If he’d chosen acting as his profession instead of narcotics trafficking and stealing when not partying with Southern California white-supremacist gangsters, Bryan Jason Goldstein could have convincingly played a supporting role as a mob soldier on The Sopranos. Goldstein has the confident stride and husky physique; the 6-foot-2, 250-pounder tries to attract women by wearing tank tops that expose tattoos that include “Subversive Intentions.” Recently on the witness stand in a bizarre Anaheim murder case, he explained the black ink: “It means to overthrow and conquer,” Goldstein said in a raspy voice inflected with more of a sense of dark humor than anger.
There’s not much, if anything, that embarrasses this gun-and-brass-knuckle-toting perennial criminal. He urinated inside a public bus because he was pissed off. He brandished a switch-blade knife in a road-rage incident after twice cutting off another driver. On at least two occasions, he has tried to run over cops. He likes to tell the story of beating a man in the face until he cried. He burglarized a home to steal checks. He says he’s Jewish when he’s not a born-again Christian. He loves and can’t stop using “that black bitch,” heroin. At 34, he takes warped pride in recently discovering the word embellish.
Goldstein may struggle with a middle-school vocabulary, but he’s wily enough to know that embellishing reality is a way to take advantage of Tony Rackauckas’ snitch-loaded, scandal-scarred era. So it’s not surprising that two chronic liars—one a colorful if uneducated drug dealer, the other a banal, 75-year-old district attorney in a county larger than 20 states—would join forces. What’s even more troubling is that this duo wants juries to believe its union was motivated by a desire for justice.
In two shooting cases being prosecuted by Rackauckas, Goldstein is the government’s star witness. He was present at both 2016 incidents: an attempted murder in Costa Mesa near South Coast Plaza and an Anaheim murder near Disneyland. This month in court, he reluctantly admitted he struggles to tell the truth. When asked if he is “important” to Rackauckas, he answered without hesitation, “Of course.”
There’s no doubt what drove Goldstein to an enticing DA. Thinking only sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors would hear recordings of his phone calls from jail to his mother, he said, “So, check this out. I get a visit from a senior public defender. Man, this dude is senior. . . . [Prosecutors] can get me up to 43 years [in prison], double digits no matter what. I’m like woooo. But I think the DA is throwing away cases, so I can testify [for them].”
The dude in this situation is Seth Bank, an assistant public defender. According to a recording played during Goldstein’s May 21 testimony in People v. Shoop and People v. Schneider (the Anaheim murder case), he told his mother that Bank advised him, “You’ve got one of the best bargaining chips. They’ve got nothing without you.”
Court records show a rapid deal was struck with Rackauckas’ office: Blame others for the two shootings and avoid a day in prison for his own long list of felonies. On the phone with his mother, Goldstein couldn’t contain his enthusiasm: “[Bank says I’m] going to get money out of it—a house, a job, everything. They basically set you up with a new life.”
But there were huge problems. In the Anaheim murder of Daniel Richardson, Goldstein’s story is ridiculous. He claims he went to Richardson’s Akua Motor Inn room to buy heroin, when Richardson, William Shoop and Todd Schneider—all associates of Public Enemy Number One Death Squad (PEN1)—pulled guns on him in a robbery. Three lethal weapons weren’t enough to frighten him, though. He claims he braved the threat by grabbing Shoop by the neck, tossing him on the motel bed and repeatedly punching his face.
“The other two came running up with guns pointed at my head,” he recounted. “The guy on my right is Richardson [the murder victim]. The guy on the left is who l learned to be Todd Schneider. They were yelling, ‘Stop!’ Then [I hear] boom!”
Don your reality-defying hat. As Richardson bled to death on the floor, Schneider allegedly put the murder weapon in Goldstein’s backpack and walked out, forgetting the robbery aim and leaving Goldstein carrying more than $2,000 in cash, according to Goldstein’s tale, which is supported by the DA’s office.
It gets more entertaining.
Goldstein says he was the intended murder victim, but his supernatural power intervened. Why wasn’t he shot? “Because I moved out of the way fast enough,” he testified to a jury that expressed no audible laughter. “It went off right by my head.”
Goldstein fares no better in the Costa Mesa attempted-murder case, People v. Joshua Waring. The victim, who was shot in the crotch, repeatedly told police detectives his assailant drove a dark-colored sedan, the vehicle driven by Goldstein at the scene of the crime, according to court records. Waring, who has appeared on Bravo’s Real Housewives of Orange County, drove a white BMW SUV.
After his arrest, Goldstein assured police and a grand jury that he hadn’t seen Waring with a gun. However, Rackauckas’ office needed the gun placed in Waring’s hands. With his plea-bargain deal in the works, the drug dealer called his mom from jail to say he was going to change his story. “I did see [Waring with] a gun,” he said. “I told the cops I didn’t. But I am the DA’s witness, so the prosecutor is putting me on his side.”
How to explain the flip-flop? Goldstein pondered the predicament. On the line with his mother, he announced his strategy for a future jury. He said, “I’m going to say I was scared” to originally tell the truth. In court this month, he carried out his mission, saying, “I try my hardest not to lie.” He testified he only fibs to his mother, and that’s to protect her feelings.
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.