Sex, Lies and Videotape: The public lynching of Andrew Luster.
The equitable treatment of the accused and the presumption of innocence of the accused are the corner stones of our judicial system, a system which, despite its many flaws, works and works well. But the system does fail sometimes. It fails when those we entrust set aside their scared duty and forward their own agendas.
Money hungry women were the worst in an abominable group of humanity in the lynch mob that included greedy and immoral lawyers, slimy private eyes, DA’s with high ambitions, prosecutorial zeal gone mad, predatory law enforcement, bounty hunters with stars in their eyes and a one-sided judge. They all had a motive in building a rock solid criminal case against Andrew Luster and sending him away to prison for a long time. The longer he was sent away, the more all of them would profit. Some would get rich, others would become famous and some would see their careers skyrocket.
They would not have gotten away with it, in fact the entire ugly mess that took apart Andrew Luster’s life probably never would have happened, had the media taken on a herd mentality. But the sheer salaciousness of the crimes led reporters to take on a blind assertion that Andrew Luster was guilty and they, the self-proclaimed guardians of the public trust, protectors of the innocent and all things equitable, were determined not to see or accurately report the true facts in the case. And yet, in the late summer of 2003, the nightly news was spilling over with the Millionaire Date Rape trial. Geraldo Rivera attended the proceedings and reported daily for FOX News, and CBS’s 48 hours followed the entire case. The courtroom was always packed and the docket and transcripts were requested so many times that two clerks were brought in to meet the demand.
The known facts, different from the true facts in the case were salacious and, according to the media, simple. Andrew Luster, a 30-something beach bum playboy and heir to the Max Factor cosmetic fortune, had cruised the college bars around Santa Barbara, California, honed in on a coed, (nameless because she was a victim of sexual assault) and spiked her drink with GHB, a date rape drug. When she passed out, he carried her to his ocean front mansion and filmed himself raping her.
The girl had come forward and accused the scion of wealth and privilege. According to the Ventura County Prosecutors office her act had spurred two other women to come forward with accusations. And, added the prosecutor, at least ten other women were also willing to come forward with even more charges. In fact, the county had such a strong case against Luster that it filed 87 felony charges against him.
At the onset of the trial it was reported that Luster’s fortune was being used to hire a dream team of lawyers who were expected to hammer the local prosecutors. But the hammer never got that far because in the midst of the trial Andrew Luster, held under house arrest, slipped off his ankle alarm and fled across the border to Mexico. He was declared a fugitive from justice by the trial judge who also decided that Luster would be tried in absentia.
And so it was. The jury found Luster guilty on 86 of 87 charges against him, deadlocking on the final charge of felony poisoning. He was sentenced to a total of 124 years in prison and fined one million dollars.
Under a very public umbrella of high drama, the media watched as Luster was hunted down in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and captured by bounty hunter Duane "Dog" Chapman. A two-man TV crew working for Chapman caught the entire event on film.
End of story. Or so it seemed.
Luster’s road to ruin started on the night of July 13, 2000. That was the night that he and alleged victim number one, called Jane Doe #1 by the courts (nameless because she was a victim of sexual assault), went out on the town in Santa Barbara’s bar lined Isla Vista section. Jane Doe #1 was 21 years old. Luster was 33. That night the party of five included Luster, Jane Doe and her boyfriend, a second man referred to only as “David” by the court and a third man, called “associated friend” during the trial.
The media, CBS news is an example, reported that Luster had met Jane Doe for the first time that night. But the true fact was that like the other two women who would emerge in the case, Jane Doe #1 had an ongoing sexual relationship with Luster and admitted that they had slept together “a couple of hundred times” before that night. Like the others, she had also lived off and on at Luster’s house on the beach. At one point she moved in for six months, worked as an actor in soft porn films that Luster made every now and then, borrowed money from him, shared narcotics with him, including liquid ecstasy and was aware that he was a trust fund baby who didn’t have to hold a regular job to get by. All three women had, in fact, been paid to act in porn films for Luster’s company Deep Six Films and all three had been in several of his soft-core titles, including Babes N Waves I&II, about topless women surfers.
By 9:00 PM, Jane Doe was drunk. She had a loud fight with her boyfriend on the dance floor causing him to leave. When the party moved to another night spot they were refused entrance because Jane Doe was too drunk to be permitted inside the club. So the
group piled into Luster’s SUV and headed for his home in the tiny seaside village of Mussel Shoals, a moderate-income area that hugged the Pacific shoreline just off Route 1 near the LA County line.
According to testimony, during the 15 minute drive Jane Doe performed oral sex on David in the back seat of the car and had intercourse. David told the court “she lifted her dress and straddled me”.
When they arrived at the house, she stripped naked and went for a plunge in the ocean after which she dressed and had sex in the yard with the “associated friend” and then found her way into the house and joined Luster in the shower and had sex with him there. Lab tests on the dress she wore to Luster's house showed traces of semen from three different men.
After the shower, she sat on the living room floor half -naked and posed with a broad smile, for a group photo. Then she and Luster retired to his room and as he had done many times before, he switched on his camera and gave her a drink mixed with Liquid Ecstasy, or GHB, the gamma hydroxybutyric acid. They both later agreed that he had told her what was in the drink before she drank it. She and Luster then had sex a second time on his bed and a third time in the morning. She then had sex with the “associated friend” again and was driven home by Luster in the later part of the morning. Everyone involved agreed on those facts.
Three days later Jane Doe #1 decided that she had been raped and filed a criminal complaint against Luster alleging that he had drug-induced raped her. In the first version of her story, she told the police that Luster had slipped GHB into her drink at the bar in Santa Barbara. The problem with that story was that GHB would take effect, that is, knock some one out, within 15 minutes. That story was later rearranged to fit the time schedule better. It was also interesting that she had waited three days to file a rape compliant since all traces of GHB are usually gone from the body within 2 days.
Police drove her to the emergency room and administered a test that found no GHB in her system. The prosecution would later refuse to divulge any other substance that was found her system including heroin and cocaine. When a judge ordered the prosecutors to turn the test results over to the defense, they said that the police had lost and probably destroyed the file.
She had also testified that on the night they were Luster’s home, she asked Luster what was the drink he was offering her and that he replied "Liquid X", meaning she knew full well what she was taking when she accepted the drink. But again that wasn’t the evidence the police needed to make an arrest so to get the right kind of evidence, and with detectives listening in who coached her into using specific language that would get Luster to incriminate himself, Jane Doe #1 called Luster and asked if he had given her "Liquid X."
“Yes” a seemingly confused Luster responded. “Don’t I always?”
The only thing the conversation brought out was that Luster and the women took GHB and had sex. It was weak evidence at best but Luster's status as a wealthy member of the Factor family made him a trophy arrest for career-climbing Ventura County authorities. As far as the cops were concerned it was enough for a probable cause arrest.
The next morning when Luster pulled out of his driveway and entered Route 1, he was surrounded by eight squad cars and 12 heavily-armed police, guns drawn. “They were yelling and screaming at me and threatening to shoot me,” he said to his lawyer. He was thrown on to the roadway face first, handcuffed and arrested for using a narcotic to rape Jane Doe #1.
Luster foolishly agreed to be interviewed by police, for three hours, without an attorney present and the transcripts of which would prove damning during the trail.
"We did have consensual sex, completely consensual," Luster said. "I don't know where she gets assault. There was no struggling, no saying, 'No, no, no,' nothing like that...she totally dug it. There was no negativity at all. She was loving it."
At the same time that he was talking to detectives, a second squad of ten cops armed with a search warrant raided Luster’s home. They told the press, on camera, that they had found vials of clear liquid, thought to be GHB, cocaine and 13 illegal firearms including an AK-47 assault rifle. The cops said that there was a collection of small, screw-top bottles bearing hand-lettered labels like "knock-out drops," "frigid fluid" and "lollypop juice". Later, in a less dramatic way, the cop announced that the content in the vials were tested and confirmed to contain only water. Luster later said, and witnesses agreed, that they were props for his movie production.
The cops also collected and impounded nude pictures, girlie magazines and a variety of porn films, sex toys which the judge in the case would later allow as evidence that could be shown to the jury. The prosecution wanted the toys admitted so they could prejudice the jury and suggest that the sex toys and so on were de rigueur possession for a rapist. Why the judge (Ken Riley, pictured below) allowed it is unknown.
When the smoke cleared no GHB was ever found in the house and not in his motel room, and not in toxicology tests on the accusers. The illegal firearms turned out to be a near priceless and very legal gun collection, the firing pins removed from the weapons. The supposed AK-47 assault rifle simply disappeared from the police report and the charges as did the alleged vile of cocaine. And the media never reported a word about it.
What the cops did find in Luster’s house was a cache of photographs and home videos that showed Luster having sex with unconscious women including a woman that Jane Doe #1 identified as Luster’s live-in ex-girlfriend.
Although the police had a warrant to search Luster house, the details of what they could search for was limited and it did not include taking and watching his videotapes on the warrant request because their initial informant, Jane Doe #1, claimed that she did not know she had been taped. Jane Doe’s 2 and 3 said the same thing.
Furthermore most of the tapes the cops found have the Jane Doe’s looking into the camera and asking how their hair looked or with Luster scolding one of the women for looking too awake. These were excluded as evidence. What that means is that before the case went to court, the prosecution simply spliced those segments out of the videos before they were shown to the jury. The judge not only suppressed the tape, he refused to allow the jury to view it or to be told of its existence. The prosecutor admitted to the judge that Jane Doe #2 had committed perjury when she denied allowing him to tape the encounters but the judge took no action against her and the Judge refused to allow the defense to cross examine her on the issue for another two weeks.
In all, the government edited about 16 hours of video down to 6o minutes. No chain of custody was preserved and the defense was not allowed access to the originals. The judge never saw the original videos because he was not told they existed and the jury would convict Luster based on only the facts that the prosecution wanted them to see. And they got away with it.
When asked about the tape which was made on the first night she met Luster in a bar, Jane Doe #2 (Who was under the impression that Luster’s net worth was $80 million dollars) said she had been unaware of the sex and the taping and she was positive they were made on the couple’s first date. Time-dated material tests proved they weren’t.
According to Luster, the tape…there were 17 total with three different women ….not hundreds as reported in the press, were made with her consent and knowledge and consent. “She enthusiastically participated in fetish films with the defendant." Luster’s attorney argued.
Other tapes, showing Jane Doe #2 being filmed during sex with Luster (where she speaks directly at the camera) were ruled inadmissible in court as were the several tapes showing Jane Doe #1 and #2 discussing the liquid ecstasy before taking it. She admitted that during those several months with Luster that she willingly took GHB with him on a regular basis and allowed him to tape their sex games. She later denied having made that statement.
The live-in girlfriend, (dubbed Jane Doe #2) lived with Drew Luster for four- and-half months before an acrimonious split. As for the tapes in question, Jane Doe #2 continued to live with Luster a year after the tapes were made. During that time, she was regularly involved in Deep Six Productions, the soft-core adult movie production company owned by Luster. She kept the books, performed clerical tasks and relied to mail. She would later deny all of that until forced to acknowledge her involvement in court.
The bad split between them came about after she had an affair with and later married Luster’s neighbor. Several people in the small community reported seeing her slip into the neighbor’s house whenever Luster left for LA to spend a weekend with his children. On several of those night’s drunken violent fights between the two caused police to be called.
According to those familiar with her, Jane Doe #2 had left her prior relationship with a carpenter named “Ed” in Phoenix, Arizona when Ed discovered she was moonlighting in a strip joint as an exotic dancer. There was an argument and she fled to his sister’s house outside Santa Barbara where she met Luster in a bar. She moved in with him on the night they met, took GHB and filmed their first sexual encounter.
During that time that she lived with Luster he loaned the aspiring actress $4,000 to have her teeth fixed but was forced to sue her to collect the money after she moved out. According to witnesses the suit infuriated her and she made several threats to “get even” with Luster. She also told two Ventura County policewomen that the Luster case “will be my payday”.
A third person, dubbed Jane Doe #3, a heavy set woman, was traced after police recognized a distinctive tattoo on her body. (Evidently she was a minor criminal known to the cops). Again, like Jane Doe #1 and #2, Jane Doe #3 knew Luster, was sexually involved with him for several years, borrowed money from him, and occasionally lived at his house. Like the others she had sex with Luster on videotape, with knowledge and consent and like the others the video shows Luster having sex with her while she is seemingly unconscious. The other problem was that she was 17 when the video was made. She said she had no memory of the tape being made.
Police, now claiming Luster was a member of an Internet group, The Bachelors, whose members traded details of their sexual exploits, charged Luster with sexual assault, drug and illegal weapons charges, kidnapping with intent to commit rape and illegal videotaping. In all, he was charged with 21 counts and bail set at $1 million. It was later raised to $10 million when prosecutors filed 19 more charges against him.
Andrew Luster was released on bail of one million dollars (lowered from ten million) He was able to pay $300,000 of his bail, a six-year advance on his trust fund borrowed from family members and his mother paid the rest. He was confined to his home and monitored electronically: subject to searches and random drug tests without reasonable cause, barred from contacting his alleged victims, and prohibited from using drugs or alcohol.
It was a hard fall for Luster, who wasn’t used to hard falls. Andrew Stuart Luster was born in Los Angeles in 1963. The child of a broken home, his father was a prominent and successful psychiatrist who died of lung cancer in 1972. His mother, Elizabeth Luster, was the adopted child of cosmetic magnate Max Factor's daughter Freda.
Andrew and a younger sister were raised by their mother and a nanny in Las Vegas and Malibu in a $4.7 million home on a street where his direct neighbors were Barbara Streisand, Cher and Dallas star Larry Hagman.
Aside from that, he had an average childhood; Cub Scouts, Little League catcher, karate camps. He wasn’t a problem child, got along well with others and attended public school up to tenth grade and then transferred to what was the relatively new Windward School in West Los Angeles, a good school but hardly a bastion of LA privileged class.
A natural athlete he skied, snowboarded, was an accomplished rock climber and diver and surfing in his teens. His other passion was ocean fishing.
A better than average student he graduated high school at 17, moved into his own apartment at age 18 and enrolled in Santa Barbara City College. Like thousands of other kids in search themselves, he took courses part time for four year without earning a degree. It was around this time that he had a long term (four years) with a girlfriend.
In 1981, when Andrew turned 18, his mother bought him a modestly-priced ($170,000) beach house on Ocean Drive in the tiny village of Mussel Shoals, north of Malibu off the Pacific Coast Highway.
At 900 square feet (Pictured below) wand situated less than a hundred feet from highway 101, the flat-top, one-story bungalow, two bed room home was about the same size as a double-wide trailer and at the time of his arrest was in need of extensive repairs and was several years behind in property taxes. It was hardly the ostentatious “bachelor pad “described in the press.
Another long term relationship in late 1980's produced two children; a boy born in 1991 and a girl born in 1994. Luster’s family provided well enough for them and Andrew himself was in regular contact with the kids.
There were occasional fishing and surfing expeditions around the globe when money allowed and during his 19 years at the beach house (It’s a rock beach) he was credited with saving at least 5 people from drowning and was known for his rescue work with abandoned and neglected animals.
Luster started a surfboard company that occasionally sold a few boards, formed a film production company that made several low-grade films, dabbled in real estate and played the stock market as a day trader. He had a marketing company that sold beach wear watches, wallets and purses but otherwise, he never held down a job. Primarily he surfed, hung out at Rincon Point, a California surfing Mecca, just minutes away from his home, drank and cruised the bars up in nearby Santa Barbara.
He lived off the proceeds of a trust fund allowance of $55,000 a year. He is not, no matter how many times the press reported otherwise, a direct heir to the Max Factor fortune. His grandmother, Freda Factor, set up a $3.1 million trust in Drew's name and he had managed to borrow heavily against that. In fact at the time of his arrest, Luster’s trust fund was $204,875 in debt. A significant part of his allowance went to child support of his two children from a common law wife. The two separated but Luster was deeply involved with his kids who lived in a villa in pricey Pacific Palisades.
At best, Ventura County had a weak case, so why go on with the prosecution? Why not drop the case? Because that isn’t the way things are done in Ventura County.
In October of 2011, Catherine Voelker, the supervisor of the narcotics and misdemeanor cases, outlined a trial competition to her staff in an email that listed rewards the winner could receive which included assisting in a narcotics trial and going on a ride along in drug raid. She said that the goal was to try as many cases as possible during the competition that was to run Oct. 11 to Dec. 31. The email stated that her attorneys were to proceed to trial even if their own witnesses did not testify favorably to their position or, in other words, go to trial in the absence of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
The competition was nothing new. For years, prosecutors who have tried the most felony or misdemeanor cases every quarter were recognized with photos and plaques.. The competition practice had been encouraged from the top of the DA’s office down to the supervisors
Two former prosecutors from the DA's office came forward and said that the trial competitions were management-driven to pump up the office's trial statistics. One of them, David Lehr, who worked at the DA's office for more than 13 years, said that one of the reasons for pumping up trial statistics is that it plays well with the voting public as a tough on crime outlook which help get additional funding from the county board of supervisors. Lehr also said that top management would sometimes "turn up the heat" and push prosecutors to take cases to trial regardless of whether there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt and that younger and new prosecutors often were pressured to try cases and did so because of the fear of being demoted or losing their jobs.
Another former prosecutor said that the DA top brass tries to maintain an aura of a "hyper-aggressive, hard-charging prosecutor" who always goes for the maximum sentence regardless of the facts or circumstances surrounding a case. "They still want you to take a swing at it, even though the defendant is probably innocent," he said.
Voelker was eventually demoted as was Anthony Wold, the prosecutor in the Andrew Luster case. Wold, who moved into a supervisors slot in the Family Protection Unit, was accused of pushing his trial attorneys out to trial where there was insufficient evidence to obtain convictions for years.
The trial began December 16, 2002 with a seasoned and well-respected judge and a jury of seven women and five men. For all the money the Luster’s had paid Andrew almost comically incompetent legal team the lawyers never provided Luster with any advice on how to conduct himself in the public eye during the trial so he conducted himself as he always had; as just another rich kid. Unfortunately for him when that demeanor was mixed with the poisonous atmosphere created by the prosecutors and carried out by the media, Luster came across as an arrogant ne er do well possessed with a perpetual sneer, who carried himself with an almost contemptuous comportment of those around him as he entered and exited the courtroom.
A few days before Christmas the judge declared a two-week holiday recess. It was then that Andrew Luster went on the run and sealed his fate.
But why did he run? The state had a weak case at best largely because their witnesses’ integrity was so comprised. From the defense's perspective and the evidence they presented, Jane Doe’s #1 and #2 had willingly ingested GHB knowing they would likely pass out and with a high degree of certainty would be engaging in sexual acts afterwards.
Jane Doe #2 after all, admitted she had willingly ingested GHB while living with Luster and allowed herself to be filmed while engaging in sex. That alone would have caused the jury to conclude there was a reasonable doubt in the case.
The case also could have been dismissed on the technicality that Luster had been charged with kidnapping in the original arrest warrant but was being tried for rape. Then there was the illegal police seizure of the sex videos, conflicts with the judge over admissibility of evidence and concerns over whether police and prosecutors had primed or prompted the Jane Doe’s to help them shape their case.
Jane Doe #1 also would tell the court that the incident was her first date with Luster when a dozen witnesses would conflict that evidence. Further, the defense had proof that the district attorney refused to test DNA evidence and did not look at nightclub video surveillance recordings of Jane Doe #1 and Luster together.
So why run?
The answer is found in Luster’s legal team of whom Jay Leiderman, one of his later lawyers would tell the appeals court “If O.J. Simpson had the ‘Dream Team’ of criminal defense lawyers, Andrew Luster most certainly had the ‘Nightmare Gang’”.
From the outset, the case was doomed by the defense team. The first team of lawyers, Joel Isaacson and James Blatt were dismissed for giving conflicting advice. Blatt encouraged Luster to plead guilty and serve eight to twelve years; Isaacson wanted him to fight the charges. According to Luster, neither one recommended nor did they tell him to take the plea agreement which had been offered by the state.
It got worse when Blatt and Isaacson were replaced by the Luster family with Richard G. Sherman at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars. Sherman moved to Los Angeles from Chicago, with his parents at age 13. He served in the Korean conflict and held the title of Armed Forces Heavyweight Champion for two years. In started to practice law in the late 1950s and his career record was questionable.
He represented John “Bats” Battaglia in court. (Below left) Johnny Bats wasn’t just another hood. Made into the LA mob in 1956 by Lawyer-turned-mobster Frank DeSimone. (The model for Tom Hagan in the novel The Godfather).
Battaglia’s Brother Charlie Bats was one of the killers in the infamous mafia related Two Tony’s killing in Hollywood in 1951. With strong links to the Chicago mobs front man in LA, Johnny Roselli, (Above right) Johnny Bats operated one of the largest bookmaking operations in southern California for over twenty years. His sports book was so large that by the time he died of cancer in 1975s, Johnny Bat’s was considered foremost horse race handicappers in the Western United States.
In 1968, Sherman’s name popped up in the Friars Club card cheating scandal that involved Mafioso Johnny Roselli and others. Sherman had represented Mafia capo Johnny Bats Battaglia. In 1984, Sherman represented the five defendants who were arrested in what was then the largest drug trafficking ring ever uncovered in North America.
In LA, his practice was based on defending mostly black, big-dollar dope dealers and according to police he was suspected of carrying out extortion schemes against his own clients. It was a simple con. Sherman, working through a street operative named “Mr. K”, a private detective, would figure out which of his clients was flushed with cash. Mr. K would arrange for death threats to be made to the client and his family.
According to Jan Tuck, a private eye in LA, “When you’re a drug dealer and somebody makes a threat against your life, you don’t call the local gendarmes. You call your criminal defense lawyer. So Sherman would listen to their frantic call and play his part in this play of drama imitating life. He’d tell them, “That sounds really serious. I want you to meet with ‘Mr. K’. He’ll get you and find out what’s going on. He’s really connected.” Other times Sherman called the client and told him the threats had come into his office since he was known to be the dealer’s attorney on record.
The farce went on for a couple more weeks until the client was convinced that his life could be saved with a cash payment of several hundred thousand dollars. The dope dealer made the payment through Mr. K and the threats stopped.
Bela Marko was a Hungarian hood with a long and violent criminal record that included narcotics convictions, sexual assault, burglary and suspicion of murder. An illegal alien, in October of 1990, Marko was killed in a gunfight with an LA police detective named Russ Kuster at the Hilltop Hungarian Restaurant in the Hollywood Hills which allegedly to belonged to the US boss of the Hungarian mob.
Marko had fallen into an argument with the owner and left the restaurant only to return minutes later armed with a 9 mm handgun equipped with a special laser that illuminates the target. Witnesses said he was waving the gun around and making threats.
Kuster, who was off duty and in the restaurant, drew his service weapon and the two fired on each other. Marko fired first, hitting Kuster in the chest and knees. Kuster return fire and killed the Marko with seven times. They both died on the scene. Oddly enough Kuster had booked Marko several years before on suspicion of murder.
Marko had recently been released from prison in Nevada and while he was there rumor was that he started naming names to avoid extradition. One name he was said to have given up was Richard Sherman. According to Marko, in April of 1981, Sherman and an associate had murdered a lawyer named Nate Markowitz’s murderers. Marko said he knew they did because he acted as their lookout and getaway driver during the murder.
Markowitz was suspected of laundering millions of dollars for drug dealers and word was out that he had been arrested by the FBI and was cooperating with the government, naming drug dealer, one member of the mob and their front men. His testimony had already been responsible for jailing of a bank chairman who had helped to filter $3.3 in drug profits. Soon afterwards the FBI arrested 61 others in relation to the laundering scheme and more indictments were expected.
And then on an April morning in 1981, someone followed Markowitz, to an underground parking garage in Century City California, (Where Sherman kept his office) came up from behind him on a stairwell and shot him in the head, chest and armpit with a .22 pistol. The $51,000 in cash in his brief case was untouched. Police searched the hotel room where he was living under an assumed name and took out three extra suit cases but refused to discuss what was in the cases.
Sherman started to run his scam on Luster at the very start of the case by telling Andrew that he didn’t have a chance in the Ventura County justice system. He was a Beverly Hills Jew after all. Sherman said, according to Luster and others, that he had heard that there was a conspiracy of the district attorney, sheriff and the judiciary against him, and that if he went to prison, he in all certainty “would be killed” or at the least crippled for life because rapists are so far down the inmate food chain.
Luster believed it because during his incarceration a sheriff’s deputy threatened to push him down the stairs, saying nobody would know what happened. The beating Luster was taking in the press was merciless and it was taking a toll on him as well. The gamut of the stories ran along these lines, “Andy Luster is his own breed of California reptile.” And it got worse from there.
Sherman coaxed, cajoled and terrorized Andrew Luster into believing he had to escape the jurisdiction in order to survive. He made Luster believe there was no alternative to his advice and his advice was for Luster to run. He worked on
Andrew's mother at the same time telling the 70-something year old widow, "If he were my son, I would tell him to leave."
Sherman played on Luster’s paranoia well enough so that when the judge started ruling against him in a series of motions and denied him the right to use consent as a defense, Sherman told him it was a sign of things to come.
“I felt the court was fixed,” Luster said.
Andrew Luster wasn’t the first client Sherman ran out on. In December of 1978a man named Joe Sammut was fired from job cleaning jetliners for American Airlines after he was accused of stealing 10 cans of soda from a Boeing 727 parked at Los Angeles International Airport.
His union refused to help even though no theft was provable. Sammut was carrying the soda from the front of the plane where they didn’t belong to the front of the plane where they did belong and he never left the plane with the soda.
Sammut who made $9 an hour at his job, hired Richard Sherman to defend him. Sherman asked for a $2,500 retainer to cover the costs of depositions and other expenses associated with filing a lawsuit against the airline and the union. None of that would have been needed had Sherman simply read the publicly available airline records which read that under company policy, workers could only be accused of theft from a plane if they removed property from a plane. Sherman took no depositions, subpoenaed no records but when Sammut asked about the case Sherman told him “things were going beautifully."
As the years went by and the case dragged on Sherman agreed to dismiss the case against the union without any given reason and without Sammut consent. American Airlines warned Sherman that it, too, would seek a dismissal but Sherman ignored the warning and never told Sammut about it.
When Sammut sued Sherman, Sherman argued that he dropped Sammut's litigation because the case was not winnable and that he believed that the firing was justified under airline regulations. In 1987, the Los Angeles Superior Court awarded almost $800,000 in damages against. Sherman, the lawyer he had hired to help him.
Sherman had motives to get Andrew Luster to run or to see him land in prison but his first motive was to string Luster along and siphon as much money as he could from the Luster family.
When the prosecution offered up a sentence of less than 12 years, the offer wasn’t forwarded to Luster who ended up with 124 year sentence instead. To make sure another offer wasn’t given, Sherman created a “toxic atmosphere during court proceedings.”
What the Luster’s didn’t know was that Sherman was in bankruptcy proceedings after he and others sold oil wells that either didn’t exist or were oversold to investors. The law suits against him started to pile up and Sherman, who took $850,000 as an advance for representing the investors without telling them it was his company they were investing in, started to run a Ponzi scheme to pay some investors back and make payments on his house which was in danger of being foreclosed. The SEC was investigating the case and the US Justice Department was drawing up an indictment against him based on the SEC case.
Desperate for cash, he was carrying $600,000 in debt in other loans aside from the oil well business debts. Sherman pressured Luster into signing a quit claim deed on his Mussel Shoals beach house to investors who were suing Sherman over their lost funds.
Finally Luster agreed to flee and Sherman arranged for his private investigator, Patrick Campbell, to handle it. At a meeting at Sherman’s home “Sherman, greeted him at the door, showed him in and introduced him to a man named Patrick Campbell. The attorney then left the room while Campbell strip-searched Andrew. Campbell was apparently searching for sound recording or transmitting devices. Campbell then instructed Andrew to give him $80,000 and then Campbell would take him out of the jurisdiction and ensure his safety.”
Sherman convinced Luster to give Campbell $80,000 to bring him across the Mexican border because in the event the escape went wrong and Luster had the cash on him, authorities would impound the money and eventually steal it. Sherman told Luster that once he was safely in Mexico he would get the $80,000 back. Of course Luster never got the money.
On his last day in California, January 3, Luster, probably with Campbell’s help, slipped off his court-ordered ankle bracelet and went south to Mexico. When the trial resumed several days later, the Sheriff’s office announced that Andrew Luster had skipped bail and disappeared. The judge ordered $430,000 of Luster's bail money paid to the three victims to compensate for lost wages, attorneys' fees, counseling and medical expenses.
Trials in absentia are rare in California but that’s what Andrew Luster was given. Desperate to do anything to save his case Roger Diamond, Luster’s lawyer said that his client was like the character in the TV serial and film The Fugitive: innocent and wrongly convicted, he sets out to seek justice. The press called it the Hollywood defense. Everyone else just laughed.
In summation of his case, the prosecutor stood and said, “Innocent men don’t run”.
The jury agreed. They declared Luster guilty of 86 of the 87 charges against him, deadlocking on a single, insignificant poisoning charge. Luster was convicted of 20 counts of drug-induced rape, 17 counts of raping an unconscious victim, and multiple counts of sodomy and oral copulation by use of drugs. The judge sentenced Luster to 124- years in prison and ordered him to pay $1 million restitution, one of the largest monetary verdicts ever in Ventura County.
In Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, a popular tourist town teeming with Americans, Andy Luster, who speaks fairly good Spanish, had picked up the life where he left off in Mussel Shoals before his life exploded. He surfed and fished and lived in a $35-a-night hotel next door to the federal justice department's local office. "He seemed Mexican," hotel manager Oscar Lopez said. "He spoke (Spanish) very well."
Dozens of other witnesses had seen him in town and reported that he wasn't trying to hide. A Seattle-area couple recognized him from the news and snapped his picture. When they returned to the States they called the FBI. The Seattle field office sent on word to its agents in Guadalajara, Mexico. Eight days after they received the tip, the Bureau’s Guadalajara-based agents showed up in Puerto Vallarta.
The second call the couple made was to bounty hunter Duane “Dog” Chapman, whose efforts to find Luster had been well-publicized. In fact, within days of Luster taking flight, Chapman vowed, before the cameras, (an illegal sawed-off shotgun strapped around his chest) to get Luster and bring him to justice. “Fe Fi Foe Fum, Look out Luster because here I come!”
He became a TV hero overnight, but then again, that was the entire point. At the time Chapman (Photo left, above) was secretly pitching the idea of a reality television show, with him as the star, called “Dog. Bounty Hunter” whose theme would be, "Born on a mountain, raised in a cave. Arresting fugitives is all I crave." Chapman had already pitched a book concept on his search and pending capture of Luster as well.
Chapman is an ex-con, Bible-quoting born-again Christian who was once a member of the Texas chapter of the Devil's Disciples, a motorcycle gang chiefly known for wholesaling methamphetamine across the lower southwestern states. His arrests include armed robbery (Photo right, above) and 17 other felony counts and one conviction for murder in a dope deal gone wrong. He served less than 18 months for the crime.
He claims to have hunted down 6,000 fugitives, or roughly one every weekday since 1978. Many doubt that number and many more doubt that he was even a bounty hunter. What is certain is that Chapman was a Hawaii-based bail bondsman who hired bounty hunters before the Luster case landed in his lap.
“The role he acts out,” one report noted “is a low-life Superman: James Bondsman. He is catnip for television producers of a certain ilk who, glistening with flop sweat, fighting their equally shiny competitors, can speed-dial him blindfolded.”
Bob Kimsey, a bond-enforcement agent based in Las Vegas said, "Chapman is one of the most unprofessional bounty hunters we've ever seen. We wish he would go away."
Chapman leaped on the lead and formed a group that included his bounty hunter son, a television producer from the show America's Most Wanted, an actor (to act as an extra if needed) and a camera crew, and traveled to Puerto Vallarta within two hours of getting the lead.
For the next several years, Chapman spread stories throughout the media that Luster was an "international rapist" and was travelling with five bodyguards and that Luster had phoned and emailed Chapman with taunts. Actually Luster, who didn’t own a TV, had never heard of Chapman.
On June 18 2003, Chapman kidnapped Luster as he ate a chicken taco from a street vender. Chapman would later say that he “took Luster down” in a disco where he saw Luster “rubbing his hands gleefully, on the prowl for his next victim”. His best story was that after he captured Luster, Chapman said he searched Luster’s “spacious and expensive hotel room” and found a "rape kit" complete with GHB, plastic handcuffs, etc.
Of course the reality was that Chapman was never in Luster’s tiny hotel room, before or after he was captured, there was no such “rape kit” and he took a slightly-drunk Luster down with the help of several heavily armed large men who tackled the dough- like- boy Luster just before dawn in a noisy scuffle that caused neighbors to call the police.
"According to witnesses” a police spokesman said “they used a spray with an irritant, maybe tear gas, to subdue him. They handcuffed him."
With Luster hog-tied and tossed in the back of their van, Chapman and friends headed toward the border but the local cops, responding to a kidnapping call, ran them off the road.
"I need help because they are trying to harm me," Luster yelled to the police. For their part the police decided to let the civilian authorities sort it out and they were all tossed into a local jail in the nearby town of Las Juntas, with Luster sharing a cell with Chapman and his crew.
In court Chapman, aka the “greatest bounty hunter in the world'', was told that he was to face kidnapping charges that carried a maximum sentence of four years in prison since bounty hunting is considered kidnapping under Mexican law. Mexican officials argued the reasonable case that Chapman and his crew should have gone to the police instead of trying to grab Luster off the streets and earn a reward. “For one thing” said a government official, “it’s illegal and for another, it’s dangerous”.
Adding insult to injury, Luster was released to the FBI authority and sent back to the states, while Chapman and friends were still confined to an 8x6 cement- floored cell with no toilet. It would take Chapman years to fight off the Mexican kidnapping charges.
When Andrew Luster was returned to the states his attorney was Steven Yagman, who is now disbarred and a convicted federal felon. The first thing Yagman did was shut down Luster’s cooperation with the government’s effort to find out who assisted him in his escape. Yagman had been referred to Luster by an inmate named Bill Wasz who had leaped to fame by claiming that O.J. Simpson’s lawyer had hired him to murder Nicole Simpson. Wasz was a client of Richard Sherman’s.
Wasz record included stealing a truck and a front-end loader, along with some welding equipment. He used the front-end loader to drive through window of a Safeway supermarket in the wee of the morning and steal the store safe. The robbery netted him $63,000 in cash.
Later he claimed to have done some muscle work for the mob in Vegas but his next pinch came for stealing a pair of pants from a department store, at gunpoint. That earned him nearly two years in prison which was followed by six months in a Nevada prison on an outstanding warrant. When he was released, Wasz returned to his native Virginia where, according to him anyway, he ran drugs.
He returned to California where he said he was an enforcer and go-fer for film producer Don Simpson. (Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, The Rock) At the same time Wasz said he started cocaine to celebrities. He said that was how he meet Robert Kardashian, friend and business partner of O.J. Simpson. He claimed that in 1993, Kardashian called him just after Christmas 1993 “He asked whether I’d be interested in making some extra money” Wasz said.
Kardashian said Nicole Simpson, OJ’s wife, was unfaithful to the former All Star and he wanted Wasz to follow her and photograph with her loves and gave him $1,000 for the surveillance. He followed Nicole for several weeks (The police did find a notebook belonging to Wasz that detailed his surveillance of Nicole. It also contained the names and private telephone numbers of O.J. Simpson, girlfriend Paula Barbieri and O.J.’s friend Robert Kardashian. ) when Kardashian called Wasz to his home in Encino and told him ““Bill, I want you to make her (Nicole) go away and we’ll pay you 15 grand in cash for doing it”
Kardashian told him exactly how he wanted the murder to go down, every detail had been thought out including stealing a truck that belonged to OJ’s girlfriend, kill Nicole with a .25 caliber pistol and then plant the gun in the truck after the murder. According to Wasz stole the truck and then robbed Kardashian at gun point. That was followed by a series of robberies, a high speed chase by the police, a shootout, a bullet in his leg for Wasz and a twenty year prison sentence for armed robbery. He served ten years of his term and was released and found his way into Elizabeth Luster’s life.
Remarkably after Luster was arrested in Mexico, Sherman contacted Luster’s mother and asked for $25,000 to represent him again and then asked for additional money to ensure that her son “was in prison”. She declined but Wasz told criminal investigators that he acted as Luster’s bodyguard while they were in jail together and arranged for Luster’s further protection when he got out of prison.
The protection…if it actually happened wasn’t free. People like Wasz didn’t work that way. When Wasz got out of prison, he took $150,000 from Andrew’s mother, Elizabeth, as payment for either protecting her son or not killing him or, as several private detectives and lawyer close to the case think, having him killed in prison.
Wasz was said to have told a friend that he didn’t understand Elizabeth Luster. He said that she donated millions of dollars to charities but, “…when she made fifteen bucks on a stock deal she was ecstatic.”
Interestingly Bill Pavelic, who had worked for Richard Sherman on the Luster case, also worked as an unlicensed private investigator for the O.J. Simpson criminal defense team examined. After Wasz’s release from prison in 2004, he posted a message on an Internet website that Pavelic “would soon be eating prison food.” But didn’t explain past that point.
On March 16, 2005, his lawyer, Frank Longo, and the building superintendent found Wasz’s dead body in his West Los Angeles apartment. He had been dead for three days. Not surprisingly, he died under suspicious circumstances although the cause of death was toxic drug interaction.
Elizabeth Luster claimed, after Wasz died, that Wasz had embezzled the money from her. Supposedly she agreed to finance a documentary film of Wasz’s unpublished book, "We Only Kill Our Friends" about his role in the O.J. Simpson murder case. Law enforcement believes the entire film business was nothing more than a cover for the Wasz-Sherman’s extortion of the Luster family.
As soon as the Luster trial started the LifeTime Channel slapped together a low, low -budget film about the affair and called it, A Date with Darkness: The Trial and Capture of Andrew Luster. The film wrapped about a week before Andrew was abducted in Mexico but an additional four minutes was tacked on after Luster was captured. The producers moved the abduction to a beach scene that was recreated as a Mexican beach setting on location in Victoria, British Columbia.
In August of 2003, Drew Luster, then 39 years-old, began serving a 124- year prison sentence at Wasco State Prison, a Level 1 low security prison. (Level 4 is the highest) By then the onslaught of civil suits against the Luster estates had begun and most of them are will be slogging their way through California courts for years to come.
One of the more interesting suits came from Jane Doe #2, Luster’s ex-girlfriend who claimed that she had lost a child she was carrying due to the stress of being a witness in a high- profile case. That suit went away when friends and neighbors of Luster reported seeing Jane Doe #2 snort cocaine several times during the pregnancy.
But the women and the lawyers behind them were salivating for money. When CBS aired a special on the case, Jane Doe #2 sued for millions accusing Luster’s mother Elizabeth, the CBS network and 25 others of wrongfully obtaining and televising a video showing her being sexually assaulted by Luster even though the video didn’t show the woman's face nor did it identify the victim.
Jane Doe #1 and Jane Doe #2 wasted no time suing Andy Luster in a civil suit which they won. A court ordered Luster to pay a total of $39 million to the two women. Of that amount, Jane Doe #1, the most aggressive of the three, was to receive $19 million.
However winning judgment and getting the cash out of the tangled Luster/Factor family investment machine are two different things. To add to the mess, Luster was broke and declared bankruptcy in 2004.
In 2008, the Luster’s family mounted another effort to have Andrew’s case reviewed. This time instead of slick and slippery ethically challenged LA Attorney the family found Jay Leiderman, a criminal defense lawyer and civil and personnel rights advocate. Leiderman, who lived and practiced out of Ventura County, was internationally recognized for his work defending hacker-activists accused of computer crimes, representing a large number of his hacker clients pro bono, medical marijuana defense and as one of the founding members of the Whistleblower's Defense League.
One of Leiderman’s (Photo below) more impressive cases involved the defense of Louis Gonzalez, a senior vice president of a bank in Las Vegas, who was arrested in 2008 after his former girlfriend Tracy J. West, who is also the mother of his child, alleged he raped, beat and tortured her. Gonzalez was jailed for 83 days before he was released.
Leiderman’s team found 10 witnesses who turned out at the preliminary hearing prepared to testify in court that they saw Gonzalez in other locations. There were also video recordings from airport and bank cameras that showed Gonzalez at those places during the time of the supposed assault.
During the hearing Senior Deputy District Attorney Tony Wold, the same Tony Wold from the Luster case, agreed Gonzalez was “likely factually innocent”. Later, when Gonzalez’s defense team wrote to Wold asking that the district attorney investigate Tracy West for perjury and filing a false police report Wold replied via e-mailed hat the prosecution’s case against Gonzalez was closed adding “the dismissal of a criminal case for lack of proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not translate into proof beyond a reasonable doubt that an original report of a crime was false.”
In 2009, Leiderman filed a writ of habeas corpus (a legal tool used by prisoners to try to win a court determination that they were imprisoned unlawfully and should be released.) arguing that he was denied effective assistance of counsel and alleging other legal and constitutional violations. In the writ, he asked the court to reduce his sentence and consider setting aside his 2003 conviction. The court granted the writ, and the hearing began in 2013.
The crux of the argument was that Richard Sherman (who was deceased at the point) had denied effective assistance of counsel, among other legal and constitutional violations.
In March of 2013 Ventura County Superior Court judge Kathryne Ann Stoltz set aside the 124-year prison sentence and granted Luster a new sentencing hearing because the judge in the initial trial "failed to state specific reasons for imposing full consecutive sentences" as required by law. Judge Stoltz reduced Luster’s sentence to 50 years in prison.
Andy Luster wept in the courtroom and told the judge that he was “incredibly grateful” and promised that he would never act “recklessly and irresponsible again. I did some really stupid things without thinking. It’s caused so much damage to so many people. There is more to me than this salacious and lurid story that’s been put out there.”
Andy Luster will be eligible for parole in 15 years.