Friday, October 24, 2014

future time orientation gone wild


salon |  This bizarre friggin’ case, which an Orange County grand jury is starting to unravel, isn’t just about a squabble between business partners. Ghoulish apartheid-era germ warfare experiments in South Africa are part of the story, and stashes of explosives and deadly germs and illegal firearms. Weighing the evidence available so far, it’s not clear whether Ford was a player in an evil international plot or just a brainy fruitcake dabbling in danger. But this much is clear: In the person of Larry Ford, someone’s big dreams found a refuge in Irvine, down where the megalopolis meets the desert and where, to paraphrase Raymond Chandler, the hot Santa Ana winds send housewives reaching for kitchen knives while they eye the backs of their husbands’ necks. 

Ford isn’t the first of his type. In the past few years, the biotech gold rush has churned up some strange characters, several of them medical men like Ford. At the University of California at Irvine Medical Center, with which Ford himself was affiliated for a while, a doctor sold donor organs for profit, a researcher put a radioactive substance on a colleague’s chair and Ricardo Asch, the fertility doctor, was losing so much money on his racehorse that he intermingled his patients’ embryos to improve his success rates. 

Ford himself doesn’t seem to have cared about money. He was apparently motivated by some twisted ideology and some genuine altruism, a nostalgia for apartheid, perhaps (he had ties to the old South African military), along with a dream of stopping AIDS with the product he’d designed, a vaginal suppository, or microbicide, that kills germs spread by sex. But in the land of the fast buck, in an era in which doctors become biotech millionaires overnight, greedy characters glom onto the Larry Fords of the world — the big-thinking science guys, the could-be-geniuses — like a cloud of sweet poison. And sometimes they get a lot more than they bargained for. 

The police insist that Riley’s shooting was a sideshow to the main events in the conspiracy. According to what Riley told police, he and Ford stood to make a lot of money from a new product, separate from the microbicide, which, citing commercial reasons, neither Riley nor other company officials will discuss. Money alone may have been enough reason for Ford, or one of his seamy pals, to take Riley out. Luckily for Riley, it was a botched job. 

The bullet ripped through Riley’s lip and gashed a cheekbone, causing flesh wounds light enough for him to be back at work within a few weeks. The bullet ricocheted into the window of a bank, and as the people inside turned their heads they saw a guy in a face mask run through the courtyard to the back parking lot. Then he just stood there — 15, maybe 20 seconds — until a van pulled up with its sliding back door open and the hitman dove into it. A fast-thinking bank manager got the license-plate number. 

The van belonged to Ford’s tax accountant, a Peruvian-born Altadena, Calif., businessman by the name of Dino D’Saachs. A witness told police he heard D’Saachs talking to a private eye named Glen Morales about “taking somebody out,” but Morales, a big dude with a blown-out back, didn’t meet the description of the shooter, who is still at large, according to Ray. D’Saachs was taken into custody right away, though. Ford was also a suspect — phone logs and other evidence linked him to D’Saachs the day of the crime — but he wouldn’t talk. 

On March 2, three days after the shooting, Ford killed himself. The suicide note claimed he was innocent of the attempted murder, but added that there was information hidden in the house of interest to the police. Only, when the note got to the part about where that information was hidden, it was illegible — “doctor’s handwriting,” police said. Or maybe it was just part of Ford’s last joke, which was to leave a tangle of clues to an existence that’s still largely a mystery. 

To be sure, a few of the more bizarre statements that police gathered about Ford, and subsequently used to get search warrants, simply haven’t been confirmed. For starters, there was the bit about the “white chimpanzees.” According to an affidavit by an Irvine police office, later unsealed by a judge, Ford and Valerie Kessler, his assistant and lover, drugged and had sadomasochistic sex with young women they referred to as the “white chimpanzees.” Then there was the report from a “reliable informant” that Ford “had a long history of treating female patients who ended up suffering multiple long-term illnesses ranging from cancer to abdominal infections,” and allegations of “longstanding unauthorized medical experiments on unwitting patients by infecting them with unknown germs.”