SAN JOAQUIN HILLS TOLL ROAD
"Road to Ruin" by R. Scott Moxley, May 16, 1997
In 1996, Orange County's first toll road was proclaimed an "international model" for future privatized highway projects—a spin advanced by the LA Times and OC Register. However, the Weekly revealed that the road was, in fact, a looming financial disaster that would require massive public subsidies. The chief financial officer of the TCA, the agency that runs the road, said our stories were nonsense. But by 2000, the local dailies finally reported what we'd known for three years: the road would need regular billion-dollar infusions over coming decades—and still might go bankrupt.
A DESALINATION PLANT
"That's a Lotta Clams!" by Nick Schou, Nov. 14, 2003
Schou played a crucial role in exposing the faulty science and poor planning behind a private company's efforts to build a desalination plant in Huntington Beach. Poseidon Resources Inc. had hoped to win City Council approval to convert 100 million gallons of seawater each day into 50 million gallons of drinking water. What about the remaining 50 million gallons? That would be released as highly concentrated brine back into the ocean.
Making matters worse, Poseidon wanted to attach its plant to the aging AES power plant—which is located on a Surf City beach already subject to routine closures because of high fecal bacteria counts (that's "poop" to you and me). After the Weekly reported that the company's "model" project in Tampa Bay had filed for bankruptcy because "clams and mollusks attaching themselves to the plant's intake pipes produced more urine than the plant's filters could absorb," company officials showed up at our offices to complain in person.
The result of that meeting: "The Poseidon Misadventure: 10 arguments against turning Surf City's water into brine," published on Dec. 12, 2003. Less than a week later, the Huntington Beach City Council rejected the project—but is reconsidering Poseidon's latest offer with "study sessions" that have already generated controversy among local environmental activists. Stay tuned.
BRUCE "BULLDOZER" BROADWATER
"The King of Garden Grove" By Nick Schou, May 17, 2002
Three years ago, Garden Grove Mayor Bruce Broadwater had a vision: his town would become a town of the developers, by the developers and for the developers. In 1998, he declared 20 percent of his town blighted. Then he bulldozed a mobile home park, evicting hundreds of senior citizens, and repaved the area to make room for a series of hotels that were supposed to fill up with tourists flocking to Disneyland. But the tourists didn't come in numbers sufficient to pay for the scheme.
So Broadwater came up with another plan: find a working-class neighborhood adjacent to the empty hotels, declare it blighted, and kick out the residents to make room for a theme park to rival Disneyland! In a series of stories over the next year, the Weekly revealed that Broadwater's house and insurance business were located less than 200 feet from the city's redevelopment area. By then, city manager George Tindall had told residents that the neighborhood slated for the 'dozers wasn't really "blighted."
Through it all, Broadwater refused to answer our phone calls but routinely referred to the Weekly as a "sex paper." In May 2003, 700 residents showed up at a City Council meeting to denounce his plan. On July 2 of that year, the council unanimously voted it down. Later that year, Broadwater was re-elected mayor but last year lost his race to join the Orange County Board of Supervisors. He's retired from politics.
KALI P. CHAUDHURI
"Dire Prognosis" by John Underwood, Dec. 3, 2004
When this article appeared, Dr. Kali P. Chaudhuri, a Bombay-raised physician cum hostile hospital-takeover artist, stood ready to purchase four Orange County hospitals. The sale had local doctors frantic: Chaudhuri had a well-known record of buying Southland clinics and then shuttering them—to increase his corporate earnings, critics said. Thanks to this article, state Senator Joe Dunn (D-Garden Grove) held hearings to examine Chaudhuri's business practices. Those hearings forced Chaudhuri to back out of Integrated Healthcare Holdings Inc. (IHHI), the company set to purchase the hospitals. Although he retains the right to repurchase more than 70 million shares (about 20 percent) of the company's stock, Chaudhuri says he wasn't involved in the company's recent lawsuit against Dr. Michael Fitzgibbons, one of the doctors who criticized Chaudhuri during the Dunn hearings. Fitzgibbons' attorney says the lawsuit is retaliation. Stay tuned.
EL TORO AIRPORT
"Kill An Airport, Save Some Cash" by Anthony Pignataro, Jan. 24, 1997
Photo by Myles Robinson
"Residents of Yorba Linda, Orange, Santa Ana, Lemon Heights, Tustin, Irvine, Laguna Niguel, Lake Forest and Mission Viejo fear the proposed El Toro International Airport with good reason: community property values around LAX crashed faster in the mid-1950s than Valujet."
So began reporter Anthony Pignataro's "El Toro Airport Watch," the first in a series of 164, not including several cover stories and longer news features. The first column provided readers with the address of the county tax assessor and instructions on how they could lower their taxes because of the county's plan to soar commercial aircraft over their back yards. The first 50 columns were compiled in a booklet that was used as a premium for members of Project 99, the most important grassroots organization in the anti-airport movement. According to Irvine Mayor Larry Agran's foreword to that book, Pignataro's articles "provided the best, most incisive and uncompromising coverage of the airport issue."
It wouldn't be a stretch to say they played a major role in steering county voters to overwhelmingly pass Measure W and kill the airport on March 2, 2002. If Pignataro hadn't fled to Hawaii to edit Maui Time Weekly the following year, by now he might also have killed the Great Park—Agran's Orwellian replacement for El Toro.
"Poop Chute" by Dave Wielenga, March 16, 2001
This story was the first nugget in what became a steady flow of fecally focused coverage of the Orange County Sanitation District's efforts to dump shit in local surf spots. The district (OCSD for short) had operated under a federal waiver allowing it to pump 240 million gallons of partially treated sewage into the ocean each day. Wielenga's coverage inspired Assemblyman Ken Maddox (R-Garden Grove) to propose legislation that forced OCSD to abandon the waiver. In one particularly testy exchange with activists at the district's headquarters, district chief Blake Anderson told Wielenga that the Weekly was responsible for what was sure to come: a massive rate hike. Later, OCSD claimed the cost of treating the wastewater justified increasing the rates paid by local residents. Wielenga revealed the rate increase was actually slated to pay for OCSD infrastructure, not sewage treatment.
"Hour of White Power" by Stan Brin, Feb. 15, 2002
Photo by Jack Gould
Brin revealed that Bob Baker, a three-time guest lecturer at Rev. Robert Schuller's pastor's conference and head of Christians and Muslims for Peace (CAMP), also had strong ties to the neo-Nazi Populist Party. Actually, "strong ties" would be an understatement: Baker had been the party's national chairman. The Populist Party, Brin wrote, was founded by Willis Carto, "dean of American neo-Nazi politics." Among other things, the group's platform called for the repeal of U.S. civil-rights laws. Three months after the Weekly published Brin's story, Schuller's people fired Baker, who called Brin's coverage "insulting and outrageous lies." To this day, Baker continues to boast of his Nobel Peace Prize nomination but doesn't tend to mention that anybody can nominate himself for a Nobel Peace Prize, that even Henry Kissinger can win one.
"I . . . Shot My Son" by R. Scott Moxley, July 14, 2000
Photo by Jack Gould
Police arrested Shantae Molina, a 20-year-old Laguna Niguel mother, for the gruesome murder of her 8-month-old son. Mainstream media coverage of the case—already intense—peaked when Orange County Sheriff's Deputy David Guest claimed under oath at a preliminary hearing that Molina had fired a point-blank shot into the child's head. The mother said she fired the gun accidentally after she had been spooked by a noise outside a window in her house, which sits in a neighborhood that had been recently victimized by a series of burglaries. Prosecutors didn't buy it. They declared she'd "executed" her son, announced they'd seek the death penalty and began a massive publicity campaign around the case.
But a three-month, pretrial Weekly investigation uncovered evidence of sloppy, deceitful law enforcement work that suggested authorities had tried to convert a tragic accident into a murder.
Gunshots fired at point-blank range generally cause circular wounds and show powder burns. Paramedics at the scene, a hospital surgeon and a medical examiner's lab had found no powder burns; each described the wound as star-shaped—evidence consistent with Molina's alibi. Nevertheless, Deputy Guest claimed Molina killed her son after she pressed her gun "up against the victim's head" and coldly fired.
On the opening day of the three-week trial, Deputy District Attorney Robin Parks held up a copy of the Weekly's pretrial story and declared it trash. But jurors learned during three weeks of testimony that the police fudged reports, offered suspicious testimony, and unnecessarily strip-searched and belittled Molina as they told her that her son had died in surgery. They also learned conclusively that Molina's story matched the government's own forensics evidence: the shot had been fired from as far away as two feet. The jury voted unanimously against all charges.
"Hope Springs Infernal" by Dave Wielenga, June 6, 2003
Illustration by Bob Aul
Former Weekly staffer Dave Wielenga hated Bob Hope. Hated him. Though he never really explained the reason for the hate, Dave had made it clear to us that there was an open invitation to party at his house the day Hope dropped. But Hope just kept on living. He turned 85, then 90, 95 and 99. By the time he turned 100, Wielenga unloaded in a piece that began: "So Bob Hope lived to be 100, and that's wrong. Bob Hope is everything that was wrong with America in the 20th century—lucky, opportunistic, selfish, two-faced, sophomoric, shortsighted, undeservedly rich, intolerably smug." It went on like that for 500 words. "Bob Hope is everything that is wrong with our immigration laws . . . Bob Hope is everything that is wrong with the 21st century . . . Bob Hope is everything that was wrong with Bing Crosby. And that dude was fuckedup."
Anyway, Dave's "Hope Springs Infernal" ran in June 2003. By July, Bob Hope, who'd survived two World Wars and Call Me Bwana, was dead. Sadly, Wielenga was in Mexico when the great day arrived and could not share it with his friends. Of course, he had shared with readers, and they in turn shared with him. Jack Ryan of Laguna Niguel wrote what I think is my all-time favorite OC Weekly letter in that it not only contained the usual anger but also seemed to capture the slow burn of incredulity many readers experience:
Dave Wielenga, you're everything that is wrong with human life, because there is something totally wrong about you living to whatever age you are to be able to write the vile garbage that you do about people like Bob Hope ["Hope Springs Infernal," June 6] who you wouldn't make a pimple on his ass. So go fuck yourself, you pinko asshole. Same to the rest of your asshole staff. Man, you people really suck! Why don't your anonymous cowards get some balls and face off on those people that piss them off so much?
I copied Ryan's letter, blew it up, framed it and gave it to Dave as a Christmas present.
"The Shaq Trap" by Steve Lowery, June 18, 1999
This piece, in which Lowery declared the Lakers would never win a championship with O'Neal in the lineup, ran on Lowery's birthday, and it seems we still hear about it annually from readers: "Talk about famous last words, a bad case of foot-in-mouth . . . Lakers won't win championships with O'Neal? I am sure Steve's prophetic utterances included the caveat that we were to ignore the next one, two, three . . ." That came four years after Lowery mispredicted the future. What all these letters miss is that he was right. More than that, he provided the road map to a dynasty. "I wrote that the Lakers would never win with a center interested only in scoring, citing such great teams as Bill Russell's Celtics, who won because their center kept others from scoring through blocks, intimidation and cleaning up the glass," Lowery explains now. "And, indeed, the first year that the Lakers took a title with O'Neal, he averaged 3.03 blocks as opposed to a career mark of 2.69, averaged 15.4 rebounds in the playoffs as opposed to a career mark of 12.4. It's as if the Lakers read my piece and said to O'Neal, 'Do this.' It's as if . . ." You're not buying this, are you? Fine. Just please stop e-mailing us about O'Neal.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.