In a previous incarnation John Ciccone may have conquered Europe. This time around, he appears to be sharpening his blind hatred of motorcycle clubs.
Ciccone is a dark-haired, compact man who probably owns a set of weights. His few enemies describe him as five feet, four inches tall. His many friends claim he is actually a full five-seven. And, as is the case with the all the most troublesome cops, everybody-outlaws, judges, gangsta rappers, lawyers, other cops, everybody-loves this guy.
When he got out of college, it has been written, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was the only prospective employer who would hire Ciccone. He has since seemed driven to prove that they did not make a mistake. He has supervised three investigations of motorcycle clubs, been integral to a fourth and been associated with several others. And, these investigations always start the same way-with a confidential informant.
A botched, slapstick investigation of the Hollywood Vagos began after Ciccone sweet-talked a disgruntled prospect. The prospect introduced a hang around. Then the prospect died. His brothers soon discovered that the prospect’s bike was registered to the ATF and much exciting hilarity ensued. But, Ciccone learned from his mistakes.
Next Ciccone convinced two associates, a man and a woman, to introduce an ardent motorcyclist named Billy “Slow Brain” St. John to certain members of the Mongols. Slow Brain hung around, prospected, ate his shit and patched before he was revealed to be not merely an ATF Agent, but also a former SWAT Team partner of Ciccone’s. Slow Brain’s real name was William Queen. It was not a perfect investigation but Ciccone learned.
Next Ciccone hypnotized a Hells Angel with a guilty conscience into cooperating with the government. The conversation has been reported to have begun with Ciccone asking, “So how come the Mongols are kicking the Angels’ asses.” Then sparks flew and they kissed and they became domestic partners. Or, something like that. The fallen Angel was named Michael Kramer and the resulting investigation led to a government infiltration of the Angels in Arizona by another federal employee named Jay Anthony “Bird” Dobyns. Frequent, diligent visitors to this page have heard of Jay. Ciccone did not supervise this investigation but he watched and he learned.
In 2003, Ciccone was also involved in the investigation of the Washington Nomads charter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.
Then, in June, 2005 a patched member of the Mongols’ Camarillo chapter found himself charged with the federal crime of mail fraud. By chance, he happened to run into Ciccone in the hall or something like that. Words were exchanged and sparks flew. Next thing, not only was the Mongol out of jail but he had a new, glamorous, part-time job in the exciting field of confidential informing. Bingo!
Probably, we can conclude that Ciccone is already through the toughest part of the learning curve.
From February, 2006 through February, 2008 the Sergeant-at-Arms of the Cypress Park Chapter of the Mongols Motorcycle Club was a paid ATF informant. During the first half of 2008 the Secretary/Treasurer and the Vice President of the Cypress Park Chapter were both ATF undercover Agents. During the second half of 2008, these same positions were held by a different undercover agent and a paid informant.
Another ATF undercover Agent was allowed to patch into the Mongols’ Henderson, Nevada Chapter without prospecting. During the investigation, the Sergeant-at-Arms of the Las Vegas chapter was working for the ATF. Also, the Sergeant-at-Arms of the San Diego East County chapter was a paid informant.
But Wait There’s More
During the investigation, one hang around was a paid informant and another was a Montebello, California police officer. The Sergeant-at-Arms of the Carson City, Nevada chapter was a paid informant. And, at the time the indictment against the club was unsealed last October, the same paid informant was President of the Nevada Central (Reno) chapter. The same informant was also appointed World chapter Sergeant-at-Arms.
Both the paid informants and the covert agents made “audio and, at times, video recordings of Mongols members” at chapter meetings, All Members Meetings, officers meetings, during runs and also of “individual conversations with various other Mongols members and associates.”
Because, according to an official ATF statement, “the Mongols are different from many other criminal enterprises in that they keep extensive written documentation of their rules and activities” investigators were able to seize most of these records last October.
The Mongols choice of cell provider was Nextel, the government knew it, and virtually every conversation between chapters for years was intercepted and recorded.
Many Dead Trees
So far more than 4,000 items of evidence have been discovered including “recordings of numerous Mongols meetings;” “internal documents generated and maintained by the Mongols;” “telephone conversations intercepted pursuant to Title III wire taps;” “call sheets summarizing the conversations captured in additional intercepted telephone conversations;” and, more than “600 reports of investigation (ROI) generated by ATF agents.”
The present case, which is bad enough, is described by lawyers as “complex.” The public documents pertinent to the case fill about a cubic foot, about half a copier paper case box. The docket summary of the case is about 220 printed pages.
The government investigation of the Mongols is ongoing and top secret. Twenty-two defendants have entered into sealed plea and sentencing agreements with the Justice Department. Thirty-four defendants, including currently incarcerated Mongols President Hector “Largo” Gonzalez, have sued to have the plea deals made public. The judge in the case, Florence-Marie Cooper refused to do that last week but promised that she would not let the government do it anymore. The things some defendants have said to get out of jail has led to a series of regrettable developments for some other defendants.
For example, Thomas “Danger” Savala. Savala, 29, was identified during the course of the ATF investigation as a distributor of methamphetamine. He was indicted in October with 78 other defendants, arrested November 5th, arraigned November 10th and denied bail.
On May 14th Defendant Savala found himself accused of an “April 8, 2007 shooting” and “the November, 2007 murder of two City Terrace gang members whose bodies were set ablaze in the desert after being shot.” Late last week Judge Cooper that Savala’s lawyer could examine censored, partial copies of the statements that had been made to incriminate his client. Savala is not permitted to know the name of his accuser.
Then the judge warned the lawyer that “Prior to trial in this matter, no attorney, investigator, paralegal or other member of the defense team, as well as the defendant, shall knowingly disclose, directly or indirectly to any individual not involved in the representation of defendant Savala, the contents of the redacted statements.”
Who Is Talking
Looking at the case from the outside, it is impossible to tell who is cooperating with the prosecution and who is not.
The thirty-four defendants who want the pleas unsealed are not cooperating. Two other defendants who have filed separate motions to unseal are also not cooperating. One defendant who has died in jail is telling not tails. Another defendant seems to have suffered a mental breakdown so anything he said would not be admissible. Several defendants have filed motions to reunite with their club brothers in jail and it seems unlikely that they are cooperating. A few defendants have made bail. Since they are unprotected it is doubtful that any of them are cooperating.
That still leaves more than 30 defendants who may have already entered a plea. Of the 22 who have entered pleas, it is quite plausible that two-thirds of them are not really cooperating but only trying to get all of this over with as soon as possible. So that leaves a very plausible seven cooperating witnesses.
And everything you have read so far is a gross oversimplification of the case. Besides the defendants who were indicted in October, legally obtained records indicate that there are at least 65 more, named, unindicted co-conspirators. And, this is a conspiracy case.
Then, on top of that, at least six members of the Mongols Motorcycle Club have been incarcerated on separate charges since last October. Two of those patch holders are charged with murder.
So, who knows who is talking? Probably hundreds of people know.
On the one hand the Mongols case the most secret trial north of Guantanamo. On the other hand the case has more leaks than an old boat. This is an ongoing investigation that is still being carried out by the ATF, the Montebello Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
No matter how secret the investigation is, somebody still has to investigate it. There are also about a thousand court house and jail employees who have some knowledge of some secret part of the case. And, there are at least seventy-five lawyers and an unknown number of private detectives to fit all the puzzle pieces together into one, big picture.
Officers of the Mongols MC seem to have known last October’s bust was coming six weeks before the Grand Jury did. “On August 26, 2008, at approximately 9:30 pm a group direct connect call was made by Hector Gonzalez in his role as National President of the Mongols…. Gonzalez ordered each Sergeant-at-Arms to contact all members within their respective chapters to advise the members that there should be nothing illegal inside their residences or vehicles (usually meant as a warning that there may be possible law enforcement activity about to occur against the Mongols….) Gonzalez. stated that he received this information from a ‘tip’ and to “read between the lines of what he is saying.”
Something’s Happening Here
The documents in this case are like the leaves in a forest in autumn. Unless you know how to look, they hide more than they reveal.
Seven months ago the Government of the United States said it intended to prove that the Mongols Motorcycle Club was a racketeering enterprise. The government also alleged that the Mongols patch was an integral part of that racketeering enterprise and so the government was going to seize that.
There now seems to be little doubt that the government can prove that in at least some instances individual members of the Mongols MC were sharing profits from drug sales with the mother chapter of the club. The government also seems to remain confidant that it can prove that the Mongols mother chapter then took part of that money and paid it to the so-called Mexican Mafia (if such a group actually exists) to try to buy peace with them.
Motorcyclists and civil libertarians have been most exercised about the Justice Department’s confiscation of the Mongols patch. Most citizens are offended by civil forfeiture laws in general. The confiscation of the patch also raises issues about what symbols a free people will be allowed by a powerful government to display. What goes next? The Confederate Flag? The American Flag? The Christian Cross?
Even the very respectfully regarded, Hells Angels grey back George Christie joined the discussion. “This has now gone beyond the bounds of career-hungry servants of the public,” Christie said. “This is an attack on the very fabric … the Constitution was written on.”
But, if the racketeering charge sticks the patch will belong to the Feds. From the very beginning, the government has said that the patch is an “indicia,” a trademark, for an inherently criminal enterprise. “The Mongols frequently exhibit their membership or association with the gang by wearing gang vests, shirts, hats, jewelry, and tattoos displaying the identified images of the Mongols gang,” Ciccone wrote last year. “The most prominent image is that of a Mongol motorcycle rider, or a human head with a queue, facial hair and sunglasses.”
For all practical purposes, the government has already won its case. And yet, the investigation continues. Why? What is going on?
Well, in the first place, John Ciccone is clearly not one of those standard-issue, government dunderheads who makes a plan and sticks to it. When Ciccone started investigating motorcycle clubs he was apparently told by one of those dunderheads that his results did not justify his efforts. Probably, just guessing here, in the same way that some coach, on some team, some where once told little John that he was too small to even try out.
Now Ciccone is large and in charge and the Mongols case is growing like a cancer. The Mongols are already screwed.
The Mongols’ trial, for whoever will be left to be tried, is scheduled to begin in exactly seven weeks on July 21st. But, don’t count on it. Inevitably, possibly in the next seven weeks, the Department of Justice will issue a superseding indictment. More names will be named. For a full minute or two, armies of militarized police will be shown on one or another television newscast rounding up more sleepy and disheveled men. Some of the men will look defiant and some will look ashamed. Some will cooperate and some will fight.
Chances are, John Ciccone already knows their names.