A memorable example of how low federal police will limbo in order to portray motorcycle clubs as rackets is the great, multi-key, Las Vegas Mongols cocaine deal.
One of the prosecutors in the Mongols case, Reema M. El-Amamy, has actually bragged that this entrapment was “street theater;” as if that very curious phrase explains anything. What El-Amamy’s choice of words seems to show is that there is an ever finer line between the business of putting people in the penitentiary and the business of reality TV.
One of the victims of the Vegas charade, a man named Harry Reynolds, is still trying to get the charges against him thrown out. Reynolds is mentioned fifteen times in the 177 page racketeering indictment that was unsealed in October 2008 but he was actually only accused of Overt Act 224 which alleges:
“On September 18, 2007, in San Bernardino, California, defendants R. Lozano, Reynolds and I. Padilla and an unindicted co-conspirator armed themselves with firearms and arranged to purchase 33 kilograms of cocaine with an undercover law enforcement officer and a confidential government informant.” (Don’t even try to make sense of how Las Vegas came to be a neighborhood in San Bernardino.)
If it were to break bad for Reynolds he could face up to 20 years in prison for this. Last week his attorney, Thomas W. Kielty, filed a motion to dismiss his indictment. And a couple of the documents Kielty managed to get into the public record with this motion are interesting.
One document is the transcript of the sentencing of William Ramirez. Ramirez was caught in the same sort of “staged phony transaction” that entrapped Reynolds. Ramirez’ stood and witnessed a cop make a deal with another cop for 20 kilos of cocaine.
And the phrase “staged phony transaction” was uttered by Judge Otis D. Wright as he explained why he was rejecting a government recommendation that Ramirez be sentenced to 63 months in prison. Judge Wright went on to say that ATF street theater “simply offends me. I don’t think it is fair. I don’t think this is what this system is about. And it is not going to happen. I am not going to impose a guideline sentence under these circumstances.”
Judge Wright sentenced Ramirez to five years probation and fined him $100. Ramirez is appealing that sentence.
Another interesting document brought out of the shadows by Reynolds’ motion is the actual Report of Investigation of the “staged narcotics transaction” in a hotel room at the Silverton Casino in Las Vegas. The report is attributed to ATF Special Agent John Carr (in the photo above) but seems to have actually been written by Special Agent John Ciccone. Ciccone and Los Angeles Group Supervisor Eric Harden signed the report and the phrase “staged narcotics transaction” is probably Ciccone’s.
The deal involved 33 kilos of real cocaine and the actual Mongols present were outnumbered by ATF employees four to three.
Besides Carr, who patched into the club as “Hollywood,” a paid informant known to the club as Kaos also helped set up the manufactured crime. Kaos, is 39-year-old Steven Veltus of Racine, Wisconsin. He has been charged with drug related crimes four times since 1996 and he was apparently recruited as an informant by another ATF Agent who worked undercover in this Mongols case.
Carr asked the three Mongols, allegedly his club brothers, to protect him during the transaction. Reynolds, who was President of the Las Vegas chapter, had argued with both Veltus and Carr about their criminality contaminating the brotherhood of his club. At the time of the “staged deal,” Reynolds was unemployed and needed the money. Carr pretended to have $528,000 in a suitcase.
The drug dealers were played by two Task Force Officers, which is a term the ATF uses to describe deputized cops. One of them, Tino Brancato, is a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy. The other “drug dealer” was a local Las Vegas cop named Jake Hickman. Everything that happened in three hotel rooms that night was electronically recorded by the Las Vegas Metro Police Department.
What Does It Mean To Turn Your Back
The video shows Carr paying Padilla and Reynolds $1,000 each after the deal was done. Lozano was paid with two cases of cigarettes. Much has been made of the premeditation the Mongols showed when they took part in this deal. For example, that they “wore” bullet proof vests. But those vests were provided by Carr who asked the Mongols to wear them.
The indictment also specifically charges that the three Mongols “armed themselves.” But, the video records Carr asking, “Who needs a gun?” Carr brought enough guns for everybody.
That night, Harry Reynolds was caught between the temptation of easy money and the extravagant criminality of two men he was honor bound to treat as brothers. When Carr offered Reynolds a gun Reynolds just turned his back. It is an ambiguous gesture. In the ROI, Ciccone wrote that Reynolds’ gesture “implied he (Reynolds) had (brought) his (own gun.)” Some men might take turning one’s back to mean something else.
On details like these depend the depths of some men’s misfortune and the success of other men’s careers.