The Mongols case has always been a travesty of justice but that is not the worst of it.
The unrestrained psychopathy that has characterized the investigation and prosecution of this case is startling. The idea was always to “get the Mongols” without ever really examining who the “Mongols” were or what it was about them that legally deserved getting. Somebody had to get got and for a small cadre of ATF Special Agents, who began as something called “Operation One Percenter” in the late 1990s, outlaw bikers have always been “the enemy.”
None of the usual idealists care. Journalists don’t care and civil libertarians don’t care because the case is large and complicated. So much of it remains secret – because there is an ongoing investigation, because there is always an ongoing investigation – that it is hard to comprehend this case let alone boil it down to a headline.
The case is large because it originated with what was for all practical purposes a dragnet. For some mix of cynical and neurotic reasons a cabal of government agents decided to spy on every member of the Mongols they could find for three years. They blackmailed a handful of members into cooperating with them. They created crimes and engaged in actual entrapment and sentence entrapment. Sometimes they learned about real crimes. The case became complicated because there never was any actual connection between all of the “criminal acts.” The only connection was that all of the accused had crossed paths with the investigators and informants. And, all of the investigators’ and informants’ names still remain officially secret.
The worst of the case is that the Department of Justice has used it as a template for two other motorcycle club prosecutions – against the Highwaymen and the Pagans. Those cases are also expansive and the crimes they allege are also connected only as loose bits of string held in a clenched fist can be said to be connected.
The Mongols case has nakedly transformed the American system of justice into Stalinist justice. As in Stalinist justice, the primary prosecutorial weapon has been propaganda. And, also as in Stalinist justice, all of the legal proceedings have been only for show. The actual punishment of all of the defendants has been the prosecution itself. The lawyers mostly strut and fret on a stage that covers over a dungeon.
In the Mongols case, “presumption of innocence” became just a noise that crawls out of some magistrate’s mouth. And, no one in this case was arrested by a couple of old-fashioned cops at his door. All of the accused were rounded up by an army of militarized police in a made for television dramatic event. Their doors were broken in. Their homes were vandalized and damaged. Their very expensive motorcycles and articles of their clothing were seized and put on display. No accounting of the seized property has ever been made. Very little has ever been returned. The property was simply stolen and used however the thieves wished to use it. And, this was all before any of the defendants was even arraigned.
Newspapers and television stations from Detroit to Dushanbe ran pictures of the arrests. Here is a brief summary of what happened after the news story dried up and blew away:
Sentences So Far
The most damning indicator of the inquisitorial nature of this case is that so far not one single defendant has been tried. Not one.
However, as of Memorial Day 2010, forty-seven defendants have been sentenced. Most, but not all of them, signed pro-forma confessions that they were members of the “Mongols criminal enterprise.”
Seventy-eight of the seventy-nine men who were named in the indictment that was unsealed in October, 2008 have been arraigned. Peter Soto has apparently still not learned of the charges against him.
Jorge Cottini died in custody. He did not have to die. He died as sick men always die in jail. He died because nothing compelled his jailers to try to save him. So he became the first defendant punished in the Mongols case.
At least two defendants made secret bargains to cooperate with the prosecution in return for leniency. The two defendants who are known to be cooperating are former club President Ruben “Doc” Cavazos, Sr. and former World Chapter President Robert Lawrence “Lars” Wilson III.
You can decide for yourself if the disparity of the forty-seven sentences pronounced so far repudiates or confirms the idea that all of these defendants were co-conspirators in one racket.
Last June 22nd, Juan Manuel Nieves was sentenced to 27 months in prison and two years probation.
Last July, William Shawley and Manuel Jimmie Vasquez were both sentenced to three years probation and Christopher Loza was sentenced to prison for 33 months.
Last August, Abram Wedig was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Last September, Shawn Buss was sentenced to two years in prison and three years probation and John Newman was sentenced to a year in prison and three years probation.
Last October Denis Maldonado was sentenced to twelve and a half years in prison. Thomas Savala was sentenced to 21 months and three years probation. And, Andres Rodriguez was sentenced to 82 months in prison and four years probation.
Last November Brian Mccauley and Bengy M. Leyva were both sentenced to three years probation. Mario Angulo was sentenced to time served and three years probation.
In December 2009 Aaron Price was sentenced to time served and four years probation. Joseph Rudolph Valle was sentenced to 46 months in prison and four years probation and Paul Lemay was sentenced five years probation.
Most of the sentences so far were pronounced this February. Jaime Flores got five years imprisonment and five years probation. Joseph Braden got 33 months and three years probation. Ramon Contreras got 30 months and three years probation. Samuel Gonzalez got three years on probation. Daniel Medel was sentenced to time served and three years probation. John Canales got four years probation. Edward Moreno was sent to prison for 27 months followed by three years probation. Roger Martinez got 30 months and the usual three years probation. Walter Ramirez got nine years. Richard Espinoza got 33 months. Luis Padilla will be imprisoned for 87 months and William Ramirez got five years probation. Juan Alfred Gonzalez was sent away for 70 months and Jason Hull got three years. Raymond Anthony Trujillo was removed from society for two and a half years. David Edward Gill got 97 months and Anthony Zuniga was given five years probation.
Sam Trevino was sentenced in camera on February 10 and his sentence remains secret.
In March, Brandon Cheville got five years probation and John Alex Azanedo was sent to prison for 57 months. Salvador David Nava, Jr. was sentenced to time served.
This April Ismael Rivera was sent to prison for a dozen years and seven months. Norberto Jose Montes and Klint Austin Melcer both got eleven years and five months and William Louie was sentenced to 41 months.
And this May, David Tellez was sentenced to seven years and eight months.
Thomas Alarcon, Alessandro Lopez and Jose Morales were all placed on probation for three years. And Alfonso Solis, defendant 68, was sentenced to time served and a fine of $25.
Solis should pose for the poster for this case. Alfonso Solis is an average sized, easy, talkative, likable, neat man who looks like a real estate agent from the San Fernando Valley. In fact, he is a real estate agent in the Valley. He likes to ride his motorcycle with his friends. Solis is a member of the Mongols and so are many of his friends.
Solis was rounded up with all the rest of the “criminal co-conspirators” on October 21, 2008 and he rotted away in a federal lock up until he was finally granted bail by Judge Florence Marie Cooper on December 16, 2009. He was in jail for as long as he was because he refused to take a plea deal. He refused to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit. That frustrated his lawyer so for six months Solis was forced to represent himself. The law library in his prison is not famous for its excellence. He did not have computer access.
He eventually found a sympathetic lawyer who arranged a plea deal for a crime with which Solis could live – misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
Marijuana is gradually becoming legal to possess in California. It is legal to possess and distribute small amounts of the drug for medicinal use. About half, a plurality, of the population in the state favors complete legalization and there is a seriously considered proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use and tax it. The psychoactive herb is still illegal to use or possess under federal law although the Obama Administration has stopped prosecuting marijuana possession cases in the state.
The maximum federal penalty for the charge to which Solis eventually pled guilty is a year in prison. Solis did fourteen months. Because he was a Mongol.