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With man's arrest, a kidnapping case dismissed as hoax bubbles up again

Four months ago, 29-year-old Denise Huskins turned up in Huntington Beach, saying she had been kidnapped from her home here and held ransom.

Vallejo police were skeptical, calling the case a “wild goose chase” and a waste of police resources. Authorities from the Northern California town even warned that Huskins and her boyfriend, who said he was drugged during the kidnapping, could face criminal charges themselves for making a false report.

On Monday, the case took a dramatic turn.

The FBI announced that a man had been arrested in connection with what officials would only call the kidnapping of a woman. Matthew Muller, 38, a Harvard-educated former attorney, was taken into custody June 8 after authorities identified him as a suspect in a home-invasion robbery in Dublin, Calif., federal officials said.

An unsealed federal affidavit outlining their case against Muller does not name Huskins, but the details of the kidnapping are nearly identical to the account given by Huskins and her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn.

Vallejo police were not talking Monday, referring questions to the FBI. But attorneys for Huskins and Quinn had plenty to say about how police initially handled the case.

“The idea that in a short period of time they decided it was a hoax, that only works in Batman movies,” Quinn's attorney, Daniel Russo, said at a news conference Monday.

“The core of the problem here is it was so fantastical it couldn't be true, but no one asked the important question…. what is the motive here,” added Huskins' attorney, Douglas Rappaport. Huskins cried during the news conference but did not speak.

The couple's attorneys are demanding Vallejo police apologize to their clients and the public because “the individuals who perpetrated this offense were free to prey on other victims,” Rappaport said. Quinn and Huskins, he said, endured “public humiliation” and mockery, despite being “nothing but cooperative, conscientious human beings.”

In June, the FBI met with local law enforcement and determined there were similarities between the Dublin robbery and Huskins' kidnapping. In both cases, the couples woke to find a man standing at the foot of their bed 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.

Quinn told police that Huskins had been “forcibly taken” from his home sometime between midnight and 5 a.m. March 23. His attorneys said Quinn was bound and drugged, and had voluntarily provided blood samples to police. Quinn said he also gave authorities his passwords to double-check his email activity.

Based on the FBI's descriptions of the March 23 incident, Quinn's eyes were covered with swim goggles, and headphones with prerecorded instructions were placed over his ears.

He was given a muscle relaxant and Nyquil, and was warned he was being watched, according to the affidavit.

Quinn told police he later awoke to find his girlfriend, belongings and car missing. A voice-mail message demanding an $8,500 ransom was left behind, the FBI said.

Two days later, Huskins was dropped off at her family's home in Huntington Beach. Authorities arranged a flight for Huskins to Northern California to interview her. But when she never got on the plane, police grew suspicious and said the kidnapping appeared to be an “orchestrated event.” The couple's attorneys insisted the kidnapping was real.

Muller, who originally came to the attention of police investigating the robbery in Dublin, is a former U.S. Marine and Harvard Law School graduate who practiced law until 2013. He was disbarred in January 2015 after he was found to have failed to perform competent legal services for a client in an immigration case, according to records. He filed for bankruptcy in 2014, but the filing was dismissed months later, according to U.S. District Court documents.

Quinn's computer, water goggles covered with tape, a pair of two-way radios and tape with a long blond strand of hair attached to it were found in the South Lake Tahoe home where Muller was arrested or inside a stolen car he apparently was traveling in, according to the FBI. Most of the items had been mentioned in emails from the kidnappers, the affidavit said.

Authorities cautioned that the investigation is far from over.

“We firmly believe there are other perpetrators out there” who colluded with Muller, Russo said. “What I want for the Vallejo PD to do is to do their job. Go out, find out if there are other guys, get them in custody as soon as possible. And next time, think before you talk.”

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


6:15 p.m.: This story has been updated to include more about Matthew Muller.

3:14 p.m. This story has been updated to include more details on the investigation contained in the affidavit.

This story was first published at 1:59 p.m.