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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Luster Denies Charges, Adding His Life Is Now a 'Nightmare'

Courts: From a jail cell, the Mussel Shoals millionaire says accusations of rape and kidnapping are 'ridiculous.' Judge will decide Thursday if there is sufficient evidence for a trial.

September 03, 2000|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Andrew Luster knows what people are saying.

They say he is a millionaire rapist who preys on young women. They say he slips sedatives into their drinks before attacking them. They say he likes to videotape his assaults so he can watch them over and over.

Luster denies it all.

"This is ridiculous, overblown and outrageous," said Luster, who is being held in Ventura County Jail on $10-million bail for 50 counts of kidnapping and rape in connection with alleged assaults on three women.

"Prosecutors are just slinging as much mud at the wall as they can and seeing what sticks," he said.

From his jail cell last week, Luster, 36, said he is anxious for his preliminary hearing, scheduled for Thursday. That is when prosecutors will present their evidence to a judge, who will decide if it's strong enough to go to trial.

As he spoke, Luster sat in a pale blue jumpsuit, looking tired from the strain of the past few months. He described his current situation as "a nightmare." He is locked in a single cell 23 hours a day, a consequence of being a segregated inmate because of his famous family and high-profile case.

It is a far cry from the life he is used to.

He grew up in an oceanside home in Malibu. His neighbors were the rich and famous--Barbra Streisand, Larry Hagman, Michael Landon.

His mother is Elizabeth Luster, granddaughter to Max Factor, the cosmetics king who built a financial empire pushing makeup to Hollywood's elite. The family sold the business in 1973 for $480 million, and Elizabeth Luster inherited some of the cash. She married, had two children, and bought homes in Malibu, Sonoma, Beverly Hills and Pacific Palisades.

Luster, whose friends call him Drew, graduated from the private Windward School in Santa Monica, where field trips included excursions to Hawaii, Mexico, and skiing in Utah. His 1981 graduating class, made up of just 24 students, voted their classmate Most Frank "for his forthright and often blunt appraisals of his surroundings."

It was during these years that Luster developed a love of outdoor sports. Next to his name in his high school yearbook, he stenciled the words "surfer, skier, skater, student."

But that was all a lifetime ago for Luster, who is still stunned at the turn his life has taken.

"I'm a pacifist," Luster said. "I've never been in trouble with the law before . . . And I've never hurt anyone in my life."

He is angry at the way authorities have characterized him, notably claiming he had dozens of videotapes of himself raping women rendered unconscious with the date-rape drug GHB.

Most of the estimated 200 tapes seized at his seaside home near Ventura were store-bought movies, he said.

"Maybe twelve of those were homemade," Luster said. "And only about eight of those had women on them."

Yes, those eight do show him engaged in sexual acts with women, Luster said. But the women were not unconscious, he said. And it was not against their will, Luster and his attorneys insist.

His glitzy family name is partly driving the case, Luster believes. Authorities and prosecutors, eager to grab a little glory of their own, have overblown the facts, he said. He bristles at their reports that his self worth is an estimated $31 million--an amount that prompted a judge to slam Luster with an unprecedented $10-million bail.

A family friend put Luster's assets at closer to $2 million or $3 million. Luster, however, said he lives on about $60,000 to $70,000 a year, derived from interest, real estate deals, and the stock market.

Topmost in his mind these days, he said, are the two children he shares with a former girlfriend. He hasn't seen Connor, 9, and Quinn, 6--both of whom were living with their mother in Pacific Palisades--since his July 18 arrest.

"My heart is broken, I miss them so much," Luster said.

But most thoughts are consumed with trying to answer the hefty charges prosecutors have levied against him. It will all come out in court, he insists, and the facts will stack up in his favor.

Prosecutors disagree. He is a danger to women, they argue, with multiple victims in Ventura, Santa Barbara, and possibly Arizona, Nevada and Mexico. Deputy Dist. Atty. Rebecca Day has hit Luster with enough counts to send him to jail for life, plus 150 years.

Carefree Lifestyle

After a privileged childhood, including a nanny and private schools, Luster began a life filled with surf, travel and the party scene.

At 18, he bought a modest, one-story beach-side home in Mussel Shoals. He enrolled in community college in Santa Barbara, but quit before graduating.

He never took on a full-time job. He spent time trading stocks and trying to develop the occasional real estate deal. He also dabbled in small business ventures, such as the time he and a former girlfriend sold fish-shaped pillows from a stand in Mexico.

But mostly he loved outdoor activities. He skied, on the snow and in the water. He enjoyed mountain biking and kayaking.

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