Posted: 5/3/2001 4:59:04 PM EDT
Thursday, May 3, 2001
Doctor's Aide Is Arrested in Irvine Shooting
Courts: Lab assistant to now-deceased man who allegedly plotted colleague's murder is indicted on weapons charges.
By JACK LEONARD, Times Staff Writer
A yearlong investigation into the attempted slaying of an Irvine drug company executive took a twist Wednesday when Orange County grand jurors indicted on weapons charges the lab assistant of a doctor who police believe masterminded the murder plot.
The unexpected move comes as investigators struggle to find the masked gunman who last year shot and wounded Biofem Inc. Chief Executive James Patrick Riley as he arrived for work.
Valerie Kesler, 37, was indicted on charges of transporting and possessing two illegal assault weapons--counts that carry a maximum sentence of nearly nine years in prison. She is not believed to have used the weapons, but prosecutors said she has not been eliminated as a suspect in the murder plot.
Authorities said they discovered an Uzi handgun and a Belgian Fabrique Nationale rifle during a search of Kesler's Newport Beach home and car just days after Riley was shot.
Prosecutors allege that Kesler was given at least one of the weapons by Biofem's director of science, Dr. Larry C. Ford, just as police were beginning to suspect him as the brain behind the failed murder.
"We believe that the Uzi was given to her by Larry Ford so that she would dispose of it," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Ebrahim Baytieh. "Larry Ford knew that police were zeroing in on him . . . and that his house was going to be searched."
But Kesler's attorney accused authorities of turning to the grand jury in an attempt to squeeze his client for more information as they continue their hunt for the gunman.
Lawyer John Kremer said Kesler has fully cooperated with investigators for more than a year, telling them everything she knows in the belief that they would not charge her with the weapons violations.
"This is a blatant attempt to coerce her to produce the identity of the shooter, despite the fact that she has told them repeatedly that she has no idea who the shooter is," Kremer said. "She was used, manipulated and abused, and now she's being discarded."
The indictment is the latest chapter in a long-running saga set against a backdrop of the South African military, germ warfare projects and high-stakes pharmaceutical research.
As Riley arrived for work Feb. 28, 2000, an assailant clad in black fired a pistol at him from close range. The bullet ricocheted off Riley's cheekbone and smashed through a nearby office window.
Days after the shooting, investigators turned to Kesler, who had spent years working alongside Ford and was having an affair with him.
She told police that she knew Ford was well-connected with South African government officials and that the Irvine doctor was involved in developing toxic agents for them, according to search warrants filed in the case. Ford committed suicide a few days after the shooting.
After Kesler's interview with police, detectives began a search of Ford's Irvine home, discovering a cache of illegal weapons and explosives buried in his backyard. They also found cholera- and typhoid fever-causing bacteria in the home, which forced the evacuation of 200 residents.
Prosecutors declined to explain why it took so long to indict Kesler. But a source familiar with the investigation said authorities believe that she has kept back important information about the shooting and where Ford may have stashed other weapons.
Kremer, however, said Kesler has been an invaluable resource for investigators from the beginning.
In recent weeks, prosecutors subpoenaed Kesler to testify before the grand jury. She arrived at the panel's Santa Ana office Wednesday morning but declined to testify, invoking her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, authorities said.
Soon afterward, Irvine detectives arrested her outside the grand jury room. She was booked into the Orange County Jail in lieu of $250,000 bail and is scheduled to be arraigned this morning.
Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times
Valerie Kesler, 37, was indicted on charges of transporting and possessing two illegal assault weapons--
Does this simply mean that these weapons were not duly registered under California's AW law?
I suppose we'll start seeing a lot more prosecutions for failure to register an AW.
Eric The Hun