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Helping Out Disabled Senior Citizens


Crystal Aikens had her day in court, a bunch of days that took up most of last week. The old girl seemed to revel in being the center of attention, although she was doing it the hard way. Crystal's beau from the Water Trough bar on south State Street showed up to watch and cheer her on, and Crystal looked pretty good in her County-issued orange jumpsuit, a color that suits her blazing Irish complexion. The Trough closed down permanently over the weekend (August 1st) and the whole gang, left with no entertainment center, was in court to see the fate meted out to their former drinking buddy.

Ms. Aikens was already in dire straights with the justice system. She had a prior strike from when she was caught selling stolen property in the Water Trough parking lot late last April. She went from that one to rip off a couple of elderly gents — one a disabled veteran — at the local Motel 6, where about half the crime in the city of Ukiah goes down.

Tom Bodett, the guy who does the famous ad for Motel 6 — “We’ll leave the light on for ya!” — probably wasn’t referring to Crystal Aikens when he left the light on. She's given the place a reputation as a con artist’s dreamland, a patch of easy pickings, with a “mark” in every room.

But let’s back up a ways to April 25th when Steve Pardini and Melanie Montanos returned to their Robinson Creek home to find the place thoroughly ransacked. Fortunately, the couple had placed motion-activated game cameras around the property and were able to print out photographs of three women carrying off their belongings in a silver pickup with a dent in the fender.

The next day, April 26th, as Ms. Montanos was driving past the Water Trough, she saw a group of people clustered around the tailgate of a silver pickup with a dented fender. It’s a big parking lot, and after turning down the side street to enter the parking lot from behind the bar, Ms. Montanos stopped, got out, walked over, recognized the items being sold, and confronted the women — who were doing a brisk business.

A regular dust-up ensued. No one offered to help the struggling victim, Ms. Montanos, who was eventually thrown to the ground as another of the female thieves sped off in the silver pickup. The tailgate was down and chainsaws, cordless drills, game cameras and shotgun shells tumbled out into the parking lot.

Enter Sheriff's Deputy Orell Massey. A tall, lean former Marine, Massey is a textbook authority figure. You mess with him at your peril. Massey has patrolled the south side of Ukiah for the past 20 years and knows most, if not all, the players in the eternal game of cops and robbers that goes on in that patrol sector, which is just outside of the Ukiah city limits.

The deputy spoke first with the Water Trough’s long-time maintenance man, Roger McKee, who said that the three women had come in that morning asking if they could sell some tools and what-not in the parking lot. The scrupulous McKee said he told the women the items had better not be “hot,” and went out with some of the regulars to have a look.

The regulars at the Trough already have most any tool a guy could need or want, so their curiosity amounted to no more than a cursory glance, and best wishes, ladies, and let’s get back to the dice game at the bar. So they were indoors when the commotion started, and it was unclear who summoned Deputy Massey. But one member of the sales team working the parking lot had been left behind.

In one corner of the parking lot, under the shade of an oak tree, a woman Deputy Massey recognized as Crystal Aikens, was casually sitting in a chair by the horseshoe pits. As Massey approached Aikens, he noticed the telltale signs of the tweaker, and it wasn’t long before he had the story from Ms. Aikens. A story anyway. In a full-on jabber-mouth-meth-rush, she told Massey everything, a full confession of which maybe a few of the minor grammatical connectors, such as the articles 'and' and 'the' might have been true.

One info-item Deputy Massey learned was that the silver truck belonged to Mari Leahy. Aiken also told Massey that she only wanted to help Leahy and the other culprit, Debra Harrison, sell the tools. She had nothing to do with the burglary.

“If silence was golden,” Mose Allison sang, “you couldn’t raise a dime.”

Leahy, Harrison
Leahy, Harrison

Leahy and Harrison, however, later said that Aiken had taken them to the Robinson Creek property, saying it belonged to her grandfather and that she’d been given the tools by dear old grandpa. They said Aikens showed them how to remove a loose fencepost in order to go around the locked gate. Apparently grandpa didn’t trust Crystal with a key, and the two tweaker babes, Leahy and Harrison, were only there to help. How would they know anything about Crystal's family relations?

Prosecutor Dan Madow asked Deputy Massey if Ms. Aikens was promised any money for her role as salesgirl.

“She denied she was,” Massey said. “She told me she just wanted to help out.”

Which made three helpers.

Helping out is Ms. Aikens’ specialty. Her M.O. She helps people out all the time. Helps them out of their stuff like their checks, credit cards and their money. She likes helping out.

The three women were working out of a room at the Discovery Inn on South State Street, Massey learned, and another room at the Motel 6. While the Robinson Creek burglary was still under investigation, Crystal was busy helping out an elderly disabled veteran, Daniel Artega, who was staying at the Motel 6. Crystal has been working the Motel 6 scene for years. She cased Artega out as he checked in, then went to his room on May 10th and made his acquaintance and her standard helping offer.

Our selfless angel of mercy soon learned that Artega was looking for affordable housing — living in motels was breaking his bank. Crystal knew just the place, an apartment in Potter Valley on Pine Avenue, which — what a coincidence — she had permission from the owner, a guy she called Ted (another regular at the Trough, but not to be confused with the owner, also named Ted), to rent out.

Crystal took Artega out to the apartment. The old guy liked it and she took $400 in rent from him. Several days later the owner showed up, said he knew nothing about anyone having permission to rent out the apartment and, though he felt sorry for the disabled vet, he’d have to clear off.

Mario Lacson was another senior citizen Crystal helped out. She helped him out of a couple of paychecks, his birth certificate (she was planning, the judge later surmised, to help him out of his identity, as well), and she relieved his wallet of the burden of a credit card and $200 in cash while he was asleep. She then packed up his other belongings and called her boyfriend, Robert “Jay” Masten, who came over and made the old boy so nervous by growling and striding around the room like he was about to go off, that the old guy fled from his own room, abandoning his luggage.


Mr. Masten, by the way, is a former military policeman. He knows all about puffing up to look menacing. He’s also a Yurok national which, to his cultural detriment, the politically correct forbid the media from pointing out, as it could be construed as a bigoted or racist slur.

Ms. Aikens had also cased Lacson out when he arrived at the Motel 6, gone to his door and said she needed a place to hide from her boyfriend who, she explained, was violent and, presently, angry with her.

Lacson took pity on Crystal and let her in. Later, she let Lacson talk her into going out to the Coyote Valley casino. When they got there, Crystal said she wanted to wait in Lacson’s pickup to make some calls on her cell phone. While he was gone, she rifled through the glovebox and found the checks and the old boy's birth certificate. This is what she was accused of, in any case.

Deputy Massey said he found Lacson's checks and birth certificate in plain view on the bed in Crystal's nest at the Discovery Inn. There was also 3.7 grams of crystal meth, a kit for shooting up, and other drugs in the room. This was room number 137, registered to Debra Harrison.

Doug Rhodes, a lawyer from the Office of the Alternate Public Defender, was representing Crystal. He asked Massey how — since the room was registered to Ms. Harrison — how did he know the crystal meth and hypodermic needles belonged to his client?

“It was in her purse.”

“And where did you get the phone number for Mr. Lacson?”

“That also was in Ms. Aikens’ purse.”

Deputy DA Dan Madow said it was pretty similar conduct in both the elder abuse cases.

“She confronts these elderly gents, gains their trust, then deceives them and steals from them. She takes the last of the first guy’s money, the $400, and leaves him out in the cold. Then she tells the next old fool she needs to get away from her dangerous boyfriend before he scalps her or whatever, but so, anyway, the victim, Mr. Artega, takes pity on her and, again, she takes advantage of an elder, a weak, timid, unsophisticated old guy stumbling through modern life without a clue, poor old guy.”

Mr. Rhodes leaped to Crystal's defense: “She knocks on his door and says she needs a place to stay, and he befriends her. What’s wrong with that? They go to the casino and she decides to stay in the car and make some calls — what’s so strange about that? Prosecution says this is odd. It’s not unusual to me. Maybe she didn’t have any money. And packing up his things — that could have been gratitude for letting her stay there. It was a nice thing to do. She was helping out. And when the boyfriend shows up, maybe the elderly gentleman felt uncomfortable lingering in the midst of a lover’s quarrel — these older fellows can be quite courtly in delicate matters — and left so they could talk. Or maybe he just didn’t want to get involved, that’s understandable, isn’t it? So I don’t think this is a first degree burg — it’s a petty theft, that’s all.”

Rhodes has clearly missed his calling. He should have been a novelist.

Judge Ann Moorman, her bullshit detector ringing off the hook, took no time coming to the obvious conclusion: “I believe she intended to inveigle these gentlemen into trusting her, so I’m going to hold her to answer. It’s reasonable to infer she stayed in the vehicle at the casino and stole the checks and as for the birth certificate, that’s worrisome because she then had the potential to steal this gentleman’s identity. We’ll have Ms. Aikens back here on August 20th for arraignment on the information. Bail remains set at $225,000.”


  1. Jim Updegraff August 12, 2015

    Nice lady – free room and board for a few years would negate her need to steal .

  2. Betsy Cawn August 14, 2015

    The multi-talented Mr. Rhodes nearly claimed the Lake County District Attorney’s job, a few years ago, and obviously lacks the appropriate venue for his theatric repertoire. We’re grateful to Mendo Courts for providing the stage and program this time around.

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