SANTA ANA, California — A woman who taught English classes at a California jail was arrested Thursday on suspicion of helping three inmates — including an alleged killer — escape the lockup, and the men are believed to be riding around in a stolen van.
Nooshafarin Ravaghi, 44, was arrested nearly a week after the men — one an alleged killer — cut their way last Friday through steel bars, climbed through plumbing tunnels, made their way to the roof, cut razor wire and, using rope made of braided bedsheets, rappelled four stories to freedom from the roof of the Orange County Central Men’s Jail. The escape wasn’t noticed for 16 hours.
It was the first escape from the maximum-security lockup in more than 20 years.
Ravaghi is among 10 people placed under arrest after the escape.
Ravaghi was taken into custody about an hour before the arrest was announced Thursday afternoon and remained jailed. It was unclear whether she had an attorney.
Ravaghi worked for the Rancho Santiago Community College District and taught English as a second language to inmates at the jail for about six months, sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Hallock said.
One of her students was Hossein Nayeri, who was awaiting trial on charges that he kidnapped and tortured a marijuana dispensary owner — finally cutting off his penis — in a bid to learn where he might have cached money.
“There was some type of relationship that developed between the two” that was close, Hallock said, but he didn’t know whether it was a romance.
Ravaghi denied she supplied any tools to the inmates, but investigators suspect she provided Google maps that potentially could have helped the inmates plan their route after fleeing the jail, Hallock said.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has said that Nayeri, 37, is believed to be the mastermind of the escape.
Hallock said investigators believe he and the others — alleged killer Bac Duong, 43, and Jonathan Tieu, 20 — are living in a white GMC Savana van that was stolen on Sunday in southern Los Angeles.
Duong apparently stole the vehicle from someone after responding to a sales ad and taking it for a test drive, Hallock said. “They may be driving around and potentially living in the back” of the van, he said.
Hallock said the ongoing manhunt has led to about 10 arrests so far in connection with the escape, with several other arrests made in connection with unrelated arrest warrants or probation violations. None of those arrests were of jail employees.
The investigation has centered on a Vietnamese gang in the nearby cities of Westminster and Garden Grove with ties to two of the inmates.
Tieu, Duong and Nayeri had all been awaiting trial for unrelated violent crimes.
Tieu is a 20-year-old who is accused of murder and attempted murder. Court documents obtained by 48 Hours’ Crimesider allege that Tieu is in a gang known as “TRG,” or “Tiny Rascal Gang.” Prosecutors say he shot and killed one man, and injured a juvenile, after a March 2011 fight that involved several gangs. More than 10 people were arrested in raids following the murder. Tieu was being held on $1 million bond in the case.
Duong, 43, is accused of shooting and badly injuring a man in November 2015. He was being held without bond since last month on charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, shooting at an inhabited dwelling and being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm. Duong is also believed to be associated with a gang, Hallock said.
Hossein Nayeri, 37, had been held without bond since September 2014 on charges of kidnapping, torture, aggravated mayhem and burglary. Nayeri and three other men are accused of kidnapping a California marijuana dispensary owner in 2012. They allegedly drove the dispensary owner to a desert spot where they believed he had hidden money and then tortured him using fire and bleach, authorities said.
The man was allegedly left for dead in the desert, but survived.
Police say Nayeri fled the U.S. to his native Iran, where he remained for several months. But in 2014, investigatory say they used a ruse to get Nayeri to the Czech Republic, which has a strong extradition relationship with the U.S. He was arrested in Prague as he was changing flights from Iran to Spain to visit family.