Biofem Conspiracy Led by Ford, Probe Alleges
Crime: Investigators believe financial gain by co-founder, who later killed himself, was motive for botched hit of CEO.
In court documents released Wednesday, investigators for the first time allege that Biofem Inc. co-founder Larry C. Ford was the central figure behind the botched assassination attempt of his partner.
The 2-month-old probe into the shooting of Biofem Inc. CEO James Patrick Riley has focused almost exclusively on Ford and two longtime associates, one of whom is in custody, according to more than 170 pages of search warrants unsealed by a judge.
Until now, authorities have said little publicly about any role Ford might have played in the shooting and labeled him only as a "possible suspect." Ford committed suicide in March, a day after police searched his Irvine home in connection with Riley's shooting.
But the documents indicate that detectives quickly concluded that Ford "masterminded the assassination of the victim for financial gains related to the business activities of Biofem."
The search warrants don't provide further details about a possible motive nor outline the conspiracy against Riley. But in an interview with police, Riley said the company had achieved a major research "breakthrough" shortly before the shooting and that he and Ford planned to create a new company using the data that would be worth far more than Biofem.
Prosecutors contend that at least three people were involved in the attempt on Riley's life: a gunman, a getaway driver and the mastermind. Officials have left open the possibility that others played a role in the conspiracy.
They charged that Los Angeles businessman Dino D'Saachs, 56, drove the gunman to and from the scene of the shooting. D'Saachs, a close friend of Ford's for 20 years, has pleaded not guilty.
Detectives searching D'Saachs' home found an instructional manual on executing a successful hit, along with photographs of Riley, his home and his business.
The search warrants include information about D'Saachs' initial interviews with police. Soon after his arrest, D'Saachs told detectives that he was parked at the Irvine Spectrum the morning of the shooting but insisted he was there only to protect Ford, the warrants said.
D'Saachs said Ford had previously expressed concern for his own safety after taking out a $5-million insurance policy on himself for his business, according to the warrant. Such "key man" policies are common to protect businesses against the loss of a vital employee.
D'Saachs told investigators that as he drove from the parking lot near Biofem's office, a man dressed in black and carrying a small black bag stopped him to talk, the warrant said. D'Saachs said he stopped his vehicle, allowed the man in and then gave him a ride to a business about two blocks away, according to documents.
But the suspect's statement conflicts with accounts given to police by witnesses and Biofem employees. They told detectives they saw a man clad in black carrying a pistol run to the parking lot and dive into a car matching the description of D'Saachs' van.
Moreover, Biofem's attorney has insisted that neither the company nor anybody else had an insurance policy on Riley or Ford.
The Biofem case has puzzled detectives and left a trail of clues from Irvine to South Africa.
The mystery began Feb. 28 when the unidentified gunman, clad in black, fired a pistol from close range at Riley as the Biofem executive left his car. The bullet ricocheted off Riley's cheekbone and smashed through a nearby office window, sending an employee scrambling backward as shards of glass showered around his feet.
Ford committed suicide later that week. Authorities then evacuated more than 200 Irvine residents as police dug up a cache of illegal weapons and explosives from Ford's Woodbridge neighborhood home.
Detectives also hauled away suspicious substances stored in jars from Ford's refrigerator. Tests revealed that some of the samples included germs that cause typhoid fever and cholera. Sources have told The Times that FBI agents are trying to determine whether Ford was using the bacteria for research on biological weapons or for work related to Biofem.
According to the search warrants, detectives began widening their probe beyond Ford and D'Saachs within weeks of the shooting. One figure that featured prominently was Ford's longtime colleague Dr. Jerry Nilsson.
The Anaheim surgeon told investigators that he was working with Ford on a "great humanitarian effort" related to Biofem's female contraceptive device in South Africa. Several people close to Ford told detectives that Nilsson had made an offer to buy Biofem, according to the police documents.
Eventually, police obtained a search warrant for Nilsson's home. Mindful of the discoveries at Ford's home, police called in a small army of SWAT officers and a hazardous materials team in preparing to search Nilsson's dwelling. Nothing hazardous was found, however.
In their search warrant, detectives called Nilsson a "primary suspect" in the case. But police have not arrested him and said that Nilsson was fully cooperative during a second interview with detectives.
During the course of the investigation, police heard from some women who complained of problems ranging from cancer to abdominal infections after receiving treatment from Ford, according to the documents.
State and county health care officials investigated the cases of a handful of women who came forward with complaints. However, officials concluded there was no pattern of symptoms to suggest that Ford experimented on patients and terminated their probe.