Doctor in Fraud Trial Dies in Fall From Hotel
A Beverly Hills physician and federal defendant in a $3-million bankruptcy fraud case apparently jumped to his death Tuesday morning, prompting a federal judge to sequester jurors to prevent their learning of his death during deliberations, police said.
John Bussell, 55, an anesthesiologist, was seen falling from the 10th floor of the Embassy Suites hotel in Santa Ana at 6:22 a.m., just hours before jurors were to assemble for the their third day of deliberations, Santa Ana Police Sgt. Baltazar De La Riva said.
Bussell, along with his co-defendant and physician wife, Letantia, 53, had been staying at the hotel since early November, when testimony began in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.
Jurors, who were quickly sequestered at the close of deliberations Tuesday, have not been told of Bussell’s death.
U.S. District Judge Alicemarie H. Stotler decided that news of his death and its circumstances could prejudice their view of Letantia Bussell, and that sequestering them would, hopefully, prevent them from learning of the incident during deliberations.
Jurors, however, were told to consider Letantia Bussell’s guilt or innocence only and not her husband’s.
Before Tuesday night, jurors had not been sequestered.
“It’s very unusual to have a sequestered jury in this district, but certainly some unusual circumstances have entered into this case,” said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office.
Officials declined to say where jurors were being housed.
Santa Ana police say Bussell’s fall was witnessed by a passing motorist, and that paramedics discovered the body on a fourth-floor balcony. A department spokesman said investigators were treating the death as a probable suicide and that Bussell had grown despondent over his legal battle. In May 2000, a federal grand jury indicted the Bussells and their attorney-accountant of scheming to hide substantial assets from a federal Bankruptcy Court and creditors by creating three corporations.
The government also charged that the couple cheated federal and state tax collectors of more than $1.1 million.
Times staff writers Mai Tran and Jessica Garrison contributed to this report.