The Secret Sits

The Torment of a PTA Mom: Part 1

January 12, 2023 John W. Dodson Season 2 Episode 43
The Torment of a PTA Mom: Part 1
The Secret Sits
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The Secret Sits
The Torment of a PTA Mom: Part 1
Jan 12, 2023 Season 2 Episode 43
John W. Dodson

Kelli Peters was living her dream life in sunny, perfect Irvine, California.  She was the president of the PTA, and everyone adored her, everyone except for someone, who would stop at nothing to ruin Kelli's perfect existence.

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Show Notes Transcript

Kelli Peters was living her dream life in sunny, perfect Irvine, California.  She was the president of the PTA, and everyone adored her, everyone except for someone, who would stop at nothing to ruin Kelli's perfect existence.

Follow us on our social media at:
https://drum.io/thesecretsits

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwnfvpNBYTo9BP1sVuFsfGQ

TheSecretSitsPodcast (@secretsitspod) / Twitter
https://www.instagram.com/thesecretsitspodcast/
https://www.facebook.com/TheSecretSitsPodcast
https://www.tiktok.com/@thesecretsitspodcast?lang=en

Support the show
https://www.buymeacoffee.com/TheSecretSits

#KelliPeters #JillEaster #KentEaster #Irvine #California #PlazaVistaSchool #PTA #Karen #Karate #Stalking #Batman #OrangeCounty #JuliaRoberts #Podcast #TrueCrime #BillPeters #Enemy #PTAMom #Secret #Framed

Support the Show.

[Underscore Music]

Our story today takes place in one of the safest towns in the United States of America, but even when people feel safe, crimes still take place.  But who would want to mess with a nice PTA mom, she is just there to help.

[Theme Music Start]

Welcome to The Secret Sits, I’m your host John Dodson.  Join us every Thursday as we uncover the Secrets behind the world’s most fascinating true crime cases.  You can find all episodes of The Secret Sits for free on Apple Podcast, Spotify or where ever you get your podcasts.  And if you like what you are hearing, reach out to us on Instagram and Facebook @The Secret Sits Podcast or on Twitter @SecretSitsPod. Now, on with our story.

[Theme Music Play Out]

[Under Score Music]

Kelli Peters had participated in the daily rigmarole of school drop offs and pickups at the Plaza Vista School in Irvine, California since her daughter began attending this school in kindergarten, that was 5 long years ago and now Kelli’s daughter was attending the fifth grade.  Today was like any other day and Kelli was there in the parking lot of the Plaza Vista School, waiting to pick up her daughter, the only slight difference today was that, a police officer was asking Kelli Peters for the keys to her PT-Cruiser, so he could do a search of her vehicle.  Kelli thought that this was strange, but she had nothing to fear, so she handed over her keys, after all what was he going to find but a lot of dog hair and a few of her child’s permanently misplaced toys? The only thing Kelli was actually worried about was that in just a few minutes that bell was going to ring and the children would come flooding out of the school, and what would they witness?  Kelli Peters, a woman who this community had put their faith and trust into, hell she was the president of the PTA and the living breathing soul that made the schools after school program survive.

Kelli stood there in the afternoon sun and waited, and in her mind, she could not help but think, could this cop look any faster?  Could we just be done with this?  That was, until the police officer emerged from her snazzy PT-Cruiser holding a Ziploc baggy filled with some sweet adult treats.  This baggy was a party mix, containing 17 grams of marijuana, a stone hand pipe, like the one you smoked in your dorm in college, and then inside of this baggy, there were 2 more, smaller baggies, specifically though, these were EZY Dose Pill Pouch baggies; that is going to come back later, so remember that, in these two EZY Dose Pill Pouch baggies were 11 Percocet pills in one and in the other there were 29 Vicodin pills.  This number of narcotics was definitely enough to send Kelli to prison, which would surely sour her good name and reputation. But who would want that to happen?  Suddenly, Kelli’s legs gave way, she landed with a thud on her knees on the hard pavement of the parking lot, reduced into a sobbing puddle.  Kelli pleaded with the officer, these were not her drugs, she had never seen these in her life, her body was shaking beyond her ability to control it.  

The Police officer had been on the force for almost 22 years and he had seen this act more times than he could count, people get caught with drugs and then they play out any scenario that they think will free them of any charges.  And they were always lying.  But how had Kelli Peters ended up in this situation, her day had gone on, just like any other day, a Wednesday in fact and the afternoon schedule was filled to the brim with many tasks to complete and dozens of small fires to put out, metaphorically of course.  Kelli was the director of the Afterschool Classroom Enrichment program; she was 49 years old and at the top of her game.  Her short blond hair and bohemian air gave you her vibe and most of the parents at Plaza Vista enjoyed that vibe very much.  Kelli was a constant figure around the school campus and everyone knew her.  On any day you might see Kelli as she glided down the corridors in her beach ready flip-flops, a brightly colored sundress flowing behind her as she walks.  When time permitted and Kelli was done with all of her projects and tasks for a bit, she would quietly slip into her daughter, Sydnie’s drawing class, Sydnie was Kelli’s whole world and she had changed her entire world because of Sydnie.

Before Sydnie came along, Kelli Peters worked as a high-paid and high-pressured mortgage broker a job she had aspired toward, but just as quickly began too loath.  In Kellie’s eyes, the worse day at this school was still better than the best day in her old career.  Kelli was a petite woman at just 5 feet tall and sometimes the kids would outgrow her before they moved on from the school, and of course, the children reveled in this, it was always a fun, jovial moment for the kids, when one of them was taller than Kelli.

Kelli, while short in stature was no push over, she grew up in the horse country at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.  She always seemed to acquire physical jobs, like hand tossing pizzas or fixing skates with a wrench all day.  Kelli also had a spontaneous side; she even flew to Hawaii on a whim and then proceeded to stay there for two years before coming back home.  Kelli even served tables at a rock-n-roll-themed pasta parlor.  One of the regulars at this pasta parlor began to obsess over Kelli, Kelli knew that this man was married, she also knew that he was a lawyer.  One evening this man just showed up at Kelli’s home, unannounced, uninvited and it freaked Kelli out.  This was the first time she felt any sense of vulnerability in her life and that feeling lingered for a very long time.  Life trotted along and during Kelli’s 30s she married a man named Bill.  Bill was a soft-spoken giant of a man, he towered in height over most of those around him, Bill was a restaurateur and a blues musician, both things that intrigued Kelli.  Kelli and Bill spent year after year, trying to get pregnant, with no success.  So when the time finally arrived and Kelli found herself expecting, she narrowed her focus and she narrowed her list of priorities.  Kelli stated, “I became afraid of spontaneity and surprises.  I just wanted to be safe.”  For Kelli, the city of Irvine was not far from perfection.  Irvine is located about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles, California and it has an amazing year-round climate, it’s never too hot and never too cold.  Irvine is specifically a master-planned city and what does that even mean, so here it is, the entire city and planned and built all at once, so there are equal amounts of lang given to housing areas, shops and businesses, as well as very spacious parks and trails.  This also means that the city is largely vacant of the trappings of other large cities; there are no bars and liquor stores, no pawnshops nor homeless shelters, and hopefully no need for them.  The town is meant to be held to the atomic American family with only the resources that family needs to exist.  Irvine always makes the top 15 safest towns in the United States of America, and most of the time it tops that list.

All of this had been great for Kelli’s psych, just as she had wished.  Many of the fears she carried with her as they moved into this new community had melted away over the passing of time, while in a life that felt so comfortable, like a fuzzy blanket on a cool winter night.  Many people inside and outside of Irvine mock the town’s almost cold and sterile uniformity, but Kelly simply felt comfortable in the embrace of the uniformity.  After all, her school had a 97% college-admissions rate, not too bad.

The Plaza Vista school was a year-round public school and it was in a prized neighborhood, after having served the school for now 6 years, Kelli knew these walls and halls like the back of her own hand.  The schools’ walls were all camel and tope and beige and any other colors which made it harmonize with the earth tones surrounding it on all sides, the color pallet with broken by a line of peach-colored houses rising up just behind the pristine athletic fields.  Any day, Aaron Spelling could show up any day of the week a film a show about thirty-year-old’s still trying to play high school kids on tv.  

Yes, Kelli loved this place and she loved all of the kids in it too.  She was the most visible mom around the school, so all of the kids new her.  Kelli would do impressions of a character from the My Little Pony TV show called Applejack and the children would roar with laughter.  And after school, as the lines of cars grew thinner and thinner, Kelli would stand there and wait with the kids, until their parents finally showed up to claim their child, Kelli did not have the heart to enforce the school’s dollar-a-minute late fee.  

The school assigned Kelli a desk in the front office and this gave Kelli an up close and personal view of many parental melt downs that took place in the office.  Many of these were your typical Karen, well excuse me, Rich Karen meltdowns, fire this teacher for giving my kid a bad grade, the school doesn’t do enough to protect my kid from melanoma, you know typical stuff.  When these things happened, Kelli just sat at her desk, smiled and gave respectful and polite replies.  

And that is how Kelli’s life had been going, up until today, February 16th, 2011.  Kelli’s day was perfectly normal, she glided down the halls in a sundress, all that, so fast forward to the afternoon and the school’s karate teacher, yes, the school has a karate teacher, get over it, so this man sends a text to Kelli, he tells Kelli that he is stuck in traffic and he is going to be late for his class.  He asks Kelli if she could go down to the multi-purpose room to watch his class until he arrived.  Of course, Kelli replied, and she floated down the hall to the room containing a bunch of tiny karate masters.  The students were going through their warm-up exercises when a school administrator popped their head into the classroom looking for Kelli.  Kelli left the room and asked the administrator what was going on, she was told that there was a police officer at the front desk, asking for her by name.

Kelli’s mind flashed to her husband Bill, Bill was making his living as a traveling wine salesman and he was always out on the road, had something happened to Bill?  Panic filled Kelli’s entire body and she raced down the hall to the office.  As Kelli flew into the office, she was met by Officer Charles Shaver, and Officer Shaver assured Kelli that he was not there about her husband.  Life for a police officer in the city of Irvine is a pretty calm existence.  On any given day, Officer Shaver might be dispatched out to a barking-dog call or two, maybe a shoplifter or car accident on a really crazy day.  Officer Shaver was 40-years-old, he was a former NCIS investigator from his time in the Marines.  Shaver was a sniper for the Irvine Police SWAT team as well.  Today had passed like most other, uneventful and a welcome form of boring.  But at 1:15pm, a call came in from a man who wanted to report a dangerous driver in a school parking lot.  The caller said, “I was calling because, uh, my daughter’s a student at Plaza Vista Elementary School, and, uh, I’m concerned one of the parent volunteers there may be under, uh, under the influence, or, uh, using drugs.  I was, just had to go over to the school and, uh, I was, I saw a car driving very erratically.”  This called went on to claim that they had witnessed drugs inside of the car.  This man also, very conveniently knew the driver of the car’s name, Kelli Peters.  He said it was a PT Cruiser and he had the license plate and a readout of the damn bumper sticker, Only 4 the Groovy.”  This is some damn good detail for a quick look at a reckless driver in a parking lot.

Now Kelli was being let out to the parking lot by Officer Shaver, some students and parents were coming and going from the property, all watching as the officer directed Kelli out to the parking lot.  As they crossed into the lot, Kelli could now see the Officer had parked his car to block in her PT Cruiser.  As they walked to the car, Shaver told Kelli about the call that came in around 1:15 and what they claimed to have seen.  Kelli replied to the officer that this would have been impossible, she had already arrived at the school and exited her vehicle well before 1:15pm.  Shaver asked Kelli if she had anything inside of her car that she should not have, to which Kelli easily answered a confident no.  Then Officer Shaver asked Kelli if he could search her car, Kelli replied, absolutely.  And there they were, tucked right into that little pouch on the back of the driver’s seat, a little baggie of mixed drugs just poking right out for anyone to see.  Shaver pulled out the drugs and placed them on the hood of his car, in view of the dashcam.  Kelli began to beg the officer to put the drugs somewhere else, everyone could see them, her friends could see them, her daughter might see them.  The drugs had to have been planted she explained, she left her car unlocked sometimes, anyone could have put them there.  Officer Shaver moved the drugs to a secure place in the trunk of his car and he let Kelli Peter back into the school, they walked to a conference room and there in that conference room, surrounded by her happy place, her serenity, Kelli had to take a field sobriety test.  Shaver looked into Kelli’s pupils and he checked her pulse, she had to stand with her feet together, head back and touch her nose, she had to walk a straight line, turn and walk back, all of the normal things and Kelli passed every test without question.  Eventually Kelli’s daughter and husband both arrived, Bill wanted to know what was happening, but Kelli had no idea what to tell them.  Now Officer Shaver could have taken Kelli in for a few reasons, possessing marijuana on school grounds was just a misdemeanor, but the real narcotics like Vicodin and Percocet, with no prescription is a felony.  And for a drug charge like that Kelli was going to be looking at some time in jail, but Shaver did not stop with just finding these drugs, he wanted to dig deeper, something about this did not seem quite right.  Shaver conducted interviews with the school administrators who confirmed that Kelli had been at the school since around 12:40, this matched perfectly with the story Kelli had told Shaver to begin with.  If this were true, then the caller, who had witnessed her erratic driving in the parking lot had waited a puzzling 35 minutes before calling 911 to report the incident.  Shaver attempted to call the number given to the dispatch from the caller, it turned out to be fake.  Next, Officer Shaver asked Kelli if he could search her apartment, Kelli reluctantly agreed, her apartment had nothing to do with this investigation, but if it would help clear her name, so be it, on the other hand, Kelli thought, if someone could plant drugs in her car, who’s to say they weren’t able to do the same thing in her apartment.  Kelli drove her PT Cruiser to her apartment, which was only about one block from the school.  Officer Shaver was joined by another officer who both tailed Kelli to her home.  As the officers entered the apartment it was not what they were accustom to, here in the city of Irvine.  The apartment was scantily furnished, above the living room couch was a poster of Jimi Hendrix, the kind you might have bought at Hot Topic or Spencer’s.  Kelli’s daughter’s art also decorated the walls.  Kelli and Bill had moved to Irvine over 10 years ago, but in the 10 years they had lived in this planned paradise, they had never been successful in purchasing their own home, the market was too damn competitive and they were constantly outbid, year after year after year.  Kelli ran her own small business called Only 4 the Groovy, I guess we know why she has that bumper sticker now.  Her business is making painted tie-dyed jeans, it was good for what it was, but it was not paying the bills.

So, after a decade in their dream town, the Peters have now found themselves, permanent renters.  Officer Shaver went through the kitchen cabinets, he explored the bedrooms, he rummaged through draws and overturned couch cushions.  And in the end Shaver did not find one once of drug paraphernalia in the apartment, it was completely clean, he could not even find the same, EZY Dose Pill Pouches that the drugs were in.  There was absolutely nothing in Kelli’s home that could link the drugs in her car, to her home.  And this concerned Officer Shaver, this now, no longer seemed so cut and dry.  The curiosities of this case began to mount in the officer’s head; who would leave a clear baggie of drugs just sticking out of the pocket in the car, why was the number of the caller a fake, why did the times not match up.  He had to figure this out.

Shaver told Kelli that he was not going to take her in that night, instead a forensics team was going to come to her home and take cheek swabs from her and her daughter and if any DNA was found on the drugs that matched her DNA, she could still be charged.  The same forensics team would go over the PT Cruiser looking for evidence.  The following morning, Officer Shaver reported for duty and found himself sitting in a conference room with the upper echelon of the police force along with a few trusted detectives.  Shaver walked the group through his case from the previous day and everyone agreed that this seemed like much more than a suburban mom with a pension for pills.

And then Shaver reveled one part of his conversation with Kelli which had truly gotten his attention, Shaver asked Kelli, “If the drugs aren’t yours, how did they get in your car?”  and Kelli’s answer, “I have an enemy.” 

[Dramatic Music Change]

It is easy to call this home beautiful, as are all of the homes in the picture-perfect town of Irvine, a Mediterranean tile roof sat atop a house bathed in a soft peach paint, just like every other house on the block.  It has a spacious three-car garage and a meticulously manicured lawn, just like every other house on the block.  The couple who owned this house were named Kent Easter and Jill Easter, a young couple still in their 30s, both already successful attorneys. Kent and Jill had three young children, whom they were very protective of.  Also residing in this home was Emerald, the family’s cat.  The family loved to play board games; the house even has a dedicated closet just for the family’s vast array of boardgames.  Kent and Jill loved each other very much and as proof, both of the couple’s nightstands bore a photo from their dream wedding in the hills of Sanoma, California’s wine country.  Kent Easter had attended Stanford and UCLA Law School, while Jill Easter earned her degree form Berkeley Law school, so all in all not too shabby.  The couple worked in corporate law and securities law and they met while both working at a Palo Alto law firm.  When Kent and Jill moved permanently to the city of Irvine, Jill quite her job as an attorney to focus on being a stay-at-home mom.  I am not sure if Jill loved being a stay-at-home mom or not, her days were filled with; play dates, lunch dates with girlfriends, Starbucks runs and hot yoga classes.  Not a hard life, but not challenging either.  Kent continued working at his law firm and putting in 60 plus hour weeks, but he was climbing that ladder and he had become a partner at one of the biggest law firms in Orange County.  And as Kent was putting in all of those hours, he had a beautiful view of Newport Beach from his 14th floor office.  This was the life he had worked so hard for. 

[Dramatic Music Change] (Back to Kelli)

Officer Shaver asked Kelli to repeat what she had just said and once again Kelli Peters said, “I have an enemy.”  Kelli Peters then went on to tell Officer Shaver that one year ago, Kent and Jill Easter had launched a campaign against her around the school, they had tried to have Kelli removed from the school where she ran the school sanctioned after-school program.  Lucky for Kelli, the campaign had not worked and Kelli remained in place, in her rightful place at the school.  This incident, had shaken Kelli and it had taken a while, but she thought that she was over it and that everything had died down.  Now, Kelli was standing in an elementary conference room trying to get out of serious drug charges, but in the back of her mind all she could think was, “they got me”.   

This step-ford house wives throwdown had not started out of nowhere, so where had this started, what had turned sour between these two women?  It must have been something huge.  But what if it wasn’t, what if it was over pretty much nothing?

[Music Change]

It was a perfectly clear, clean and crisp afternoon, a Wednesday, hump day some call it.  It is February 17th, 2010 and just like every other Wednesday, this would be a busy afternoon at the school.  A tennis class had just ended at the Plaza Vista elementary school, the tennis courts are just behind the main administrative building.  Kelli Peters is on site to run the Afterschool Classroom Enrichment program; everyone just calls it ACE for short.  As the class has ended, it is Kelli’s function to run around and Sheppard all of the little kids back to the safety of the main building.  The children would then walk across the inside of the building to their waiting parents in the pick-up line on the other side of the building.  Everything on this day happened as it had every other day, except for one thing.  Jill Easter’s 6-year-old little boy was somehow missed as Kelli rounded up all of the children to go back inside the building.  After Kelli took the children into the back door of the building and the door shut, it was locked from the inside, so the boy could not open the door to simply enter the school.  I need to clarify that this next point is also a point of contention surrounding this case, but either way, the little boy was left outside anywhere from 5 to 12 minutes.  After the boy was outside, anywhere from 5 to 12 minutes, by himself, just standing there, in the safest city in the United States of America, the tennis coach walked up and found the boy, who was perfectly fine, and he walked the boy to the front desk of the school.

When Jill Easter picked up her son, she claimed that he seemed upset and she wanted to know exactly what had happened.  Kelli tried to explain to Jill that the boy was slow to get back inside, this was a common characteristic of the boy, it happened almost daily, Kelli then said that she had not noticed that he was missing when the rest of the kids went into the school.  Kelli said that she apologized over and over, she gave the little boy a big hug and apologized directly to him as well and after a breath, she thought that Jill was ok with everything as well, but Jill was anything but ok, the letters O and K, did not even exist in Jill vocabulary at that moment.  Jill looked at Kelli and she asked her, “Do you think it’s strange that the coach brought him to the front?”, to which Kelli replied, “No, it’s not strange, a lot of my instructors bring the kids up.” Jill then began a line of questioning that seemed to imply that maybe the coach had touched her son, this dramatic turn in the conversation made Kelli extremely uncomfortable and Kelli chose to end their conversation.  As Kelli walked away from the still irate Jill Easter, she could hear Jill say, “I wonder how you sleep at night, with the way you treat people.”  Kelli went back inside the building and the tears began to stream down her face, what had she done that was so wrong? Kelli kept thinking about Jill Easter’s face and how strange it was that the entire time she was berating her, her facial expression never changed, it was always a smile, you know, the smile of a Karen when she thinks she is still the queen bee.

The following day, Thursday, Jill Easter stormed into the administration building, into the front office and she claimed that her 6-year-old son had been locked out of the building by Kelli Peters for 19 minutes, he was home all-night last night crying hysterically and she wanted what, Kelli Peters fired, that’s right the first thing you always come for is their job.  In a statement for the school officials, Jill Easter wrote, “she told me that she blames my son he is slow and he often gets left behind because it’s hard to wait for him. For the record, my son is very intelligent, mature and athletic and has successfully participated in many ACE classes. He is receiving good grades and has earned many awards this year. He is not mentally or physically slow by any standard.”

Due to these allegations the district ACE director conducted interviews with the coach and Kent and Jill Easter and she found that nothing had happened to the boy who had been actually left outside closer to 5 to 8 minutes.  So why had Jill Easter flown off the handle so easily?  Well, the ACE director found the source of that as well, it appears that what we have here is the most unfortunate lapse in hearing and when Kelli Peters was telling Jill Easter that her son was slow, as in, hey move it along, we don’t’ have all day, kind of slow, Jill understood this as Kelli insinuating that her son is slow as in, he has intellectual disabilities and is not fully capable.  But on the contrary, Kelli had always adored Jill’s son, she described the boy as quiet, but smart, he was not one to shy away from daydreaming and he was an avid participant in the school’s arts program, another program Kelli Peters worked hard to keep alive herself.  One quote from Kelli about the child was, “I thought he was amazing.”

After things has festered over the weekend, the school’s principal Heather Philips made a call to speak with Jill Easter about the incident.  During this dramatic phone call, Jill told principal Phillips the she “didn’t want other children to be hurt.” And then Jill went on to remind principal Phillips that she and her husband were both attorneys.  

The principal had heard the rumblings from parents, Jill had now taken to speaking out to other parents while on campus, trying to get them to take her side.  She was trying to build a wave of support, support to have Kelli Peters fired from her volunteer job.  But Principal Phillips had a meeting with Jill and she told her that the school had strict rules regarding civility and that her actions, on school grounds could be construed as harassment.  Jill responded to this by saying, “What I am doing is not harassment, and I am fully within my rights to do what I am doing and I am going to continue doing it until Kelli is gone.”  Jill then told the principal that she was making a bumper sticker for her car that said what Kelli had done.

Kelli had served this school without controversy, not even a food poisoning from a bake sale, just clean as a whistle.  But now she feared that her mere presents were hurting the reputation of the school, she looked at Principal Phillips, “If you want me to leave, I will.”  This principal was nobody’s fool, so she told Kelli to not even think about leaving the school, everybody loved her there.  As this dust stared to settle, Jill went to the Irvine police department and she demanded that they open an investigation into the incident, the police told Jill that they had opened an investigation and then closed it, because there was no crime.

Attorney Jill Easter’s next course of action was going to court to petition for a restraining order against Kelli Peters, for herself and her 6-year-old boy.  In this petition, Jill claimed that Kelli had been harassing and stalking both her and her child, she also claimed that Kelli had threatened to kill her.  When Jill could produce no evidence of any of her claims, the court threw out her petition for the restraining order.

After that fell apart, Jill’s husband, Attorney Kent Easter, filed a civil law suite against Kelli Peters.  In this civil suit, Kent claims that his son had been the victim of false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  He goes on to claim that incident left the boy with extreme and severe mental anguish.  The suit ends with this, “The acts of Defendant PETERS alleged above were willful, wanton, malicious, and oppressive, and justify the awarding of exemplary and punitive damages.”

Eventually the Easters dropped their civil suit, and as a result of their complaints the school began a required head count prior to children being released from after-school programs, the school also gave the couple a refund for their ACE tuition fees.  But, in the end that was all they got, for all of their law suits and civil suits, they got some money back and a rule changed, but maybe that was all it was about for the Easters to begin with.

Kelli Peters continued on as the head volunteer around the school and that spring, in early 2011, Kelli Peters was elected president of the PTA, not bad Kelli, not bad.

[Music Change]

So now as Kelli Peters is recounting this story to Detective Mark Andreozzi, she actually seems genuinely frightened.  All because of a cagy call to 911, Kelli’s car had been searched, resulting in finding a strange number of drugs in very specific EZY Dose Pill Pouches.  Kelli tells Detective Mark something that Jill Easter had emphasized during their original confrontation a year ago, “I will get you”.  And now almost one year, to the day, drugs have magically appeared in her car, while a disappearing man calls 911 about her erratic driving, after we already know she had been at the school for 40 minutes. 

But even Kelli could not put this squarely on Jill Easter and she told the police about a 43-year-old man who lived just across the street from the school and he had quite the reputation for strange behavior.  But this was not surprise to the police, who knew the man quite well, thank you very much.  They had been dispatched out for calls concerning this man wandering onto the school campus without permission, he would berate the school staff and crossing guards and then there were the calls for the man videotaping the crosswalks while they were filled with children, it’s not illegal, just creepy.  Oh, and this man had a son who attended the school, yeah, he was a parent, he would even sometimes dress up in a full batman costume to pick his son up from school, you see, batman dad at pick up is cool, videotaping kids in crosswalk dad is bad.

This man made many of the parents nervous, but Kelli just felt sorry for the man, he had wanted her job as president of the PTA and he, at one time asked Kelli for copies of the bylaws.  Now as Kelli put two and two together, she thought, maybe after reading the bylaws, he realized that a drug charge would disqualify Kelli for the job and then he could take over, what a diabolical scheme.   

As the Irvine police force pondered the case around the local precinct, some officers thought they had the right take on the case, “It has to be the guy across the street” they would say.  Detective Andreozzi was not the typical looking guy for Irvine.  He was a former highway patrolman, he did not wear a uniform, he sported a beard and a faux-hawk and he was the lead detective on this case.  The upper brass granted Andreozzi carte blanche with this case, the city of Irvine cares about two things, our schools and safety, we have to know if this after school volunteer is peddling drugs.

The detective could not rule out Kelli Peters, just because she seemed innocent, he checked her record and it was squeaky clean, everyone at the school loved her according to his interviews, it just did not make since.  And then Mark began thinking about that original call, the one placed to 911, the call that had started all of this and so he went back to listen to that call.  When the dispatcher asked for the caller’s name the caller said, “VJ Chandrasckhr” and he spelled it out letter by letter.  This called stated that their daughter attended school at the Plaza Vista, however; no school records match that name.  Detective Mark listened again, and he concentrated harder and he listened again, small details began to stand out, a slight stutter in the man’s voice, was he nervous?  The man also gave more clear information without needing to be prompted by the dispatcher, almost like he was reading from a script.  Another detail that began to pierce the surface was this, when the caller first began speaking, he had a standard American accent, inexplicably, however; about half way through the call the man’s voice sort of modulates from his American accent into an Indian accent.  This fake accent angle made the officers around the station think they were absolutely correct, across the street creepy guy and he is trying to disguise his voice.

When the police traced the call, they found that it was placed from a business office located in the Island Hotel, a fancy high-rise resort in Newport Beach. Another detective on the case, Detective Matt McLaughlin went down to the Island Hotel and he was taken by the manager of hotel security to the hotel’s basement, there in the basement Matt watched footage of the hotel lobby, people moved in and out of the lobby quickly, all Matt was looking for was the across the street crazy man, the PTA President rival, a 43-year-old Asian man, but as Matt watched people come and go, there was no sign of the man he was looking for.  But Matt saw something, or rather someone who caught his eye, a tall, spindly man he did not recognize, the man wore a dark suit and he walked calmly to the hotel’s business center, just before the call to 911 was made.  Matt took the footage to principal Phillips and after viewing the footage they said, “It looks like Kent Easter.”  After that the Irvine police department began tailing the Easters, they wanted to learn everything they could about the couple.  It did not take the police long to learn that Kent Easter’s law office is just a few hundred feet from the Island Hotel.

The Easters home was located just a mile from the Peter’s apartment.  Next, the police uncovered that, on February 16th, 2011 between 2:27am and 4:21am, Kent and Jill Easter sent each other 15 texts, his is the day that the police would find drugs in Kelli Peter’s car.  Jill’s phone had been pinging off of the cellphone tower located closest to the Easters’ home, but Kent’s BlackBerry was pinging off of a tower about a mile away, a tower closer to the Peter’s apartment complex, where Kelli Peter’s PT Cruiser was parked outside all night in an unsecured parking lot, safest city in America you know.

Just to be clear, this is Irvine and everything is fancy, so yes, there was a gate to enter the parking lot and you would have to enter a code for the gate to open.  But if you were just patient enough, you could wait on a car to pull through and then follow them into the gate before it closes.

As the investigation moved forward, Kelli began to see a therapist.  She talked about how the police had found drugs in her car and how she had protested with all her will and fortitude, that the drugs were not hers.  She still had not been arrested, but charges could be coming any day now.

The police investigators had doggedly worked this case, it had been weeks for what should have been an easy open and shut case.  They continued to surveil the Easters, the learned the couple’s habits, they knew when they came and went from their home and their offices, the task force wanted to serve two simultaneous warrants, one for the Easters’ home and one for Kent Easter’s Newport Beach office, but they had to do it at the exact same time.  Early in the morning of March 4th, 2011, a platoon of officers met at the Irvine police station to go over their plans, everything was set, it was go time.

Detective Mark thought it would be best to separate Kent Easter from his colleagues, he did not want to underestimate this guy’s intelligence, but he was also cocky, which could also be his undoing.  Mark wanted to take the role of playing dumb.  Kent had no idea what the cops knew.  And so, they slowly followed Kent Easter’s Toyota Camry hybrid with the Stanford University vanity plate which read “UCLAJD1”, all the way to his office in Newport Beach.  Kent pulled into the parking garage, there his own personal parking spot awaited him, this was the life.  As Kent got out of his car, he noticed Detective Mark walking towards him, and then another plain cloth cop came out of nowhere and began walking with Mark in Kent’s direction.

Mark told Kent that he just had a few basic questions, if he had the time.  Kent said sure, he could answer some questions. “Were you aware of anything that had happened recently at Plaza Vista elementary?” Mark asked.  And Kent was more than willing to answer, yes last year his sone had been locked out of the school and one of the school volunteers had berated his son for being slow.  Kent said that he and his wife filed a complaint with the school, but they have since moved on, “we didn’t want to press the issue,” Kent said, “Bygones be bygones.”  When Mark asked Kent about Kelli Peters, Kent said that he had never met the woman, in fact, he did not even know what she looked like.  As Mark asked more specific questions, Kent slowly began to cross his arms over his chest, he no longer looked so eager to participate in this questioning.  “Are you recording this, by the way?” Kent shot at Detective Mark and Mark said, yeah.  Mark asked Kent if he had heard of anything happening to Kelli Peters lately, like has she been in any trouble.  Detective Mark’s partner jumped in and said, “Got any idea what the heck we’re talking about?”  Kent kept repeating No, he had no idea.  Then detective Brannon told Kent that hey had been tailing him, they had seen him coming from the dry cleaners. And then Brannon laid it on thick, “You gotta ask yourself, as an educated man, why in the heck would I be following you around? ’Cause that’s all I do. I work in criminal investigations. All I do is follow people around. I learn their little habits,” Brannon said. “You gotta start asking yourself, ‘Why are we standing in front of you, talking to you?’”

The detectives told the man to think back, about 2 ½ weeks ago, why would Kent be out between 2 and 4 in the morning.  Kent could not think of any reason he would have been out at that time of night, unless it was a random diaper run.  Now, as Kent began to get the slightest bit nervous, he did something these detectives had heard before, he began to slightly stutter.

Brannon was making some way with Kent, he could feel it, and so he kept going hard, “I want you to use that big brain of yours, mouth closed, listen,” Brannon told him. “At some point during this conversation you’re going to have to make a big-boy decision, and that’s gonna be on you.nnBig Brother’s always watching. We’re absolutely not the smartest guys in the shed, OK? But we can follow the dots from one to the next to the next. I would hope and pray for your sake that there’s a big light going off, big bells going off. Knowing what I just told you, is there anything that you would like to add to your statement to me, whether retracting or adding anything to your statement?”

Kent Easter said, “I would like to get a lawyer.”

“That’s the big-boy answer.” Brannon said.

Mark pulled the folded search warrant from his back pocked and he showed it to Kent.  As the searched Kent’s car, they found diet pills in the center console.  These pills were divided up into miniature plastic baggies labeled EZY Dose Pill Pouch.

Jill Easter refused to speak, the police had presented her with the search warrant for her home, and as the police went through her things, as they opened her kitchen draws and routed through her underwear, she played basketball in her driveway with her 3-year-old daughter.  Inside the house, investigators did not find much of interest, this was a typical house cluttered with the tributes of everyday life.  

As Jill continued playing ball with her daughter another police task force was serving their warrant on the 14th floor of Kent Easter’s law office.  The detectives were looking for proof that the Easters had planted the drugs in Kelli Peters’ car.  To accommodate the search of the law office where many documents are highly confidential, the law firm provided Paul Jensen, a personal injury lawyer who sometimes worked as a special master for the courts.  Paul would decide what was legally appropriate for the detectives to see.  After the police went through with all of their search warrants, they seized the couple’s phones, but they still did not arrest Jill or Kent Easters.

As much as police wanted to pull information from the couple’s phones, they soon found that they could not, because the phones were locked inside the chambers of an Orange County Court judge.  Kent’s law firm was petitioning to get his BlackBerry back because it held sensitive client information and the lawyer for the Easters was trying to block police from either phone siting attorney client privilege and spousal privileges.  And here is where we will end this story for today, before it gets truly crazy.  Join us next week on The Secret Sits for the conclusion of The Torment of a PTA Mom.  We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows.