South Lake Tahoe man pleads guilty to Vallejo kidnapping
A South Lake Tahoe man pleaded guilty to one count of kidnapping and could face life in prison for an abduction that was at first deemed a hoax by police.
Matthew Muller, 39, was accused of kidnapping Denise Huskins from her Vallejo home last year and demanding ransom amounts totaling $15,000, according to court documents.
Muller allegedly entered into the home of Huskins and her boyfriend Aaron Quinn on March 23, 2015. He bound, blindfolded, and drugged them before playing a prerecorded message to the victims that threatened face cutting or electric shock if they did not cooperate.
Muller is accused of putting Huskins in the trunk of a car and taking her to his residence in South Lake Tahoe where he kept her for two days.
Muller sent emails to Quinn demanding ransom and also to a reporter in San Francisco, claiming that the kidnapping had been carried out by “a group of elite criminals who were perfecting their kidnapping-for-ransom tactics,” according to the office of U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert.
Huskins was dropped off two days later at her parents’ home in Huntington Beach.
Authorities booked a flight for Huskins to Northern California to interview her about the abduction, but when she did not get on the plane, Vallejo police grew suspicious.
In a written statement filed in court documents, retired police Capt. James O’Connell said she “did not act like a kidnapping victim.”
“I found it unusual that she denied being a victim, did not wish to speak with Huntington Beach police, and instead wanted to speak with her lawyer,” said lead investigator Det. Mathew Mustard in court documents.
“Strangest of all, when law enforcement arranged to fly Ms. Huskins to Vallejo, where all her family had gathered, she rejected the offer. I found it odd that a recently released kidnap victim would not want to go to her family.”
Muller was ultimately identified as a suspect in the Vallejo kidnapping due to an investigation into a burglary that occurred in Alameda County on June 5. He was arrested by Dublin Police Services, and a search of his South Lake Tahoe residence and storage locker in Vallejo revealed evidence pertaining to the case.
Aerial drones referenced in emails to the reporter were uncovered, along with a sound recording consistent with the one described by Huskins and Quinn. A video recording of Muller with a blindfolded Huskins in his residence was also found.
Muller, once an immigration attorney at a San Francisco law firm and a U.S. Marine, was disbarred in 2015 after filing for bankruptcy. In a sworn federal affidavit, he told investigators he suffered from psychosis and bipolar disorder.
He previously pleaded not guilty to the kidnapping charge.
Muller is set to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley on Jan. 19, 2017 and faces a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.
If he “accepts responsibility and adheres to his promises in the plea agreement,” then the government will recommend a sentence of no more than 40 years, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert.
“Muller committed a serious and violent crime that terrorized the victims in this case. He violated the sanctity of their home and caused fear and panic for all those affected by the kidnapping,” said Talbert.
“We are committed to continuing to seek justice in this case as it continues to sentencing.”