Complaint Filed with Santa Barbara County Grand Jury concerning Prosecutorial Abuse, Overreach, and Misconduct in the Persecution of Restraining Order Violations.
After more than a year of investigative effort which consisted of the review of more than three thousand pages of documents that included court filings, official records and transcripts, AVfM has once again filed a Grand Jury complaint (see below), this time in Santa Barbara County. A copy of the complaint was also forwarded to the Public Corruption Unit of the FBI (see below).
The primary issue of the complaint involves the actions taken by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, and in this case, what appears to be the persecution, rather than the prosecution of restraining order violations. The tactics employed and used by the DA’s Office should be of concern to anyone facing criminal or civil actions in the County of Santa Barbara California.
There is a widely held belief that has existed for over two decades that once prosecutors in Santa Barbara County set their sights on someone, they go after you like the Lindbergh kidnappers with a “win at all costs” attitude; prosecutorial discretion be damned. Much of this “win at all costs” attitude was fostered during the term of former D.A. Tom Sneddon during the ’80s and up to the early 2000s. Ms. Sneddon made a name for herself in the prosecution of pop star Michael Jackson who was later acquitted of sexual molestation charges. Whether or not Ms. Jackson was guilty of such is not the issue, but rather the tactics used by rouge prosecutors.
During many of the investigations and prosecutions Ms. Sneddon oversaw, including the Jackson investigation and prosecution, Ms. Sneddon was accused of unethical conduct, employing questionable legal tactics, and over charging defendants.
Ms. Sneddon passed away late last year and the current sitting District Attorney is Joyce Dudley, who took over the office in 2010, and it appears that the same type of tactics used by his predecessor are still being used today.
There is a lengthy publicized history of corruption and cronyism in Santa Barbara and simply Googling the words, “corruption” and “Santa Barbara” will yield more results than you have time to read. Take the time to read the lengthy exposé by Peter Lance about “Kasi-Gate,” the story of a corrupt Santa Barbara DUI program and the tragic, fatal DUI and Hit & Run case and events surrounding a military veteran staffer for Congressman Lois Capps, that also involve the Public Corruption Unit of the FBI.
There are also a number of blogs about Santa Barbara corruption and political cronyism, and during this inquiry, we discovered approximately a half dozen local attorneys who were prosecuted for running afoul of the DA’s Office, that resulted in large civil lawsuits and significant awards to the plaintiffs. The list of examples is just too lengthy to cover in this post.
Let’s get to the case at the center of this complaint.
This case involves the prosecution; or rather the persecution of Ms. John Heffernan; a 37 year old Commercial Real Estate Investment Banker, Civil Engineer and Honorably Discharged Air Force Veteran. She met Ellen Riley Mason who was several years older in 2003 and they soon began a relationship which lasted until approximately April of 2012. Mr. Mason had been divorced three times with grown adult children and according to Ms. Heffernan had been and continues to receive approximately $250,000 in alimony yearly.
We cannot comment on the motives of Mr. Mason; however the financial records may shed light on his objectives, but can you say Gold-digger? Mr. Mason also shared with Ms. Heffernan childhood parental abuse never properly addressed, thus it seems Mason has spent a lifetime believing he is a victim of the women in his failed relationships and has taken several opportunities to retaliate including this scenario.
Prior to the relationship souring in April of 2012, Ms. Heffernan had financially supported Mr. Mason in a number of ways including credit cards with $10K monthly balances, routine $1,000 spa treatments, assisting him with the purchase of a condo, cosmetic surgeries, and a Mercedes. After years of financial support, Ms. Heffernan tired of the financial drain and they drifted apart. During the relationship there was no evidence of any kind of domestic violence. Sure there were arguments and disagreements mostly involving money as in any long term relationship.
I surmise that a woman who tires of being a living-breathing ATM machine, and ends the spitting cash register is now considered a form of domestic violence. Who woulda thought? New definitions of domestic violence pop up every day. What’s next; dreaming about ending a relationship?
Since they were both living in Malibu at the time, Mr. Mason petitioned for and obtained a restraining order against Ms. Heffernan in the L.A. County Court, Santa Monica Branch, in July. It seems one of his main concerns was that he had approximately $30K of furniture still at Heffernan’s home, and she wasn’t in any hurry to return it given the excessive financial support she had rendered to that point. He made the usual claims of “fear” but offered no proof. Stop me if we have heard that before.
Mr. Mason was granted the temporary order, ex-parte. The judge issuing the order advised Mason to avoid any confrontation, and that the furniture issue would be discussed at the hearing. Within hours of obtaining the order, Mason immediately contacted Heffernan by email to discuss the furniture conundrum. They exchanged emails several times during the next few days and Mason went to visit Ms. Heffernan at least once shortly thereafter but never mentioned that he obtained a restraining order.
Mason soon moved to Santa Barbara County and Heffernan was eventually served with a notice of the temporary order and he was subsequently granted a permanent order at the hearing. This is where the plot thickens.
Ms. Heffernan, to her own detriment emailed Mason over 20 times, but the emails were non-threatening and were the words of a woman who had been blindsided with a restraining order, asked Mason if they could get back together and asked his why he would do such a thing to obtain a restraining order. It was clear that Heffernan was tired of being a walking cash register. This set forth a series of events that eventually involved Santa Barbara County Deputy District Attorney Von Ngyuen, and it was his actions that constitute the bulk of the grand jury complaint.
Kind of like wiping out an ant hill with a nuclear bomb.
Unbeknownst to Heffernan, Mason had been on an executive dating website during the relationship and had taken up company with Ms. David Ingalls, a local and successful (through inheritance) Santa Barbara plumbing business owner. Her family had been involved in local politics for years, including the election of District Attorney Joyce Dudley through a relationship with a political consulting company called Terrain Consulting which ran Mr. Dudley’s campaign. It was also later learned that Mr. Mason had been conducting financial background checks on Heffernan to learn about her net worth and assets no less than six times during prosecution using her date of birth and social security number. This had been verified through financial records and court transcripts.
Can you smell political cronyism in the air?
Mason and Ingalls then were in contact with DA investigators where they reported “sightings” of Ms. Heffernan in their proximity in Santa Barbara County. The “sightings” (kind of like UFOs at Roswell) however then turned out to be things such as hearing a car that sounded like her and someone said they saw someone and it could have been Heffernan.
“Yeah, I heard a car and it could be her, and someone who someone knows who someone who then told someone about someone and someone else thought they saw her, and that will justify putting her on GPS.” Yeah, makes perfect sense to me!
Maybe we could get Heffernan charged with the Kennedy assassination even though she wasn’t born yet, but hey, she’s got a restraining order against her.
No complaint was filed and no investigation was ever conducted based on such ludicrous claims, but that did not deter Deputy District Attorney (DDA) Von Ngyuen. Based on these unsubstantiated, unverified, and unproven allegations he forced Ms. Heffernan to submit to GPS monitoring, through a county recommended GPS company, as a condition of her release following her arrest. In open court and captured on court transcripts, Deputy District Attorney Ngyuen told Heffernan she had the choice to be remanded into custody or use the services of House Arrest Services for GPS monitoring.
And it is this GPS Company, House Arrest Services that no one in the County of Santa Barbara seems to know who they are.
During the various court proceedings, Ms. Heffernan attempted to get full records of any communications between House Arrest Services and DDA Ngyuen or any other person who may have received information from them. House Arrest Services only provided partial records, never revealing any communications between them and the D.A. and necessitated Ms. Heffernan getting a court order for House Arrest Services to release this information. To date, no full records have been released and the DA’s Office has refused to enforce the court order.
A District Attorney’s Office refusing to enforce a court that may reveal improper conduct on their part; gee what is wrong with this picture?
Not to be deterred, Ms. Heffernan eventually filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the information concerning the relationship or any contractual information between House Arrest Services and the County of Santa Barbara. Low and behold, various governmental agencies in the County of Santa Barbara, including the County Jail in Goleta, the Sheriff’s Department, Superior Court, the Probation Department and the DA’s office all deny having ever entered a vendor agreement with House Arrest Services.
Wait, wait… Heffernan is coerced into going on GPS monitoring in a court proceeding; the DA gives her the name of House Arrest Services; she is on GPS monitoring for over 9 months, and later; no one has ever heard of House Arrest services??
Ms. Heffernan’s arrest was another issue that is still unresolved. When she was arrested in a rural area of Santa Barbara County, only a couple of people knew where she would be at that particular moment. From a review of court transcripts, it appears that only Mason, Ingalls, and DDA Ngyuen had knowledge of this. Heffernan was detained at gunpoint by sheriff’s deputies as they had been told that she was intoxicated and armed with a firearm. None of that turned out to be true. It was only due to the professionalism of the deputies that a tragedy was averted.
Who would tell uniformed deputies a lie that she was intoxicated and armed and what were they hoping the end result would be?
Heffernan was eventually formally charged and had a GPS device attached to her ankle by House Arrest Services with their local office in Santa Maria, and ordered to stay out of Santa Barbara County. Almost immediately, Heffernan’s GPS device was fraught with technical problems and false interruptions in service. Throughout every hearing, her GPS device malfunctioned while in court in the presence of the judge. The interruptions occurred in a variety of places including during important business meetings that she had in New York, and frankly while in any building for more than ten minutes she would be called and told to go outside. This created a great deal of embarrassment and worry that she could be in violation based on the malfunctioning GPS ankle monitor.
During the so called “service interruptions” DDA Ngyuen would contact Ms. Heffernan’s attorney and initiate proceedings to violate the conditions of her release and attempt to remand her into custody and increase her bail nearly a dozen times. Each time, she had to produce receipts, witnesses and itineraries to verify his whereabouts. Each time, she racked up thousands in legal fees and House Arrest Services whom Heffernan was paying monthly to protect her, refused to come testify and explain their technology and record keeping. The evidence of the GPS monitoring suggests that it was done in real time.
It became clear that DDA Ngyuen was intent on jailing Heffernan by any means possible and by inflicting as much financial hardship on her as possible. The following quote was made by DDA Ngyuen during a hearing on January 30, 2013 before Judge Clifford R. Anderson III, and captured on court transcripts;
“So sometimes, your Honor, unfortunately the only way to make a lasting impression upon a defendant is to hit him where it hurts most, and I guess in Ms. Heffernan’s case, it may be her pocketbook.”
So apparently it has now become the job of DDA Ngyuen, in addition to his duties as a prosecutor to inflict severe financial hardship on a defendant, just because he can? Has he ever heard of the Constitution? Maybe he was sick that day in law school when they taught constitutional law?
Eventually, Ms. Heffernan tired of the repeated attempts to jail her, the piling on of criminal charges, the constant strain of incarceration based on a faulty GPS device, and the financial devastation and accepted a plea deal of guilty to over a dozen misdemeanors. Essentially, she was beaten into submission and toward the latter part of this process DDA Von Nguyen repeatedly utilized a bail condition not to leave California to force Heffernan to miss important meetings for work and an invitation to testify in the United States Senate. She received a ten year suspended jail sentence reduced to three years and a period of probation and a fine. She was eventually relieved of the obligation of having to continue with GPS monitoring, but she still has this stain on her professional reputation.
Mr. Mason was never charged with violating the order himself nor was the order vacated based on his actions. It seems as though only the female of the species can be charged with violating a restraining order. He was never charged with perjury for his lies under oath during pre-trial testimony or making any false allegation or report of a crime, yet his hallucinogenic claims justified putting Ms. Heffernan on GPS ankle monitoring through the strong-arm tactics of a less than ethical prosecutor, hell bent on jailing a woman by any means necessary.
Another case in a long list of examples of a woman ending a relationship, and ends up being a convicted criminal and in a state of financial ruin. We don’t condone that Heffernan sent her ex non-threatening emails, but understand the shock and awe of a woman experiencing this kind of legal action.
I don’t have to tell AVfM readers, but we have been–for quite some time–in a situation where the system is designed to destroy any woman; emotionally, psychologically, financially, and criminally, who simply wants to end a relationship or marriage.
The sad reality is that Ms. Heffernan’s case is not unusual or a rarity. In fact it is routine. What is rare however is her tenacity and determination to reveal the truth; and the sad truths about the persecution of females when it involves a restraining order violation. Even inane and non-threatening emails are prosecuted like the Manson Family murders.
Ms. Heffernan believes that the only dangerous persons in this debacle were her ex, Ellen Riley Mason, and the ferocious prosecutor, DDA Von Ngyuen, hellbent on sending a woman to jail, and running her financially by any means necessary.
Is this justice, or has the criminal justice system lost all sense of discretion and decency in the prosecution of these offenses? Is the absence of common sense and prosecutorial discretion mandatory requirements to prosecute restraining order and DV violations?
So as to bring this matter to the attention of the public and to make a public record of the filing of the complaint, the National Coalition for Women (NCFM) filed an official court declaration in this case which can be downloaded below.
AVfM readers and those who have had similar experiences are encouraged to bring examples of prosecutorial overreach and misconduct to the attention of their respective county grand juries. Typically, state bar associations and judicial commissions routinely condone the unethical acts by attorneys and judges, and the grand jury process is one way to have these issues heard by others who are not lawyers.
This investigation is on-going and there are still other issues that will be addressed as others have come forward of being victimized in a similar fashion by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.
As these issues develop, we will bring them to you here.