Thirty-seven months ago for two hours, maybe a little longer, a man sat or stood in a bar called Dirty Thieves at the corner of 24th Street and Treat Avenue in San Francisco.
Dirty Thieves is a pleasant and popular dive bar and according to at least one witness the man who sat there was waiting, not drinking. Every once in a while he walked outside to lean against the tree which is still there, under the street light which is still there, and smoke a cigarette. Then he would go back into the bar to wait. Witnesses later said he was “about 40.”
The witnesses agreed that the waiting man had brown hair, a long mustache and a little hair on his chin. He was wearing a black tee shirt. It was a set of Mongols soft colors, a kind of tee-shirt that only patched members of motorcycle clubs are allowed to wear, and the top rocker on the back said “Mongols” and bottom rocker said “Virginia.”
That Virginia bottom rocker is the first detail that glows in the story of the murder of Marc “Papa” Guardado, who until that night was the President of the San Francisco charter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. The second detail that is impossible to ignore is the date. It was September 2, 2008.
Mongols President, author, television personality and eventually cooperating witness Ruben “Doc” Cavazos had been expelled from the Mongols three days before. And, for a year before his expulsion an ATF confidential informant named Daniel “Coconut Dan” Horrigan and Doc Cavazos’ “right hand man,” Robert Lawrence “Lars” Wilson III had decreed “that communications about the East Coast operations would not be directed to Cavazos.”
At some point during 2007 Wilson became a source of information for the ATF. Wilson and Horrigan controlled the distribution of Mongols insignia for the eastern United States. The expansion of the Mongols, who the ATF has branded “America’s most violent outlaw motorcycle gang,” was almost beyond doubt an ATF idea. Innocents and idealists might find the ATF’s proclamations and actions incongruous. One result was that during 2007 Horrigan and Wilson patched three ATF Agents named Jeff Grabman, Rick Hankins and Mark Kelly into the Mongols in Baltimore and Virginia.
As of September 2, 2008 seven undercover ATF Agents had patched into the Mongols. The remaining agents were Gregory Giaoni, Paul D’Angelo and Darrin Kozlowski in Los Angeles and Special Agent John Carr in Las Vegas.
Does Virginia Matter
Why the man waiting in the Dirty Thieves in San Francisco was wearing a Mongols shirt with a Virginia bottom rocker has not yet, after more than three years, been explained. No mainstream journalist, attorney or biker authority seems to have even wondered about it.
About 10:20 pm the waiting man wearing “black jeans,” “black boots” and now a black leather jacket saw two women pull up near the corner on Treat where he smoked while he waited. The driver was a “redhead” and the passenger was “Asian.” The waiting man pushed his black Harley-Davidson motorcycle with saddlebags and a windshield onto the sidewalk next to the pickup truck. The redhead got out, walked over to the waiting man and the two talked, as one witness put it, as if they has been “going to barbecues together for years.” As the man and women flirted, the redhead climbed onto his motorcycle.
What happened next, according to available public documents, is impossibly confused. A consensus of eyewitness statements seem to agree that the driver returned to her seat in the pickup truck and drove off toward 25th Street and the waiting man followed the two women on his bike. “They were driving casually, like a Sunday Drive” one witness said.
“Mongols Down On Treat”
Another witness, later interviewed by the FBI, said he telephoned “Guardado and informed him that ‘there are Mongols down on Treat”, and that the witness had heard that “Guardado then went down to the bar to confront the Mongol, they got into a fight and the Mongol shot Guardado.” What glows in this statement is that, according to the FBI, the witness refers to both “Mongols” plural and one “Mongol.”
The driver of the pickup truck would later identify the waiting man as a Mongol from Modesto named Christopher Bryan “Stoney” Ablett. That witness told the FBI that Ablett had not been waiting at all and that he had not been alone. She said that she, the other woman and Ablett “played pool and drank without incident for several hours; that after leaving the bar, Mr. Ablett had some trouble getting his motorcycle started; that she was sitting in her truck when ‘she looked back toward Ablett and saw an unknown male in his (Ablett’s) face;’ that both men ‘were very close to each other and were displaying aggressive postures;’ that within seconds both men began fighting; that she got out of her truck and approached the two men; that she ‘noticed that both men were on the ground and (the unidentified male) was on top of Ablett;’ that ‘just then, another unknown male approached her and the fighting men’ and yelled ‘get the fuck out of her;’ that it was her impression that (the second unidentified man) was not just an unrelated bystander; that he approached ‘with a purpose,’ and that as she was getting back into her truck, she ‘heard multiple gunshots.’”
He Keeps Stabbing Me
The other woman in the pickup truck told the FBI that “at no point during the day did their conversation involve the topics of motorcycle clubs or rival gangs;’ that throughout the day and evening Ablett was ‘nice, polite, and that she felt comfortable around him;’ that after they left the Dirty Thieves she got into her friend’s truck and ‘looked back toward Ablett and saw that an unknown male was talking to Ablett;’ that they were standing face to face, very close to each other and speaking very low; that they ‘started fighting;’ that she saw Ablett making overhand stabbing motions; that after she got out of the truck she noticed another unknown male approach from the direction of 24th street and told her to ‘get the hell out of here;’ that ‘Ablett turned his attention toward (the two unidentified men) as (an unidentified man probably Guardado) stumbled back into the street,’” uttering his last words, “He keeps stabbing me!” The Asian woman then heard gunshots and turned to see Ablett firing a gun. She did not “know exactly in what direction Ablett was shooting but thought that he may have shot towards (the second unidentified man).”
According to a conflicting account, the waiting man crashed his motorcycle after about 50 feet. A good Samaritan rushed to help him pick the bike up. The pickup truck stopped and waited. The bike would not start. The waiting man probably began pushing the motorcycle down Treat Avenue following after the two women. The good Samaritan went into the Dirty Thieves and wrote down the motorcycle’s license plate number on a napkin. None of the documents so far made public explain why he did that.
The First Few Minutes
The first 911 call came in from a cell phone at 10:29:25 p.m. The next call that there had been a shooting came into the San Francisco Emergency Center 17 seconds later. A call that “six or seven shots” had been fired was logged two seconds after that. A call at 10:30:08 reported a “late model pickup truck speeding southbound on Treat from 24th.” The call 10 seconds later informed police that “someone was lying in the middle of the street…thinks he got shot.” That man was Guardado.
Subsequent callers described men yelling at each other; two young males running southbound on Treat and three shots; the pickup truck chasing two or three men; and a “gunshot wound to the head.” A supervisor was notified two minutes after the first call. At 10:32:59 the plate number of the motorcycle was matched with a bike registered to Ablett. More calls said that four, five and six shots had been fired. At 10:37:20 police knew Guardado had been a Hells Angel. They found him “lying face down in a puddle of blood that was formed around his head.”
ATF Special Agent John Ciccone was notified about eight minutes after that. It is the detail about this confusing murder that shines the most.
The Blood Feud
The Mongols and Angels began violently squabbling when the Mongols put a chapter in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles in 1975 and have been feuding since the so-called “Labor Day Massacre” in 1977. This feud is the second longest in American History – second only to the feud between the Hells Angels and the American Outlaws Association – and it is as violent as a Norse saga. The Hatfields and the McCoys only went at each other for 26 years and that most famous feud was comparatively restrained.
This feud is personal. It is not about business. If it was about some drug business or whore business or gun business it would have stopped thirty years ago but it has become a tradition. It is self-perpetuating. Motorcycle clubs are not about crime or business. Motorcycle clubs are about brotherhood, honor and self-esteem. And the feud is centered in the Hells Angels’ core belief that they are number one.
For the last 14 years there has been a third partner in this feud. The ATF, and in particular what former agent William Queen called “Ciccone’s Gang,” has been just out of sight, haunting everything that has happened between the Mongols and Angels since late in 1997.
Perception And Reality
The public image of the feud has been entirely shaped by at least a half dozen books and numerous television shows and appearances. The idea of all this disinformation has been to glorify the ATF as an institution, glorify specific undercover agents, and justify the enormous expense of surveilling and infiltrating the Mongols and the Angels. So far, the entire expense of the Mongols investigation called Operation Black Rain and the subsequent investigations and prosecutions has probably exceeded $150 million.
The ATF, and Ciccone in particular, do literally haunt the Mongols-Angels feud. The list of poltergeist sightings and weird coincidences is very long.
For example, Billy “Slow Brain” Queen did not do a line of methamphetamine in a hotel room in Laughlin. His case agent was Ciccone. Queen did almost kill a man in a knife fight but it was “justified.”
As the so-called Laughlin riot was brewing in 2002, Ciccone co-workers Jay Dobyns and Darrin Kozlowski mingled and chatted with Angels at a bar in the back of the Flamingo – whispering in their ears. Whispering and whispering. The security chief at Harrah’s asked Roger Pinney to have his Mongols disarm because Harrah’s had been warned by the ATF that there would be a fight but the Mongols were not warned.
The ATF warned Sonny Barger before the fact to prepare for an attack by the Mongols and Barger tried to organize a “peace powwow” for the next week.
ATF agent John Carr was circulating through Laughlin that night, probably whispering and whispering. Although one source claims Carr was actually engaged in loud and semi-public sex with a female agent at the ATF safe house across the river in Bullhead City when the fight started at Rosa’s Cantina.
As the fight started, John Ciccone literally waited just outside Harrah’s and lingered until the infuriated and proud Angels and the furious and proud Mongols did the maximum amount of damage to one another. It was an “enforcement opportunity” and grand publicity for the ATF cause. The fight took at least 45 minutes to build from the time Mongols started following Frisco Charter Angels to the bathroom until Ray Foakes, the Sergeant at Arms for the Sonoma County charter of the Angels, karate kicked a Mongol in the chest and an Angel from Alaska named Dale Leedom punched Pinney in the face and dragged him to the ground.
This fight almost did not happen and it simply would not have happened if the ATF had wanted to prevent it. Ciccone waited, listening and listening, before he “entered the Casino afterward to assist Las Vegas Metro Police Department at the crime scene….” Ciccone later said there was no way he or anyone else could have predicted what happened in Rosa’s Cantina that night. “It could have happened anywhere at any time,” Ciccone said.
So the brawl was not stopped. It spent itself like a angry lover. And afterward an Angel named Ron Arnone, who was videotaped crouching against a wall during the entire fight, was charged with racketeering and murder.
More than a hundred members of the two clubs were stabbed, shot or otherwise injured. Most of them were dragged off by their comrades.
Fifty minutes later, the body of a Hells Angel named Christian H. Tate was found next to Interstate 40 near Ludlow, a desert gas stop 100 miles west of Laughlin. He had been riding his motorcycle away from Laughlin and toward home to California when he was shot multiple times in his upper back and torso. The murder has never been “solved.” Publically available wire taps indicate that at least some Hells Angels think Tate was murdered by the widely respected Mongol Bill Michael Munz. But Tate probably was not. Munz is now in prison. The National Sergeant at Arms of the Mongols at the time was Ruben “Doc” Cavazos who has been singing like a bird for three years and the murder remains unsolved. So, the question is, if not the Mongols then who?
While he was in the hospital, somebody sent Roger Pinney a bouquet of red and white flowers, presumably to rub salt in an old wound. It may have been an Angel, but if not the Angels then who?
The “Laughlin Riot” led to a series of investigations called Phoenix ATF 7805040-02-0049; California LA ATF 784015-02-0006; Laughlin ATF 784015-03-0054 and the “Fabricant Investigation.” These investigations were later bundled for public relations reasons as “Operation Black Biscuit.” Jay Dobyns has practically made a career out of Black Biscuit but the real key to the case was an Angel turncoat named “Mesa” Mike Kramer. Kramer was probably the actual murderer of a woman named Cynthia Garcia.
He confessed to Ciccone numerous times that he was addicted to methamphetamine. He had been addicted to crank most of his adult life. When he was 17, his mother had him committed to rehab for crank addiction. The murder of Cynthia Garcia was probably a result of “crank rage.” Kramer is also an alcoholic. And, on multiple occasions John Ciccone officially reported, “The CI (Mesa Mike Kramer) has never used methamphetamine in the past while working on behalf of the ATF, does not have a drug history and has never been convicted of a drug offense.”
The shadow play called Black Biscuit was sordidly corrupt. While working as a paid informant, Mesa Mike was guilty of numerous assaults. He beat one man with a baseball bat for “disrespecting” him. He dragged another victim outside a bar and stomped him while the victim begged for his life. “He was screaming like a little bitch,” Kramer said. While working as an informant for John Ciccone he bought and sold drugs and explained that because he was an ATF informant, “the rules did not apply,” to him
An ATF report praises Kramer, “he did what he could to make John happy.” He had “daily” contact with Ciccone and “he learned by trial and error.”
In return for his cooperation with the ATF Kramer entered into a plea and bargaining agreement in which he admitted he was guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to five years probation. During 2002 and 2003 the ATF paid Mesa Mike Kramer approximately $135,000. At the conclusion of Operation Black Rain he was paid an unspecified bonus and enrolled in the US Marshall’s Federal Witness Relocation Program.
For the most part, motorcycle club investigations are the work of paid contractors. The ATF sometimes refers to them as “proactive informants.” The proactive informant featured most prominently in Black Biscuit was a sometime meth addict named James Daniel “Pops” Blankenship. Sometimes Blankenship calls himself “Bad Company.” The government rationale behind using contractors like Blankenship is to protect Agents like Dobyns from breaking the law – for example assaults or drug use – by letting the informant break the law instead.
Blankenship, according to one public document, “poses as a freewheeling, drug using associate of ATF Special Agent Jay Dobyns in the business of debt collection, drug purchasing, gun dealing, bounty hunting, and contract murder for the Phoenix HAMC ATF investigation, 7805040-02-0049. Blankenship’s role was to locate and contact possible targets and attempt to involve these targets in criminal activity. Blankenship most often let it be known that he was seeking personal use drugs and he would purchase small quantities for his own use usually recording the transaction on a recording device.”
Money And Careers And Blood
So of course, the third partner in the Mongols-Angels feud knew about Papa Guardado’s death before the body was cold. The ATF has a vital stake in perpetuating the feud.
The Bureau’s 2009 budget included $1.028 billion for 4,942 positions, which works out to about $208,000 per employee. “As a full partner in the President’s Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), which was initiated in FY2001, ATF has joined with DOJ attorneys and other federal law enforcement agencies, along with state, local, and tribal authorities, to investigate and prosecute offenders, with a particular focus on armed violent and career criminals,” the ATF explained in its budget request two years ago. By that the ATF means it keeps our streets safe by “infiltrating criminal groups through undercover operations and confidential informants.”
In a rare face-to-face interview in 2010, Ciccone was directly asked, “Why, motorcycle clubs”
He answered, “Because we can. We can’t get into MS 13 but we can get into motorcycle clubs.” Ciccone answer also indicates that he understands more than he lets on. In private Ciccone always says clubs. He never says “gangs.” He only says “gangs” to judges and grand juries.
Ciccone also understands that the use of the RICO statute to prosecute motorcycle clubs is a sham. In July 2004, in grand jury testimony that led to a case called California v. Fernandez, John Ciccone stated frankly that he does not think motorcycle clubs are what is usually understood by the word “racket.”
Ciccone: That is really what the Mongols are about. They are involved in numerous assaults, stabbings, and required to assist one another. And that is why you rarely see a one-on-one fight. It is always 12 on one, 13 on one. And they just send the message: “That is how we are.” And it is just the fear thing and intimidation thing.
State Attorney: How does respect play into the Mongols? I mean, the term “respect for the gang” and “respect for other members of the gang?” And, if they are disrespected, how does that play all into the gang mentality?
Ciccone: Well, it is a big thing for the Mongols. Like I said, they are not in it to make money. (Emphasis added.) They are in it just for that one thing alone, fear and intimidation. And they want the respect. And that’s how they get it.
Sometimes the judges catch on to Ciccone. In a case in Nevada in 2005 Ciccone was found to be secretly paying a witness during a Hells Angels trial. The judge, U.S. District Judge James Mahan, disallowed the witness’s testimony.
The Hells Angels took the death of the bear-like and sometimes tender Guardado hard. They made the earth tremble and the air roar when they carried him home. Civilians lined the funeral route for miles to watch the long pack of bikes fly past. About the same time, three pipe bombs exploded outside the home of a Mongol in San Jose. No one was hurt and little damage was done.
Ciccone, speaking on conditions of anonymity, told gullible reporters that the lack of damage only showed the Angels must be slipping. That detail, that blunt taunt, made most news stories, too.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Baltimore and Virginia, Operation Black Rain, the ongoing Mongols investigation continued.
Seven days after the murder, a San Francisco County Superior Court judge signed a warrant for Ablett’s arrest on charges of first degree murder and possession of a firearm by a felon. Ablett surrendered to authorities in Oklahoma and had an initial court appearance on October 6.
The following night, a Mongol named Manuel Vincent “Hitman” Martin was murdered on a freeway in Los Angeles. Most press accounts assumed the murder was the work of the Hells Angels and had been committed to avenge Guardado.
Ablett waived extradition on October 10 and made his first appearance on November 14, 2008. In the following months Ablett was scheduled for court appearances on November 18 and December 4, 2008; January 15, February 2, February 11, March 9, March 27, April 24, May 18, June 1, June 11, and June 25, 2009. During all of this long unfolding of justice the prosecution refused to disclose facts of the case against Ablett.
Virtually no physical evidence seems to exist. No gun or knife shows up in the record. No DNA or fingerprint evidence has yet been disclosed.
Ablett was finally charged in state court on July 23, 2009. He was charged with multiple federal counts of racketeering in District Court on July 28, 2009.
He was removed from San Francisco County jail and his federal bail was set at $5 million.
“The Guardado Murder” is the first part of a two part article. The conclusion of this story, titled “The Ablett Case” will run later this week.