Comments Off on Women: We were sex prisoners at drug den

They were subsequently found guilty
The two await trial, accused of kidnapping, sex assaults, thefts and conspiring
to kill a police officer. One says the women lied in an attempt to get out of charges against them. Their mother says, ‘We are a normal family. Police just found some candy there, and guns. No more than anyone else.’

•••

The handcuffs on the bedposts caught the officers’ attention.

It wasn’t the first time Tucson police officers had been to the mobile home five blocks south of the Pima County Jail. They went about twice a month to investigate a drug tip or a shooting.

The home, called the “compound” by police, was a nexus in a web of criminal activity characteristic of a methamphetamine cell.

Police allegedly linked theft, armed robbery, illegal possession of guns, drugs and drug use to the men who lived there and the men and women who drifted through.

This investigation, though, was different.

At least five women said they were raped, tortured, sold to Mexican drug smugglers for meth and injected with drugs while held captive.

Police found the handcuffs Aug. 9 during a search of the mobile home for a welding machine reported stolen from an Interstate 10 construction site. Police say they seized the welder and meth “in large quantities.”

The next day, an officer received an anonymous tip: A woman was being held captive there.

Over the next two months, five women described being raped, beaten or tortured by Howard “Duck” McMonigal, 35, and his half-brother Ignacio “Nacho” Rimer, 30.

They said almost all the abuse took place in the mobile home, 2640 S. Cottonwood Lane No. 1.

The brothers are awaiting trial, charged in an indictment with a long list of kidnappings, sex assaults and thefts. McMonigal, Rimer and Ryan “Rhino” Heidrich, 29, also are charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in what police say was a plot to kill a midtown police officer.

At least a dozen other people connected to the compound or the brothers were arrested and charged in related cases since August.

Police think there are more victims of sexual assault, perhaps dozens more, but investigators said the charges and the five women identified in the indictment represented the best, most provable case they could present to prosecutors. It’s unlikely more arrests will be made or more victims found, they said.

Some of the women told police and the Tucson Citizen they went to the compound because it was a well-known drug den and a collection center for stolen goods. They went for a variety of reasons, among them “visiting an old friend.” They said although they weren’t always guarded, they stayed, scared of being tracked down and killed.

Police are reluctant to discuss specifics of the case, saying they want to protect the “integrity of their investigation.”

The Tucson Citizen reviewed more than a thousand pages of police and court records to piece together the Tucson police investigation and the allegations made against the three men. Some court records were sealed, and records released by police were heavily redacted, with names and many details whited out.

Some of those involved, both directly and indirectly, confirmed information in the reports and provided information that filled in some of the blank spots during interviews with the Citizen.

The Citizen also received unredacted records and reviewed copies of sealed court records provided by some of the women, McMonigal and their friends.

Rimer and McMonigal were arrested in October. Rimer was arrested after Oro Valley police found him slumped over the steering wheel of an allegedly stolen car. He is in jail with bail set at $50,000. McMonigal was apprehended after police obtained search and arrest warrants and surrounded the home with SWAT officers. His bail was set at $250,000.

Heidrich was arrested May 12, seven months after he was named in the indictment in October. It is unclear where he was between October and May. He was in federal custody for part or, possibly, all of that time.

McMonigal said in a interview at the Pima County Jail in May that the charges were unfounded, characterizing the case as a dispute between neighbors blown out of proportion. He admitted to meth use and sex with all but one of his accusers but denied the rape allegations. The “meth” police seized, he said, was rock candy. He said the charges stemmed from the women’s attempts to talk their way out of charges against them.

“I’m no angel, but I’m not this,” he said, his hand on the eight-page indictment.

He is chafing at the wait for trial. “Eight months later, what’s due process?” he asked during the May 28 interview. “You don’t accuse someone of something if you don’t know what it is yet.

“They just threw in as much as they could, hoping that some would stick, that the jury will think if there are so many allegations, some must be true,” he said. “Basically, I was put in here on my past convictions.”

In October, Maria Bartlett, the brothers’ mother and owner of the compound, told the Citizen: “We are a normal family. Police just found some candy (thought to be meth) there and guns. No more than anyone else.”

“My sons could be accused of many things,” she said, “but not this.” She and a handful of women, who are friends and family, picketed the jail in October for her sons’ release.

Rimer declined requests for an interview. Heidrich could not be found for comment. Court records show he is in federal custody, though the Pima County Jail Web site indicates he is there.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Gus Aragón will set the date for the trial Dec. 2, according to court documents. The case has been delayed because of motions to send the case back to a grand jury and to divide the case by trying the three men or some of the charges separately and a request to provide victims and witnesses with attorneys. Aragón separated the weapons charges and the conspiracy charge from the main indictment but declined to send the case back to the grand jury or try the men separately. Most of the women have attorneys because they are facing drug, theft and forgery charges in other cases.

TIMELINE OF EVENTS

Timeline of the arrests, investigations and other events that ended with the arrests of Howard “Duck” McMonigal and Ignacio “Nacho” Rimer.

The information in the timeline comes from more than a thousand pages of police and court records and interviews with victims, police officers and McMonigal. The information includes allegations, claims and versions of events by police and others.

Some of the people mentioned in the timeline were arrested for an assortment of crimes. Some have been convicted or accepted plea bargains. Others are awaiting trial.

The Tucson Citizen’s policy is not to use unnamed sources, but is making an exception in this two-part series. To report this story and serve the public’s right to know, editors decided not to identify the rape victims because they are considered crime victims and out of concerns for their safety.

Police suspected women were being held captive and sexually assaulted at the mobile home at 2640 S. Cottonwood Lane No. 1 (1), known to police as “the compound.”

The collection of disparate cases that became the investigation started as a fraud case Aug. 4

Aug. 4 Joseph Lopez, 28, known on the street as “Jojo,” was spotted (4) leaving a mobile home where a prowler had been reported. When an officer searched his car, he found computers reported stolen two days earlier from a house rented by University of Arizona football players in the 3400 block of East Kleindale Road. (3)

The officer also found a flash drive and a smattering of altered checks and IDs, including one bearing a football player’s name and Lopez’s photograph.

The passenger in the car – Roxanne Escobedo, 40, Lopez’s cousin and sometime housemate – led police to a house in the 4400 block of East Fairmount Street (5) where Randy Chavez, 27, was staying. Two rifles and a shotgun stolen from the football players were found rusting by a swamp cooler on the roof.

Chavez and Escobedo were arrested two days later. (6 & 7)

Lopez told detectives he could lead them to a meth dealer who deals in pounds of the drug at a time. An investigator said in a report that Lopez and Chavez were known to police as having “associations with the suspects identified as being at (the compound).”

Lopez and Chavez were booked on burglary and theft by control charges. The pair and Escobedo were charged with three counts of possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited possessor and were released on their own recognizance. Escobedo was also charged with hindering the prosecution.

Aug. 9 A welding machine is stolen from an Interstate 10 work site. (8) The machine had an anti-theft homing device, which led police to the compound, 2640 S. Cottonwood Lane No. 1, where the welder could be seen in plain view in the yard.

Detectives searched the compound, seizing the welding machine and what police said were stolen vehicles, guns and a baggie thought to contain meth. The drug field test was inconclusive.

McMonigal, Rimer and their younger brother, Juan “Johnny” Rimer, 29, were arrested for the theft of the welder.

Several people were at the home when police arrived and some ran from police but were caught. They were questioned and found to have links to meth in police records. Among those rounded up was a woman who told police in October that she was being held captive at the time of that raid.

McMonigal and the Rimer brothers later posted bond and were released from jail. Charges against the Rimers later were dropped.

That same day, police arrested Juan “Turtle” Echevarria, 31, and Zachary “Roach” Roesch, 20, at a West Side hotel after they frightened workers there, roaming the halls with two women and guns for no apparent purpose.

Officers recovered several guns and baggies thought to contain meth. The pair were arrested for carrying concealed weapons, a misdemeanor, and released on their own recognizance.

One of the women with them is among the five accusing McMonigal and Rimer of kidnapping them. Police found four people’s credit cards in her wallet and meth in her purse.

Aug. 10 A woman told an officer that a woman was being held captive at the compound for stealing drugs from “Howard.” The officer went to the home and spoke with McMonigal, who had arrived from jail from the previous day’s arrest. No woman was found inside.

Sept. 1 A woman, who Citizen interviews determined was McMonigal’s girlfriend, asked two men she called “the main drug dealers in Tucson” for help because her sister was fighting with an ex-boyfriend.

The ex-boyfriend and his two brothers told Oro Valley police they were assaulted by two men named “Howard” and “Nacho,” who “lived across from the Pima County Jail.” (2) One said he was hit on the head with a rock. Another said he was beaten with a baseball bat and the third said he was pistol-whipped. The Citizen is not releasing their names because they are considered crime victims.

The alleged assaults took place at the 1300 block of West Placita Del Rey (10) near La Cañada Drive and Overton Road, a home that police said they go to often on drug tips and domestic fights. No one has been arrested in connection with the assault report.

Sept. 20 Tucson Detective Douglas Musick arrested Echevarria, Roesch and one of the women with them Aug. 9, for illegal gun possession at an apartment in the 2700 block of North Alvernon Way (11). The woman is not being named by the Citizen because police say she is a victim. Musick, who was working the identity theft case from the Aug. 4 and 9 incidents, recognized their names and knew they had previous felony convictions. Under state law, felons are not allowed to have guns. More guns were found in the apartment.

The woman was caught climbing out the apartment’s window to get away from police because she had a felony warrant for her arrest on a drug charge. She told police of an alleged plot to kill a midtown police officer and of the alleged torture and rape of women at McMonigal’s mobile home. She said Rimer and Heidrich intended to kill the officer who “arrested (Rimer’s) girlfriend.”

The three told police they knew McMonigal and Rimer, and Echevarria reportedly said he knew of fraud involving computers at Escobedo’s mobile home in the 700 block of West Budmoore Terrace. (7)

Sept. 21 Police closed the investigation of the plot to kill a police officer, concluding that, because the allegations were “more than a month old,” the case was “not credible.” However, all three men were indicted on a charge of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

Sept. 24 Police arrested Heidrich in the Pima County Jail (2) parking lot on a federal warrant for violating parole. The officers were members of the Major Offenders Unit who had followed Heidrich most of the day, waiting for a safe place to arrest him. They saw a sawed-off shotgun in plain view in Heidrich’s pickup truck and later found an assault rifle, ammunition, knives, gloves and a mask. Heidrich, on parole for weapons charges, was booked into jail. His home in the 3800 block of North Tucson Boulevard, (14) was searched.

Sept. 28 Officers spotted a stolen truck linked to four burglaries in an apartment complex in the 6200 block of East Pima Street. (12) They staked out the truck. Three people approached it, and two were arrested, but Jose “Guy” Gonzalez, 34, fled. Gonzalez forced his way into a nearby home, terrifying a woman and her child. He stole the woman’s minivan and tried to run down three officers. Police pursued the minivan and disabled its tires. Gonzalez then carjacked a Pontiac Firebird. During the pursuit he ran a string of red lights and caused several accidents. Police called off the chase because of the danger.

Oct. 2 Police found Gonzalez in a vehicle on the East Side. He ran, broke into a nearby home and stole an SUV. He drove back to the apartment complex on Pima (12), stole a pickup truck, which a police helicopter and Pima County Sheriff’s Department deputies followed to a home in the 5800 block of E. 24th Street. (13) Police found meth and “evidence of ID theft” inside the home. They arrested Gonzalez and Josh Pachecano, 34, both of whom were found with handguns. Pachecano and two others in the home said they knew about women being tortured and raped at McMonigal’s home.

The same day, detectives interviewed a woman who said she had been held and sexually assaulted at the mobile home for eight weeks.

Also that day, a man told police that McMonigal pointed a gun at him when he went to the compound to check on his girlfriend after getting a ransom call. When the man stopped in the Pima County Jail (2) parking lot to call police, 10 rounds were shot at him by two women in a pickup he saw earlier at McMonigal’s mobile home. No one was arrested.

Oct. 4 Police take reports from two women concerning the mobile home. The reports were heavily redacted by police and contained no details of their allegations. However, subsequent interviews by the Citizen, indicate both reported sexual assault and torture. It is unclear from the redacted police reports what prompted them to talk to police.

Oct. 5 A woman called detectives but it is unclear what she told them. However, Citizen interviews of other victims show it appears what she told police was similar to what they had reported, that the women at the compound were sexually assaulted with Tasers and guns, forced into “degradation rituals” involving chopped hair and humiliating poses, sold to Mexican drug smugglers for an ounce of meth and a $2 tip and injected with drug cocktails to the point of overdose.

That day, Oro Valley police arrested Rimer after finding him passed out at the wheel of a stolen car at the Placita del Rey house. (10) In a bag beside him were baggies of meth with dollar signs drawn on them, brass knuckles, syringes, jewelry, and a car title and a savings bond under a woman’s name.

That night, police got a search warrant for the compound and arrest warrants for Heidrich, McMonigal and Rimer. A SWAT team surrounded the mobile home and McMonigal was arrested outside the home.

A stolen ATV and stolen Harley-Davidson parts were found in the yard and three handguns, meth, homemade pornographic videos and sex toys were found inside. Several people at the home fled from police. A woman was found in a tarp-covered car parked in the yard.

April 23 Heidrich was released from Tucson federal prison, where he had been since he was arrested at the Pima County Jail (2) parking lot.

May 12 Heidrich was arrested by a Border Patrol agent in Sahuarita on a warrant that charged him with conspiracy to commit murder. The agent was working with the Fugitive Investigative Strike Team, a task force comprised on local and federal authorities. Heidrich was charged in federal court with three weapons violations.

Meth is the common denominator.

Deputy County Attorney Kellie Johnson is set to prosecute Howard “Duck” McMonigal, 35, his half-brother Ignacio “Nacho” Rimer, 30 and Ryan “Rhino” Heidrich, 29, on a slew of charges including conducting an illegal enterprise, kidnapping, sexual assault and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

The prosecution will rely heavily on the testimony of witnesses and alleged victims who have histories of methamphetamine use.

Some, including at least one woman who has accused McMonigal of holding her captive and raping her, admitted to involvement in crimes they say McMonigal coordinated.

Whom to believe may be a key question for jurors if the case goes to trial. And the choice likely will be between one meth user’s word and another’s.

The drug’s effects compound the believability dilemma. Among them are anxiety, confusion, paranoia and an inclination toward violence, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Web site.

Much of the testimony the prosecution’s case rests on was gleaned during postarrest interviews by the Tucson Citizen. It is unclear from publicly available documents what, if anything, those arrested were offered in exchange for their help.

The police report on the Aug. 4 arrest of Joseph Lopez – which marked the beginning of the investigation into McMonigal, Rimer and Heidrich – shows that Lopez offered to tell police about someone who dealt pounds of meth at a time if his charges were reduced. Several people with alleged involvement in crimes with Lopez and with McMonigal, Rimer and Heidrich were not charged.

McMonigal’s attorney, Cornelia Honchar, has argued in court documents for the release of information about the terms under which the witnesses spoke. Those terms, as well as the criminal histories of the witnesses, will help jurors evaluate the credibility of the claims, she said.

Questions of credibility

That information makes no one look good.

The accused, all but one of the women and many of their associates have local criminal records including some combination of charges ranging from theft, fraud and burglary to human smuggling, weapons violations and aggravated assault. Almost all have been convicted of drug possession. Many have been convicted of false reporting to law enforcement, and at least three women and several of their associates were arrested and booked into jail during the investigation.

The relationships of all those connected to McMonigal and Rimer, or their home, are complicated. Many dated each other. Some had sex once or met each other once. At least one accuser said she sometimes had sex with McMonigal voluntarily.

“Meth is an aphrodisiac, especially for women,” McMonigal, in a jail interview May 28, said in explanation. “We were promiscuous. It was casual.” He said he was a mechanic and he worked on their cars.

Jill Thorpe, Ignacio Rimer’s attorney, argued in a court document that the case should be returned to a grand jury because the women’s past convictions were not disclosed. If they had, Thorpe argued, “grand jurors could have concluded that these females were untruthful.”

In the middle of the dots

The winding course of the investigation could also make the prosecution difficult.

McMonigal and Rimer were arrested in October, Heidrich in May. The police investigation that led to the indictment unfolded almost accidentally, beginning with a bag of altered IDs and concluding two months later with allegations of torture.

“It mushroomed,” said Capt. Bill Richards, who oversees the investigation of violent crimes for Tucson police.

From August to October last year, police were constructing the case against the trio. But the chronology related to McMonigal’s home, 2640 S. Cottonwood Lane No. 1, put together by police fraud Detective Douglas Musick, recounts events that go back to January 2007. Most of the events listed are drug tips or suspicious activity calls, many of which came from two of McMonigal’s neighbors, police call logs show.

Although police were getting about two calls a month about McMonigal or his home, the mobile home – called the “compound” by police – was not investigated by the Counter Narcotics Alliance as a possible drug den. Assistant Chief Roberto Villaseñor said that was because police get more calls about other homes in town where drug sales are suspected.

“It wasn’t exceptional,” he said. “It’s easy to say after the fact, ‘Why didn’t you see the connection?’ When you’re in the middle of the dots, it’s harder to see the connections.”

Rape and torture

The claims of several women that they were being kidnapped, raped, beaten and tortured got more attention than the drug allegations, but the women said not enough. At least two of McMonigal’s accusers said they thought the investigation proceeded slowly because they are meth users and police didn’t believe them. Richards denied the allegation, saying that police investigated all leads and responded appropriately.

One woman, who gave the Tucson Citizen a 90-minute interview, said McMonigal injected her with drug cocktails to the point of overdose. She said that he tied her facedown to his bed and raped her while videotaping the assault, shocked her with a Taser, put a gun in her mouth and burned her with a hot meth pipe. Sometimes, she said, he would sell her to drug smugglers for an ounce of meth and a $2 tip. She said she didn’t get to keep the tip.

The Tucson Citizen’s policy is not to use unnamed sources. However, to fully tell this story and serve the public’s right to know, editors decided not to identify the alleged rape victim because she is considered a victim and there are concerns for her safety.

Like two of the other women accusing McMonigal of rape or kidnapping, she was an ex-girlfriend of his. She said she went to his mobile home for drugs and “to catch up with an old friend.” She left, scared and battered, about a month later, she said. “It changed me drastically,” she said.

The woman said she spoke to police on the condition that detectives would quash an arrest warrant for her that was issued after she failed to show up to a meeting with her probation officer because she was held captive.

“They tricked me into giving a statement,” she said of detectives. “Once they had the statement, they stopped returning (my) calls.”

Honchar has argued that the women went to McMonigal’s mobile home – often from the jail, which is five blocks away – and had sex voluntarily.

“They were street urchins with nowhere to go, no one to care about them and they didn’t seem to care about themselves either. So they went to the Cottonwood trailer to get off the streets,” she wrote in a court document.

Guilt by reputation?

McMonigal claims his prison time contributed to his charges.

Police questioned him in August about a tip that a woman was held captive in his mobile home as he arrived home from jail after spending two days there on theft and drug charges.

McMonigal’s and Rimer’s attorneys asked Superior Court Judge Gus Aragón to divide the charges in the indictment into separate court cases, arguing that the allegations or past crimes of one or the other of the defendants will “rub off” on their clients. They were successful in getting some charges separated from the main indictment, but not separate trials for each defendant.

The past convictions and the web of relationships that tie the accused, the women and their friends together take on heightened significance in this case because McMonigal and Rimer are charged with conducting a criminal enterprise.

The charge is a derivative of the federal racketeering statute, which is intended to obtain longer sentences for members of criminal organizations. To make a case, the prosecutor needs to show that the people indicted cooperated to make money through crime.

The alleged organized crime that allows the racketeering charge in the case was “being associated with” two of the women accusing the brothers of rape from 2004 to 2007, according to the indictment. Another document refers to one of the women as an unindicted co-conspirator. That woman said the meaning of the charge had not been explained to her. Her boyfriend, an alleged co-conspirator not named in the indictment, is McMonigal’s avowed enemy.

The charge could refer to one of several alleged offenses peripherally investigated in the case – illegal immigrant running from the border south of Douglas to Phoenix, meth smuggling from Mexico, auto theft, stolen good trafficking and vehicle identification number switching.

County prosecutor Johnson would not explain the meaning of the enterprise charge, saying that an explanation would reveal her theory and endanger her prosecution.

Not even McMonigal’s and Rimer’s attorneys are sure what it refers to. Honchar and Thorpe wrote memos to the judge asking that Johnson be forced to explain. The judge declined to make Johnson detail her reasoning.

Degree of protection unclear

Johnson said no more charges are expected and some of the women who saw the indictment are in hiding, fearing for their lives.

“First they labeled us strippers and meth addicts,” one woman interviewed by the Citizen said of police. “Then they labeled us informants. They’ve basically sentenced me to death.”

In 2001, the last time members of a large Tucson meth cell were tried, a key witness – Jasmine Holland, 25 – was killed before she could take the stand. The names of several people linked to that meth cell came up repeatedly in the Citizen investigation of this case.

One woman said the brothers’ female cousins tried to persuade them to retract their statements. Another woman said a reward was put out for her return to the compound after she escaped.

The degree of protection promised, offered or received by the women was unclear. At least two women complained they were not offered adequate protection, and officials at the Pima County Attorney’s Office declined to discuss specifics.

The chief investigator for the office, Ken Janes, said, “We would certainly offer whatever services the victims asked for.”

Court records show two of the alleged victims have evoked their victims’ rights since April.

An underreported crime

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the leading national advocacy group for sex abuse victims, has no numbers to quantify a correlation between rape and meth. But Lynn Parish, a spokeswoman, said that only 40 percent of sex assault victims contact police for some of the reasons mentioned by McMonigal’s and Rimer’s accusers.

They fear not being believed, being charged for related crimes or facing retaliation, Parish said. Some just want to put it behind them. “It doesn’t matter what the potential victim did or has done,” she said. “It’s never an invitation to be raped.”

The women, meanwhile, are in limbo. One is in jail, one in hiding and another is prohibited by her housemates from answering the phone. They fear not only the defendants but their friends, who may perceive them as cooperators or “snitches.”

“Who knows who will be around when the trial comes?” Musick, the detective, asked.

McMonigal, Rimer and Heidrich are in jail, unable to post bail, waiting for Dec. 2, when Aragón will schedule the date of their trial. Because the case is designated as complex, they lost their right to a speedy trial.

“When will I get a chance to prove my innocence?” McMonigal asked during an interview at the jail. Rimer declined interview requests. His attorney, as well as Nicki DiCampli, Heidrich’s attorney, did not return calls.

http://tucsoncitizen.com/morgue/2008/07/15/90938-women-we-were-sex-prisoners-at-drug-den/

Comments are closed.