LA shakedown exposed as wealthy Saudi’s son beats US$20m fake rape claim
Three charged with extortion and several acts of conspiracy after 23-year-old Saudi man accused of rape, torture and imprisonment
The young Saudi man had been in Los Angeles for about a year studying English when the horrific accusations came to his door.
A woman he'd met during a 2012 family trip to Vienna had come to visit him in Los Angeles. But not long after she arrived, the woman went to police, saying the 23-year-old Saudi had raped, tortured and imprisoned her in his stylish Wilshire Boulevard high-rise condominium.
The charges stunned Thamer Albalwi and his family, one of the wealthiest in his native Saudi Arabia. Quickly, they raised US$3 million (HK$23.25 million) in bail to free him from jail. He stayed in his adoptive home and resolved to clear his name.
Albalwi appeared to achieve his goal, with a stunning reversal in recent days: Los Angeles authorities declared on Monday that the woman accusing him of abuse had concocted her story and then conspired with two prominent attorneys in an attempt to extort as much as US$20 million from the student's family.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Dabney on Friday declared Albalwi factually innocent while authorities charged Leyla Ors, 33, and lawyers Joseph Cavallo and Emanuel Hudson with extortion and several acts of conspiracy - to commit extortion, to receive a bribe and to obstruct justice. If convicted, each could spend up to four years in prison.
Despite his ordeal, Albalwi plans to continue his English studies in Los Angeles. "I prayed that the truth would come out," Albalwi said in a statement, "and, thanks to the American justice system, it did."
Ors appeared briefly in court on Monday but a judge postponed her arraignment one day. Cavallo was also scheduled to be arraigned; Hudson is slated to face the charges later in the month.
Albalwi met Ors in 2012. His family had travelled to Austria, and the young woman of Turkish descent became their guide.
When he arrived in Los Angeles about a year ago for his English studies, a correspondence with Ors soon began. They eventually arranged that she would come to southern California.
But before the visit ended in early March, Ors was telling authorities that her host had beaten and raped her and burned her with cigarettes.
Albalwi's father hired Alan Jackson, a former Los Angeles prosecutor who once ran for district attorney, and his team put together telephone and credit card records, e-mails, text messages and surveillance video that showed the accuser's allegations did not add up, the lawyer said.
Speaking for Ors early in the case was Cavallo, who was sentenced to six months in jail in 2007 after three felony convictions for paying bail bondsmen to steer business his way. The state bar suspended his law licence, but he was reinstated in 2010.
Cavallo's attorney said Cavallo had taken a phone call from the Albalwi's representatives but that a request that they pay US$20 million was merely a mention of the "civil claim aspect" of the case, not an extortion attempt.
Authorities allege that on June 30, Hudson, the second lawyer representing Ors, called Albalwi's father - Sheikh Mansur Albalwi - and said a payment of US$15 million would mean that "Leyla would not testify" and the case against the son would be over. The sheikh spoke to Cavallo about the US$20 million and Cavallo said a bank account would be set up to receive the funds, prosecutors said.
Jackson said that others might have jumped on a plane and fled the country.
"But that never crossed his mind or his father's mind," Jackson said. "That showed enormous character. They allowed the legal system to do its job."