Fountain Valley man convicted of murder in night cruise off Dana Point – Orange County Register


A Fountain Valley man was convicted of murder and conspiracy Friday for killing another man at sea during a night boat trip in the ocean waters off the port of Dana Point.

Hoang “Wayne” Xuan Le was accused of conspiring with Sheila Ritze to lure Tri “James” Minh Dao onto Ritze’s boat on October 14, 2019 with the promise of an overnight fishing trip.

Dao’s body was found two days later by a fisherman floating in the ocean off Oceanside.

A federal jury deliberated for several days prior to finding Le guilty of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and use of a firearm during the murder. Given that the assassination was believed to have occurred in ocean waters, it became the rare murder case heard in federal maritime law.

Ritze, who is also charged with murder and conspiracy, will be tried separately.

Prosecutors during the trial alleged that he lured Dao onto Ritze’s boat to kill Dao over an unpaid debt, shot Dao, and then left him to die in the sea more than three kilometers from Dana Point Harbor.

Prosecutors stepped back on allegations made shortly after Les’s arrest that he had tied Dao weights and instead told the jury that Le Ritze had ordered the boat out of the area and left a Dao beaten and shot twice drown.

Le and Dao – along with several people Le boasted about after the murder who later testified against him – were members of the Orange County’s drug and gambling underworld, according to court statements.

During his own time at the booth, Le said he did not intend to kill Dao but was acting in self-defense when Dao pulled a gun at him during the fishing trip.

Le – a licensed drug user and dealer who lived in a house in Fountain Valley with his mother and older sister – said he was Dao friends and drug trafficking partner.

Dao at some point convinced Le to buy a vehicle under Les name that they could use to move large quantities of marijuana from Orange County to Las Vegas, Le said. Le also served as the driver during those regular trips to and from Vegas, he testified, as the couple carried between 10 and 20 pounds of marijuana per trip. Le received $ 100 per trip, his lawyer said, while Dao made between $ 8,000 and $ 10,000.

Le testified that Dao regularly borrowed money from him, while Dao also gambled away money owed to bookmakers, friends, and his marijuana suppliers. Suppliers included a dealer with ties to Mexican drug cartels and another who at one point tried to kidnap Dao, Les attorney told jurors.

Dao bragged about having million dollar life insurance, Le testified, and told the people he owed money they could cash out if something happened to him. Le admitted to others that Dao owed him up to $ 40,000, although he claimed during the testimony that the actual debt was much less.

Le testified that he and Ritze became friends after meeting in a Huntington Beach bar. Le denied having a romantic relationship with Ritze – an HOA manager and avid fisherman – instead saying the two of them hang out, drink and use cocaine.

Le admitted that at some point she drove to Las Vegas so that she and her mother-in-law could attend a Billy Idol concert at the Palms Casino.

The mother-in-law testified that during that trip to Las Vegas, Le made comments about “killing” Dao over a large debt by luring him out to sea under the guise of a fishing trip on Ritze’s boat.

Le denied making these statements to the mother-in-law, and his defense attorney alleged the woman was parroting allegations that prosecutors made public shortly after his arrest and that appeared in the news reports of the murder.

During a buffet lunch with Dao and his partner on October 14, 2019, Le said he invited Dao to join him and Ritze on a late-night lobster fishing excursion that evening.

Le testified that Dao asked him for $ 2,000 at sea and then got angry when Le yelled that he didn’t have the money. Le claimed that Dao pulled a gun at him.

“I was afraid I would be shot, I would be hit by a bullet,” said Le. “I’ve never had a gun pointed at me.”

Le testified that he had taken up his gun, which sparked a fight between the two, in which Dao was shot twice, one shot grazing his head and the second hit him in the back. Le said he grabbed a stick or broom after he was knocked down in the boat and hit Dao over the head before Dao fell into the water. Le added that Dao was still alive after falling into the sea when he confirmed that he told Ritze to leave Dao in the sea while they returned to the port.

Le later admitted telling several people – including one he didn’t know was a federal informant – that he shot Dao because Dao owed him money and testified that he was viewed as a “tough guy.” wanted to become.

Le’s attorney, Craig Wilke, described Le as a would-be gangster with a low IQ and difficulty processing information who “always bragged and behaved like a big boy.”

“He hangs out with dopers, drug dealers, tough guys,” said Wilke. “This is how he wants to be seen … He was joking. But that was his identity. Nobody was afraid of him. “

Prosecutors countered that the defense recognized Le as “incompetent” before questioning why his alleged plan was unsuccessful.

“You will see no rule that you will only be convicted of murder if you have a good plan. In fact, we’ve spent the past few hours hearing what an idiot he is, ”US Attorney General Greg Staples told jurors.

Staff member Emily Rasmussen contributed to this report.


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