|Courtesy Tyson Wrensch|
Kaushal Niroula, 27, and Daniel Garcia, 26, both suspects in an alleged scheme to loot the assets of a missing Palm Springs man, have been charged with murder, according to new filings in Riverside County court. Both men face charges of murder while committing a felony, and murder for financial gain, which carry a penalty of death, or life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
As first reported in SF Weekly,
Niroula and Garcia were earlier charged with fraud in connection with an alleged scheme to loot the assets of Cliff Lambert, 75, a former art dealer who was last seen Dec. 4. The scheme involved emptying Lambert's bank accounts, attempting to fraudulently sell his home, taking his Mercedes sports car, and attempting to empty his house of valuables, police said.
"There were five or six people, Mexicans, in a U-Haul truck, and there was a guy rattling Cliff Lambert's gate, trying to get in," said a man who lives across the street from Lambert's house, who informed the police Jan. 7 of an apparent robbery attempt.
The Police arrested the man at the gate, a San Francisco barkeep and friend of Niroula's named Miguel Adolfo DeLeon Bustamante. Under interrogation, Bustamante told police he'd been paid to empty Lambert's house. Bustamante fingered several associates as involved in Lambert's disappearance, including Niroula, Garcia, San Francisco attorney David Replogle, and Russell Herbert Manning, an art consultant who had worked in Union Square galleries. Court records do not show Manning as being charged with murder in the case.
Niroula and Garcia were longtime friends, and denizens of the
Castro bar scene, who have separately been alleged to have conducted
various fraud, theft and impersonation schemes unrelated to the Palm
Springs fraud and murder charges.
been charged in San Francisco with stealing $485,000 in an alleged
scheme to defraud a Peninsula art collector, supposedly with Manning's
help. He's been accused in a federal lawsuit of a $500,000 fraud in
Hawaii, and he faces charges in Marin County that he stole $300,000 in
jewelery from a 78-year-old woman.
"We really saw him as someone who
needed our help. That was our reason for letting him come around. He
was sort of like a lost kid," said Mark Evans, a real estate
professional who had counted himself as Niroula's friend
Evans contacted police, however, when Niroula attempted to enlist his help in the fraudulent sale of Lambert's house.
had also been accused in the past of unrelated schemes to obtain money
through fraud and theft. There has been a warrant for his arrest in Las
Vegas in connection with allegations that he looted the bank accounts
of a former friend. And attorneys for San Francisco stockbroker Thomas
White allege that Garcia stole thousands of dollars from his accounts
after Garcia accused the old man of abusing him sexually.
to people who knew Lambert, the older man had been suffering a low
point in his life at the time of his disappearance. Beginning in April
of 2006 Lambert had been involved in a dissolution case with his long
time domestic partner Travis Lambert, who would have been 35 had he not
died in a drowning accident in August, 2007. During the dissolution
proceedings, court records show, the Lambert home was the site of
disturbance reports and requests by the younger Lambert for a
restraining order against his partner.
to two different friends of Garcia's, he had traveled to Southern
California to visit Lambert, who he referred to as his friend.
According to these friends of Garcia's, the younger man had claimed to
be astonished when he heard news that Lambert had disappeared. Garcia,
however, remained at large for about a week after his friends were arrested, before he was apprehended at
a friend's house in Sacramento earlier this month.