California Kidnapping Police Called a Hoax Leads to Charges

July 14, 2015 Updated: July 14, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO—A disbarred Harvard-educated lawyer was charged with kidnapping a California woman who said attackers broke into her home, took her and held her for ransom, a twist that came months after police called the abduction a hoax.

Federal prosecutors charged Matthew Muller of Orangevale, California, with kidnapping last month after he was arrested in a separate home-invasion robbery in the San Francisco Bay Area that had similarities to the abduction, the FBI said in an affidavit unsealed Monday.

It comes after Vallejo police discounted the story by Denise Huskins and her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn.

He reported that kidnappers broke into the couple’s home on March 23, abducted Huskins and demanded $8,500. Quinn’s lawyers have said he awoke to a bright light in his face, and two kidnappers bound and drugged him.

Huskins, 29, turned up safe two days later in her hometown of Huntington Beach, where she says she was dropped off. She showed up hours before the ransom was due.

That day, Vallejo police called the kidnapping a hoax. They have since declined to comment on the case other than to say they continue to investigate. Calls to the agency were not immediately returned Monday.

Huskins and Quinn appeared at a news conference but didn’t talk to the media as their lawyers blasted investigators, asking that authorities set the record straight and apologize to the couple.

“What I want is for the Vallejo PD to do their job,” said Quinn’s lawyer, Daniel Russo. “Go out, find out if there are other guys out there and make sure that next time this happens, they think before they talk.”

Huskins’ lawyer, Douglas Rappaport, said his client will avoid commenting on the case to preserve the integrity of the prosecution. The teary-eyed couple held hands tightly and hugged before leaving.

FBI Special Agent Jason Walter said in the affidavit that recently discovered evidence led him to conclude there was probable cause to believe Muller kidnapped the woman.

Investigators arrested Muller in South Lake Tahoe and found a laptop that resembled one Quinn had. A search of a stolen car connected to Muller turned up numerous other items, including a water pistol with a flashlight and laser pointer on it. People claiming responsibility for the woman’s abduction emailed photos of the items to a newspaper, Walter said.

A cellphone in the car had one of the same photos, and the vehicle’s navigation system turned up a Huntington Beach address.

Detectives also found a pair of goggles with a long blond hair in it, the same hair color as the victim’s. The goggles were similar to those the woman and Quinn said they were forced to wear during the kidnapping, Walter said.

Muller was in custody Monday on charges of attempted first-degree residential robbery and assault in the home-invasion robbery.

His attorney, Thomas Johnson, said in a brief statement that his client will plead not guilty to the kidnapping charges. He said his client has already pleaded not guilty to the June robbery in the city of Dublin.

Muller told investigators he served as a Marine from 1995 to 1999 and attended and taught at Harvard University after that, the FBI affidavit said. He said he suffered from psychosis and in 2008 was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, according to the affidavit.

Muller was admitted to practice law in California in May 2011. His state bar association profile also says he attended Harvard Law School.

His license was suspended in 2013 for failing to pay annual dues, records show. Later that year, the state bar filed disciplinary charges against Muller, citing his failure to file a green card application for a client’s son. The notice says Muller took $1,250 in advance from the client.

Muller failed to cooperate with the bar’s investigation, leading the State Bar Court to recommend his disbarment in January. The state Supreme Court ordered him disbarred in June.

Wilson Purves, a partner with the Kerosky, Purves & Bogue in San Francisco, said Muller worked as an associate at the immigration law firm for a year before it terminated his employment in 2012. Purves declined to discuss the termination, but he said there was nothing that stood out about Muller.

“Nothing extraordinary would make me feel that he could be accused of something like this,” he said. “I don’t know what happened between then and now.”