A woman pleaded guilty Tuesday -- and was immediately sentenced to five years in prison -- for framing the ex-fiancee of her now- estranged husband, a U.S. marshal, causing the victim to be wrongly arrested by Anaheim police and charged with stalking and attempted rape.
Angela Maria Diaz, 32, of Phoenix, Arizona, pleaded guilty to two counts each of kidnapping, false imprisonment, forgery and possession of a forged check exceeding $950, and single counts of perjury and grand theft. She also admitted a misdemeanor count of falsely reporting a crime to police.
The plea deal crafted by Orange County Superior Court Judge Nicholas S. Thompson allows her to appeal the kidnapping convictions which amount to two strikes, said defense attorney Allison Margolin.
Also, Diaz may continue to pursue a subpoena of her estranged husband's employment records to see if there's anything in his background that could help with the appeal or mitigate the convictions, Margolin said.
Orange County prosecutors were able to get some of the personnel records, but federal authorities have been reluctant to release all of them, Margolin said. Margolin's law partner, Thomas McMahon, said the appeal could set a legal precedent on the issue of using police officers as unwitting accomplices in a frame-up. Orange County prosecutors objected to the ruling on an appeal, McMahon said.
Diaz, who has been in custody since January, would have about three more years to serve. Had she gone to trial and been convicted, she would have faced up to 12 years and eight months in prison and another 11 years in jail.
"She's ready to take early responsibility and she doesn't want to waste any more resources of the court, or have the victims suffer the uncertainty of continuous court proceedings," Margolin said.
Odd news of the day
The 30-year-old victim, Michelle Suzanne Hadley, spent several months behind bars in the case due to what turned out to be bogus allegations, prosecutors said.
All charges were eventually dropped against Hadley, who was falsely accused of using online classified ads to encourage men to fulfill rape fantasies with Diaz in Anaheim, according to Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
Hadley, formerly of Ontario, was engaged for about two years to the U.S. Marshals Service agent who subsequently married Diaz in February 2016. The two subsequently separated, Margolin said, but it's not clear if their divorce has been finalized. His name was withheld.
Rackauckas said in January that Diaz had used sophisticated computer software to spoof emails and make it appear Hadley was posting online classified ads encouraging men to sexually assault Diaz. After Diaz staged an attempted sexual assault on herself in which she had red marks on her neck and breast, police arrested Hadley, he said.
At some point during the investigation, as authorities were seeking computer addresses for the origin of the emails, they began to suspect Diaz was framing Hadley, Deputy District Attorney Rick Zimmer said.
Diaz doctored a paycheck to add $2,000 to it, a crime uncovered during the investigation. Diaz also faked cervical cancer, masqueraded as an attorney, forged doctor's notes, faked a pregnancy and posed as two ex-girlfriends of her estranged husband, he said.
Hadley was previously falsely accused of directing multiple threats against Diaz and an "unborn child" via email between June and July of last year. It appears Diaz "faked a sonogram" of twins at one point, Zimmer said.
Hadley was served with a protective order June 6 of last year prohibiting her from contacting Diaz, but the false "stalking" continued, according to Zimmer.
After the posting of Craigslist ads inviting men over to fulfill "rape fantasies," at least two responded, including a 17-year-old boy, he said.
Diaz called Anaheim police June 24, 2016, to report that a man got into her garage and attempted to rape her before she was able to call for help and scare off her attacker, Rackauckas said.
Hadley was arrested later that day and the threatening emails ceased, Rackauckas said. But once Hadley posted bail and was released, the threats resumed, he said.
The emailed threats included images of decapitated bodies and aborted fetuses, the county's top prosecutor said.
Hadley was arrested again on July 14 of last year and was ordered held on $1 million bail. She was released on her own recognizance nearly three months later when investigators noticed the cracks in Diaz's story.
Investigators suspected Diaz might have learned how to spoof emails and disguise the origins of the correspondence through her job with a U.S. Bankruptcy trustee, Zimmer said. In that line of work, she became familiar with virtual private networks, or VPNs.