Michelle Hadley was a 29-year-old graduate student living in California when her ex-boyfriend falsely accused her of a lurid crime. By the time the case unraveled in early 2017, she had lost her job, her reputation and her faith in law enforcement.
But late last week, a federal jury convicted the ex-boyfriend — Ian Diaz, a former U.S. deputy marshal — of setting up Hadley by making it seem as if she had lured men to his home to sexually assault his then-wife.
Diaz had framed Hadley as part of a twisted plot to get her to walk away from a condo they had purchased together, according to federal prosecutors.
The guilty verdict represents a fresh round of vindication for Hadley, who spent 88 days in jail as a result of Diaz’s scheme and who has waited more than six years for him to pay for his crimes.
“I am so grateful to the [Justice Department Office of Inspector General] for the work they put into this case and to the jury for a conviction that has brought so much peace to my family and restored some of the faith we lost in the justice system as a result of Diaz’s crimes against me,” Hadley said in a statement to NBC News.
Diaz’s conviction could not have come at a more joyous time in Hadley’s life. Incredibly, it happened on the same day she gave birth to her first child, a baby girl.
“My life has been filled by strange, often symbolic, and sometimes beautiful coincidences like this,” Hadley said. “My daughter represents my rainbow after a very long storm, and my heart has never felt so full.”
The criminal case dates back to the spring of 2016.
After Hadley’s two-year relationship with Diaz ended in August 2015, they became locked in a dispute over their condominium in Anaheim, according to federal prosecutors.
Diaz married a different woman in February 2016.
In May of that year, he and his new wife, Angela Diaz, created multiple online accounts using Hadley’s name. They then used the accounts to entice men found through Craisglist to come to their home to engage in a “rape fantasy” with Angela, according to the indictment.
The plot worked: Diaz and his wife staged “one or more hoax sexual assaults,” and then contacted police to report that Hadley was responsible for hiring the men, prosecutors say.
When police showed up at Diaz’s home on June 13, 2016, he told officers that Hadley “needs to be in f------ cuffs and in a padded room,” the indictment says.
Diaz said he investigated threats made to federal judges and prosecutors in his role as a U.S. marshal but had “never seen anything like this,” according to the indictment.
“At what point does this girl get arrested for sending this s--- and hiring guys off Craigslist to rape [Angela],” he also told the officers, the indictment says.
Hadley was arrested by Anaheim police a week and a half later, after Diaz’s wife called 911 to report that she had been sexually assaulted and that Hadley was responsible for setting it up, the indictment says.
She was charged with felony counts of attempted forcible rape and stalking, and faced up to life in prison if convicted.
Hadley ultimately spent about three months in jail before the charges were dropped in January 2017.
In a news conference at the time, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas described Hadley as an “innocent victim of a diabolical scheme.”
Angela Diaz was charged with 10 felony counts. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison in October 2017.
Angela Diaz, who is now divorced from Ian, could not be reached.
Hadley filed a lawsuit against the city of Anaheim and four of its police officers in late 2018, alleging they rushed to charge her based on “clearly doctored” emails.
“At its heart, this is a case about the ‘blue wall of silence’ — law enforcement officers and officials enabling fellow officers to violate civilians’ rights,” the suit said.
“The Anaheim Police Department and its officers abdicated their duties to adhere to investigative norms, instead conspiring to do the bidding of a corrupt federal marshal. … They appear to have willingly become Ian Diaz’s weapon in his tortious campaign to ruin the life of his ex-girlfriend, plaintiff Michelle Hadley.”
Hadley accepted a settlement from the city of Anaheim in April 2021. The amount was not disclosed.
One month later, Diaz was arrested on federal charges of cyberstalking, conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and perjury.
Prosecutors and law enforcement did not say why it had taken five years to charge him.
Diaz's trial kicked off earlier this month. The jury found him guilty on all counts on March 23 after deliberating for less than two days.
His sentencing is set for June 30. Diaz, now 44, faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
“Ian Diaz abused his position as a deputy U.S. Marshal to execute an intricate cyberstalking scheme that framed an innocent person for sexual assault, leading to her unjust imprisonment for 88 days,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
Diaz’s lawyer, Karen Goldstein, did not respond to a request for comment.
Carrie Goldberg, the lawyer who handled Hadley’s federal lawsuit, praised the Justice Department team that successfully prosecuted Diaz.
“Last year through our civil case, Michelle got financial justice from Anaheim. Today, she gets justice against Ian Diaz, the mastermind,” Goldberg said. “May this be a warning to offenders everywhere who dare to weaponize the criminal justice or legal systems, you will not get away with it.”
Hadley described the last few years as “very difficult and emotional” due to a number of factors “not least of which was this case.” But she has managed to move on and give back.
She has started her own retail business and has helped to raise money for a domestic violence shelter.
“I hope my story becomes a beacon of hope for other domestic violence survivors. I want them to know they are not alone,” Hadley said. “There are so many wonderful people in this world who care and will fight alongside them.”