“Octopus Cold-Case File Stalled at DOJ”
For 28 years Rachel Begley has waited for the murderer(s) of her father, Ralph Boger, 42, Fred Alvarez, 32, vice-chairman of the Cabazon Indian Tribal Council, and Patricia Castro, 44, to be brought to justice.
For three of those years, Begley actively investigated the execution-style triple slaying while gathering documents and secretly taping interviews with suspects and placing them on her website: http://desertfae.com/indexnonplain.htm
The executions took place on June 30, 1981 while Alvarez, Boger and Castro relaxed in the back patio of Alvarez’s rented home on Bob Hope Drive in Rancho Mirage, California. The three victims each were shot with a single .38 caliber bullet to the head, according to an autopsy report. There were no visible signs of a struggle. Their bodies were discovered on July 1 by former tribal chairman Joe Benitez and Cabazon member William Callaway.
The two male victims, along with Benitez and Callaway, were scheduled to meet at 10 A.M. on July 1 with Steve Rios, an attorney in San Juan Capistrano, to initiate an investigation of Cabazon tribal affairs, according to the Indio Daily News dated 7-1-81.
Victims Alvarez and Boger had previously divulged their findings to the Daily News, currently known as the Desert Sun, asserting to the reporter that they were marked for death, but their story never got published.
The Indio Daily News did report the subsequent killings of Alvarez, Boger and Castro however. Staff writer Paul Zalis wrote that Indio City Manager Phillip Hawes confirmed that William Cole, a Los Angeles-based attorney, had been hired to investigate possible links between the triple slayings and the Cabazon Casino.
Cole said his office was coordinating efforts with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in investigating the murders. He noted that “sheriff’s deputies had confiscated papers from the Alvarez home and he expected officials to turn those over to his office.”
“Detective Gordon Hunter said the sheriff’s department was ‘investigating leads’ into the Alvarez slayings, but said he had no ‘knowledge’ of whether deputies had confiscated any of Alvarez’s papers,” wrote Zalis.
Alvarez’s mother, Phyllis, told the Indio Daily News that “she believed the murders were the result of a ‘Mafia contract.’ She also said her son was killed because he was trying to get the Cabazon Casino shut down.”
Rachel Begley was 13 years old when her father, Ralph Boger, and his friends were murdered. She never gave up hope that the killers would be prosecuted, and consistently prodded local jurisdictions over a span of years to get the case re-opened. Her efforts were rewarded when a Detective at the Riverside Sheriff’s department was assigned to the cold-case file in 2007.
Today, their respective findings resemble the stuff of spy novels, comprised of all the malevolent dynamics of clandestine government agents and organized crime figures involved in murder, money laundering and covert arms deals while exploiting Indian sovereignty (independent of most U.S. laws) at the Cabazon reservation.
The triple murders still remain officially unsolved and arrest warrants have been withheld by the Deputy Attorney General, California Department of Justice, despite the fact that multiple witnesses have been substantiated and one suspect has confessed his involvement and admitted he was a “hitman.”
The triple-homicide case was originally investigated by Deputy Attorney General Sanford Feldman and Special Agent Frank E. Brock respectively, both from the special investigations unit of the state Department of Justice, San Diego, California. Decades later, the same DOJ office is again stalling while the window of opportunity for arrests of the perps is rapidly closing.
Rachel Begley has withheld her story awaiting approval of arrest warrants from the DOJ. But now it appears prosecution is not on the horizon, possibly due to the complexities and magnitude of the case. If the warrants are not forthcoming, Begley is prepared to go public. For over a year she has promised Emmy Award winning journalist Nathan Baca at KESQ-TV in Palm Desert exclusivity to the unpublished details of the story. Baca is calling it “The Octopus Murders.”
On the tenth anniversary of the triple-murders, Barbara Clark, the aunt of Fred Alvarez, sent a 4-page letter to the Cabazon Nation in Indio. The letter was dated June 28, 1991.
Clark wrote that her nephew, Fred Alvarez, had visited with her in Truckee, California two weeks prior to his death. While they ate breakfast she said Fred discussed things that were going on at the Cabazon reservation, such as “dealings with the Contras, plans for weapons sales, and mismanagement of the tribal business.”
Fred told his aunt that he planned to meet with an attorney “to get everything documented.” He added that “the management of the tribal business wanted him out of the way --- He knew they had placed a contract out on him, and he even knew who the hit man was.” Clark didn’t ask the name of the hit man because she didn’t take Fred seriously at the time.
Clark, who is a Native American member of the Maidu Indian Nation/Pitt River in Northern California, wrote that a year after her nephew’s murder, a woman came to the delicatessen that she managed and mentioned that she was from Rancho Mirage. Clark noted that her nephew had been murdered there. As the conversation progressed, Clark said the woman told her, “Oh! I knew that the big Indian was going to be killed two weeks before he was killed.”
The woman explained that her boyfriend’s sister had been dating a “high roller” in Palm Springs who talked about the upcoming murder of the “big Indian.” Clark provided the information to the California Attorney General’s office, and was subsequently informed by investigators from the DOJ that the “high roller” was John Paul Nichols, Jr.
Clark said she flew to Riverside to testify before a Grand Jury, noting that it was about the same time that John Philip Nichols, Sr. was being charged with solicitation of murder of five other men. Clark wrote that “the Grand Jury failed to act on the evidence at hand – she was told later by a reliable source that there were too many big names involved, and the case was to be dropped. The case was then closed.”
The public background to the story begins with the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, located 25 miles east of Palm Springs, California. According to public historical data, on May 15, 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant issued an executive order which officially created the Cabazon Reservation, consisting of 2,400 acres over three parcels of desert (later reduced to 1,700 acres).
After more than a century in the desert, the tribal nation began blazing the path for Native American gaming in California. http://www.indiangaming.com/istore/Dec08_Cabazon.pdf
According to a San Francisco Chronicle article entitled, “Tiny California Tribe’s Huge Clout,” dated September 4, 1991, in 1980 a rundown warehouse was transformed into the “Cabazon Indian Casino,” the first Indian card room in the nation. Tommy Marson, described in congressional hearings as a known associate of the Gambino crime family, “lent the Cabazon tribal administrator, John Philip Nichols, $50,000 to start the casino, according to Nichols’ son, John Paul. The manager of the casino was Rocco Zangari, a former bookie later indicted on racketeering charges.”
Citing local ordinances forbidding gambling, Indio police staged a series of raids on the casino in 1981, but Cabazon lawyers fought back, winning a court injunction that not only prohibited local law enforcement from interfering with gambling activities on the reservation, but ultimately led to a Supreme Court ruling on February 25, 1987 that neither the State of California nor Riverside County could regulate the bingo and card game operations of the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians. This landmark case, known as the “Cabazon Decision,” made them the first tribe in California to establish non-regulated gaming and resulted in the creation of the Indian gaming industry. The Cabazon tribe had established high-stakes bingo that same year, in 1987.
The National Indian Gaming Commission was subsequently established pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. http://www.nigc.gov/
The purpose of NIGC is to “shield Indian tribes from organized crime and other corrupting influences; to ensure that Indian tribes are the primary beneficiaries of gaming revenue; and to assure that gaming is conducted fairly ---“
Today, there are fewer than 55 members of the Cabazon Band. http://www.fantasyspringsresort.com/cbmi/index.html
As owners and operators of Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, the Cabazon tribe oversees the 12-story, 250-room hotel, Vegas-style casino with nearly 2,000 slots, 40 table games, an off-track betting room, and virtual poker room as well as five restaurants.
The darker, more obscure aspects of this success story bubbled to the surface in 1980 when Fred Alvarez, vice-chairman of the Cabazon Indian Tribal Council, wrote a letter to Ronald Reagan outlining criminal enterprises that he had uncovered at the reservation. All copies of the letter disappeared after his murder, but a response, signed personally by Ronald Reagan, dated October 6, 1980 was subsequently found in which Reagan said he found Alvarez’s comments to be “very interesting.”
Authorities explain that the cash nature of Indian gaming made it an ideal business to launder money. That same lack of accountability made it easy for an outside management company to skim the vast majority of an operation’s income. “Someone will come in and manage the operation, when in fact the purpose is to skim the profits,” said one FBI supervisor.
Reagan was elected president of the United States the following year, in November 1981, five months after the Alvarez, Boger, Castro triple homicide occurred. With all resistance eliminated at the Cabazon reservation, it marked the beginning of government exploitation of the tiny band of Indians when “outside management” in the form of Cabazon tribal administrator John Philip Nichols formed a joint venture with Wackenhut International, a Florida-based security firm run by former FBI, CIA, NSA and military officials.
Police reports indicate that Nichols previously did business in Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, the Netherlands, England, Canada, France, Spain, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. In 1960 Nichols became the manager of a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Sao Paolo, Brazil, then he became a Pentecostal leader of the Chilean Pentecostal movement and attended several evangelical and gospel congresses in Bolivia.
When Nichols was hired in 1978, he wrote himself a 10-year contract with the Cabazon tribe that gave him 50 percent of the profits of any business he brought to the reservation. In the summer of 1980 and during the next three years, Nichols embarked on a series of international security and military ventures to provide security for Crown Prince Fahd’s Saudi Arabia palace, proposals to manufacture 120mm combustible cartridge cases on the reservation and in Latin America, along with 9mm machine pistols, laser-sighted assault weapons, sniper rifles and portable rocket systems. At one point he even sought a contract to develop biological weapons on the reservation.
In January 1985, John Philip Nichols was arrested for hiring a man to solicit the murder of five people, but the murders were not carried out due to his arrest. He was convicted of felony murder solicitation. (While serving 18 months in the California Institution for Men in Chino, John Philip Nichols’ son, John Paul Nichols, took over his position as acting administrator of the Cabazon tribe. In 1989, Mark Nichols inherited the position of administrator from his brother, John Paul Nichols).
A Los Angeles Times article entitled, “Indian’s Aide Held in Alleged Slaying Plot,” dated January 19, 1985 reported that Indio Police Capt. Carl Kennedy was unable to connect the murder-for-hire proposal leading to Nichols’ arrest with the unsolved July, 1981 execution murders of Fred Alvarez, Ralph Boger, and Patricia Castro in Rancho Mirage.
“The killings were investigated without success by the Riverside County Sheriff’s office,” according to the Times, “but official interest in the murders was renewed last year when Jimmy Hughes, a 27-year-old ex-Army Ranger, told authorities that he had been the payoff man in the Alvarez case.”
“Hughes, security director of the Cabazon band’s casino and bingo operations for four years until early 1984, reported that he had been instructed in [John Philip] Nichols’ presence to take $25,000 to the mountain community of Idyllwild in the summer of 1981 and give the money to a man there as partial payment for the Alvarez killings.”
The Los Angeles Times further reported that the Riverside County sheriff’s office and the state Department of Justice initiated an investigation, but after months without announced results, [Jimmy] Hughes went public with his information in October 1984, then fled the country.
Indio Police Chief Curtis R. “Sam” Cross, who worked on the murder-solicitation case against John Philip Nichols, told the Press Enterprise in Riverside, California in March 1985 that he sent a letter to Rep. Jim Bates, D-San Diego, requesting a congressional investigation of the Cabazon Indians’ business ventures.
Nothing ever came of all the investigations in the 1980’s.
Despite all the allegations set forth over the years, Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, refused to intercede in Cabazon affairs, noting, “ --- By solemn treaty with the Indian tribes, recently affirmed by President Bush, we must treat Native Americans as sovereign nations.”
In 1991 a series of events, including the death of Washington D.C. investigative journalist Danny Casolaro on August 10th, brought the Cabazon-related triple homicide back into national scrutiny. Casolaro had been preparing to visit Indio to investigate the Cabazon/Wackenhut connections to a cabal of spooks, arms dealers, drugs and organized crime figures which he dubbed “The Octopus.”
A San Francisco Chronicle article entitled, “Tiny California Tribe’s Huge Clout,” dated September 4, 1991, best summarized the failure of the justice system at every level to unlock the mystery of Cabazon’s forbidden secrets. Reporter Jonathan Littman mused: “In all, federal and state agencies [have helped] to finance nearly $250 million worth of projects on the 1,700-acre reservation. That is particularly impressive in light of the tribe’s size – the entire Cabazon population numbers no more than 30.
“To observers in and out of government, these undertakings pose an obvious question: How did a tiny band of Indians, one of the smallest in the nation, give rise to a multimillion-dollar network whose influence reaches into all quarters of the U.S. government?
“The answer lies in a maze of politicians, military officers, organized-crime figures, intelligence agents, foreign officials ranging from Saudi sheiks to Nicaraguan Contras – and John Philip Nichols, a globe-trotting evangelical social worker with an uncanny ability to win federal grants, who once served 18 months in state prison for solicitation to commit murder.
“Although the full story of the Cabazon reservation is still unfolding, there are indications that this network reaches far beyond the borders of the tribe’s land.”
Perhaps this is what Rachel Begley is up against as she awaits news from the California Department of Justice whether arrest warrants will be forthcoming for the murderer(s) of her father. The Detective at the Riverside Sheriff’s Department did his job, he solved the case. It’s now up to the DOJ to bring justice to the victims and their families, as well as closure to the dozens of investigators who worked the case during the past 28 years.