When Anaheim Hills computer entrepreneur David A. Brown placed a collect call from jail to an ex-inmate on the morning of Feb. 13, he got the news he seemed to have been awaiting for weeks.
"David, it's done!" an excited Richard Steinhart told Brown in one of their several dozen telephone conversations in early February. "Bang, bang--right in the back of the head," Steinhart said.
"It," prosecutors allege, was the supposed murder of two officials in the Orange County district attorney's office, two men central to Brown's prosecution on charges of orchestrating his wife's 1985 murder.
It was a lie. In fact, both Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeoffrey Robinson and investigator Jay Newell were safe and sound, tipped off well in advance to the alleged plot with the aid of Steinhart himself, acting as an informant.
But to Brown, the words seemed to be just what he wanted to hear.
"Wonderful! You're a good man," Brown told Steinhart, according to copies of audio tapes obtained by The Times. Brown, while cautioning that he could not say much because of the jail's close confines, added: "You did great. . . . You're fantastic."
The conversation climaxed weeks of elaborate planning in which, prosecutors allege, the 36-year-old Brown to tried to clear himself of the charges of arranging the murder of his wife by paying for the killings of three key figures in his prosecution, gaining perjured testimony from a female inmate, and making it appear as though he himself was a target for assault.
But unknown to Brown, investigators had persuaded Steinhart to cooperate after learning of the alleged scheme. Then they tape-recorded the Feb. 13 conversation, along with several dozen that preceded it.
These tapes, laying out the alleged scheme publicly for the first time in intricate detail, form the crux of the added charges brought against Brown in February of soliciting the murders of Robinson, Newell and Patti Bailey--Brown's current wife and now a key witness against him in the pending murder case.
Tapes 'Absolutely Crucial'
Deputy Dist. Atty. Tom Borris, prosecuting the new charges against Brown, said of the tapes: "They are absolutely critical to us. Brown's own words incriminate him beyond any doubt; those tapes are our case."
But Brown's attorneys indicated they may try to use parts of the tapes when the return to Superior Court today to seek the removal of the district attorney's office from the case on grounds of conflict of interest. The tapes, they argue, show that Brown held a personal grudge against Robinson and Newell, and that the case should be turned over to unbiased state prosecutors.
Brown's lawyers further argue that the tapes do not tell the whole story, that Brown was set up by jailhouse informants--Steinhart and Joseph Drake, a past jailhouse informant of questionable credibility--who sought to win the good graces of prosecutors by tipping them off to the plot.
In a recent jail interview with The Times, Brown said he took part in the attempted murder scheme only under intimidation by Drake and Steinhart. "They threatened me and my daughter. I had no choice."
In the original case against him, Brown stands accused of orchestrating the 1985 murder of his wife, Linda Brown, 24, who was shot twice as she slept at their Garden Grove home. Prosecutors allege that Brown set up his teen-age daughter to take the fall for the crime, while he collected $835,000 from the victim's life insurance policies and married Bailey, Linda Brown's younger sister.
Bailey, 21, and the daughter, Cinnamon Brown, 18--incarcerated for the last 4 years in a California Youth Authority facility for the murder--are both key witnesses against Brown in the case. Bailey, in apparent recognition of her cooperation, was recently allowed to plead guilty as a juvenile to murder charges, rather than face the far stiffer penalty that an adult conviction carries.
Talk With 'Smiley Face'
The new charges against Brown also center on his alleged plan to have Bailey killed, then to pay another inmate to come forward and tell authorities that Bailey had admitted lying about her testimony against Brown.
In a tape-recorded telephone conversation on Feb. 8, Brown spoke with a woman inmate known as "Smiley Face," who actually was an undercover district attorney's investigator.
The woman, going over plans to lie after Bailey's planned murder, told Brown she understood she was to "tell (authorities) that Patti's not telling the truth. I'm supposed to say she's lying."
Brown maintained in the conversation that "I am innocent, I swear to God. I am innocent" of the 1985 murder of his wife, and that Bailey was testifying against him only because "she wants my money." Brown, who started an apparently successful service retrieving data from damaged computer systems, told the undercover agent he is worth "over $5 million."
Despite his claims of innocence, Brown cautioned the woman that she could not tell his lawyers about their plans and that she would not get caught "if you do it right." According to the tape transcripts, he added: "I'll make it worth your while. . . . I take care of people; that's how I managed to get ahead."
Law enforcement investigators say both Brown and Steinhart--who is trained in martial arts and has been arrested several times on drug charges--proceeded initially in earnest with their murder scheme. It was only after Drake tipped investigators to the plot that Steinhart agreed to cooperate and play along with the plot under surveillance, the investigators said.
In the weeks before completion of the district attorney's sting, prosecutors said that Brown arranged for his brother, Tom Brown of Long Beach, to make cash deliveries totaling $11,700 to Steinhart and a man called "Animal," who was actually a police investigator.
Plan to Burn Van
The tapes reveal that Brown and Steinhart also discussed tentative plans for Brown to escape from jail and for Steinhart to set fire to Brown's van and perhaps his home to make it appear as if Brown was the target of violence. Investigators say that Brown, while in jail, had increased his home insurance, allegedly in an effort to collect more money from the proposed arson.
On the morning of the supposed "hit," Brown had his brother deliver an additional $10,000 for expenses. The bulk of the cash delivered came from a trust fund overseen by Brown's attorney, Baruch, investigators say. The attorney has told investigators that he did not know the real purpose of the money when he signed over its release to Tom Brown.
As Tom Brown delivered the $10,000 on the morning of Feb. 13, he was seized by waiting police, who told him he was under arrest for murder. But Tom Brown told investigators that he, too, did not know the real purpose of the money. He was never charged in the scheme.