SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Matthew Muller had a resume built for success — a U.S. Marine veteran, Harvard Law School graduate and member of the California bar.
But his bright future began to unravel over the past several years, when he was fired from his job as an immigration attorney, filed for bankruptcy and lost his law license over allegations that he took a $1,250 advance from a client then failed to file a green card application.
This week, federal authorities charged Muller with kidnapping Denise Huskins, whose report to police about her abduction in March in Vallejo was initially dismissed as a hoax.
Muller, 38, of Orangevale, a Sacramento suburb, is also accused of trying to rob two people while they slept in June and assaulting one of them. He had been suspected in another robbery in 2009.
“This is just a shock,” said Bruce Day of San Mateo, whose daughter, Erin, is married to Muller’s stepbrother.
Day recalled meeting Muller once about four years ago at his daughter’s house for Christmas and said he was engaging and “seemed like a very nice young man.”
Federal prosecutors charged Muller with the kidnapping of Huskins after authorities determined his arrest in the attempted robbery in Dublin, California, had similarities to the abduction, the FBI said in an affidavit unsealed Monday.
Muller’s attorney, Thomas Johnson, has said his client suffers from bipolar disorder and will plead not guilty to the kidnapping charge. He has already entered that plea to the attempted robbery and assault charges, according to Johnson.
A July 1 search of a storage unit in Vallejo linked to Muller by federal authorities turned up several drones, a 4-channel wireless video camera and pliers with black duct tape on the handle
The kidnapping charge came even though Vallejo police initially discounted the account by Huskins and her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn.
Quinn reported that kidnappers broke into the couple’s home on March 23, abducted Huskins and demanded $8,500. His lawyers have said he awoke to a bright light in his face, and that two kidnappers bound and drugged him.
Huskins, 29, turned up safe two days later in her hometown of Huntington Beach, where she says she was dropped off. She showed up hours before the ransom was due.
Huskins and Quinn appeared at a news conference Monday but didn’t talk to the media as their attorneys urged authorities to set the record straight and apologize to the couple.
Vallejo police Capt. John Whitney and City Manager Dan Keene said officials can’t apologize or comment on the case.
“This is an ongoing investigation, it’s being conducted by the FBI and at their request we have been asked not to comment on any aspects of the case,” Keene said.
Muller was linked to the kidnapping after his arrest in the June attempted robbery and the discovery of evidence, including a water pistol equipped with a flashlight and laser pointer, authorities said.
The kidnapping and attempted robbery showed similarities to a 2009 home invasion in Palo Alto, police Lt. Zach Perron said. Investigators had considered Muller a suspect but did not have enough evidence to recommend charges.
Palo Alto detectives plan to go through evidence collected during Muller’s arrest in June for any potential links to the 2009 home invasion.
“Crimes like these are exceptionally rare in any city but especially in a small city,” Perron said. “It was a very troubling case for us from the get go.”
The FBI has said Muller may be responsible for additional crimes, but spokeswoman Gina Swankie, citing an ongoing investigation, declined to elaborate.
Associated Press writer Lisa Leff contributed to this report.