Does An Influential Newport Coast Conservative Publisher Have A Deep Secret?

Illustration by Jeff Drew
Perched on Southern California's most breathtaking hillside real estate overlooking Pacific Coast Highway, 9 Pelicans Drive in Newport Coast appears to be the epitome of idyllic, worry-free living. The $21 million, three-story, Palladian-style house on 25,000 square feet contains five bedrooms, eight bathrooms, 400 feet of unobstructed sea views to Catalina Island, a grand staircase, two bars, a wine cellar, eight marble fireplaces, 14-foot ceilings, a gourmet kitchen, a swimming pool, fountains, a terrace, an elevator, $4.8 million worth of art and a movie theater. To lessen the burdens of occupying such a residence, the owner, Thomas Lee Phillips, employed a British-born butler and 14 other house servants, one of whom chauffeured him in a Rolls-Royce to swank restaurants, political events or his $14 million, oceanfront "beach house" 11 minutes away in the most exclusive section of Corona del Mar.

But the luxurious, gated-community setting is hardly scandal-free. In fact, life inside the mansion has produced enough intrigue to fill several seasons of television's raciest soap opera. The themes are sex, money, power, jarring hypocrisy and seemingly endless backstabbing plots that snared the local district attorney's chief of staff, as well as two model-handsome males, one a CBS Big Brother contestant and the other a Los Angeles rhythm-and-blues singer who appeared on Soul Train.

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Cholo YOLO: Prosecutors Mischaracterized Henry Cabrera's Gang ties--Now it's Coming Back to Haunt Them

Santa Ana Police Department
SAPD gang detective insists Cabrera is a Highland Street gang member, despite him standing in a hospital with eight Delhi members

Brazen lies and half-truths aren't supposed to be told during exchanges between a prosecutor and a cop sitting on the witness stand during Orange County criminal proceedings, especially ones involving government officials' determination to win a death penalty case.

But on May 13, Howard Gundy, a senior deputy district attorney, and Ronald Castillo, a longtime Santa Ana Police Department (SAPD) gang detective, worked in tandem to perpetuate, at best, misinformation--at worse, a life-changing lie--in court.

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Judge Thomas M. Goethals: Just a Good Old Boy, After All

Josue Rivas/OC Weekly
Good ol' boy...

We don't have to guess about whether Orange County law-enforcement officials violated ethical obligations in major felony cases and, with hopes of covering up those failures, lied under oath or became infected with sudden, convenient memory losses when their rear ends plopped down on the witness stand.

We know brazen cheating happened, partly because, since March, Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals ordered dozens of hours of testimony by sheriff's deputies, police officers and prosecutors. He also acknowledged the ugly truth in an Aug. 4 ruling that ended special evidentiary hearings. "Many of the witnesses who testified during the course of this hearing were credibility-challenged," Goethals wrote in his 12-page opinion tied to the ongoing People v. Scott Dekraai, the 2011 Seal Beach salon shooter. "Others undoubtedly lied."

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Judge Thomas M. Goethals to Prosecutor: Discover This!

Thumbnail image for howard-gundy-moxley-bob-aul.jpg
Bob Aul/OC Weekly
Courtrooms can be confusing for a layperson. Lawyers and judges like to speak in a shorthand legalese that is essentially barking California code sections at one another: "1101(b)," says an attorney during proceedings. His opponent responds, "352," and then a third player, the judge, determines the discussion requires a "402" hearing. Yet, court also occasionally offers moments of clarity a fifth-grader--or even a recalcitrant prosecutor--should be able to grasp.

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Joe Cavallo, Haidl 3 Lawyer and Briber: I'm Not Guilty of $20 Million Saudi Sheik Extortion Plot

See the update on Page 2 with Joe Cavallo and the German national pleading not guilty at arraignment and what the OC lawyer's lawyer John Barnett said outside court.

Joe Cavallo booking photo.JPG
OC Weekly archives
Just to be clear, this photo is from a previous time Joe Cavallo was booked.

ORIGINAL POST, JULY 15, 6:07 A.M.: The first time I read about lawyer Joe Cavallo was years ago, during my colleague R. Scott Moxley's award-winning coverage of "The Haidl 3," the nickname we gave the Orange County assistant sheriff's son and two friends who were ultimately convicted of a disgusting rape and sexual acts to a passed-out teen girl Cavallo and others on the defense team portrayed as a willing slut.

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Liars' Poker Between OCDA and Public Defender

Bob Aul/OC Weekly

Accompanied by a solemn U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) official to insure she didn't reveal secrets of WITSEC, the federal witness protection program, Superior Court Judge Terri Flynn-Peister entered a hushed, crowded courtroom on June 26 and took the witness stand. As a courtesy to a colleague, presiding Orange County Judge Thomas M. Goethals waived the requirement to place Flynn-Peister under oath. But not everybody was polite after the witness left the unmistakable impression certain members of the district attorney's office (OCDA) and sheriff's department (OCSD) are liars covering up corruption.

Before her 2012 bench appointment, Flynn-Peister served as an Assistant United States Attorney. One of her final cases was Operation Black Flag, a joint federal-state probe targeting the Mexican mafia and its Southern California associates with jailhouse snitches. Scott Sanders, a public defender, learned those informants worked against his client, Seal Beach salon killer Scott Dekraai, and wanted the judge's testimony to settle a corruption dispute.

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Michael J. Schroeder is Powerful But "Vader" Likely Did Not Cause Jetliner Mishap Last Night

Allied Professional Insurance Co.
Mike "Vader" Schroeder had quite a flight last night.

"My theory about flying is any landing you walk away from is a good one."

-Michael J. Schroeder (or "Vader" to Moxley Confidential readers), to a reporter after his flight to Orange County from Chicago was diverted to Wichita Sunday evening when an emergency evacuation slide inflated in-flight.

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Can't OC's DAs, Public Defenders and Judges All Just Get Along?

Bob Aul/OC Weekly

Inside Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg's spacious 10th-floor Santa Ana courtroom on June 20, Richard Raymond Ramirez--a silent, body-chained, convicted killer--sat peacefully, an illusion masking monstrous sensibilities. Though waiting for the penalty phase of his most recent 2013 trial for raping, sodomizing and fatally stabbing a woman 19 times outside a Garden Grove bar in 1983, Ramirez--whose earlier conviction and death row status was overturned by a federal court--disappeared as a factor on this day. Instead, a homicide prosecutor, defense lawyers, the judge and the victim's sisters clashed over the sanctity of Orange County's criminal justice system.

Froeberg is a no-nonsense man known for an often-acerbic persona and occasional, perfectly timed one-liner wit that relaxes juror tensions during stressful trials. Having served on the bench for 29 years and won senior status long ago to handle complex criminal cases, he is a favorite among prosecutors in the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA), where his wife manages the sexual-assault unit. He has made no secret he's in his final months on the bench before retirement and, though never shy, nowadays apparently feels even more freedom to pontificate.

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

Bob Aul/OC Weekly

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.

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OC Public Defender Makes Snitch Filet

Bob Aul/OC Weekly

Dressed in a blue federal prison outfit, surrounded by armed guards, restricted by body chains and wearing a bulletproof vest, notoriously two-faced ex-Mexican Mafia shot caller turned confidential law-enforcement informant Fernando Perez (a.k.a. "Inmate F") entered Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals' courtroom on a mission. Individuals such as Perez sitting on the witness stand usually answer questions posed by lawyers. But from the outset of his late March testimony, this witness repeatedly ignored Deputy Public Defender Scott Sanders' inquiries. Instead, Perez planted evidence of sincerity on his face and volunteered dozens of dubious statements he thought local prosecutors--people in partial control of his incarceration stint and under fire for allegedly operating an unethical, confidential jailhouse-informant program--wanted him to say.

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