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Preston Lord case spurred police action on 'Gilbert Goons' attacks. Now, there's a whistleblower

The repercussions of the death of 16-year-old Preston Lord after a Halloween party last year continue to play out in Gilbert today. Now, Arizona Republic reporters have a whistleblower — a former employee at a Chandler media company — who says the coverup of the teen’s fatal beating began just minutes after the attack.

The beating of Lord was likely tied to a string of attacks carried about by the so-called “Gilbert Goons” — a gang of teenagers who recorded their attacks on other teens in parking garages, parks, and at house parties for more than a year. No one has been arrested or charged in Lord’s death.

Robert Anglen has been reporting the story for the Republic and he joined The Show to talk more. 

Full interview

LAUREN GILGER: Thanks for coming back on, Robert. Appreciate it.

ROBERT ANGLEN: Thanks for having me. 

GILGER: So let's begin with this whistleblower, this former employee of Relentless Media in Chandler. Tell us who she is and, and, and why she came forward.

ANGLEN: Well, she she worked for Relentless for about nine months. She was the executive assistant for two people. There's the what she calls the front man, the face of the company, a man named Adam Kifer, and the money man behind it, Travis Renner. Travis Renner is the father of one of the students who have been accused by, by residents, by students, by community activist, of being directly involved in the murder of Preston Lord.

GILGER: So tell us what she told you about, about, about this cover up and about his death.

ANGLEN: What she says is, is the son was involved in the in the beating death of Lord and immediately called his father for help. And that, as I said in the story, as my colleague and I said in the story, it started the clock on a coverup. She, she says they began plotting how to make sure the teen, authorities did not connect with the teen. They moved him to Show Low so injuries he sustained in the beating on his hand wouldn't be visible. And that Travis Renner and his business partner began plotting ways to protect him fiscally because he knew he would be sued ultimately.

GILGER: And she said this attack was a type of initiation?

ANGLEN: She says that the beating itself was part of an initiation for the teenage son, who, while we haven't actually seen a beating video with him, members of his family have been arrested. His older brother has been arrested in Gilbert Goon attacks. His father, Travis, has been arrested on drug charges, unconnected. And other members of his peer group have been involved in Gilbert Goon attacks.

GILGER: And this whistleblower as she came forward with this coverup, she talked about legal action being threatened against her. She was asked to sign a cease and desist order at some point.

ANGLEN: Yeah, it's actually a whole chain of events. Shortly after they brought her, she said they openly talked about the case in front of her, they talked to her and around her about it. And then, so this all happened on the, the beating happened on Oct. 28. By mid-November, they had her pulled, pulled aside and asked her to sign a NDA. She continued working for him until about Jan. 19. Then she was fired for talking about the case, she says, with other employees. And then almost immediately, she went on TikTok to say, "I have information." It, it, it wasn't direct, but she said she had information about the case. The next day, she was hit with a cease and desist order. Very shortly after, she was hit with a TRO and then a lawsuit. And then some interesting thing happened.

GILGER: So let's talk about the other side here. What has this business partner said, what has Travis Renner said about this?

ANGLEN: Travis Renner hasn't said anything about it. Neither has his son's lawyers, the business partner, Adam Kifer. It's an, it's a strange, a bizarre story. He actually reached out to me long before I'd heard the name Ashley Reynolds, the name of the whistleblower. He asked me to investigate her. This would have been in early February. And he sent me a long letter accusing her of fraud. And it's a, it's a real compelling letter except it doesn't mention Travis Renner. And there's no connection to the Lord case unless you know what you're looking at. So he actually could be accused of tipping me to Miss Reynolds who I then reached out to later on.

GILGER: Does he deny these allegations?

ANGLEN: He does in part. He doesn't address them directly. In fact, it's, it's odd. He, he refused to talk to me. He sent me a letter telling me I was an exceptional reporter and he really was impressed with the work we'd done on the Gilbert Goons, but he couldn't answer questions.

Then after the story ran, he said he was shocked and disappointed by what my colleague and I reported. My colleague, Elena Santa Cruz, can't be here today, but she's done yeoman's work on this, this project. But he said he couldn't, he was shocked and disappointed. And I said, how could you possibly be shocked? I just sent you a list of 26 questions detailing every specific key detail. I mean, it was, it's not a list you want to get in the mail, trust me.

GILGER: Let me ask you about the police side of this. Queen Creek police did comment here for you. They said that this basically corroborated what they already knew?

ANGLEN: Yeah, one of the things that we were faced with in trying to verify Miss Reynolds' account was, how do, how do we verify it? So I, I went to the Queen Creek police, and they're of course investigating the homicide of Preston Lord. And I sat down with the chief, and the chief while he couldn't confirm a lot of details of her story, he did say importantly that she corroborates information they've already obtained from other sources. More importantly, he said what she's saying does not contradict what investigators know.

GILGER: So let's talk about the bigger picture here before I let you go. Remind us like what a big deal this case and the death of Preston Lord has become in Gilbert much of the East Valley. It's really sparked outrage in that community.

ANGLEN: It has and really, it's, it's outrage over inaction. And you have to separate the Gilbert Goon attacks from the, the murder of Preston Lord or the killing of Preston Lord as much as you can. In that there is overlap, we discovered that there were these, these same individuals involved in the Goon attacks that were involved in the in the Lord killing it appears. But the most of the attacks took place in Gilbert and they had gone on by law enforcement for more than a year. And it has torn apart the community. Though of course, the catalyst for all of this is the murder of Preston Lord. And there have been marches, there have been vigils, there have been protests, there are people now calling for the resignation of the mayor, the Gilbert mayor, the Gilbert police chief. And it's spilled over into the school districts now.

GILGER: And tell us where those cases that are a little separate from this with the Gilbert Goons stand. There have been many arrests now, it sounds like.

ANGLEN: Yeah, the, the, but again, the approach by Gilbert police is unusual at best. They are now trying to say they've made more than 40 arrests going back years, which, it just stands in the, it's, it's illogical. It doesn't make sense. They didn't begin arresting people tied to the Gilbert Goons until January, and they've recognized and, and acknowledged that they didn't tie these cases to the Goons for whatever reasons. But now they've begun making arrests and you're starting to see the same people be arrested for beating videos that have existed online for months.

GILGER: Last 30 seconds here, Robert, what's next in this case? At least regarding Preston Lord's death, there have been no arrests or charges yet. Are we expecting those to come?

ANGLEN: Yeah, there was a criminal referral on Dec. 28, a two-month anniversary of Preston Lord's death. And I frankly, I don't have a crystal ball, but I would expect arrest to be happening soon. The, the criminal referrals are stand sitting with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. They've been taking time to go through the evidence, and they've assured us that, that something will happen.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.