A Lake County, California jury found three members of the Sonoma County charter of the Hells Angels named Timothy R. Bianchi, Nicholas F. Carrillo and Josh L. Johnson not guilty of most charges resulting from an alleged assault on a member of the Vagos Motorcycle Club named Michael Anthony Burns at the Konocti Vista Casino in Lakeport in June 2011.
Johnson was cleared of all charges when the jury returned its verdict late Wednesday. Bianchi and Carrillo were found guilty of misdemeanor assault. The jury also found all three men innocent of acting on behalf of a “criminal street gang.” All defendants had faced up to a decade in prison if convicted.
Getting The Angels
During a traffic stop, Burns was discovered to be bleeding about the head and face including a cut under his right eye. He told police he suffered the injuries in a fall. Eventually, for reasons that remain unclear but seem to have some connection to the political ambitions and personal self image of former Sheriff Frank Rivero, police “reviewed footage from the resort’s security surveillance system” and charged the three Hells Angels with misdemeanors. After the FBI interjected itself into the case, the accused men were charged with a felony, assault with a deadly weapon, and that made it possible to also charge that they had beaten Burns “for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further, or assist in criminal conduct by gang members.” The alleged gang was the Hells Angels.
The defendants and the purported victim were always only pawns in an attempt by the local prosecutor, a small time pettifogger named Art Grothe, to put the Hells Angels on trial – and what a feather in his cap it would have been; if this “lone and courageous prosecutor had dared to go where no one had gone before and achieved an historic…” and so on and so on. Typically, the sort of heroes who dare tangle with “outlaw motorcycle gangs” get big book and often movie and television deals. Maybe that was what motivated Grothe. The trial began last November 19 and ultimately a local jury thought the case was ridiculous.
Jorge Got Paid
Grothe’s argument, that the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is a monolithic, for profit, criminal racket, like the Sons of Anarchy, relied on the expertise of professional gang authority Jorge Gil-Blanco. Gil-Blanco does not seem to know very much. He makes his way through the world largely by getting paid to say things prosecutors want jurors to hear. Most of his experience in his field of expertise seems to consist of watching motorcycle club members from a safe distance at rallies like Sturgis and Hollister and swapping fish stories with other experts. Gil Blanco’s main job at a domestic surveillance clearinghouse called The Western States Information Network is to teach police officers how to appear to be experts when they testify – which is to say he teaches cops how to cogently lie.
Gil-Blanco sat up and barked for Grothe over and over during this prosecution. He testified extensively during pretrial hearings and during the trial itself.
A comprehensive survey done a decade ago found that the average compensation for non medical expert witnesses in California was about $250 an hour for court testimony and about half that for consultation. A more recent survey indicates that in the last ten years the amount of that compensation has doubled. The public records of how much Gil-Blanco made from this completely unnecessary legal case are not readily obtainable nor is a comprehensive accounting of how much this spectacle cost. But the people of Lake County, California are probably entitled to know that.