A Harvard-educated former attorney was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury in connection with a bizarre kidnapping in Vallejo that police initially deemed a hoax.
Matthew Muller, 38, was charged with one count of kidnapping. He is accused of holding Denise Huskins for two days and ransoming her for $15,000, U.S. Atty. Benjamin Wagner said in a statement.
If convicted, Muller faces up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Prosecutors say Muller entered the Mare Island home shared by Huskins and her boyfriend early on March 23. The boyfriend, Aaron Quinn, called police hours later, about 1:50 p.m., to report that thieves had entered the couple's home, drugged them, stolen his car and abducted Huskins, according to the FBI. Two days later, Huskins was taken to her family’s home in Huntington Beach.
Police in Vallejo initially lambasted the couple for perpetrating a hoax.
"The story that Mr. Quinn provided was such an incredible story, we initially had a hard time believing it and upon further investigation we were not able to substantiate any of the things he was saying,” said Lt. Kenny Park of the Vallejo Police Department. “The fact that we essentially wasted all of these resources for really nothing is upsetting,” Park said.
But attorneys for Quinn and Huskins insisted the couple's ordeal was anything but a fabrication.
Muller came to the attention of police while they were investigating a robbery in Dublin, Calif. Investigators then noticed similarities in that case and the Vallejo incident. 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 said they were ordered to lie on their stomachs, and zip ties were used to restrain them.
According to a sworn affidavit, when authorities went to Huskins and Quinn's home in March, they found red strips of tape on the floor and a surveillance camera with motion sensors attached to the ceiling.
Investigators found Quinn’s car in the parking lot of the Department of Veterans Affairs building in the Mare Island neighborhood. The car keys were left on the left rear tire and another strip of red tape was found on the roof of the car.
A cellphone left at the scene of the second kidnapping attempt in Dublin was tied to Muller, the FBI said.
Investigators searched Muller's South Lake Tahoe home and recovered several laptops, including Quinn’s computer, as well as a digital key maker, numerous blank car keys and a pair of two-way radios.
Muller graduated from Harvard Law School but 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.
A former U.S. Marine, he filed for bankruptcy in 2014, but the filing was dismissed months later, according to documents filed in federal court.
Muller is being held at a Sacramento County Jail. He is scheduled to appear Monday in federal court.
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Times staff writers Veronica Rocha and Lee Romney contributed to this report.