Jail Worker Arrested for Allegedly Helping California Inmates Escape

by | January 29, 2016 AT 12:10 PM

By Richard Winton and James Queally

A 44-year-old woman who allegedly aided three inmates who made a daring escape from Orange County's largest jail was arrested Thursday, officials said.

The arrest confirms what many had already suspected, that fugitives Hossein Nayeri, Jonathan Tieu and Bac Duong received outside help when they broke out of the Men's Central Jail on Jan. 22.

The woman, Nooshafarian Ravaghi, 44, was an English as a Second Language teacher at Rancho Santiago Community College and had been working as a contracted employee at the jail for the last six months, according to Lt. Jeffrey Hallock, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

Nayeri had been attending one of the woman's classes, and they developed a friendly relationship from there, according to Hallock, who said police believe she "directly contributed to the escape and provided credible planning tools."

Ravaghi has denied providing the tools the inmates used to cut through several layers of steel during their escape. But Hallock said she did provide maps and other planning documents.

She was arrested Thursday afternoon.

Hallock also said police believe the fugitives are living out of a White GMC Savannah Utility Van that was stolen from South Los Angeles earlier this week. The trio stole the car after Duong replied to a CraigsList advertisement offering to sell the vehicle, Hallock said.

The trio escaped from the Santa Ana lockup sometime after 5 a.m. on Jan. 22, cutting through four layers of steel, metal and rebar as they moved through the jail's plumbing tunnels and an air duct. They ascended to the roof, one floor above the dormitory area where they had been housed, and used a makeshift rope of knotted bedsheets and cloth to rappel down the side of the building.

They haven't been seen since.

Police do not believe the men fled the country, or even the state. Investigators have turned their attention to the Little Saigon section of Westminster and Garden Grove, where Tieu lived. Tieu is also a known member of an area street gang, and Duong is a Vietnamese national.

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens appeared on several Vietnamese-language television and radio broadcasts Wednesday, asking for the public's help in finding the men. At the same time, the Sheriff's Office has turned up the pressure on the gang Tieu is affiliated with and other known associates of the fugitives.

At least 10 other people have been arrested since Wednesday as part of the escape investigation. Some of the men were gang members, others were detained because of probation violations.

Hutchens has refused to identify those arrested or say what they are charged with. But Hallock said some of those arrested were part of the same gang as Tieu.

The department has not identified the gang, but court records show Tieu was one of several members of the Tiny Rascals, a large South Asian gang known to operate in Orange County and Long Beach, charged in a 2011 murder.

The fact that a jail employee was involved in the escape plot is likely to stoke even more criticism of the Sheriff's Department, which has already been blasted for failing to detect the escape plot until late Friday night, more than 16 hours after the fugitives had vanished.

On Wednesday, Hutchens announced changes to the jail's head-count policies, which corrections experts have said the escapees were able to exploit.

Nayeri was awaiting trial in a brutal 2012 torture plot. Prosecutors allege he and several accomplices kidnapped a man, beat him, burned him with a blowtorch and severed his penis in an attempt to extort $1 million.

Tieu was set to be retried in the 2011 gangland killing. Duong was arrested and charged with attempted murder in late 2015, prosecutors said.

(c)2016 Los Angeles Times