A 44-year-old Lake Forest woman who taught English classes at the Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana remained jailed Friday for allegedly helping three inmates escape from lockup, while a dragnet continued for the missing trio.
Nooshafarin Ravaghi, who works for the Rancho Santiago Community College District, had been teaching English-as-a-second-language classes at the jail since July 2015, according to Orange County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Jeff Hallock, a department spokesman.
She is also an associate faculty member at Saddleback College, according to the Mission Viejo college’s website, and has her own website, The Noosha Collection, which can be found at noosharavaghi.com.
Ravaghi was booked on suspicion of being an accessory to a felony, Hallock said. She is expected to appear in court Monday. She is currently ineligible for bail, Hallock said, but authorities are expected to ask Monday that her bail be set at $500,000.
One of the escaped inmates, Hossein Nayeri, 37, of Newport Beach, took her class at the Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana and developed a relationship with Ravaghi, Hallock said.
“It is believed Ravaghi directly contributed to the escape of the three inmates and provided critical planning tools that aided in their preparation for the escape,” Hallock said.
The exact nature of her alleged assistance was still being investigated, but she is believed to have provided information such as Google Earth maps to Nayeri — the alleged mastermind of the escape — showing aerial views of the jail, an adjacent women’s jail and an intake center. Hallock said Ravaghi has denied providing Nayeri with any tools used in the escape.
Hallock said the extent of the relationship Nayeri developed with Ravaghi was still unclear. It’s also unclear if she knew Nayeri was plotting an escape.
“We don’t have any information to determine it (the relationship) was in fact romantic,” Hallock said. “It was much closer and much more personal than it should have been.”
Nayeri and Ravahi are both natives of Iran. Hallock said there is no information indicating the pair were acquainted before meeting in the jail class — a class Nayeri was taking even though he already spoke English. Their ultimate relationship, however, “leads us to believe she played a significant role in the planning” of the escape, Hallock said.
Nayeri disappeared from the jail early Jan. 22, along with Jonathan Tieu, 20, of Fountain Valley, and Bac Duong, 43, of Santa Ana.
Hallock said investigators believe the escaped inmates stole a white GMC Savana utility van in the South Los Angeles area on Saturday, and the inmates may be living out of it.
Although only Duong was seen on Saturday with the van, “based on other information we have we feel very strongly that they may still all three be together,” Hallock said.
The van has paper license plates from Felix Chevrolet, with plate number 8U66466, although the plates may have been removed and replaced.
OC sheriff’s SWAT units raided two locations in Westminster Thursday evening in a fruitless search for the three escapees.
According to a news videographer, one of the locations was a business located at Jackson Street and Westminster Boulevard and a reported hangout for some of the escapees. Nine people were at least temporarily detained at that location. The second raid, he said, took place in an industrial area at Garden Grove Boulevard and Hoover Street. No arrests or detentions were reported there.
Hallock confirmed today that warrants were served at a residence and a warehouse overnight, but no arrests were made.
He insisted that despite the dramatic nature of the raids — carried out using SWAT teams due to concern about the possible presence of weapons at the locations — investigators are more intent on finding the white van.
Hallock said Thursday that around 10 people have been arrested since the escape a week ago today. Several other arrests — for unrelated warrants or probation issues — have also taken place during the manhunt.
The three inmates disappeared after a 5 a.m. body count in the jail, but they were not discovered missing until close to 9 p.m., when the second daily body count was conducted. Nayeri had been in custody since September 2014, Tieu since October 2013 and Duong since December.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said Wednesday she suspects Nayeri was the “mastermind” of the breakout based on his military training in the U.S. Armed Forces.
The search for the escaped inmates has focused heavily on a Vietnamese gang active in Westminster and Garden Grove. Hallock said there may also be connections between the escapees and Vietnamese organized crime.
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett and Supervisor Andrew Do are scheduled to hold a news conference late this morning to ask for community assistance to help recapture the inmates.
Bartlett and Do will assure the Vietnamese community that any information provided to assist the investigation will be treated with confidentiality, according to Jean Pasco, Orange County’s manager of public information.
On Tuesday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors quadrupled the reward for information that leads to the inmates’ recapture, boosting it to $200,000. The FBI and U.S. Marshals Service pledged the initial $50,000.
Nayeri is accused of participating in an attack, including torture, against a Newport Beach resident who ran a licensed marijuana dispensary in Santa Ana. Tieu faces murder and attempted murder charges in connection with a gang hit. Duong faces an attempted murder charge and was being held without bail on an immigration hold pending a possible federal deportation hearing.
Felony escape charges were filed Monday against the three inmates. Authorities warned they should be considered armed and extremely dangerous. Anyone who spots them should call 911.
The Sheriff’s Department also has a hotline in place at (714) 628-7085.
—City News Service