There is a motion hearing in the Bandidos racketeering case Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom C in the federal courthouse in San Antonio. It may be a public hearing. Then again the judge in the case, David A. Ezra, may simply take the public hearing into his chambers.
This is a very, very secret matter.
More than six months after an indictment was returned against then Bandidos Motorcycle Club president Jeff Pike, club vice-president John Portillo and sergeant-at-arms Justin Cole Forster, the case against the three men remains almost entirely sealed lest the people of the United States learn what happens in federal racketeering cases and they start burning down courthouses and lynching prosecutors.
A “protective order” was thrown over the case on January 25 and the order remained sealed until June 7. The motion that requested it is still sealed.
The protective order stated: “That given the sensitive nature of the discovery material, for any material provided, production and viewing of discovery materials is restricted to the United States Attorney’s Office by appointment. It is further ordered that the dissemination of any discovery materials to any person, other than the attorneys of record for the Defendant, in this case is prohibited. It is further ordered that no attorney in the above-captioned cause shall release any discovery to any person, including but not limited to the defendants’ family members, or defendants’ associates. In the event any written or electronic discovery is provided to the defense, attorneys may show discovery to their client(s), and may discuss the information with their client(s); however, attorneys may not reproduce or disseminate any discovery, or copies of discovery to anyone, including the client. It is further ordered that if counsel is substituted in this cause, all discovery materials, including copies. thereof, shall immediately be returned to counsel of record for the Government, who will be obligated to provide a copy of the discovery materials to new counsel upon new counsel acknowledging his or her obligations under this Order. It is further ordered that a copy of this Order shall be furnished to counsel of record in this case and any successive counsel of record who enter an appearance after the date of this Order.”
Judge Ezra refused to modify the order at the beginning of May and will probably refuse to modify the order again. The prosecutors are so in charge of this judge that they are grumbling to him that the defense attorneys are “late” for their appointments.
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What seems to be at stake is the revelation of the identity of the undercover asset the FBI placed inside the Bandidos. This asset’s identity and an accounting of his actions while he was undercover may shed light not only on, as the indictment put it, the “war” between the Cossacks Motorcycle Club and the Bandidos, but also what McLennan County District Attorney Abelino Reyna now calls the “Battle of Twin Peaks.”
Much of the government’s case against Pike, Portillo and Forster seems based on audio recordings made by the government asset. Particularly secret are recordings made on November 1, December 16 and December 29, 2015.
At issue in Thursday’s hearing will be whether the defendants’ lawyers and the defendants must report the prosecutor’s office in San Antonio to hear the purported evidence against Pike, Portillo and Forster. The trip is problematic for Pike, who lives near Houston. It is also a problem for Portillo who is accompanied everywhere he goes by United States Marshals, which makes frank and open discussions between Portillo and his lawyer while they listen to the recordings problematic.
The defense lawyers want copies of the audio recordings. The government will only allow them to have “‘drafts’ of transcripts of the recordings.”
Whatever the prosecutors are hiding must be big. Many government careers must be in jeopardy.