Exclusive: O.C. jail escapee denies kidnapping, torture allegations

ORANGE – Hossein Nayeri says his eight-day stint as the nation’s most-wanted man was as tense as it was fleeting.

Nayeri, charged with torture and recently likened by an Orange County prosecutor to movie villain Hannibal Lecter – and who authorities say led a brazen three-man escape last month from the Central Men’s Jail – said Friday that the high-profile odyssey was more stressful than liberating.

“I didn’t want anyone to get hurt,” Nayeri said, at times speaking in a near whisper and occasionally flashing a toothy grin. “I wouldn’t say it was enjoyable.”

Nayeri, 37, offered his first public comments about the drama during an exclusive interview with The Orange County Register in the visitor’s center at Housing Unit P in Theo Lacy Facility, a maximum-security jail in Orange.

Nayeri insisted he’s been unjustly treated by everyone from authorities to the public, and that he’s not the demon portrayed by the media and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. He spoke in a calm voice. His hands trembled occasionally as he cradled a jailhouse phone.

Nayeri said he is innocent of the criminal allegations that landed him in jail two years ago. In 2012, authorities say, Nayeri led a group that kidnapped and brutalized a Newport Beach medical marijuana distributor, and that Nayeri ordered a member of his group to cut off the man’s penis.

“I’m a nice guy,” he said.

“I’ve done a lot of things for humanity that are opposite of what I have been accused of.”

He declined to elaborate, one of many topics he chose not to discuss in detail.

Clean-shaven, relaxed and recently bathed, Nayeri said he closely followed regular media briefings held by Orange County sheriff’s officials during his time on the run with inmates Jonathan Tieu, 20, and Bac Duong, 43, and a cab driver allegedly kidnapped by the fugitives.

He smiled when he said he disliked his public portrayal.

“The media coverage was insane. I was convicted in the court of public opinion. It blows my mind.”

Nayeri bristled, but didn’t comment, when asked if he organized the escape.

Sheriff’s officials say early in the morning on Jan. 22 the three inmates used tools to cut through metal grates and climb through a plumbing conduit. Officials say the men eventually used bedsheets fashioned into ropes to rappel five stories from the jailhouse roof.

Nayeri also seemed incredulous, but again did not comment, when asked about speculation that a drone brought them the tools needed for the escape.

And Nayeri sat silently when asked if he wanted to kill the 74-year-old cabbie, Long Ma of Westminster or if he fought with Duong over the matter, as Ma has said.

“I’m an open book, but there are things I can’t talk about,” Nayeri said. “And there are a lot of things to talk about.”

Nayeri said some family members have been to see him in jail since his recapture, and he regrets how the escape and subsequent media attention affected them.

“I love my family. I’m sorry I put them through stress.”

Nayeri defended Nooshafarin Ravaghi, a woman who worked part time at the jail teaching English to inmates and who authorities said played a role in the jailbreak.

Ravaghi, 44, of Lake Forest was arrested by the Sheriff’s Department amid accusations that she helped the three inmates escape. Officials said she helped them by bringing Google Maps.

However, Orange County District Attorney District Attorney Tony Rackauckas released her from custody, saying there was insufficient evidence to charge her with a crime. He said later it was unfortunate that she was labeled a co-conspirator.

“She should have never been arrested,” Nayeri said.

He declined to describe his alleged relationship with Ravaghi.

Nayeri also declined to say if he’s guilty of the latest charge against him, escaping from custody. But he complained about the two years he has spent in Orange County jails on a host of charges including kidnapping, aggravated mayhem and torture.

“At first, I was very emotional and cried,” he said.

“(Now), I’m numb. I can’t believe I’m still here.”

Nayeri and Tieu were recaptured on Jan. 30 in San Francisco after a homeless man spotted a white van that had been publicly identified as their vehicle and alerted local police. Duong turned himself in on Jan. 29, telling a female friend who works at a Santa Ana auto parts store to call police.

Nayeri asserted Friday that some actually benefited from the manhunt.

“It didn’t seem to bother (sheriff’s deputies),” he said. “They made a lot of overtime.”

Nayeri is hopeful but not optimistic a jury will find him innocent. “Juries can be funny.”

Contact the writer: sschwebke@ocregister.com

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