It took five hours, but the feds found what they were looking for--a small white ball of what they said appeared to be methamphetamine.
The FBI agents and Los Angeles police let Eddie Nash change out of his pajamas, then led him from his condominium here in handcuffs as TV cameras rolled. Authorities had long considered Nash the one who got away--a convicted drug dealer who was acquitted of murder charges in the notorious bludgeoning deaths of four people in a Laurel Canyon drug den.
Now they had him, and the buzz spread through LAPD stations and the courts--Eddie Nash had finally been caught.
One problem. That ball of supposed methamphetamine was actually a mothball. The district attorney’s office declined to file charges, and Nash was cleared again.
The arrest brought back bad memories for Nash, now a fit 66-year-old man who said in an interview last week that he’s reformed and trying to leave his past behind.
“After 14 years,” he sighed as he spoke from his two-story Tarzana home, “they’ve cut me up and started all over. . . . To tell you the truth, I’m embarrassed to go out on the streets.”
San Fernando Superior Court Judge Ronald Coen, who once prosecuted Nash as a deputy district attorney, had a different reaction.
“Oh my god, he did it again,” Coen said when he heard that Nash would not be prosecuted. “The guy again lands on his feet.”
The charges have ranged from narcotics possession to arson to murder, but the end result has almost always been the same--Eddie Nash, whose very name evokes images of film noir, is acquitted and authorities are left with egg on their faces.
Now Nash says he’s kicked the cocaine addiction he blames for his financial and legal troubles of a decade ago, and wants to be left alone so he can watch his two sons, ages 19 and 22, become men. Although some of his old foes are skeptical, Nash points to his record--no convictions since his one for narcotics possession in 1982.
“I’ve been living a good, clean life for the last 14 years,” he said. “I’m sure they’ve been surveying, watching.”
LAPD Detective Tom Lange, who investigated the Laurel Canyon slayings for 10 years, takes news of Nash’s reformed life with a grain of salt. “That could be,” Lange said, “but he still has those same acquaintances, the same people he runs with.”
The early 1980s were heady times for Nash, a Palestinian native who immigrated to the United States in 1950 and is also known as Adel Nasrallah.
He owned several tony restaurants and clubs in the Hollywood area, and authorities estimated his worth at $30 million. Nash lived in a sprawling hillside house in Studio City, and by his own admission, was addicted to cocaine.
“In the ‘80s, cocaine was not what it is now,” Nash said. “It was accepted as a recreational drug. We never knew the real danger of it.”
Police still maintain that Nash wasn’t just a user, but a well-connected, mid-level dealer. “He wasn’t a street mover,” Lange said Friday. “He was probably near the top of the middle guys. The street people would come to him.”
Nash has adamantly denied dealing drugs. He blames petty dealers and users for what he calls the false accusation that connected him to a grisly July 1, 1981, murder in a Laurel Canyon drug house. Four people were bludgeoned to death on Wonderland Avenue, four blocks from then-Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown’s home. The ensuing investigation would run 10 years, with three trials and no convictions.
Detectives publicly tied the slayings to Nash, alleging that the victims had robbed his mansion days earlier and that he had sent his bodyguard, with pornographic film star John C. Holmes--a regular Nash client, according to authorities--to get revenge. But police said they had insufficient evidence to charge Nash, who bitterly contested the allegations.
Authorities raided Nash’s home three times in the seven months after the slayings, confiscating over $1 million worth of cocaine. During one raid, Nash’s bodyguard shot at narcotics officers, mistaking them for robbers, the bodyguard’s defense attorney argued in court.
A Los Angeles jury found Nash guilty of possessing nearly two pounds of cocaine for sale, even though Nash’s attorney said the cocaine was for his client’s personal use. Superior Court Judge Everett E. Ricks handed Nash the maximum sentence--eight years in state prison. Business at his restaurants and nightclubs plummeted.
Holmes, who was acquitted of the Laurel Canyon slayings after a celebrated trial, died in 1988 after refusing to tell a grand jury who was responsible for the killings.
Nash, meanwhile, had been paroled from prison after his sentence was cut in half. He also had been acquitted of federal arson charges on an unrelated matter. But a few months after Holmes’ death, police said they had accumulated enough evidence to implicate Nash in the killings and arrested him and his bodyguard.
His first murder trial in 1990 ended in a hung jury, split 11-1 in favor of his conviction. In his second trial, in 1991, Nash was acquitted. Jurors said they thought the prosecution’s witnesses, who included Liberace’s ex-lover as well as other avowed drug addicts, weren’t credible.
“They picked up a few snitches, drug addicts, and 10 years later they arrested me on a murder charge,” Nash said. Reflecting bitterly on his diminished financial security, he blamed his cocaine habit and persecution by law enforcement for ruining his life.
“Prior to that I was operating the finest restaurants in this town--Starwood, DelMonico’s, discos,” he said softly. “I had many, many clubs and dining rooms and restaurants. . . . I worked 44 years to get where I was. You get hooked on a lousy drug and you don’t know where you’re going.”
He had lost his mansion. His business properties were in limbo. Nash retreated to his comparatively modest Tarzana residence and tried to get his life back in order.
“After that last trial,” Lange said, “you never heard from him again.”
Until Sept. 12, 1995.
At 6 a.m. that morning, authorities were conducting raids across the Los Angeles area to break up what they described as the Russian-Armenian mafia. The prime target: alleged godfather Hovsep Mikaelian. Lange said Nash had known Mikaelian back when the detective started investigating the Laurel canyon murders. Now the FBI, closing in on its quarry, tapped Mikaelian’s phone.
According to papers filed in support of a federal search warrant, Mikaelian had called Nash the night of Aug. 13 and asked if he had any marijuana.
Nash’s name appears only three times in the 135-page document, but that was enough for the FBI to secure a federal search warrant of his home. Nash said he was awakened the morning of Sept. 12 by the pounding of police against his door.
“They came to roust me, for no reason whatsoever,” Nash said. He said he was vacationing in China at the time of Mikaelian’s alleged call, and noted that according to federal officials, Mikaelian was a major drug dealer. “Why would he want to call Ed Nash for a little weed?”
During the search, police found a little white ball in a jewelry box that a field test determined to be methamphetamine, LAPD Capt. Jeff Coombs said. But a more sophisticated lab test the next day showed it was something else--a mothball stuck with pieces of stale bread, Nash said--and the district attorney’s office announced that they would not charge Nash.
“It would have been nice . . . " Coombs said.
Nash says the incident humiliated him in front of his neighbors and family, even though he is innocent. Even after a lifelong dance with the law, he said, an early morning arrest is hard to take gracefully.
“It takes a long time to overcome all that negative publicity,” Nash said. Now, he said, he wants to get back to rebuilding his life, “if I’m left alone, peacefully.”