By Tanya Decendario, Roxanna Jarvis and Derrick Pal
CALIFORNIA – Jeff Perrotte – a man involved in a 1992 high profile murder case for killing Frank Sinatra’s close friend Jilly Rizzo – was convicted of violating parole and reincarcerated in 2015.
But evidence and witness testimony indicate specific instruments may have been heavily tampered with, giving Perrotte a much more severe sentence.
Perrotte was reported to be in possession of two unopened beer cans. This sparked a probable cause report, stating that Perrotte possessed two opened cans. Although, the officer who stopped Perrotte emphasized the cans were unopened.
The report of two opened cans became the motivation to file a Parole Violation report and the alteration of the Parole Violation Decision Making Instrument (PVDMI), leading Perrotte to become convicted for the second time.
The Initial Arrest
In the early morning of May 6, 1992, just past midnight in Palm Desert, CA, Perrotte was alleged to be driving under the influence along Gerald Ford Dr. when he struck the side of Jilly Rizzo’s car.
After impact, Rizzo’s car caught fire. During trial, Perrotte testified that he had attempted to touch the car but burned his hands and then went to call 911.
Perrotte had a BAC (blood alcohol content) level of 0.13 and it was alleged in court that Perrotte was driving 90 mph that night.
And, in 1993, Perrotte was found guilty of second-degree murder by a Riverside jury and sentenced 15 years to life in prison.
However, Perrotte disputes the factual basis of this arrest and claims he was wrongfully convicted.
According to Perrotte, Rizzo had a stop sign which he failed to yield which resulted in the crash. But through Frank Sinatra’s power in influencing manipulation of evidence, Perrotte was the one to take the blame.
Additionally, Perrotte claimed that one of the most important factors of the case was miscalculated – the speed he drove that night.
Sometime after the accident, the Riverside sheriff went to the scene and conducted a speed test reenactment.
“On a hot day on July 7, 114 degrees it was, he [the sheriff] drives a car at 60 mph, slams on the breaks, [and] measures that skid,” Perrotte stated.
The skid marks were then compared to Perrotte’s post-impact skid the night of the accident, which also happened to be the first rainy day of the year.
“It’s the difference between gravel and ice, it really is,” continued Perrotte, mentioning the drastic difference in road conditions due to surfacing oil. “Had he dove it on a wet surface, I would have been going the right speed limit.”
Perrotte was released from prison on Feb. 10, 2015. Upon his release, he accepted a position with the Alternative to Violence Project (AVP).
As an employee, his job was to recruit activists in social justice to join community based and non-violence workshops. After completing the program, the activists become certified to enter prison and work with inmates.
After eight months, Perrotte began working for International Services Incorporation, a business consulting firm. He managed US operations in jails and funded 500 kids to join APV and youth leadership groups across different cities.
On Oct. 30, Perrotte explained that Sam Vella, his parole agent, came to his residence and asked about his employment.
“So, I showed him a paycheck stub and when he saw that I [said] was making more than him in two weeks than he makes all year, he handed me the paycheck stub and walked away,” Perrotte explained to Vanguard reporters.
The next day, Vella tells Perrotte that he will have a new parole agent. This new agent was Alice Boulton.
As a parolee, Perrotte is ordered to stay within a 50-mile radius of his residence. Perrotte asked Agent Vella if he was able to travel, in which his parole officer said yes and assured him that his new parole agent will be in contact.
“I started calling her four to five times a day… for the next 41 days. She never returned my call. I was leaving detailed messages with flight numbers, hotel reservations, and where I was traveling throughout the United States,” he said.
In two weeks without his parole agent’s response, he contacted his former parole agent Vella, and explained, “I asked if something had happened to her, maybe she got sick. He said no, ‘continue what you’re doing and I’ll let her know you called.’ So, I continued what I was doing.”
In his testimony, Agent Vella explained that he did not grant permission for Perrotte to travel over the 50-mile radius order. However, he did not make an issue if Perrotte travels over a 50-mile radius if he returns to his residence every night.
Violation of Parole
On Dec. 11, 2016, Perrotte traveled to San Diego after Agent Vella allegedly gave him permission. After working with a client, the client’s assistant gave Perrotte a bag containing refreshments and a sandwich.
“I knew there [were] a couple beers in it but I wasn’t worrying that I’ll drink… two years into my violation I didn’t think it through, obviously. I thought my goal was not to drink,” Perrotte admitted.
He remembered getting into his car and picking up the bag to eat the sandwich. He continued to turn his car on, leaving the two unopened beer cans in his passenger seat.
On his way to get a cup of coffee at McDonald’s, a Fountain Valley police officer stopped Perrotte. Immediately, Perrotte asked why he was being pulled over.
Officer McCrae explained receiving reports of an unconscious driver behind the wheel of a black Cadillac Escalade. He asked Perrotte if he could conduct a search of his vehicle, to which he agreed.
In court, Officer McCrae testified that Perrotte was driving his vehicle with two unopened 25-ounce cans of Bud Light Beer. After performing a sobriety test, he said “these tests confirmed Perrotte was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”
On the probable cause determination document, it stated: “He was found to be in possession of an open container of alcohol.” Yet, Officer McCrae testified in court that the two beer cans were unopened.
The inconsistency between the Parole Violation and the Probable Cause Determination document led Perrotte to believe that his parole agent Alice Boulton, the parole agent’s boss, and the parole regional administrator agreed for the container to be indicated as opened in order to lock him up.
“The reason that they’re different, they didn’t need the open container anymore. The open container was just to give them a thumbs up to a local level,” explained Perrotte.
Once they reported the open container, the case was then escalated through the PVDMI.
Letter to Judge Prevost on Behalf of Perrotte
According to Perrotte’s lawyer, Martin Cohn, “Jeffrey Perrotte learned at the time of his Parole Reconsideration on January 26, 2018 that the only reason that this form, as well as two other forms…yielded the recommendations they did was because one or more Parole Agents, acting either deliberately or accidentally, entered two rather than one murder conviction for Mr. Perrotte.”
The Probable Cause Determination form evidently deliberately misstated that Perrotte was “found to be in possession of an open container of alcohol.”
At the time this was written by Parole Unit Supervisor Judith Vella, on or about Dec. 12, 2016.
Deliberate misstatement was necessary for claims made on another subsequent form, the PVDMI (Parole Violation Decision-Making Instrument).
Through improper entry of two separate murder convictions in data entry portions, this allowed for possibility of an outcome which was high enough that the subsequent discretionary deviation could allow for continued lifetime incarceration.
Officer McCrae’s Testimony 2017
Officer McCrae testified in court in 2017 where he was questioned by Deputy District Attorney Orlando and cross-examined by Private Defense Attorney Cohn.
Officer McCrae stated that he received a dispatch call for a driver that was possibly passed out behind the wheel of a vehicle.
When Perrotte was pulled over, McCrae stated he was looking for signs of impairment, which included “bloodshot, watery eyes, odor of alcohol emitting” and “possibly sweat.”
However, Officer McCrae confirmed that he and another officer did not notice any objective signs of intoxication on Perrotte. “Still having [an] obligation to rule out impairment, I called my dispatch with Mr. Perrotte’s license,” stated McCrae.
Perrotte’s license was run and it was revealed that Perrotte was on parole.
Perrotte was asked to exit the vehicle, where McCrae conducted a search on his person and then his vehicle after receiving consent to search.
Officer McCrae stated that in the “rear driver passenger seat inside a laptop bag, I found a 50-milliliter [four to five-inch tall] bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey unopened.”
Additionally, McCrae stated he was alerted by another officer of two tall cans of Bud Light which were located in the front passenger seat.
Officer McCrae testified he conducted multiple tests to check for signs of impairment which included a preliminary alcohol screening test.
The results of the tests indicated that Perrotte had a 0.0% BAC level. However, given the terms of Perrotte’s parole, he was arrested for possession of alcohol.
Officer McCrae’s Testimony 2018
Officer McCrae testified in court in 2018 where he was questioned in recross examination by Private Defense Attorney Cohn and in redirect by Deputy District Attorney Sage.
Cohn clarifies details of how Perrotte was driving before the stop – he was stopped at an intersection, supposedly for too long, but pulled forward and drove through the intersection as McCrae arrived.
Officer McCrae stated that the McDonald’s Perrotte pulled up to was closed. “The vehicle was stopped – the vehicle was stopped as I approached the area, the scene. He then proceeded into the intersection,” stated McCrae.
“He proceeded through the intersection. I waited for my light to go green, and I made a left turn and I followed him,” continued McCrae.
Agent Boulton’s Testimony 2017
Parole Agent Alice Boulton testified in court in 2017 where she was questioned by Deputy District Attorney Orlando and by Private Defense Attorney Cohn.
Boulton confirmed she wrote a parole violation report stating that Perrotte was determined to be in two violations – possession of alcohol and outside of a 50-mile radius without permission on Dec. 11, 2016.
When questioned about whether Perrotte knew she was his new parole agent, she stated that, “Agent Vella informed me that Perrotte had contacted him, and he was informed that I was his agent of record,” which occurred shortly after she received the case.
Agent Boulton stated she received “a few phone calls” from Perrotte, but she testified that Perrotte was “mentioning his availability for home visits, when home visits are done on a random basis. So I didn’t return the call.”
Additionally, when she was asked about calling Perrotte to establish expectations as his new agent, Boulton stated that “he’s been on parole for quite some time, so he wasn’t fairly new to the community.”
According to Agent Boulton, “it’s possible” that at times she considers intermediary measures for parolees as opposed to incarceration.
She testified that on the parole violation report she filled out, the section recommending intermediate sanctions are “auto-populated,” meaning sentencing recommendations generate on their own. “So those are not my words,” testified Boulton.
In addition, she stated that because Perrotte is a lifer and the incident was a violation of the board of parole hearing conditions, there are “no intermediate sanctions that could be applied to my knowledge.”
Agent Boulton described the process for a parolee to obtain and receive authorization when travelling outside of their 50 mile radius, stating that with a parolee’s lifer status, “the parolee has to give me a minimum of 15 days to prepare the travel pass.”
“Once I get the information, the travel details…I have five days to prepare that and submit it to my supervisor. Once my supervisor approves it, 10 days before the date of travel, I have to submit it to the district administrator for approval,” said Boulton, who later confirmed that a lifer parolee like Perrotte should be notified of the time frame and the process involved.
Boulton additionally confirmed that on the parole violation report for Perrotte, the California Static Risk Assessment level is level 1, indicating Perrotte is a low level of risk.
Agent Boulton’s Testimony 2018
Agent Boulton testified in 2018 where she was questioned by Deputy District Attorney Sage and by Private Defense Attorney Cohn.
Boulton stated she had not met with Perrotte prior to arrest on Dec. 11 and her job was to evaluate for a revocation petition. As part of evaluation, she reviewed Perrotte’s file, including his criminal history.
When asked whether Perrotte’s violation was one where giving a warning or attending a class would be more suitable, Agent Boulton responded that this was not feasible because “alcohol was the most important part of his commitment offense.”
Agent Boulton explained that, “Zero time is a default based on that decision-making tool. Because Mr. Perrotte’s a lifer it automatically defaults to zero. It’s not going to give a recommended time.”
Essentially, according to Agent Boulton, she is not giving any recommendation at all.
Boulton felt intermediate sanctions were inappropriate and felt the Board of Parole should handle sanctions because Perrotte was on life parole for murder and violated conditions imposed by the Board of Parole.
According to Agent Boulton, “intermediate sanctions [do] not have to be considered for anyone.” She believes that they are on a “case-by-case basis.” “Intermediate sanctions were considered when the PVDMI-2 was prepared,” explained Boulton.
Cohn asked why Agent Boulton checked the box ‘least to most intensive, continue on parole with remedial sanctions’ when she had the opportunity to check ‘most intensive, refer for revocation’ on the PVDMI form.
“Well, you could have overwritten it and changed it to ‘refer for revocation.’ You signed a document under penalty of perjury, and now you’re saying it’s – it did it automatically. You could have changed it, couldn’t you have?” challenged Mr. Cohn.
“That box appears above your electronic signature. You reviewed it. You could have changed it. You could have crossed that out and said no, refer for revocation, could you not? Did you have that ability?” Cohn continued to press.
“Yes. I had that ability,” stated Boulton.
Cohn replied, “But you didn’t do it. And you said that it ran through the [PVDMI].”
When Boulton entered the parole violation into the PVDMI, the tool returned “low risk assessment, zero” days in custody.
Under Mr. Sage’s redirect questioning, Boulton clarified on intermediate sanctions. She had considered intermediate sanctions, but ultimately decided that they were inappropriate because of the alcohol.
Boulton stated she considered, “Electronic Identification Detection. Because that way we’d know when he was home. He’d be given a curfew.”
She stated alcohol testing was also a regular condition of Perrotte’s parole.
Agent Boulton stated that the PVDMI “doesn’t have all the facts. Just the general ones,” where in comparison she knew more specifics.
She reaffirms that the zero days custody recommendation was a placeholder, or a no recommendation – that it meant the decision was up to the Board of Parole since Perrotte was a lifer.
Agent Boulton also testified that Perrotte’s wife “came to my office and visited me. We spoke briefly. I spoke with the agent who supervised him before me.”
According to Perrotte, however, Michelle saw Boulton after the Dec. 15 deadline. The reports were done and the PVDMI had already been forwarded.”
In further recross by Cohn, he stated, “So you believe that a person that just has two cans of beer in a car should go back to prison and not have an intermediate sanction?”
“Yes, I do,” replied Agent Boulton.
Lessons Learned: Work in the Community
To Perrotte, his story started long before that night in 1992.
On his old website drivedrinkprison.com, Perrotte mentioned his alcohol use beginning at the age of 11, with marijuana use occurring shortly after – a pattern he believed might have stemmed from his father, who was an alcoholic. “The cycle of substance abuse repeating itself in subsequent generations is a common fact,” the webpage stated.
Yet even so, Perrotte admits his substance abuse and takes full responsibility for his actions. The work he has done while incarcerated and afterwards shows someone dedicated to preventing the occurrence of drinking and driving, as well as the incarceration of those at-risk.
Every 15 Minutes: After being released in 2015, Perrotte reached out to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to ask if he could do anything to give awareness on drinking and driving.
Deputy Riverside County Sheriff Joseph Decker got in touch with Perrotte about speaking at the program, which stages a fake crash and funeral to send the message of D&D’s consequences.
Deputy Decker explained that Perrotte told students “they could call him directly if one day they were in a situation where they needed help getting home instead of driving under the influence.”
Creative Arts Mentoring Club: In 2017, the Secretary of the club wrote a letter to the parole board in support of Perrotte’s release. In her letter, she included that the children in the club “come from low-income, drug ridden, impoverished homes, and…are headed down a dangerous path.”
Perrotte visited and spoke with the children about his story, which the woman claimed caused some of the children to change their minds about joining a gang. “We love and appreciate him and implore you to allow him to continue to be [an] asset of society that he has been and will continue to be,” she wrote.
Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP): In 2015, Perrotte was hired to become the Desert Outreach Coordinator with AVP. The program conducts community workshops and workshops in prisons to create conflict resolution and community building;
Even after moving onto other ventures, Perrotte continued to attend community workshops every month with the group.
All of the employers/leaders of the organizations above (plus additional organizations) wrote letters to the parole board in support of releasing Perrotte after he was reincarcerated in 2016 for his parole violation.
In addition to this, Perrotte helped the community in other ways: he started a youth leadership program at the James O’ Jesse Community Center; He sponsored a youth soccer team, buying cleats and/or uniforms for children who needed them; He volunteered every Thursday morning to help handicapped children ride horses, and much more.
The Current Fight for Justice
Perrotte’s employer, International Services Inc., conducted an independent investigation and found that Perrotte did not violate company policy the night he was stopped at McDonald’s.
“Mr. Perrotte did not violate our company ‘zero-tolerance’ policy,” wrote the Western Regional Manager. “I believe he took the alcohol, as he stated, in order to not offend the client. I believe we should support Mr. Perrotte in any way possible in this very unfortunate situation.”
Perrotte was released from prison July 29, 2020. Although a parole violation was committed, the sentence Perrotte received for having unopened alcohol in his vehicle is grossly severe when comparing it to the violation committed.
“They figured out how to manipulate it [the PVDMI report]….and unless you’re a fool and represent yourself in front of the parole board, you will never ever see that report. But thank god I was a fool,” Perrotte told Vanguard reporters.
Perrotte continued to say that not only did he see the PVDMI report, which is alleged to have been tampered with, he also saw the report from the Sheriff’s department about his original incident in 1992.
The law firm representing Perrotte is now in the process of filing an actual innocence case for the matter.
Perrotte told The Vanguard that he wants justice and consequences to be given to those responsible for violating policy and altering the PVDMI, which resulted in him receiving such a severe parole violation sentence.
“They stole four years from me, but there’s kids in prison now that wouldn’t have been in prison had [the parole agents] followed the PVDMI and…gave me a remedial sanction for that alcohol because those kids would have been in my program, I would have been in the community, and it would have made a difference,” he continued.
“Those kids – they mattered. They mattered to me and that was the worst part of this whole ordeal….Kids we were hanging onto [are] back in the gangs. Some of those kids are in prison and one of them may even be dead – because of two unopened beers.”
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