Disbarred Harvard lawyer charged with kidnapping woman months after police called her kidnapping a hoax

A California woman said the attackers broke into her home, took her away and held her for ransom, but police called the kidnapping a hoax. Now they have accused a man

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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 turnaround that came months after police called the kidnapping of deceit.

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Federal prosecutors charged Matthew Muller of Orangevale, California, with kidnapping last month after he was arrested in another burglary in the San Francisco Bay Area that bore similarities to the kidnapping, the FBI said in a affidavit unsealed Monday.

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

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He reported that the kidnappers broke into the couple’s home on March 23, kidnapping Huskins and demanding $8,500. Quinn’s lawyers have said he woke up to a bright light shining in his face and that two kidnappers tied him up and drugged him.

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

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

Go out, find out if there are any other guys out there and make sure the next time this happens they think before they speak.

Huskins and Quinn appeared at a news conference but did not speak to the media as their lawyers criticized investigators and called for authorities to set the record straight and apologize to the couple.

“What I want is for the Vallejo Police Department to do its job,” said Quinn’s attorney, Daniel Russo. “Go out there, find out if there are any other guys out there and make sure the next time this happens they think before they speak.”

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Huskins’ attorney, 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.

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

Investigators arrested Muller in South Lake Tahoe and found a laptop that resembled the one Quinn had. A search for a stolen car related to Muller turned up many other items, including a squirt gun with a flashlight and a laser pointer. People who claimed responsibility for the woman’s abduction emailed photos of the articles to a newspaper, Walter said.

A cell phone in the car had one of the same photos, and the vehicle’s navigation system showed a Huntington Beach address.

Chris Riley/Vallejo Times-Herald via AP, file
Chris Riley/Vallejo Times-Herald via AP, file

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

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

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 Dublin City.

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

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

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

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

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

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