RICO prosecutions of motorcycle clubs are always demonstrations of propaganda – or as bureaucrats prefer to call it, “perception management.” To date, there may be no shinier example of perception management than a quickly forgotten publicity stunt called “Operation On The Road Again.”
On September 15, 2010 a Department of Justice perception manager announced:
“Earlier today, two indictments were unsealed in federal court in Central Islip and White Plains, New York, charging 17 alleged members and associates of Long Island, up-state New York, and New Jersey chapters of the Pagans outlaw motorcycle gang. Simultaneous with today’s arrests, federal agents executed search warrants at seven locations on Long Island, including the gang’s local chapter headquarters, a tattoo parlor in Rocky Point; two locations in up-state New York; four locations in New Jersey; and seized 34 firearms and one improvised explosive device (IED). The Central Islip indictment (the EDNY Indictment), filed in the Eastern District of New York, charges defendants with racketeering, murder conspiracy, assault, extortion, drug distribution, witness tampering, and firearms offenses. The White Plains indictment (the SDNY Indictment), filed in the Southern District of New York, charges defendants with drug trafficking and firearms offenses.”
“The charges,” the federal press release explained, “are the culmination of a 21-month undercover investigation led by ATF Special Agents who gained access to the internal operations of the gang.”
One Brand Two Indictments
The fact that there were two indictments in two separate federal districts but only one brand, the “Operation On The Road Again” brand, betrays the essentially contrived and specious nature of the charges. But newspapers throughout the Northeast ran the story anyway because it was an easy and impeccably sourced story to write. What reporter would ever turn down a free, prewritten story? And, what cynic would ever doubt the word of a government spokesman?
The headline in most public accounts shouted the accusation that members of the Pagans Motorcycle Club intended to throw hand grenades at members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. For Christmas.
Jason Nark’s story in the Philadelphia Daily News is a wonderful example of what people who still read newspapers were told.
“The Pagans Motorcycle Club didn’t burn down the boardwalk during a biker rally in Wildwood (New Jersey) last weekend,” Nark began his exemplary lead, “but they did take a few moments to plan a thoughtful Christmas gift for some fellow bikers.
“Unfortunately, ‘Christmas presents’ was a phrase the outlaw motorcycle gang used for homemade hand grenades, federal officials said, adding that some Pagans in Wildwood last weekend were plotting to use them to kill members of the Hells Angels, their biggest rival.
“According to indictments unsealed in New York federal court yesterday, two undercover federal agents infiltrated the infamous outlaw motorcycle gang’s Long Island chapter over the course of a 21-month investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives dubbed ‘Operation On the Road Again,’ and broke up a plot to murder Hells Angels with homemade grenades.”
Plied Their Criminal Trade
Then Nark used U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s freeze dried quote from the government release.
“As this case suggests, violent and criminal motorcycle gangs are not quaint vestiges of the past. Some of the defendants allegedly plied their criminal trade not in the inner city but in quiet communities like the Catskills. I especially applaud the work of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. Today’s Indictments stand as a tribute to the cooperative efforts of law enforcement at all levels.”
Nark failed to mention that the one “grenade” seized in the case was made at the request of one of the ATF undercover agents and given to him long before the arrests.
The bottom of police press releases invariably crawls with self congratulatory quotes. In the September 15, 2010 release Ronald B. Turk, the head ATF Agent in New York bragged:
“Today’s arrests affirm ATF’s commitment to making our neighborhoods safer. Targeting and arresting armed violent criminals remains one of our top priorities and we, along with our partners, will continue this fight. We have targeted several out-of-state firearms, explosives, and narcotics suppliers of this outlaw motorcycle gang and will continue to combat all of these illegal activities. I would also like to express my sincere appreciation to the ATF undercover special agents who gained access to the Pagans inner circles. By doing this, they put their lives on hold and at risk to ensure a complete and thorough investigation.”
It is a familiar line of horseradish: Brave agents…worst of the worst…inner circles…gang…blah, blah, blah. As is always the case, perception management, like freedom, is not free. Victims must be rounded up and sacrificed lest the fierce god Con- Gress nibbles at the sacred ATF budget or worse folds the fireworks and cigarette police into the FBI.
The Human Sacrifices
There were 17 human sacrifices collected in Operation On The Road Again. Sixteen of them were Pagans. The Pagans who disappeared into a case named United States v. Ebeleing et al. are John Rickard Ebeling, Jr., Jason “Roadblock” Blair, Ezra Arthur “Izzo” Davis III, Kenneth “Hogman” Van, Diver, Robert “Boston Bob” Hamilton, Tracy Lahey, Douglas “Doc” Yeomans, Derek “Pop Up” Dekker, Timothy “Pita” Fowler, Raymond “Bluto” Hamilton, Edward “Coz” Samborski, Robert “Hellboy” Deronde and Robert “Boobie” Leonardis.
Tracy Lahey also became the lead defendant in a second case called United States v. Lahey et al. Lacey’s codefendants in that case included Doc Youmans, Izzo Davis, a 70-year-old Pagan named Sergio “Cano” Cuevos, Pagans Walter Tarrats and Harold “Wiz” Legg and the lone Mongol in the state of New York, a man named Robert “Commanche” Santiago.
All the men were charged in the initial, and eventually superseding, indictments with multiple offenses including drug trafficking and conspiracy. The two court cases were disconnected in order to frustrate public scrutiny. That ploy worked.
The cases were intentionally contrived and made secret in order to frustrate any reporter who wanted to find out what Operation On The Road Again was actually about. It was about was advancing the careers of a handful of ATF agents at the Long Island Field Office. Two of them, the case agents, are Eric Kotchian, a former United States Marshall and Bryan DiGirolomo. Seventeen months after the headlines the names of the two undercover agents who “infiltrated” the Pagans remain state secrets.
From the beginning, it was obvious that the human sacrifices had been singled out for prosecution because of their motorcycle club membership.
Reporters who wanted to cover the story badly enough to actually read the initial indictments learned: “Outlaw motorcycle clubs, also known as ‘onepercent clubs’ (sic) or ‘one-percenters,’ were national criminal organizations not recognized or chartered by motorcycle sporting groups such as the American Motorcyclist Association.”
The Press Gives Up
The one follow up to the initial stories appeared in the New York Daily News on October 6, 2010. John Marzulli reported that “An undercover federal agent faced a ghoulish test to gain the trust of a violent motorcycle gang – burying a dismembered corpse in upstate New York.” Instead of a corpse, “Feds and state troopers found a foul-smelling tarpaulin containing two boots, towels and rotting garbage – but no body.”
“We believe the agent was given a test to see if he would do it and whether he would tell anybody about it later,” an unnamed source (who just might have worked in the Long Island Field Office of ATF) told Marzulli.
Marzulli’s were literally the last words published about the case in any newspaper in the world.
The Lawyers Give Up
At this point, in February 2012, most of the defendants in this case remain incarcerated. So far there have been 196 court filings in named United States v. Ebeleing et al. There have been a paltry 92 court filings United States v. Lahey et al.
The lack of action in the case is explicable only if you allow that most of the defendants must be represented by Rip Van Winkle.
Several attorneys did file what is called a Franks’ Motion in October 2011. Named for a 1978 federal case titled Franks v. Delaware, a Franks Motion invalidates evidence collected using a search warrant that was issued on the basis of an affidavit that lies. The affidavits in the two On The Road Again cases were written by ATF case agents Eric Kotchian and Bryan DiGirolomo.
Significant anecdotal evidence indicates that the affidavits were full of lies. Whether the lies originated with the case agents or the undercovers and whether the affidavits were malicious or just half-assed may eventually be determined in some future, probably secret, court proceedings in some federal district somewhere in New York. Just as soon as all the lawyers finish their very long naps and wake up.
Let’s Meet Commanche
In the meantime, some of the imprisoned men may deserve the opportunity to shout, “Hello! Hello!” Consequently, this will be the first in a loose series of stories about Operation On The Road Again and its aftermath.
As good a place as any to start is with the lone Mongol in the case.
“I am Robert ‘Commanche One Percenter’ Santiago of the Mongols Motorcycle Club New York,” he says. Santiago wants the public at large to understand how the ATF “is using us as a meal ticket.”
“What did you do?”
“We went to a party and they made a federal case out of it,” he says. “Literally.”
The DiGirolomo Affidavit
The search warrant affidavit written by case agent Bryan DiGirolomo lists the principal presearch charges against Santiago.
“Robert Santiago, also known as ‘Comanche,’ is a member of another outlaw motorcycle club called the Mongols Outlaw Motorcycle Club,” the agent begins, “ and, in or about May 2010, Santiago was the president of the Mongols Upstate New York Chapter. According to the UC, members of the Pagans frequently gathered for meetings and/ or parties, and purchased, used, and distributed narcotics, including, among others, cocaine, crack cocaine, amphetamines, prescription medications, and marijuana, during those gatherings. The Pagans members sometimes purchased narcotics from the members of other outlaw motorcycle gangs, including the Mongols. During those meetings, the secretary/treasurer often collected money from other Pagans as their ‘membership dues” a portion of which were transferred to the Mother Club members.”
“Later that afternoon,” DiGirolomo eventually continues, “members of the Mongols Motorcycle Club arrived at Lahey’s residence, and the UC was introduced to “Comanche,” the president of the Mongols Upstate New York Chapter, who was later identified as Robert Santiago.
“Santiago arrived at Lahey’s residence with a woman who was carrying a bag . The woman was identified to the UC as Saniago’s ‘old lady’ (i.e., his girlfriend or wife). The UC also saw Santiago get out of his car carrying an object wrapped in what appeared to be a t-shirt. Santiago walked into the porch area of Lahey’s house and removed a shotgun with a shortened barrel from the t – shirt. Santiago showed Youmans the sawed-off shotgun. Santiago, Youmans, Lahey and the woman accompanying Santiago went into a bedroom in the house and closed the door. A short time later, Youmans and Lahey left the bedroom and Youmans approached the UC. Youmans told the UC that the eight-ball of cocaine would cost $150 and each 1-gram bag of cocaine would cost $50. The UC handed Youmans $250 in cash, and saw Youmans hand that money to Lahey. The UC subsequently observed Lahey hand an amount of cash to Santiago. Approximately 45 minutes later, Youmans asked the UC if Lahey had given the UC the cocaine, and the UC responded that Lahey had not. The UC then saw Youmans speak to Lahey. Within a few minutes, Lahey approached the UC and asked the UC to come to Lahey’s bedroom. As the UC and Lahey entered the bedroom, Santiago walked out of the bedroom. When the UC entered the bedroom, the UC saw a large quantity of a white powdery substance on a table in a bedroom, which, based on the UC’s training and experience, he/she believed to be cocaine. The woman who arrived with Santiago and another woman were seated at the table cutting and packaging the cocaine into small green plastic bags. At or about the same time, Lahey handed the UC four small green plastic bags and two smaller clear plastic bags that each contained a white powdery substance ‘that appeared to be cocaine.’”
Eventually, “After departing Lahey’s residence that evening, the UC gave the remaining bags containing the white powdery substance that he/she had purchased at the Pagans gathering to another ATF agent, who submitted it to a laboratory for testing. According to a report of the laboratory analysis of the substance obtained by the UC the substance tested positive for the presence of cocaine.”
The actual electronic recording that theoretically should substantiate the allegations against Santiago starts and stops. On the recording, the UC can be heard snorting the “white powdery substance” and praising its quality.
The entire distribution of the allegedly illicit substance was entirely within the confines of the party.
The search revealed indicia that Santiago belonged to the Mongols but no drugs, drug paraphernalia, ledgers or other items listed in the warrant. In a shed behind Santiago’s home the raiding party found a sawed off shotgun with a broken handle, an unloaded .22 caliber revolver and five rounds of .22 caliber ammunition.
Santiago has been in jail ever since. He is charged with “Narcotics Distribution,” the “Possession and Use of Firearms in Furtherance of Narcotics Distribution,” and “Firearms Possession.”
He has not yet had a bail hearing.