Minutes before 10 on the morning of July 14, 2016, five heavily armed Anaheim Police Department (APD) officers wearing ballistic vests took positions outside a one-bedroom, one-bath, 740-square-foot, $200,000 condo in Whittier. Officers waited cautiously for the emergence of Bryan Jason Goldstein, a 32-year-old associate of Southern California white-supremacist gangsters. To gain a judge’s approval of arrest- and search-warrant requests, they declared a probable-cause belief that Goldstein committed a wild murder a day earlier near Disneyland.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound drug dealer, sometime construction worker and burglar known to tote loaded handguns, brass knuckles and switch-blade knives walked out of the unit with a 23-year-old girlfriend. They strolled down a sidewalk oblivious to the surveillance. As he got to a Hyundai Elantra with Utah plates parked in a carport, Goldstein tossed inside a backpack containing heroin and methamphetamine, then took the driver’s seat.
The vehicle headed toward the exit of the complex’s parking lot. As the automated gate opened, officers raced up with lights and sirens on. The scene created palpable tension, leading to one cop accidentally running over an unrelated female pedestrian. Goldstein panicked, too. He threw the Hyundai in reverse, an escape attempt that ended 30 feet later with ramming police vehicles. He initially refused to comply with orders barked by gun-pointing cops, but then he surrendered.
Two hours later, officials at police headquarters experienced a change of heart about Goldstein, who earned the moniker “Ace” for his cleverness among inmates during a 2013 prison stint. Even though he’d been present inside Room 215 at the seedy Akua Motor Inn when the fatal shooting occurred, they decided he wasn’t the killer. APD detectives gave the dead Daniel Richardson and their living suspect the same label: “victim.”
Just 23 days earlier, following a triple attempted homicide about a 90-second drive from swanky South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Goldstein also managed to quickly win police exoneration. As in the Anaheim case, he’d been at the crime scene in suspicious circumstances and fled in a dark-blue Pontiac. Two witnesses believe someone in a white BMW SUV driven by Josh Waring of The Real Housewives of Orange County fame fired a handgun between six and nine times.
But minutes after being shot in the crotch with a 9 mm bullet, Daniel Lopez placed the shooter in Goldstein’s car. An arriving Costa Mesa Police Department (CMPD) officer twice asked him the color of the vehicle, and twice he responded it was “dark blue.” He described the car in a way that made it impossible to be the SUV, guessing it was an Acura or Mazda.
Less than a minute later, a police dispatcher informed officers, “Okay, the subject we’re looking for, the name is going to be Bryan Goldstein. White male wearing a black-and-white basketball-style tank top. Tattoos . . .”
Nonetheless, CMPD quickly dropped Goldstein as a target. After officers found him hiding, a detective began the interrogation in a shady manner. He made clear the interviewee’s story should blame Waring. “You’re not the one we’re looking [to convict],” the officer stated. Ensuring the suspect understood he was getting a pass, that cop told Goldstein to “be straight up and honest” and “you can walk.” Obviously, he wouldn’t have been walking if he admitted he’d been the shooter.
The cop said, “I want to get you separated from all that bullshit.”
“Yeah?” replied Goldstein before telling a story that absolved himself and nailed Waring.
Is Goldstein—who has violated California’s Three Strikes law six times, almost always without serious repercussions—truly innocent in back-to-back shootings, or is something more nefarious at play?
The answer might be found in once-secret records reviewed by the Weekly. Those documents indicate Goldstein has spent at least 14 years working as a confidential informant for police. He snitches on criminals targeted by the government and in return wins off-the-radar, light punishments for his own perennial offenses.
As we reported on Feb. 28, two recent cases underscore Goldstein’s golden-boy status. Authorities wanted to give Joseph Govey a decade in federal prison for possessing 37 grams of methamphetamine in June 2017. Six months earlier, in a Beach Boulevard shopping plaza parking lot, Newport Beach cops and sheriff’s deputies found Goldstein with 18 more grams of meth than Govey, plus marijuana, heroin, Xanax, scales and 76 plastic baggies. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas ignored the snitch’s 16 prior felony convictions, dropped the most serious charge and let him spend a couple of months in local lockup before returning to the streets.
(U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney became wary of law enforcement’s overzealous maneuverings against Govey, voiced his criticisms in public and last month dismissed the case.)
Meanwhile, Rackauckas has placed Goldstein in witness protection and plans to get his testimony against Waring, who is scheduled for trial later this month. The defendant hired competent defense attorneys Joel M. Garson and David J. Scharf to exploit holes in the prosecution’s case, including plans to call an inmate who says Goldstein confessed he was the Costa Mesa shooter and wanted to apologize for getting Waring in trouble.
However, based on CMPD’s investigation, the DA’s aides believe they have a strong case, one that certainly would be bolstered if Goldstein side-steps a reputation as a two-faced liar. They want to keep his snitch work away from the future jury. In court, they’ve labeled it “irrelevant.”
The Anaheim murder case is proceeding as well against eight members of the Aryan Brotherhood, Orange County Skins and Public Enemy Number One Death Squad (PEN1). According to Deputy District Attorney Chris Alex, a combination of Goldstein, other witnesses, recorded jail communications and recovered cellphone text messages prove a white supremacists’ plot resulted in Richardson’s death. Alex argues that Richardson lured Goldstein—whom he calls “victim John Doe”—to the Akua Motor Inn to rob him. Then, Alex asserts, PEN1’s William Shoop accidentally shot and killed Richardson, whom the gangs allegedly extorted to pay $2,500 for shortchanging them on narcotic sales profits.
But Alex, who did not respond to questions about whether he still vouches for Goldstein’s credibility, is stuck with this drug dealer’s ridiculous, self-serving story: When he entered the hotel room carrying $1,300 to buy $800 worth of heroin, Richardson, Shoop and OC Skin Todd Schneider aimed handguns at him, pistol-whipped his face and ordered him to sit in a chair. They told him to empty his pockets, a demand he says he refused. Though he was surrounded by deranged, armed bandits, Goldstein claims he leaped from the chair, threw one of the men backward on the bed, landed on top of him and, with two guns still pointed at him, wrestled to keep the third weapon from shooting him in the head. He heard a loud boom and walked out of the hotel room with his cash. After he left, he decided to return to retrieve his backpack because it contained his favorite computer game. He kicked in the door, fearlessly entered the crime scene occupied by two of his suddenly unconcerned assailants, felt no curiosity about whether there might be a bloody dead man on the floor, grabbed the backpack—which now somehow contained one of the handguns used against him, possibly the murder weapon—and drove away, remaining free until APD cops found him a day later at his Whittier condo.
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.