Seventeen months after the congratulatory press conference announcing the successful conclusion of Operation Pure Luck; five months after a defense attorney named Melanie A. Hill alleged the evidence in the resulting case was tainted by “outrageous government conduct:” and two weeks after an extraordinary, joint evidentiary hearing before two federal judges; the punishing government prosecution of a Vago named Jeremy “Maniac” Halgat grinds on.
Unfortunately for Halgat, his victory in the case looks slightly less certain now than it did a week ago. Not much but slightly.
Most of the prosecution’s case is based on information gathered by a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy named Agostino Brancato. Brancato has a history of working biker infiltrations as a Task Force Officer, a kind of free lance agent provocateur, for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Brancato had a memorable role in the ATF infiltration of the Mongols that lasted from 2006 through 2008. In Operation Pure Luck he patched into the Vagos and tried to persuade every Vago he met to either hook him up with a drug dealer or take $1,000 in return for keeping him alive during completely fabricated drug deals. This was not a cheap operation. The ATF hired private airstrips and planes and flew millions of dollars of cocaine around the Southwest in an attempt to dazzle the Vagos into doing something slightly greedy and stupid. Brancato liked to offer his targets large amounts of money when they were drunk.
And when he couldn’t convince his targets to commit a crime Brancato lied about it. If you are going to spend millions of dollars and years trying to prove the Vagos are the Sons of Anarchy you better find a criminal enterprise or next time you’re going to get hit with a sub-average performance review. And, there goes your law enforcement career. Brancato has 23 years on the job. He can retire on full pay in another seven. What else was he going to do?
During one tape recorded conversation with his ATF handler Brancato brainstormed: “This is what I’m thinking…. Like as far as I’m concerned fucking Maniac (Halgat) sold me this fucking ounce, Bro. I mean, really. Yeah. Well, that’s what I’m thinking. Well, this is what I’m thinking, Bro is that on the QP, we do it the same way. Let Maniac…I give Maniac the money, he goes in there, brings it back to me, da, da, da. And then on the next one, I’m like hey, Bro, can I just go to him direct and I’ll still give you the money and now I have a sale of QP with him. You know what I’m saying? With Udell, without him, so now, he owns one and then this guy and Maniac owns one. Well, alright, so we may need a little bit more. We maybe have to do a little bit more. That’s…which is perfect. Yup.”
Okay, It Was An Accident
Good, innocent people who have never been bent over by federal justice might assume that lying might get a case dismissed. In fact a Federal Magistrate Judge named Cam Ferenbach did propose throwing the case in the trash, which is what prompted the joint evidentiary hearing two weeks ago. It was a joint hearing because Halgat is accused of the same crimes in two separate federal cases called USA v. Wickham et al. and USA v. Halgat et al. The cases are being brought by the same prosecutors using the same tainted evidence because government lawyers want a second shot at Halgat if they lose the first case. Halgat has no criminal record by the way. He was recorded telling Brancato that he wasn’t going to sell the TFO drugs. He was a target of a federal sting because he was a chapter officer in the Vagos. So, the theory went, he had to be guilty of something.
The way prosecutors put it last Friday was: “The purpose of TFO Brancato’s infiltration into the Vagos was to determine: (1) if the Vagos OMG was a criminal enterprise, and (2) if its members were engaging in criminal activity.” Their statement was a lie of omission. Brancato was able to determine after a couple of months that the Vagos was not the criminal organization it is portrayed to be at government press conferences and on reality television. Then Brancato spent the next two years trying to find a Vago who might be convinced by tears, sentimentality or cold hard cash, to briefly engage “in criminal activity” beyond the usual fist fights and traffic violations.
Last week the government scored a little victory. In a stipulation filed last Thursday, Halgat and his attorney agreed that audio recorded evidence had not been “intentional(ly)” edited. Apparently the stipulation will save several police careers. Any recorded conversations that Brancato erased, the stipulation explains, were ordered by his handlers and that was only done with the knowledge that the recordings had already backed up. The gaps in the backups, the stipulation discretely continues, were not edited but were merely, “gaps that were caused by loss of cell phone battery life, packet loss, transmission issues, cell tower drop outs, or other software related limitations.”
What Is Outrageous Government Conduct
In a motion filed last Friday, showing absolutely no gratitude for the graciousness of Halgat’s stipulation, prosecutors tried to beat him over the head with it. “Halgat stipulated to the withdrawal of his allegations that the recordings associated with this case were edited or purposely destroyed. As a result, Halgat’s allegations of “ outrageous government conduct “are unsubstantiated.”
“The magistrate judge (Ferenbach) improperly made a credibility determination as to TFO Brancato without holding a credibility hearing,” the prosecutors concluded.
Until they actually publish their ruling case, there remains some possibility that Halgat might actually have to stand trial for the crimes Brancato made up