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California rep sued over DUI death, questions raised about ties to driver

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Shown here are Rep. Lois Capps, left, and a memorial for crash victim Mallory Dies. (AP)

California Rep. Lois Capps is being sued by the family of a young woman who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by one of her staffers, amid allegations her office initially tried to help the aide -- before abruptly cutting him off when the victim was taken off life support.  

Raymond Victor Morua III, an Iraq war veteran, was employed as a district representative for the Democratic congresswoman when he struck 27-year-old Mallory Rae Dies in a crosswalk on Dec. 6. Morua pleaded guilty on April 15 to hitting Dies with his Dodge Caliber and fleeing the scene after attending a holiday party put on by local newspaper the Santa Barbara Independent.

Dies was taken off of life support and died on Dec. 11.

An attorney for the Dies family alleges in the wrongful death federal lawsuit that Morua was working in an official capacity for Capps the night of the party, something Morua has claimed under oath. If Morua was working for Capps that night, the congresswoman, the U.S. government and Morua, who are all named in the suit, could be held liable.

Capps spokesman Chris Meagher told FoxNews.com that Morua started out as an intern, and was subsequently hired as a caseworker in 2012 -- and then a district representative due to his "excellent" work. He said Capps believes the death of Dies was a "tragic event," and her thoughts and prayers are with the family.

Capps' office, though, has said Morua decided to attend the invitation-only party on his own.

However, a five-part series in The Santa Barbara News-Press by freelance journalist Peter Lance claims Morua not only attended the party on behalf of Capps, but discussed policy while he was there with constituents. According to the report, Morua told his girlfriend via text message that he was at the party with Meagher.

Local media reports also show Morua appeared alongside the Capps for many events, including a local Fourth of July parade.

"The loyalties surrounding this tragedy are extremely incestuous," Darryl Genis, Morua's lawyer, told the News-Press, "particularly when you consider that my client, Raymond Morua, was with Lois Capps' press secretary, Chris Meagher, at the party."

The report also details numerous actions Capps' staff allegedly took in the wake of Morua's arrest in an apparent attempt to get him off the hook for jail time. Morua's boss Mollie Culver, the district director for Capps, reportedly forged Morua's signature on paperwork from the Department of Veterans Affairs in the hopes of getting him sent to a treatment facility in Los Angeles for veterans. The paper also revealed Morua was on the congresswoman's payroll until Dec. 10, and that Culver was sending text messages of support to Morua's fiancée Teresa Montoya.

However, after Dies was taken off life support, Capps completely cut off Morua, claiming he had been fired on Dec. 8. Capps' office also claimed Morua was not at the party as a representative for Capps and suggested Morua may have picked the invitation to the party off of Capps' desk.

"It defies belief," Genis told the paper, "that Capps' district director would risk breaking federal law to get him out of Dodge and into treatment if he wasn't working for them."

The News-Press reports that Capps' office decided to cut ties with Morua because of Dies' death.

The paper's investigation also questions why Morua was hired for a job that included driving when he had a suspended license and two previous DUI convictions. Morua also had been convicted of hit-and-run and embezzlement previously. The lawsuit alleges Capps knew about Morua's criminal record and failed to monitor him.

Meagher told FoxNews.com that the paper's story is "full of inaccuracies," but Capps' office could not comment further because it is a pending legal matter. He said Capps' office had no knowledge of Morua's criminal record before his arrest, and noted the congresswoman followed standard House procedure when hiring him, which only requires a reference check and interview.

Meagher said Capps has worked with U.S. Capitol Police since that time to run criminal background checks on all current employees and new hires going forward. 

"The loss of their loved one was and is a tragedy. It is clear she had an impact on many people's lives. The congresswoman knows what it is like to lose a child and no parent should have to experience that," Meagher said. One of Capps' daughters died in 2000.

FoxNews.com's Stephanie McNeal and The Associated Press contributed to this report.