Rat Lab used to be a standard course for university students.
Students and their professors would run multiple rats through multiple mazes over and over and take copious notes on how the little beasts learned and how fast they learned and how the way rats learned differed from the way humans learned. What most of these students learned was that rat personalities were very much like humans’. Some rats were smart, some stupid, some are brave and others are frightened. Some are bright and others dull. Some are placid and some rage. There is a truism among researchers who measure out their lives with comparative cognition experiments: After awhile you don’t see a rat anymore. You see a little man in a rat suit.
Because most of Operation Black Rain and the legal proceedings born of it remain secret to this day it eventually became possible – three years or more after Ruben Doc Cavazos became a cooperating witness working with the United States Department of Justice – to imagine that Doc wasn’t really a rat at all. It eventually seemed possible that Doc was actually a man who had been forced to put on a rat costume. It seemed possible because everyone connected to the investigation and the prosecution was simultaneously secretive and loathsome.
It also seemed possible because on Thursday, September 8, 2011, in a locked courtroom guarded by United States Marshalls, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright sentenced Doc Cavazos “to be imprisoned for a term of 168 months.” For a day, even the length of the sentence was secret; as if to imply that Doc wasn’t going to prison at all. It was easy to conclude that Doc was about to enter witness relocation. Then Greg Risling, a general assignment reporter with The Associated Press in Los Angeles, broke the story that Doc had gotten 14 years.
Fourteen years? Is that how the Department of Justice rewards cooperators? Or was Doc being punished because he wasn’t a rat? Fourteen years!
Whispers And Cries
Al Cavazos: “I’m so pissed at that Associated Press guy…Rooblng? Something like that. You know? You know who I mean.”
Gullible Reporter: “Risling? Greg Risling?”
Al Cavazos: “I’ve been talking to him for months. I told him I had a story for him. Then he wrote that Doc got a light sentence of 14 years.”
Gullible Reporter: “That wasn’t light.”
Al Cavazos: “Exactly! Exactly! See, you get this ‘cause you’re smart. Roobling…whatever that guy…he’s not smart like you. See, you get this. They hammered Doc! You know why?”
Gullible Reporter: “Why?”
Al Cavazos: “Because Doc never gave anybody up. He didn’t rat on anybody. Never!”
Gullible Reporter: “C’mon….”
Al Cavazos: “Never! I swear to you! I swear! He never gave anybody up and that’s why they gave him the 14 years. Because they couldn’t break him. I swear I’m not lying. The only thing Doc ever told them were things he made up. He never gave up anybody! I swear to you! And when they sentenced him, Ciccone and Cervantes sat in the front row and they laughed at Doc. And that judge never said anything. He let them laugh at Doc.”
Gullible Reporter: “You mean this?”
Al Cavazos: “I swear to you! See you get this. You see? That guy from the papers…Rubles….”
Gullible Reporter: “Risling….”
Al Cavazos: “He didn’t get it. He thought 14 years was a light sentence. He didn’t get it like you do. He’s not smart, like you.”
On January 26, 2012 Doc Cavazos himself wrote: “I ask you to imagine being awakened on a dark, early morning by armored vehicles, armed men and flood lights. Imagine your kids and wife in their pajamas and fuzzy slippers with teddy bears in their arms, walking out into laser dots. Imagine your eight-year-old daughter vomiting in the back of a police van because she is so afraid. Imagine the home, job, cars and credit is all lost. Imagine the family visiting their father through a glass partition.”
It was easy to imagine all that. And more, if you are gullible.
Turning On The Lights
Eventually, even the gullible reporters catch on.
Doc Cavazos is a rat. So far Doc has ratted on dozens of his club brothers, an unknown number of men who have never been Mongols, at least two attorneys and recently he has occupied his days trying to rat on the police.
The ATF Case Agent assigned to Operation Black Rain, John Ciccone, appears to have groomed Doc Cavazos as molesters are said to groom children. In the Spring of 2011 Doc testified under oath about his relationship with that federal cop: “I’d come outside and John was sitting next to my car. He tells me I should get out of this. I’m going to end up going down the tubes. I’m going to get arrested for all this. ‘Why don’t you get out? Why don’t you keep your son out of it,’ he says.”
“What did you say?”
“I don’t know.”
Large And In Charge
Doc seized control of the Mongols Motorcycle Club after the so-called Laughlin Riot – a deadly fight between Mongols and Hells Angels in Harrah’s Casino in Laughlin – in April 2002. The extent to which that brawl was instigated by Doc or by the ATF is open to debate. What matters is that after Laughlin Doc thought he owned the Mongols Motorcycle Club – lock, stock, name and back patch.
During the same testimony cited above, Doc explained: “Joined the club around 1996, I think it was.”
Q: “Well let’s just take the history of your joining the club. You joined in 1996. Did you have a position at that time?”
Q: “What was that?”
Doc: “I was President of the Pico Chapter.”
Q: “You were Chapter President when you first joined?”
Q: “How long did you hold that position?”
Doc: “Till somewhere around 2002 going into 2003.”
Q: “Then what was your position?”
Doc: “National President.”
Paying The Lawyers
After Laughlin, both the Mongols and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club incurred enormous legal expenses related to the criminal defenses of their respective members. Early on, Doc estimated that the Mongols would need at least $700,000 to defend their club’s members.
Consequently, Doc ordered all patch holders to sell $300 worth of raffle tickets each month, kick in an additional $100 a month for the club’s legal defense fund and continue to pay their normal dues. “Some members went back to being prospects to avoid the fees,” one member said. “Some guys were almost forced to sell drugs just to pay for their raffle tickets.”
Where the money went is a mystery. One source close to Doc Cavazos claims that much of it went to bribe judges in Nevada. Other sources, close to Doc’s alleged co-conspirators, are infuriated by the allegation. After he became President, Doc wrung huge sums of money out of his club’s members. Informed estimates of those amounts vary from a low of $50,000 a month to as much as $300,000. It is almost certain that Doc co-mingled his personal and club finances. It appears that many of the lawyers were never paid in full. The Department of Justice knows where the money went, but like everything else in the Mongols case, the government refuses to say. And it refuses to say why it refuses to say.
The Mongols Marks
In a rare, non-secret, declaration filed on June 11, 2010, Doc Cavazos editorialized that he owned his club’s name and insignia – the club’s collective memberships marks. Doc stated:
“I sought the registration of the marks in order to ensure that I and other Mongols could prevent others from using our name and symbol. The officers of the Mother Chapter subsequently agreed that, in order to further ensure the protection of the marks from usage by others, the marks should be assigned to Shotgun Productions, LLC, a corporation that I owned and controlled. The transfer of the marks to my sole control as property of Shotgun Productions in April 2008 was carried out with the full knowledge and consent of the leadership of the Mongols who were responsible for making decisions for the enterprise. I incorporated and utilized Shotgun Productions at all times for my personal use and benefit. Neither the other officers of the Mother Chapter nor any members of the Mongols had any control over or participation in the creation or operation of Shotgun Productions.”
In the same 2011 deposition cited above, Doc explained what he meant:
Doc: “I wanted to make sure nobody else could get their hands on it (the Mongols name and patch) and use it.”
Q: When you did that, what did you think was going to make those things less likely to happen because they were in Shotgun Productions?”
Doc: “The thing about it, I was using Shotgun Productions more now. It was the LLC. I was using it for all my bills. I was transferring the marks from one of my LLCs to another.”
Q: “Okay. So the Mongols was your LLC?”
Doc: “The Mongol Nation?”
Q: “Again, I’m not clear. Why was transferring the marks to Shotgun Productions going to protect the marks any more from being used by others?”
Doc: “It wouldn’t protect it anymore. It…it was easier for me to keep track of everything.”
Q: “So just easier to keep track?”
Doc: “Yeah. I had a tee-shirt business. I sold tee-shirts and jackets. I got a book. Everything was under Shotgun Productions.”
Q: “Where did you get the idea to get it transferred?”
Doc: “I just came up with it on my own.”
Q: “Didn’t consult with an attorney, anything like that?”
Doc: “No. As far as why should I do it? No.”
Q: “Shotgun Productions is your personal company?”
Q: “You transferred the marks to your personal control?”
Doc: “They were in my personal control to begin. Mongols Nation is mine. Went from one to another.”
Q: “Uh-huh. So you’re saying the marks were always yours? That you owned the marks?”
Q: “Okay, so when did the marks come into existence?”
Doc: “I’m not sure what year they came into existence.”
Q: “So how did you come to own them?”
Doc: “When I became President of the Mongols.”
Q: “And, in your view being president of the Mongols meant that you owned the intellectual property?”
Doc: “I had the right to do whatever I wanted to do with that property. Whatever I wanted to do as the club President.”
When Did Doc Turn
Doc stepped down as President of the club in June 2008. He was expelled from the Mongols for, among other things, theft at the end of August. He was arrested two months after that. In virtually every public statement he has made in the last ten years, Doc has proven to be a vindictive and ungenerous man. He was obviously furious at being thrown out of the club he thought he owned. Another exchange in the same deposition raises an interesting question about this chronology. In this exchange, what Doc refuses to say is at least as revealing as what he does say.
Mongols MC Attorney George Steele: “When did you first talk to somebody about cooperation?”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven R. Welk: “I’ll ask Mr. Littrell to instruct his client not to answer.”
Deputy Federal Public Defender John Littrell: “He’s so instructed.”
Welk: “We can talk about this Mr. Steele but this is not…this deposition is not about Mr. Cavazos…whether or not he’s cooperated. If you want to ask him questions on the topic….”
Steele: “I’m not concerned about whether he’s…what he’s done. And, when he’s instructed by his attorney he’s got a sudden lapse of memory. Now I know he cooperated prior to the arrest. There’s no doubt about that. We know he spoke to somebody. But, if he’s not being coached by you and chooses not to remember, that’s something I want to preserve on the record.”
Welk: “Do you feel you’ve preserved….”
Welk: “If you use the word ‘cooperation’ I’m going to object and instruct him not to answer or ask his lawyer to instruct him not to answer because that’s not what this deposition is about. If you’re going to ask him pointed questions about those topics that are in the papers that were given approval to take a deposition on you can ask those questions. I’m not…not going to allow you to inquire into whether or not he’s a cooperator. This is, you know, that privilege issue.”
Steele: “I think you are making too much of the word cooperation. I know he cooperated. It’s not an issue here. The whole world knows this. What I’m trying to get to is the conversations he had with who, but I think you made your point.”
If Doc had not already agreed to cooperate before October 21, 2008 it took very little time for him, his son Ruben “Lil Rubes” Cavazos, Jr. and his brother Alvaro “Al the Suit” Cavazos to make that choice after the arrests.
After the raids at dawn, the three men were taken to the Montebello Police station were they remained, in Doc’s estimation, “four or five hours.” They were then taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles for their initial court appearances and then spent that first night at the San Bernardino County Jail. According to Doc, “I was there for about three months or so.” According to Doc’s sworn testimony, he spoke to no federal agents during those three months.
But in a letter dated January 26 of this year and signed, Doc tells a slightly different tale. The letter was not written to The Aging Rebel but was legally obtained by this page.
“Al, my son Ruben and myself were transferred,” he wrote. “We all ended up the next day at San Bernardino County Jail. Al and Ruben had some health problems. I asked my attorney, Angel Navarro, if I was going to be convicted. He said, ‘Yes, and I am not your son’s attorney but he will probably be convicted also.’
“He explained that there would be numerous witnesses who would say what the government tells them to say. I explained to him that I was innocent of these charges, I asked Al and Ruben if they wanted to cooperate and plead guilty in exchange for being transferred to a location with better health care and accommodations. They answered NO! Ruben, who had had childhood problems with a breathing ailment was suffering. I set up a meeting with Agent Ciccone, Officer Cervantes (Montebello policeman and ATF Tactical Field Officer Chris Cervantes) Angel Navarro and Assistant United States Attorney Brunwin. I offered to plead guilty and cooperate if they would let Al and Ruben return home. AUSA Brunwin denied and said that Al and Ruben would have to also plead to ‘help themselves.’ I was returned to San Bernardino County Jail. Ruben’s condition worsened. At one point, I looked over and through a small slit in between the bars I could see him in the cell next to me. He was clutching his chest and having difficulty breathing. I called ‘man down’ and finally the Deputies took him down stairs.”
“After a few days of watching my son gasp for air, I contacted Ciccone and Cervantes. If they would transfer us to Montebello sub-station and help Ruben get better medical care, I would plead, cooperate and convince Al and Ruben to do the same.”
“I met with Navarro and explained to him that if I was working for myself what kind of time was I looking at? He evaluated the information that I knew. He explained that I had very valuable information and that I would be out of jail by October 2009. He explained that even if the case was not entirely settled that I would be out by October 2009 and not have to return.”
“One morning while Ruben was having a bad day breathing I was taken downtown, placed in a cell, then taken through a door into a courtroom. There I saw Ciccone, Cervantes, Brunwin and Navarro. Navarro said, ‘Don’t worry. I will have you out by October.’ Navarro handed me a stack of papers just as the judge walked into the courtroom. I did not have time to read them as I was standing before the judge.”
“I asked Navarro, ‘What’s all this?’”
“He said, ‘Don’t worry. I said I’ll have you out.’”
“I pled to what was in front of me. It was all lies but so was the whole case. Navarro had explained to me that he might be made a judge after this case.”
Stupid Lawyer Numero Uno
Doc spent the next two years in the basement of the Montebello Police Station. “We were all transferred to Montebello and given privileges,” he explained. Doc’s girlfriend abandoned him after eight months. Then, as Doc tells it, he was betrayed by his lawyer. In Doc’s version of events not only was his decision to cooperate altruistic and uninformed, it simultaneously wasn’t even his idea. It was his lawyer’s idea.
“He showed up one day and said, ‘I’m having trouble sleeping. I think I have made a terrible mistake by having you plead to those charges.’ The following month he said I might do three years. The month after that he said five years.”
“I said, ‘Angel do you realize every time you come see me you add years to my sentence?’”
“He said to me, ‘Look, if I ask to withdraw the plea you will be in worse shape. They will use what you have said against you and you will not be allowed to go to trial.’ He said, ‘I thought about falling on the sword, since I advised you wrong, but I have decided you would be worse off.’ He said that if I fired him they would take him off the case and give me a different attorney. He said that since he had made the deal with AUSA Brunwin, it would not be wise. He used the word continuity several times. I did not know it at the time but Angel was abandoning the sinking ship. That would be the last time I would see Navarro.”
My new attorney, John Littrell showed up a month later. He said what Navarro did was ‘malpractice.’ He said, ‘Angel is my friend but I will subpoena him and in deposition I will get the truth. He put you in a bad situation.’”
Stupid Lawyer Numero Dos
“During my monthly meetings with Littrell, I would notice he would mistake what was in my case and what we had discussed the previous month. I confronted him and explained that since my life was on the line here, that he should review my case. The following visit he explained that he knew that I was upset over him not knowing the facts of my case but that when the time came for him to know he would review everything.”
In his January letter, Doc goes into considerable detail about “some of the topics that were discussed at meetings that were held at the Montebello sub-station without my attorney present.” Some of the topics are amusing.
For example, Doc’s girlfriend drove past his home when he was not there and saw, “a white van in my driveway and then she saw a half dozen agents dressed as Ninjas all trying to squeeze out of my front door. One tripped trying to get into the van…. I told her not to worry. That they were probably ATF agents…. When we arrived home about 3 a.m. I noticed that on top of my prized billiard table was what looked like something an electrician would use in his type of work. Later that day I called an expert in surveillance to sweep my home. He found that my home was completely bugged and asked me if I wanted them removed. I explained to him that if we removed them they would only come back and replace them. I was concerned that they may run over one of the cats belonging to my kids.”
Years later, as Doc and the government chatted in Montebello, “Agent Ciccone thanked me for not breaking the equipment.”
After reflecting on his deposition, in which he explained to Mongols attorneys how he came to own the Mongols’ marks and why he felt free to forfeit them to the government, Doc decided “I was happy to see attorney Steele and attorney Rossi – two very competent attorney’s defending the logo against forfeiture by the government. I never doubted the club would prevail. After all, this is the United States of America.”
Then Doc rats out Assistant U.S. Attorney Welk. “AUSA Steven Welk, the forfeiture attorney for the government, met with me without my attorney present and went over all the questions that would be asked at a deposition. He suggested answers to these questions. A few weeks later, the deposition was held with my attorney present. Welk agreed to show up at my son’s sentencing and speak if necessary. He showed up but was not allowed to speak.”
Much of Cavazos’ recent press offensive has concerned a shooting at a topless bar called Nicola’s on April 8, 2007. The shooting was almost certainly witnessed by Ciccone and Cervantes. It was also witnessed by Doc’s brother Al. One of the Mongols involved in the shooting was Denis Maldonado and he was eventually sentenced to 150 months in prison.
“About one year after my arrest,” Doc said in his January letter, “I was sitting in the visiting area of the Montebello police station talking to Cervantes. I mentioned to him how dangerous the streets had become with everyone carrying a gun. And, he replied ‘Tell me about it. That night of the shooting at Nicola’s, when John and I heard the first shot we both ducked our heads behind the wall and did not look up until we were sure it was over.’ My brother Al was an eyewitness to what really happened. When he tried to help Maldonado by telling Ciccone and Cervantes what happened they ran out of the room and left Al sitting at a table.”
As a matter of fact, Doc’s second lawyer brought up Maldonado at Doc’s sentencing last September. Remember, much of Doc’s current rage results from the fact that he now believes he was over-sentenced.
“I had mentioned the Maldonado case to Navarro and Littrell several times,” Doc explained. “The day before our sentencing date, Ruben and I met with our respective attorneys. It was on that date that both attorneys asked us about our proffers and what had been going on the last three years. I was again reminding Littrell about the Maldonado case.”
During that still secret sentencing hearing, Doc’s second lawyer complained to Judge Wright, “He (Doc) has a plea agreement that is so far-ranging and so detailed that that is how we got to (a sentence of) 360 months to life. I wasn’t here when it was negotiated. I am not here to take on any of those facts but what I am saying is we are never…presentence reports that rely on guidelines which are in many cases artificial and don’t take into account the individuals of a case are not a good starting point for determining what a fair sentence is.”
“The difference between Mr. Cavazos and, for example, defendants like Maldonado – shot and killed a man, I guess – what we have to do is we have to compare in that circumstance, and Maldonado got 150 months.”
Judge Wright: “Not from me.”
Littrell: “That’s right, but it does not make any difference does it?”
Judge: “Matters to me. I can only control me and I can control whether or not I am handing out sentences that are so widely disparate that it makes no sense. You wonder, was he on drugs that day or what? All I can do is my little world, within the sentences I am imposing for this organization. Try to assess each one of these individuals and their role within the organization and their relative criminal culpability in trying to be fair and proportional with respect one to the other of 168 to 210 months. All fines are waived as it is found that the defendants does not have the ability to pay a fine. Pursuant to the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, it is the judgment of the court that defendant Ruben Cavazos, Sr. is hereby committed on each of Counts one and 14 of the indictment to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons to be imprisoned for a term of 168 months to be served concurrently.”
Doc’s take on his attorney’s performance was: “The next day at sentencing, my attorney John Littrell argued that I should be given a lesser sentence than Maldonado since Maldonado shot and killed a gang member and I had not. My attorney introduces a murder that never happened into a case that had none. The judge believed there had been a murder and the prosecutor smiled and did not correct the court. I received a 14-year sentence.”
“After returning from a meeting between Navarro, Brunwin and Nicolaysen, my son’s attorney Greg Nicolaysen explained to me, ‘Doc, I don’t approve of these backroom deals. There is nothing in writing and they could change agents, AUSA or judge on you. You have an excellent lawsuit if you choose.”
“My attorney said we would appeal on the grounds that I had ineffective assistance of counsel. He was referring to Angel Navarro.”
Doc’s son was also an active cooperator. His attorney bragged about it to Judge Wright.
Nicolaysen pleaded for leniency because of, “The degree of risk that Mr. Cavazos, Jr. has taken as a result of his cooperation, which has caused huge stress while in custody and which will require him to either undergo witness protection or some form of relocation by the government in order to minimize exposure to retaliation” The lawyer bragged that virtually all of the indicted men had pled guilty, “the vast majority of them during the two years in which Mr. Cavazos, Jr. and his father, Ruben Cavazos. Sr. have been cooperating pursuant to their plea agreements.”
And, in his sentencing position paper, Nicolaysen singles out the real villain in the Mongols case. “A clear illustration of the public availability of information regarding the under seal guilty plea is Exhibit 1 hereto, which is a PDF printout of a page from The Aging Rebel website dated “Fri, Sep3, 2010,” which contains a verbatim excerpt of the transcript of the under seal plea hearing for Ruben (Doc) Cavazos, Sr. …. One can only imagine how far reaching the rage and hostility towards both Cavazos defendants extends within the biker community at large who read The Aging Rebel website, in light of the Cavazos’ decision to enter into cooperation plea deals.”
According to public documents, Lil Rubes was released from custody on July 3. 2012. Doc Cavazos’ release date is January 1, 2021.