The trial of the remaining defendants in the Mongols Motorcycle Club case is about to be delayed again for the third time. The trial was originally scheduled for December 16th, 2008; was continued until July 21st, 2009; then postponed until November 24th 2009; and will now probably be postponed again until April 13th, 2010.
Seventy-nine members and associates of the Mongols were indicted on October 9th, 2008. One of the accused, Peter Soto, has not yet been arraigned. Jorge Cottini died in custody. At least fifty-four defendants have entered into plea and sentencing agreements with the Department of Justice. All but one of those men have pled guilty to Count One of the indictment, which identifies the Mongols as a racketeering enterprise. Six of the confessed racketeers are believed to be cooperating with the prosecution. At least one defendant, Harry Reynolds, is seeking to be tried separately.
Twenty-one defendants remain. Those men are: Hector Gonzalez, Anthony Tinoco, Michael Bill Munz, Robert Rios, Manuel Armendarez, Mark Garcia, Jorge Vuramontes, Horacio Ponce, William Owens, Ismael Rivera, Ismael Padilla, Felix Figueroa, Jon Jay Morein, Alessandro Lopez, Manuel Melgoza, Renato Gomez, Alfonso Solis, David Padilla, Thomas Alarcon, Jose Morales and Lance Eustice.
The motion requesting the delay was made by all the remaining defendants as well as United States Attorneys George S. Cardona, Christine C. Ewell, Christopher Brunwin and Reema El-Amamy. The motion complains that the trial can not proceed this month because, “The government has produced discovery to the defense including over 8,000 pages of documents and 400 instances of electronic surveillance as well as numerous recordings of intercepted phone calls.”
The defense attorneys also argue that, “Due to the nature of the prosecution and the number of defendants, this case is so unusual and so complex that it is unreasonable to expect adequate preparation for pretrial proceedings or for trial itself within the Speedy Trial Act time limits.”
The numbers stated in this motion seem to betray the continuation of the government investigation of the Mongols in the 13 months since the indictment was issued. In official court papers in the autumn of 2008, defense attorneys complain of 3,000 pages of discovery. Last Spring defense attorneys were confronted by 4,000 pages. Now they are confronted by 8,000 pages.
It is also reasonable to wonder out loud if the government would not prefer to keep the undercover ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) Agents who made this case off the witness stand. The last headline-making case the ATF prosecuted was the fruit of an undercover investigation called “Operation Black Biscuit.” That case was long delayed and largely fell apart because the ATF Agents who investigated the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club in Arizona, Anthony Jay Dobyns and Jenna McGuire, were widely rumored to have engaged in unethical and possibly illegal conduct. The government was clearly afraid that the evidence the two agents had gathered might be impeached.
What It Means
The current presiding judge in this trial, Florence-Marie Cooper, will retire on March 15th, 2010, a month after she turns 70-years-old. If she grants the motion for a continuance, she will be effectively taking herself out of the case. And, that might be to the greater delight of the prosecution than the defense. It is hard to see how the Mongols defendants could ask for a better judge.
Cooper is a surprisingly pretty, kind, soft-spoken, bright and matronly woman. She is almost religiously patient with the slow motion circus of American law and she seems to do, at the least, a very good imitation of a judge being fair.
And, she is admirably common. She may be the only sitting Federal judge who never graduated from college. She slogged through five years of night school at San Francisco City College but never got her degree. She worked as a secretary in a law firm before going to what was then Beverly Law School and is now Whittier College of Law as part of a special program for bright people who lacked college diplomas.
Judge Cooper is the woman who ruled that the Mongols, rather than the government, owns the Mongols name and patch and over the last year she seems to have looked skeptically at many elements of the prosecution’s case. The next judge may be more easily impressed by biker stereotypes.