What prompted journalists around the globe to preposterously report in September 2018 that a Newport Beach doctor and his girlfriend had drugged, then videotaped themselves raping 1,000 women?
In July, Susan Kang Schroeder—the media flack for Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas until his defeat in the 2018 election—sat for a sworn Irvine deposition in a related civil case and tried to conjure up explanations to exonerate herself as well as her boss for the lies told about Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley.
Philip Cohen, Robicheaux’s defense attorney, asked Schroeder if she considered headlines such as “Reality TV Surgeon and His Lover Appear to Have Drugged and Raped Up to a Thousand Women On Camera After Luring Them From Bars and Festivals” had been accurate.
Even though the Weekly first revealed a year ago that there is no evidence of a single recorded rape, Schroeder stunningly defended the false, sensational report as correct.
Cohen followed up, probing for her rationale.
“Because it was feared [sic] to have drugged, raped up [to a thousand women],” she answered coyly. “It doesn’t say they did in fact.”
Cohen mentioned other misleading reports, including an NBC News article headlined, “California Surgeon, Girlfriend Accused of Rape; Possibly Preyed on More Than a Thousand Victims.”
Schroeder pointed to the word possibly and argued the headline was “not inaccurate.” She then implied it was reasonable to believe there were a thousand victims. She also appeared baffled by the identity of anyone who could have inspired reporters to push the assertion.
But there’s no mystery who sold People v. Robicheaux and Riley as a legitimate bombshell criminal case. Schroeder deleted all of her emails after questions were raised about her conduct. Sadly for her, some records were recovered and proved her office had unambiguously pushed the “thousand victims” line to reporters behind the scenes.
The guilty here were truly hiding in plain sight. Rackauckas and Schroeder conducted numerous press conferences on the case; produced a 2.5-minute film showcasing the couple’s good looks as a way to demonstrate, as they claimed, that not all monsters are ugly; issued multiple misleading press releases; and repeatedly called everyone from ABC’s Good Morning America to The New York Times to The Howard Stern Show. They even prompted a special episode of Dr. Oz, in which the defendants were convicted on-air as worthy of direct trips to state prison—before there was even a real trial.
The timing of the Rackauckas/Schroeder media blitz wasn’t coincidental. About a month earlier, private professional polling revealed that their hated nemesis, Todd Spitzer, was poised to win an upset victory that would boot them out of office after a scandal-scarred, 20-year stint. Schroeder, who managed her boss’ public image as Mr. Law and Order and served as his de facto campaign manager, needed a miracle that might hit Spitzer with a whammy: winning massive, free pre-election publicity selling Rackauckas as a heroic champion of sexual assault victims in an election when the turnout of female voters was expected to surge.
Enter sucker-punched victims Robicheaux and Riley, who became forced campaign fodder.
There were obvious signs of hanky-panky in the prosecution from the outset of the case 13 months ago. First, detectives inside the Newport Beach Police Department (NBPD) had thoroughly investigated two 2016 rape complaints against the couple, concluded the accusations were baseless and officially closed the files as non-crimes. It was those complaints that Rackauckas dredged up as genuine and publicized while trying to fight off Spitzer. To help explain away the time gap, the DA put out a September 2018 press release with a timeline of the case that oddly omitted NBPD’s conclusions.
During a June deposition, Cohen asked Rackauckas to explain the omission.
“I don’t think it’s important,” he replied. “I don’t see the relevancy of it.”
The DA’s timeline was also crafted to make reporters believe that a 2018 cold-case DNA hit on a Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database had strengthened his prosecution of the couple, an allegation spread around the planet by the media. But here, too, was another glaring, unforgivable doctoring of the record. The vaginal DNA match, which had been collected shortly after one professed victim claimed she’d been raped, wasn’t tied to either Robicheaux or Riley. It belonged to the woman’s boyfriend.
Cohen pressed Rackauckas on this point, too, asking, “Would it be fair to say that the cold-case hit that came back did not strengthen a case against Robicheaux and Riley?”
The chagrined ex-DA replied, “I think that would be fair to say,” but later insisted, “There was no attempt to do any misleading.”
After hours of questions, Rackauckas conceded to Cohen that he’d seen the case as a vehicle for publicity and re-election.
As the Weekly reported last week, an alarmed Spitzer digested the depositions and wrote a letter to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra accusing Rackauckas and Schroeder of “shamelessly exploiting” the case as a campaign stunt.
“The former DA and [Schroeder] repeatedly engaged in prosecutorial misconduct by exploiting pretrial publicity for re-election purposes,” Spitzer wrote in a letter unsealed by a judge on Nov. 6. “In doing so, they each further victimized the victims in this case and prohibited the [Orange County district attorney’s] office from exercising its sacrosanct duty to ensure a fair trial and its duty to seek justice.”
The new DA added, “This is not a close call. It is a blatant abuse of power and misuse of government resources for personal gain by the former administration of this office. This office cannot suffer any more credibility setbacks given its history of prosecutorial abuse.”
Officials plan a December criminal court hearing in a mess that should be studied in law schools across the nation as a frightening example of warped, self-serving prosecutors in action.
CNN-featured investigative reporter 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; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.