What might be the last trial in the never ending Mongols case was continued this morning by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter.
The civil case called United States of America v. Assorted Firearms, Motorcycles and Other Personal Property may finally resolve the issue of whether the federal government can just steal someone’s motorcycle because that someone belongs to a motorcycle club that has been accused of being a racket. The trial had been scheduled to begin June 12. It will now probably begin on October 9, the fourth anniversary of the return of the federal indictment in the criminal case U.S. versus Cavazos et al.
That criminal indictment followed a three-year-long infiltration of the Mongols Motorcycle Club by at least 13 federal agents provocateur. The indictment was returned the day after the murder of a Mongol named Manuel Vincent “Hitman” Martin. Martin had attended a club party accompanied by three ATF undercover agents. The three agents spent the night picking fights and Martin may have become suspicious of the three men. The three federal agents left the party early and abandoned Martin to ride home alone. He was shot while he rode his motorcycle on the transition road between the Glendale and Foothill freeways in Los Angeles. Multiple sources in multiple motorcycle clubs and in law enforcement have characterized the behavior of those agents that night as suspicious.
A man named Richard Dean “Risky” Clayborn was charged with Martin’s murder in October 2009.
This case earned its curious name because it is technically a civil suit against motorcycles, cash, and other personal property taken from members and associates of the motorcycle club. The government alleges that the motorcycles were integral to the criminal enterprise. The original plaintiffs include 48 men who were never indicted in the criminal case.
Civil forfeitures are a kind of extreme, extra-judicial punishment and in this case the forfeitures were intended to punish men for belonging to a motorcycle club. Broadly speaking, it is a way for an authoritarian justice apparatus to punish anti-authoritarians. In order to retrieve their personal property the plaintiffs in this case must prove that the Mongols was not a criminal enterprise while they belonged to the club.
This suit has been a sloppy, nasty and secret mess from its start. Nobody, including the judge who presides over this case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven R. Welk, who filed the suit, knows who will contest the theft of their property when the trial starts. Welk estimated that “roughly 20” plaintiffs have not yet quit the lawsuit. Many of those who have quit have simply given up. Although an attorney must be provided to a criminal defendant the Mongols who were victimized by this “forfeiture” are on their own. Since the government has unlimited resources to pursue this suit, many indigent or near indigent plaintiffs, including men now in prison, are unable to seek justice.
Even Judge Carter is contemptuous of the case. “If I was the taxpayers I’d tear down the courthouse,” the judge conceded. “Thirty percent of these things have nothing to do with justice.”
Previewing The Trial
In open court today Welk told the judge, about a dozen lawyers and three Mongols that four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents will testify for the prosecution. Those witnesses will be John Ciccone who was the case agent for Operation Black Rain and the three ATF agents who were with Hitman Martin the night he died. Those agents are Gregory Giaoni, Paul D’Angelo and Darrin Kozlowski. Although both Ciccone and Kozlowski have testified against the Mongols in the last four years, neither has ever been cross-examined about their actions on the night of Martin’s murder or about their behavior during Black Rain.
Welk said the four agents will provide a “general overview of the gang” as a criminal organization. Judge Carter said he expects the trial to last three weeks.