A San Juan Capistrano woman has been indicted for her alleged role in helping a reputed drug trafficker kill a man and dump his body in the ocean off Dana Point Harbor, federal authorities said Thursday.
Officials said the victim owed the drug runner $30,000 to $40,000, but agreed to the boat trip in search of lobsters. A source alleged the victim was shot on board the boat and his body tied with heavy weights before being dumped overboard into the sea.
Sheila Marie Ritze, 40, is facing first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder charges in the killing of the victim, identified only as T.D. in the indictment handed down Wednesday.
The superseding indictment also added a conspiracy count against 39-year-old Hoang Xuan Le of Fountain Valley, who was previously charged with murder and is the accused shooter, according to authorities.
The grand jury indictment alleges Ritze and Le worked together to lure the victim onto a boat last fall under the auspices of an overnight lobster fishing trip. The body was recovered several miles northwest of Oceanside on Oct. 16 year, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Ritze, the registered owner of the boat, had previously been charged with being an accessory after the fact.
The two, who are being held without bail, are scheduled to be arraigned on the new indictment July 6.
Le also faces new narcotics charges stemming from alleged drug deals with an undercover agent during the murder investigation, according to Mrozek. Le is accused of distributing cocaine on two occasions and distributing methamphetamine in two deals, he said.
The new indictment also alleges Le was in possession of methamphetamine and a shotgun and an AR-15-type “ghost gun” when he was arrested, Mrozek said.
Ritze is accused of lying to federal investigators when she was arrested, Mrozek said.
Her attorney, Lloyd Freeberg, told reporters after a court hearing in January that his client has a “frightening and horrifying story” to tell eventually.
“It’s a classic case of PTSD,” Freeberg said.
The defense attorney said his client and Le were friends, and Ritze witnessed an “extremely vicious attack” and was too frightened and shocked to call police.
“Every time I talk to her, she sobs and weeps,” said Freeberg, who took the case over from attorney Ben Lechman, who represented Ritze at her initial Dec. 19 appearance in federal court when U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Scott denied bond for both defendants.
In December, Lechman argued that Ritze is a California native who has always resided in Southern California and has strong ties to the community, including a brother who is a sheriff’s deputy. Ritze, who is separated from her spouse and has a 9-year-old daughter, “has every reason to stay here,” the attorney said in arguing for bond.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Scally alleged in prior court appearances that Ritze was on the boat at the time of the killing and canvassed the dock for surveillance cameras afterward. The prosecutor also alleged there is also evidence she was shopping for a bulletproof vest in the days prior to the killing and a text message thread containing two photos of the roofs of a parking garage with accompanying test reading “Irvine sniper” was found on her phone.
In making her no-bond ruling, Scott said a tracker allegedly bought by Ritze and found on the victim’s girlfriend’s car indicated that Ritze could pose a danger to the woman. She also said the “court is concerned the defendant has prior felony convictions and also had a history of alcohol abuse,” citing a drunken driving conviction.
Le is accused of killing the victim because the man owed him $30,000 to $40,000, according to an affidavit supporting the criminal complaints.
Le allegedly told a confidential informant that he lured the victim onto a fishing boat last Oct. 14 in Dana Point Harbor for an overnight fishing trip, then shot him in the head, anchored his body with weights around the ankles and hurled him overboard, according to the affidavit prepared by FBI Special Agent Christopher Gicking.
The victim’s girlfriend, who reported him missing Oct. 18, said she had lunch with Le and her boyfriend the day of the fishing trip. During the lunch, Le and the victim discussed going lobster fishing together that night, according to Gicking.
The victim, who was about 40 years old, texted his girlfriend from the boat, describing his companion, and later sent her cell phone video of the boat, Gicking said. His last text was sent at 12:27 a.m. on Oct. 15, when he wrote, “love you,” Gicking said.
The confidential informant told investigators that Le told him that when the three were on the boat, Le asked the victim when he was going to repay his debt, according to the affidavit.
“Le became upset with the victim because the victim `snapped’ at Le and said he was not going to repay Le,” Gicking wrote. Le allegedly then shot the victim three times, the agent said.
The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the victim drowned after being shot and sustaining blunt force trauma.
The informant, while working with investigators, bought cocaine from Le, according to the FBI. Le allegedly indicated he would be open to being a contract killer, according to the affidavit.
The informant, who was wearing a wire, also recorded Le as he allegedly sold more drugs to him and again expressed a willingness to be a hit man, according to the FBI.
Investigators seized an AR-15-type rifle, shotgun and crossbow found in Le’s residence, Mrozek said.
Evidence allegedly shows Ritze’s phone was near the harbor when the boat left and returned Oct. 14. Surveillance video also shows her at the harbor with two others, whom investigators suspect were Le and the victim, Mrozek said.
Surveillance video shows only Ritze and Le when the boat returned to the harbor hours later, he said.