A woman recalled to an Orange County jury Thursday the night masked intruders zip-tied, gagged, blindfolded and loaded her into the back a cargo van while taking her and her roommate from their Balboa Peninsula home on Oct. 2, 2012.
During a lengthy drive, she heard her roommate, a Newport Beach marijuana dispensary owner, grunting and moaning next to her as he was repeatedly beaten with a rubber hose and shocked with a stun gun, she testified in Superior Court in Newport Beach. At one point he involuntarily kicked her leg as he was being shocked.
“You’re hurting our business with your little dispensary. My patron wants your million dollars,” the woman recalled the kidnappers saying in the van.
After what seemed like a long time on a freeway, she felt the van go off-road. “I thought, ‘This is where they’re going to kill us,’ ” she said.
The woman’s testimony came on the second day of the trial of Hossein Nayeri, 40, who is accused of conspiring in the kidnapping and is charged with two counts of kidnapping for extortion, plus torture, aggravated mayhem and burglary.
Prosecutors allege that after a high-rolling Las Vegas trip together in May 2012, Kyle Shirakawa Handley mistakenly believed the dispensary owner had $1 million buried in the desert. The Daily Pilot is not identifying the dispensary owner because he was the victim of a sex crime in the case.
According to prosecutors, Handley, a Fountain Valley resident, hatched a plan to steal the money with two men he grew up with in Fresno, including Nayeri.
After arriving near what the woman later learned was the Silver Queen Mine in the Mojave Desert, the kidnappers threatened to shoot her and the dispensary owner in the head.
After talking on a cell phone in Spanish, one of the kidnappers told the dispensary owner, “My patron says that if I can’t bring him a million dollars, he wants me to bring him your [penis],” the woman said.
The dispensary owner was held down as at least one of the men pulled down his shorts and taunted him in a sing-song refrain before cutting off his penis.
The woman recalled hearing the sloshing of liquid, which turned out to be the kidnappers pouring bleach on the dispensary owner.
Before leaving, one of the kidnappers pressed what the woman thought was a pocket knife into her zip-tied hands and told her, “I’m going to take this and I’m going to throw it, and if you find it you can cut yourself free,” she said. “Today is your lucky day.”
She said she waited until she couldn’t hear the vehicle anymore and used her knees to push her blindfold over her forehead. She found the knife lying in the sand about five feet away and was able to cut the zip ties around her ankles but not her wrists.
After removing the duct tape from her roommate’s mouth, the woman walked barefoot for about 10 minutes down a dirt road until she reached Highway 14. Several cars passed before a Kern County sheriff’s deputy saw her while driving by.
“I was just making the face of [saying] ‘Help me,’ ” she said. “If I could have waved my arms, I would have.”
Jurors are expected to hear more testimony Monday.
Nayeri was arrested by FBI agents in November 2013 in Prague, Czech Republic, and grabbed national headlines in 2016 when he escaped from Orange County Jail and was captured in San Francisco after evading authorities for eight days.
Handley was arrested a few days after the kidnapping and was sentenced in July 2018 to life in prison for his role in the crime.
Daniel Langhorne is a contributor to Times Community News.