The trial of long-time Hells Angels Ventura charter President George Christie has been postponed for four months. Last Friday U.S. District Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen ordered the trial continued until May 1. The trial had been scheduled to begin January 31.
The government is accusing Christie of being the godfather of the tattoo business in Ventura. The prosecutor in the case, Jay H. Robinson has alleged that Christie collected “taxes” from other tattoo parlors, ordered his competitors to abandon their businesses and firebombed those businesses whose owner’s did not.
As is true with most federal cases and virtually all federal cases against motorcycle club members, this case is significantly less clear cut than the headlines might suggest.
Christie and four co-defendants were formally charged in a federal indictment on July 29, 2011 with “Conspiracy to Interfere with Commerce by Extortion,” “Attempted Interference with Commerce,” “Attempted Obstruction of Commerce,” “Conspiracy to Use Fire or Explosive to Damage Property” and two counts of “Use of Fire or Explosive to Damage Property.”
Christie was apparently offered a plea deal this Fall and when he didn’t roll over like Rover and beg for that he was hit with a superseding indictment five days before Christmas that added the federal charges of “Use or Carrying a Destructive Device During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence” and “Aiding and Abetting and Causing an Act to be Done” to the accusations against him.
The evidence against Christie, if there is any actual evidence against Christie, relies heavily on statements made by four confidential informants. It hypothetically amounts to about 4000 pages of statements, reports, transcripts and photos – which is the number of pages in a new case of printer paper. And so far Christie’s lawyer, a former federal prosecutor named W. Michael Mayock, has seen about a quarter of it.
It is common for federal prosecutors to coerce defendants into plea agreements by withholding evidence from defense attorneys until just before trial. The tactic is called an “evidence dump.” Unlike most federal defenders, Mayock has refused to cooperate and has been fighting a running battle of memoranda and motions with Robinson about the disclosure of this evidence.
Dear Jay From Mike
In a letter to the prosecutor on January 6, Mayock complained:
“It used to be that the judges decided what the penalty should be. Now defendants are offered coercive plea agreements which are usually unfair to defendants. My client George Christie now faces life without parole based on new charges in the First Superseding Indictment because he did not accept the deal offered in light of the paucity of discovery produced by the Government.
“You have made it nearly impossible for any defendant, certainly Mr. Christie, to properly prepare for trial or to engage in any meaningful reciprocal discovery. This ongoing discovery abuse has seriously compromised Mr. Christie’s right to investigate and ‘confront his accusers’ and properly prepare his defense for trial.”
Motion To Dismiss
Two weeks ago Mayock asked Judge Nguyen to dismiss all the charges because prosecutors refused to disclose their evidence.
“The defense has been provided approximately 26% of the discovery,” Mayock complained to the judge. “This is unacceptable and intentional. Moreover, a great many of the pages the defense has received are redacted to such an extent that no meaning can be ascertained. The defense has not been provided with names of prospective government witnesses, their backgrounds, promises which the government made to said witnesses. The government has imposed a blackout on the defense which is unfair and calculated to disenable the defendants from presenting a defense.”
The government directly and through at least one of its agents, has engaged in a calculated pattern of activity directed at disrupting the defense in the case and prejudicing the defendants. This activity is in clear violation of the defendants’ Fifth Amendment rights to Due Process. The Court has authority under its Supervisory Power to undertake appropriate action to remedy this violation. A hearing should be conducted to ascertain what actions were undertaken by government agents and witnesses. If, as has been suggested, this evidence points to misconduct by the government, the Court is empowered to dismiss the case as a sanction.”
Judge Nguyen didn’t go that far. But, on Friday she delayed the trial in the hope that the U.S. Attorney may play fair if only he is given another chance.
She also loosened the restraints on Christie who has been under house arrest for the last six months. The same day she ordered that Christie, who has been prevented from earning a living since his arrest, will now be “permitted to work at his family-owned business, The Ink House, from Wednesdays through Sundays, from the hours of 12:00 noon through 6:00 p.m.”