At the request of Orange County prosecutors, a judge Monday dismissed charges against an Ontario woman they say was falsely accused of using online classified ads to encourage men to fulfill rape fantasies with a romantic rival in Anaheim.
Instead, the woman who was thought to be the victim in the case is now the defendant.
Angela Maria Diaz, 31, of Phoenix, Arizona, was charged Friday with two counts each of kidnapping, false imprisonment, forgery and possession of a forged check exceeding $950, and single counts of perjury and grand theft. She also faces a misdemeanor count of falsely reporting a crime to police.
Diaz, who is awaiting extradition to California, could face up to nearly 14 years behind bars if convicted.
Michelle Suzanne Hadley, 30, previously spent several months behind bars in the case due to what turned out to be false allegations, prosecutors said.
Hadley was engaged for about two years to a U.S. Marshals Service agent. After they broke up, he married Diaz in February of last year. The man, whose name was not released, is separated from Diaz now.
Diaz allegedly used sophisticated computer software to spoof emails to make it appear Hadley was posting online classified ads encouraging men to sexually assault Diaz. After Diaz allegedly staged an attempted sexual assault on herself in which she had red marks on her neck and breast, police arrested Hadley, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told reporters.
At some point during the investigation, as authorities were seeking computer addresses for the origin of those emails, they began to suspect Diaz was framing Hadley, Deputy District Attorney Rick Zimmer said.
Diaz is also accused of doctoring a paycheck to add $2,000, an alleged crime uncovered during the investigation. Diaz is additionally accused of faking cervical cancer, masquerading as an attorney, forging doctor’s notes, faking a pregnancy and posing as two ex-girlfriends of her estranged husband, prosecutors said.
“From what we’re seeing, she’s a serial con artist,” Zimmer alleged. “She duped us. It was very sophisticated, well thought out and took a great deal of planning.”
The estranged husband has not been accused of wrongdoing, but the investigation is ongoing, Rackauckas said.
Hadley was previously falsely accused of directing multiple threats against Diaz and an “unborn child” via email between June and July of last year. It appears Diaz “faked a sonogram” of twins at one point, Zimmer said.
“We don’t believe she was ever actually pregnant,” he said.
Hadley was served with a protective order June 6 prohibiting her from contacting Diaz, but the false “stalking” continued, according to Zimmer.
After the posting of Craigslist ads inviting men over to fulfill “rape fantasies,” at least two responded, including a 17-year-old boy, Zimmer said.
Diaz called Anaheim police June 24 to report that a man got into her garage and attempted to rape her before she was able to call for help and scare off her attacker, Rackauckas said.
Hadley was arrested later that day and the threatening emails ceased, Rackauckas said. But once Hadley posted bail and was released, the threats resumed, he said.
The emailed threats included images of decapitated bodies and aborted fetuses, the county’s top prosecutor said.
Hadley was arrested again on July 14 and was ordered held on $1 million bail. She was released on her own recognizance Oct. 7 when investigators noticed the alleged cracks in Diaz’s story, prosecutors said.
Zimmer said he “felt sick to my stomach” when he began to realize an innocent person had been jailed.
“I’ve had more sleepless nights these past six months than I’ve ever had,” Zimmer said. “The last thing our office wants to do is charge an innocent person.”
Investigators suspect Diaz might have learned how to spoof emails and disguise the origins of the correspondence through her job with a U.S. Bankruptcy trustee, Zimmer said. In that line of work, she became familiar with virtual private networks, or VPNs.
“When a person who has committed a crime gets arrested and charged, that’s a bad day,” Rackauckas said. “But when someone who is innocent gets arrested and charged with some crime, that’s not just a bad day — it’s a nightmare. This is the tale of a woman who faced such a nightmare, but with the help of her attorney and law enforcement, who continued to seek the truth, she will be able to be exonerated.”
Hadley’s attorney, Michael Guisti, told reporters that he thought prosecutors should have waited to check the Internet addresses on the emails before moving in for the arrest, but he was grateful that investigators worked to exonerate his client.
“I can’t thank Rick enough for his instincts,” Guisti said of Zimmer. “This is such a relief for Michelle.”
The defense attorney believes the man the two women have in common was somehow involved, characterizing him as “manipulative.”
But Zimmer said there is no evidence so far that the man conspired with Diaz to frame Hadley.
Anaheim police Sgt. Daron Wyatt said his department had to move in for the arrest because there was a court order to do so and the evidence of the attempted rape made it a “public safety” issue.
Orange County prosecutors last year cleared a man of stalking, kidnapping and beating charges when investigators learned that his ex- girlfriend was setting him up. Stephanie Renae Lawson pleaded guilty Nov. 30 and was sentenced to a year in jail for using a fake Facebook profile to issue the bogus threats.
Both cases featured issues investigators had with telecommunications companies obtaining records of their customers to verify evidence.
Wyatt said it’s a “national issue.”
–City News Service