Officer Trouble

Golden Beach's problem cop struggles to make a career

Detective Christopher's investigation soon found problems with Aimee's story. On two occasions she recounted, when her father supposedly had sex with her, Andres was working a 24-hour shift at the hospital. She failed to describe his penis accurately -- it had a scar on it. She did not tell police that she was sexually active with boys. A spare room at the house where she and Andres supposedly had sex was so filled with junk that an exterminator stated he couldn't open the door all the way to get inside. Doctors who examined Aimee at the Rape Treatment Center reported that she had chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease. Andres and Lisette both volunteered to take chlamydia tests, which not only came back negative for the disease, they came back negative for the antigens the body produces when it is exposed to the disease. Doctors determined it was highly unlikely Andres could have had sex with Aimee in the time frame she gave. Andres also volunteered to take a polygraph test and passed. Michelle, now Aimee's guardian, and others would not allow Aimee to take a polygraph.

In fact Michelle and Aimee's court-appointed representatives fought bitterly with police when it appeared they had questions about Aimee's accusations. Detective Christopher would accuse them of trying to thwart her investigation by blocking access to Aimee and coaching her in what to say to them.

Finally Aimee recanted. She told detectives that she made the allegations at Michelle's bidding to get out of her mother's strict household. On October 31, 1990, a full year after Aimee first made her allegations, Detective Christopher closed the case with a finding of "unfounded." The Nogueses still had to fight on in family court for another two and a half years to win back custody of their children. By then their careers were in shambles and their finances plundered by the lengthy court battles.

Santinello as a Golden Beach cop
Santinello as a Golden Beach cop

When the whole episode appeared to be over and all questions answered, Aimee surprised everyone. In 1994, after the judge ordered the family reunification, she held a press conference in which she recanted her recantation. She played cassette tapes she made of a conversation with a man she said was her stepfather, recounting having sex with her and negotiating to have sex with her in the future. Andres Nogues denied it was him and called for the FBI to do a voice analysis.

But nothing was ever done with the tapes, which were problematic for prosecutors because they were made illegally. There were also questions about the statute of limitations. In the end the tapes were never tested, and no more polygraphs were given to see who was lying. Without that there was no way to explain the disparity between the evidence police compiled, such as the chlamydia and the polygraph tests, and the tapes. Twice burned, authorities and journalists declined to get involved again. All the assembled truth-gatherers despaired of ever uncovering the truth from this family. The layers of deception just ran too deep.

It didn't change the disturbing facts of Michelle's life that came to light from the episode.

One legacy of that era is at least two mental health diagnoses Michelle underwent as she pushed for custody of her siblings; they became part of the record of the case. In 1989, while police were still investigating the sex abuse allegations, Michelle met with Iris Bruel, a staff psychologist for family court. She was administered a series of tests. "Nothing in the present data indicates limitations in Ms. Porras' ability to provide appropriate care for her younger siblings. Casual observation of her interactions with the children gives the impression of a calm, well-organized and attentive style of managing this group of children."

In stark contrast is the report written by Dr. Diane Schetky, a psychologist from Maine brought down by the court in 1992 to evaluate the family, at a point when state workers were accused by the Nogueses and police of losing their objectivity and blindly siding with Michelle. First Schetky interviewed Aimee, who told the doctor that "she had idealized Michelle" and was "easily influenced and believed the lies and things Michelle told her." Schetky continued: "Aimee thinks she succeeded in being convincing about her allegations because she was really describing sexual experiences with others and applying them to Andres. Aimee thinks the problem was not her mother but rather that Michelle turned her against her mother."

Schetky then interviewed Michelle.

"I see Michelle as the key to understanding this convoluted case," the psychiatrist wrote. "There is ample documentation that she shows narcissistic, histrionic, and antisocial traits.... Her history is further suggestive of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome [in which a caregiver fabricates a medical disorder in children in order to get attention for themselves]. She had a vivid imagination, at times may be delusional, and seems to believe the stories she has woven. She is also convincing in what she tells others and is masterful at manipulating."

Today Aimee stands by her assertion that Andres molested her, and that her sister is guilty of nothing more than sometimes trying to be the center of attention.

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