The American system of justice is a mud fight. Prosecuting and defending attorneys attack, insult and lie at each other in front of a special kind of politician called a judge. It is a holy mud fight. Believers are convinced that if the pettifoggers just fight hard enough eventually a beautiful, white angel called justice will ascend out of the mire and the muck.
These mud fights hardly ever rise to tragedy. Usually they are grimly banal. Sometimes they are almost cynically amusing. Here are four scenes from the mud fight called the United States of America versus Cavazos et al (the Mongols Motorcycle Club) Case Number 2:08-cr-01201-FMC.
Americans are often credited with certain inalienable rights. Among those rights are a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, liberty, freedom to pursue happiness, the rights of assembly and free association, a right to be judged dispassionately and the right to bear arms. This is from the Arrest on Indictment Hearing of Brian Thomas McCauley on November 14, 2008. McCauley is accused of possessing numerous weapons and 1000 rounds of ammunition, including government (or government surplus) ammunition, brandishing a handgun and of attempting to keep his association with the Mongols secret.
Defense Attorney Brian A. Newman: Your Honor, what we have here is a nineteen and a half year veteran of the United States Navy.
The Honorable Margaret Nagle, United States Magistrate Judge: Bought himself a pack of trouble it sounds like.
Newman: Well your Honor, if the court notes that all of these weapons are legally registered to him. They were legally purchased by him
Judge Nagle: Government ammo is not a good thing.
Newman: Well, you know, the government made the allegations. I don’t know if that’s true or not.
Judge Nagle: My father was a mailman. The guy who worked at the window at the post office he worked at borrowed five bucks for lunch from somebody in the office but it just so happened that the inspector came in when he was out and said, “you’re five dollars short.” And he said, “Oh, I borrowed it for lunch but I was going to pay it back.” That was the end of 23 years of his career. The government takes these rules and regulations pretty seriously….
Judge Nagle: And, Mr. McCauley, if you are hanging with guns and leather vests with this crowd, you know, you sometimes wind up in the position of being judged by the company you keep, as I tell my children. And, you’ve got a long service in the Navy but, again, you may find yourself in a bit of trouble one way or the other on this one…..
Judge Nagle: You know, it’s late on Friday. I probably shouldn’t say what I’m about to say on the record. I suppose the Second Amendment isn’t my favorite Amendment when it comes to allowing people, in Washington D.C. as the Supreme Court has held that it does, to have semi-automatic assault weapons.
One of the most dramatic charges in the indictment of the Mongols is that members of the club provided armed “security” for a 20 kilogram cocaine deal. What the indictment fails to mention is that both the buyer and seller in the “deal” were working for the ATF. From a detention hearing for Sam Trevino, former President of the Henderson, Nevada chapter of the Mongols, held on November 5, 2008.
Christopher Brunwin, Assistant United States Attorney: (Defendant Sam Trevino)…was indentified during the investigation as transacting multiple firearms…sold four assault rifles and also participated in drug transactions including providing security for a 20 kilogram cocaine transaction…. On March 26th, 2008 this defendant along with co-defendants Hull and William Ramirez armed themselves to act as security to protect the distribution of 20 kilograms of cocaine.
Defense Attorney Errol H. Stambler: First of all your honor, these allegations to begin with….
The Honorable Jeffrey W. Johnson, United States Magistrate Judge: Well, they’ve been confirmed by a Grand Jury to the level of probable cause, which is…so, this court can’t reconsider those.
Stambler: Yes, but the…let me just move on with my argument. My argument is this: That whether or not he sold to undercover agents or not, he sold legal. It was lawful in the State of Nevada. Anything he did was lawful. He didn’t violate any state laws on the transfer of weapons.
Judge Johnson: The Grand Jury specifically found, counsel, that your client armed himself along with two other co-defendants as security to protect the distribution of 20 kilograms of cocaine.
Stambler: Well, we deny that.
Judge Johnson: But the Grand Jury has found that. That’s not….
Judge Johnson: That’s not subject to this court’s reconsideration at this point in time. That’s been found to the level of probable cause. That is established as far as this proceeding goes. That is an established fact to the level of probable cause.
Stambler: What the Grand Jury either knew or didn’t know is that the sale is from one agent to another agent. And, the court can ask the government if that’s true or not. And to me that’s…you know…that’s like a setup if you want. It’s…well…we need security because we’re going to sell the 20- kilos or the 50 kilos. I mean, whatever it was, it was created by the government. Not by Mr. Trevino. Mr. Trevino could have just as well stood guard for five ounces of coke powder or cocaine. So, the amount of the cocaine is really not that relevant. What is relevant is, what did he do? He stood security. Security from what? Nothing ever happened. It was one agent to another agent. And, he stood in a room without any weapons and that was that.
Judge Johnson: Well, it actually says he had weapons. It says he was armed.
Stambler: Well, we dispute that.
Judge Johnson: Well, I get that part.
The prosecution in this case has continued to develop evidence against the accused while the suspects remain imprisoned and in numerous instances it has refused to disclose that evidence to either the defendants or their attorneys. The justification for that secrecy is this formal statement by ATF Case Agent John Ciccone. From a sworn declaration on May 4, 2009.
I, John Ciccone, declare as follows: I am a Special Agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, United States department of Justice, Los Angles, California. I have been employed as a Special Agent of the ATF for approximately eighteen years….
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. Based on my knowledge of the Mongols gang and the facts learned during the course of the investigation, I believe that the concerns about physical retaliation to defendants are credible. The Indictment describes a number of acts of violence, threats, and intimidation by the Mongols organization. I believe that some of the defendants would have a greater concern for possible retaliation than others, based on the nature of the organization and the defendant’s role within the organization.
Agents have coordinated with the Marshal’s Service in order to assist with the safety and security of inmates, particularly with regard to housing issues that might address the danger to inmates. However, I anticipate that the government will continue to need to file some documents under seal as a protective measure, particularly when defendants intend to cooperate….
I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United states that the foregoing is true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.
From a Bail Hearing for William Owens, former President of the Ventura, California chapter of the Mongols, held on January 27, 2009. Owens is accused of selling methamphetamine to an undercover ATF agent named Greg Guyone. ATF Case Agent John Ciccone is present for this hearing.
Defense Attorney Scott Pactor: I would note that the RICO (Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act) charge in this case is a huge part of what the Mongols and others are being charged with. Traditionally a RICO case involves a corruption of a legitimate business by an illegitimate crime organization. And that presupposes that there are some legitimate aspects to the underlying business that’s being charged. And, I think that’s one of the issues in this case. That there are some bad actors among this group of men who are charged and then there are some actors who are good or who are not bad or who are certainly not criminals.
Pactor: The substantive crimes that Mr. Owens has been accused of involved sales to undercover agents. These were gentlemen who were friends of Mr. Owens who took advantage of the trust that he had with them as fellow members of the club and allowed them to induce…induced him to make these sales which is not something he does. He’s not a drug seller.
Pactor: Specifically, he says that many of the statements that they’re attributing to him were either made by other people or were made by the confidential informant himself; in that there’s a consistent effort by the confidential informant in this case and perhaps by the government to blow up statements that may have been made by him to make him look like a dangerous individual. For example, there’s a meeting that happens at the beginning of the investigation, and the statements talk about how Mr. Owens is threatening an individual. Well, if you look at the facts of the case the individual who had the beef was the confidential informant. He was the one who wanted the violence to happen against the other individual and he’s literally putting his own words in Mr. Owens’ mouth.
Pactor: They are making allegations that he sold methamphetamine on one occasion to somebody (ATF Undercover Special Agent Greg Guyone) who apparently came to him in tears because he said he was going to get killed by somebody else. And, he needed the methamphetamine to make something good. Okay?
Pactor: And, there’s no disputing the aggressiveness of this investigation. (Pointing to Ciccone.) There’s no disputing the historical aggressiveness of the agent who’s here and prosecuting the Mongols! Prosecuting them and persecuting them!