Mongols are already flipping like jumping beans and things may be about to get even uglier. Yesterday, United States District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled that future plea deals would no longer be routinely sealed.
Of the 79 members and associates of the Mongols Motorcycle Club who were indicted last October, 22 of them have reached some accommodation with the Justice Department. Nine defendants have changed their pleas. Thirteen defendants have entered into plea and sentencing agreements. All 22 of those pleas have been sealed by the court at the request of prosecution.
The first plea and sentencing agreement was filed January 22nd. The last plea change was on April 30th. On May 4th, the prosecution told the court that “At least one defendant has a guilty plea and plea agreement pending. More than one defendant has expressed concerns that their plea agreements, or the fact that they have entered a guilty plea, could expose them or their families to possible retaliation by other Mongol members or other gang members.”
That same day, a Special Agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) named John Ciccone declared:
“Defendants have related that they are concerned about threats from Mexican Mafia members and associates, and the Hells Angels and other rival motorcycle gangs based on the interaction between the organization and those gangs…. I have also received specific information about threats directed against defendants and the government related to cooperation and the entry of guilty pleas.”
“A number of defendants have entered guilty pleas and offered to cooperate with the government. Other defendants have also provided information to the government and have requested that their plea agreements be filed under seal, in order to protect them and their family members from possible retaliation.”
“Agents have coordinated with the Marshall’s Service in order to assist with the safety and security of inmates particularly with regard to housing issues….”
Special Agent Ciccone was one of the Special Agents involved with the investigation of the Mongols. The United States Marshall’s Service administers the Federal Witness Protection Program.
Still Twenty-Two Secret Pleas
Judge Cooper’s ruling yesterday made it clear that a vital question for many defendants is whether they should join the flip fest now before it is too late.
Judge Cooper wrote:
“Up to this point, the Court has allowed plea agreements to be filed under seal, with notice only to counsel for the pleading defendant, based on an application to seal filed by the Government and supported by concurrence of the pleading defendant, with general assertions of safety concerns. The defense opposition in this case has demonstrated to the Court the problems created for the remaining defendants after such a sealed plea agreement has been reached, particularly in terms of deciding whether to continue to prepare for trial or attempt to reach an agreement with the Government. It is clear to the Court that in order to protect defendants’ rights to make intelligent and informed decisions on such a vital issue, a greater showing of necessity must be met before a plea agreement may be filed under seal.”
Judge Cooper refused however, to unseal the 22 pleas that have already been entered into the secret government record. So if you are a defendant in this case, and you are wondering who has already bought his freedom by agreeing to testify against you, you are out of luck.
Attorneys for 34 defendants in the case sought to have the pleas made public. The defendants have argued that knowing who is pleading to what is vital to their defenses. “You want to know what deals other defendants are getting,” attorney David McLane told the Associated Press yesterday. “I thought it was inappropriate they wanted a blanket order to seal (all pleas).”
Author, television personality and former Mongols president Ruben “Doc” Cavazos was not one of the defendants seeking to have the plea agreements made public.
Cavazos is the author of a memoir titled Honor Few, Fear None which was published almost exactly one year ago. At the time, Cavazos seemed to own the whole world.
His publisher, Harper, urges curious civilians to buy and read the book because: “In Honor Few, Fear None, Doc is ready, for the first time, to share the stories of the Mongols’ continuing battle to survive and thrive against incredible odds-and sometimes terrible violence.”
In a press release, Harper said, “When Ruben Cavazos changed his clothes at daybreak, he was no longer a CAT scan technician at the University of Southern California Medical Center. He became the man known-and, in a few special cases, feared-as Doc, international president of the Mongols, the fastest-growing and most closely watched organization of its kind in the United States.
“In reality, the Mongols are a tightly knit band of brothers devoted in equal measure to their club, their fellow Mongols, and their freedom. They live to enjoy life, party, and travel the open road. Above all, they demand respect. When pushed too far, Mongols join together to push back. Just ask the Hells Angels, the Ukrainian mafia, the Mexican mafia, and the U.S. government, all of whom have tested the Mongols’ resolve.”
Cavazos was an astoundingly public man for a motorcycle outlaw. He was also interviewed for the History Channel television program Gangland.
According to the Federal indictment, Cavazos, was voted out of the Mongols Motorcycle Club “in bad standing” at a meeting in Vernon, CA on August 30, 2008. Members of the club accused Cavazos of stealing from the Mongols and of provoking a war with the Mexican Mafia. Cavazos has even been accused of pocketing each new member’s $500 prospecting fee.
Whom the gods would destroy they first would make king.
Operation Black Rain
The predicament the Mongols defendants are now in stems from a multi-year investigation of the club by the ATF-the Federal law enforcement agency that investigates outlaw motorcycle clubs. Over the last decade, the ATF has carried out largely unfruitful infiltrations of the Vagos in Los Angeles, the Sons of Silence in Colorado and the Hells Angels in Arizona. The ATF called this investigation Operation Black Rain.
The evidence the government is using to prosecute the defendants in this case was gathered by eight ATF agents and four snitches, or cooperating witnesses. Four of the ATF agents prospected and patched with the Mongols. Four Female agents impersonated their old ladies.
The ATF also used extensive electronic surveillance during the investigation and, since the indictment was unsealed, has used experts in forensic accounting to try to prove that the Mongols was a Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO).
RICO was enacted as part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. It was written to ease the prosecution of organized crime bosses who might carry out a discernible pattern of criminal activity through subordinates while they actually committed no criminal act themselves.
The acronym RICO was contrived as a reference to the classic Edward G. Robinson gangster film Little Caesar. The film was intended to portray Al Capone and the Capone-like crime boss played by Robinson in that film called himself Rico.
RICO works best against associations that are organized into a hierarchy that can be drawn as a pyramid. In a perfect RICO case, a clear connection can be shown between a leader or leaders at the top of the pyramid and followers at the bottom of the pyramid.
Cavazos was President of the club during all of Operation Black Rain.
The Federal police have also sought the permanent forfeiture of the “intellectual rights” to the Mongols trademarked name and logo. Last October, Judge Cooper granted an injunction that prohibited patch holders, their family members and associates from wearing, licensing, selling or distributing the Mongols patch. The patch depicts the head of a Mongol warrior wearing sunglasses and smoking a cigarette.