Drones, cameras seized in bizarre kidnapping tied to Harvard-educated ex-lawyer

A former attorney arrested in the mysterious kidnapping of a Vallejo woman was a decorated U.S. Marine who once ran Harvard Law School's immigration program.

A few years before Matthew Muller became the focus of an FBI investigation into the abduction of Denise Huskins, he was an immigration attorney at a San Francisco law firm.

He landed there fresh out of Harvard Law School, where he managed its Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, among other responsibilities.

As a U.S. Marine from October 1995 to August 1999, Muller held the rank of sergeant, with the occupational specialty of trumpeter, according to Yvonne Carlock, deputy public affairs officer with the Marine Corps’ Manpower and Reserve Affairs. During his service, he earned several honors, including the Good Conduct Medal.

Then, there was a sudden shift.

Muller, a summa cum laude graduate of Pomona College, stopped paying his State Bar fees in 2013. He filed for bankruptcy the following year, and he was accused of failing to refund a client $1,250 after a court decided he failed to competently represent him.

This year, Muller was disbarred.

In a sworn federal affidavit unsealed Monday, Muller, of Orangevale, Calif., told investigators he suffered from psychosis and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008.

It was unclear whether his debt, failed legal career or mental illness had any influence on Muller’s alleged actions, but the FBI said investigators found a string of evidence connecting him to Huskins’ abduction in March and a second kidnapping attempt two months later in Dublin, Calif.

Muller was already in custody on the Dublin home invasion robbery and attempted kidnapping, when the FBI issued an arrest warrant and named him in a federal criminal complaint for the Huskins incident filed June 29.

In both cases, couples awoke to find a man standing at the foot of their beds with a flashlight shining in their faces. Both times, the victims were ordered to lie on their stomachs, and zip ties were used to restrain them.

Now investigators are examining anonymous emails sent by Huskins’ kidnappers to the San Francisco Chronicle that describe a series of crimes committed throughout the Bay Area.

The emails describe crimes, including vehicle thefts, committed by a group primarily focused on Mare Island, where Huskins and her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn, lived.

In the emails, the group members claimed they had mostly stuck to property crimes but switched to kidnapping because they wanted “something with a high payout.”

So they went after Huskins and Quinn, but the “operation went terribly wrong.”

“The bottom line, inconceivable as it sounds given what we have done,” the kidnappers wrote, “is that we didn’t really want to hurt anyone.”

The emails described group members as “young adults, fairly recent college graduates and up until now this was a bit like a game or movie adventure.”

“We fancied ourselves a sort of Ocean’s Eleven, gentlemen criminals who only took stuff that was insured from people who could afford it.”

In an attempt to clear Huskins’ name after she was lambasted by Vallejo police, who claimed her kidnapping was a hoax, the kidnappers provided photographic evidence of their weapons and gave away clues in their emails about the March 23 abduction.

Huskins and Quinn were awakened by an intruder in the middle of night, according to the affidavit. He was drugged and bound. Quinn told police he later awoke to find his girlfriend, belongings and car missing. He was threatened and a ransom was demanded.

Two days later, Huskins was dropped off at her family's home in Huntington Beach.

A cellphone left at the scene of the second kidnapping attempt in Dublin, Calif., was tied to Muller, the FBI said.

During a search of a home in South Lake Tahoe, a Ford Mustang and other locations, investigators seized several pieces of evidence mentioned in the kidnappers’ emails.

Among the items seized by the FBI during a July 1 search of a Vallejo storage unit were two drones, a mattress and black duct tape, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Several laptops, including Quinn’s computer, a digital key maker, numerous blank car keys and a pair of two-way radios were allegedly seized at Muller’s home and inside a Ford Mustang.

Water goggles covered with tape and a super-soaker water pistol that had been spray painted black, with a flashlight and laser pointer attached to it, also were allegedly recovered. The tape still had a long blonde strand of hair attached to it.

The Huntington Beach address where Huskins was dropped off was found on the log of a navigation system inside the Ford.

On Monday, Huskins' and Quinn’s attorneys called on Vallejo police to launch a thorough investigation. Huskins' attorney, Douglas Rappaport, called Muller a "psychopath, a sociopath bent on destroying people's lives."

Quinn’s attorney, Daniel Russo, said the behavior of the perpetrator was "strange and bizarre."

"The conduct was so far outside the box that [the police] had trouble believing it was true," Russo conceded.

But he slammed the department for declaring it a hoax "in such a short time."

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