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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Rape Suspect Pleads Not Guilty to 40 Charges

Courts: Counts against Andrew Stuart Luster stem from alleged attacks on three women. His lawyer says the encounters at issue were consensual.

August 02, 2000|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rape suspect Andrew Stuart Luster pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 40 criminal charges stemming from alleged attacks on three women, with his attorney arguing that the videotaped sexual encounters between Luster and the apparently unconscious women were consensual.

"Prosecutors are going to have more than a few problems proving this was rape," attorney Joel Isaacson said. "Every encounter, every photo, every video was taken with the consent of the women."

Luster's plea came as Ventura County sheriff's investigators finished reviewing about 50 home videos and dozens of photos that they say show as many as 15 additional victims who may have been given the date-rape drug GHB before they were allegedly assaulted.

The alleged victims appeared to have been unconscious during the attacks, authorities said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Becky Day said she expects to file more charges in coming weeks. Authorities are investigating five other assaults that allegedly occurred in Ventura County, Day said.

Dressed in a pale blue jail jumpsuit, Luster, the great-grandson of cosmetics giant Max Factor, fidgeted as he stood in a Ventura courtroom while Isaacson entered the not-guilty pleas on his client's behalf.

Outside court, Isaacson said the case has been overblown because of Luster's high-profile family.

"Because of the family name here, he is being treated differently," said Isaacson, who criticized a judge's decision to set Luster's bail at $10 million, one of the highest bail amounts ever set in the county.

Isaacson requested a hearing for Aug. 17 to argue for a bail reduction, saying bail in similar cases in the state is set at $50,000 to $100,000. He added that Luster's net worth, estimated by authorities to be over $30 million, is significantly less, but he declined to elaborate.

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Day said the high bail was necessary because of Luster's wealth and ties to friends and family worldwide. Although authorities confiscated Luster's passport, Day said that during a search of Luster's home deputies found evidence suggesting he had tried to obtain a passport under a false name.

Authorities have characterized Luster as a sexual predator who used GHB, or gamma hydroxybutyrate, to sexually assault women he met at clubs along Santa Barbara's State Street, well known for its stretch of popular college bars.

During a search of Luster's Mussel Shoals home on July 18, investigators said they uncovered dozens of videotapes and photographs showing Luster having sex with comatose women.

Investigators said the photos, videotapes and calls from the public have so far uncovered an additional 15 potential victims, six of whom have been identified.

Authorities said several of the alleged attacks may have occurred outside California while Luster vacationed in Las Vegas, Mexico and Arizona. And the alleged attacks are believed to have occurred as early as 1992, the date listed on one of the videotapes, according to court documents.

Investigators have reviewed about 200 videotapes recovered from Luster's home, 50 of which were home videos allegedly shot by the defendant. Dozens of those tapes showed Luster involved in sexual encounters with unconscious women, court documents said.

Sheriff's Department spokesman Eric Nishimoto said authorities are also receiving a few calls daily from women reporting to have been victims of Luster.

Isaacson said while the case has received worldwide publicity, prosecutors have only pursued charges in three cases. This indicates, he said, that these cases were consensual.

"If he's a predator," Isaacson said, "then why aren't other women coming forward? Here we are, two weeks out, and a number of other women have not come forward. I think that says something."

Luster was arrested July 18 after a 21-year-old woman reported she and a male friend were given the drug after meeting Luster at a Santa Barbara bar.

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Both said it was unclear how they ended up at Luster's Mussel Shoals home, but while there the woman reported she was given another drink by Luster that tasted odd. He reportedly told her the drink contained Liquid X, slang for GHB. He then allegedly sexually assaulted her repeatedly over the course of the night and into the early morning, authorities said.

Authorities said an ex-girlfriend of Luster was also drugged and sexually assaulted on videotape. The woman has said she had no idea Luster was taping sexual acts with her while she was unconscious in his beach home.

A third alleged victim is linked to another videotape, but she has not been identified or located, authorities said.

Isaacson said at least one of the alleged victims, the former girlfriend, is simply trying to get back at Luster because the couple's relationship ended on bad terms. After their breakup, Luster sued the woman for more than $4,000 he gave her for dental work. A judge later ordered the woman to repay more than $2,000, according to court documents.

"They had a bad falling out," Isaacson said. "You must hear both sides of the picture here."

Isaacson said Luster is in "good spirits" and added that his family supports him "100%."

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