Twenty-five months after he was locked up, a Mongol in New York named Robert “Commanche” Santiago is still presumed to be guilty until he confesses to a crime he did not commit. There is even a legal name for this obvious absurdity. The ghosts and goblins who rule the fallen down ruin that America has become call it “acceptance of responsibility.”
Federal police now accuse and arrest far too many people to give them trials. The justice system Americans remember – the justice system of passionate argument and precise reasoning, of William Jennings Bryant, Clarence Darrow and Atticus Finch and Perry Mason and all that, the mythical justice system – has now been replaced by administrative justice which happens to be system of justice preferred by the Soviets and the gangsters who run China.
The thing is, you simply cannot ruin enough lives to continue to support the American-police-prison industrial complex if you continue to insist like a liberal baby-weakling that all those prisoners actually be guilty of something.
This state of affairs is hardly a secret. The Wall Street Journal ran a lengthy, front page feature on coerced guilty pleas titled “Federal Guilty Pleas Soar As Bargains Trump Trials” on September 24. The feature story quoted a Harvard law professor named Nancy Gertner who called this phenomenon “extremely troubling.”
The feature also described a psychological experiment whose results are scheduled to be published in Northwestern University’s Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology next year. The experiment induced college students into violating a code of academic rules. Some of the students in the experiment actually took the bait and broke the rules and some of them didn’t. The experimenters, a law professor and a psychology professor, then subjected all the students to an academic review board that mimicked the current system of federal justice. Fifty-five percent of the innocent students pled guilty.
Although the essential corruption of federal justice is so well known that even the leading conservative newspaper in the world disapproves of it, the new justice’s victims like Robert Santiago are voiceless, powerless and invisible. Simply put, nobody cares. The lawyers, judges, bailiffs, cops and prison guards and all their supporters and suppliers care about getting paid. Most Americans care about not getting foreclosed. Some Americans care about the mystifying crusade in Afghanistan.
The subject will not be broached in any of the Presidential Debates that begin tonight. The candidates are obsessed with themselves. In all the arguments over how to cut the federal deficit nobody will dare suggest limiting the bloated American police state. Maybe the networks should cancel tonight’s “debate” and give Commanche Santiago an hour or so to tell his story but they won’t. So you will have to read it here.
Operation This Operation That
Robert Santiago was arrested at the conclusion of a federal publicity stunt named “Operation On The Road Again.” “The charges,” a federal press release stated, were “the culmination of a 21-month undercover investigation led by ATF Special Agents who gained access to the internal operations of the gang.” The gang was the Pagans Motorcycle Club.
After the press conference, the case was virtually impossible to follow and remains so to this day. Whenever a case is corrupt and flawed the Department of Justice always conceals the corruption and flaws in a cloud of confusion. The investigation resulted in two indictments in two separate federal districts. The limited press coverage was sensational and inaccurate. It was headlined as a case of Pagans conspiring to blow up Hells Angels. The closest thing to a villain was a Pagan named Tracy Lahey. Eighteen Pagans including Lahey and one Mongol were arrested.
Robert Santiago was the Mongol. At the time he was the only Mongol in New York.
“What did you do,” Santiago was asked almost a year ago for an earlier story on his case.
“We went to a party and they made a federal case out of it,” he answered. “Literally.”
Lahey, for whom one of the two court cases is named, quickly agreed to cooperate. “I get a house. I get a job. I get money. I get a new identity,” Lahey said in one of his rare forays out of Administrative Segregation.
Santiago was offered a sentence of five years in prison in return for pleading guilty to the charges against him. He refused because he knows he is innocent and he is famously stubborn. So now he faces up to 40 years in prison instead. He has never had a bail hearing.
“Why hasn’t he had a bail hearing yet.” his wife Anna was asked in a phone interview.
“What does the lawyer say?” The lawyer is a man named Paul F. Rinaldo.
“The lawyer doesn’t say anything.”
The case against Santiago, the accusation for which he has already been imprisoned for more than two years, boils down to these paragraphs in a search warrant affidavit written by an ATF Agent named Robert Grunder.
“Robert Santiago, also known as ‘Comanche,’ is a member of another outlaw motorcycle club called the Mongols Outlaw Motorcycle Club,” the accusation 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,” Grunder 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 Santiago’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.”
Santiago has denied all this from the moment he was charged. Most offensive to Santiago and his wife is the accusation that he attended the party with another woman who acted as his drug mule. Santiago has always insisted that the entire scene, as described in the affidavit is completely fabricated. There are numerous examples of ATF fabrication both in and out of the public record.
Covertly recorded audio surveillance of the party also appears to undermine the case against Santiago. The unnamed undercover agent turned the recorder on and off numerous times as if he was trying to edit his conversations as he recorded them. The agent can also be heard snorting a “white powdery substance” and praising its quality.
An eventual search of Santiago’s residence based on Grunder’s affidavit found evidence (indicia) that Santiago is actually a member of the Mongols. In a shed behind his house, police found a sawed off shotgun with a broken handle, an unloaded .22 caliber revolver and five rounds of .22 caliber ammunition. Santiago had a previous felony drug conviction. He is now charged with “Narcotics Distribution,” the “Possession and Use of Firearms in Furtherance of Narcotics Distribution,” and “Firearms Possession.”
Santiago has had a strained relationship with his attorney. The accused man eventually composed three handwritten letters to the judge in the case, the Honorable Kenneth M. Karas, requesting something called a Franks hearing. These hearings, named for a United States Supreme Court ruling in a case named Franks v. Delaware, allow defendants to challenge evidence collected during a search based on false statements.
Santiago wrote his letters in November 2011. His lawyer finally presented them to the judge in July 2012. Judge Karas granted Santiago’s request. The Franks hearing was Monday. It was the first Franks hearing in the history of the Southern Federal Judicial District of New York and it devolved into a seven-hour-long argument between Commanche Santiago and his lawyer.
The government called two witnesses: ATF agent Mark Maher who may have been the case agent in the investigation and Bryan Digirolamo who wrote an affidavit for another defendant in the case. The government did not call Agent Grunder because Grunder would have had to travel all the way across the state of New York to attend the hearing. Santiago’s lawyer did not object that the man who wrote the affidavit in question was not there to defend or explain his accusations. Santiago objected to that, too.
The government also changed its story during the hearing. In court Santiago was accused of bringing two female drug mules to the party instead of just one. The government refused “to call the undercover agent at this time because it believes that the Franks motions will be adequately addressed by the testimony of Special Agent Digirolamo, specifically whether there arc any material misrepresentations or omissions in the affidavits when compared against the recordings. Moreover, the undercover agent has received credible threats against his/her life by members of the Pagans Outlaw Motorcycle Club, and thus an enormous security effort would be required to make the undercover agent available as a witness at the hearing.”
So after more than two years in jail, Santiago was once again unable to confront his accuser. After two years he is still presumed guilty until he can prove himself innocent. And, by the end of Monday he was convinced he had been denied his right to competent counsel. And, of course, he still lives in a concrete and steel cage.
And, the most important thing about Commanche Santiago’s case is that his predicament is typical. His case is not an aberration of federal justice. Robert Santiago epitomizes federal justice.
Which is the reason why you shouldn’t expect to hear either Romney or Obama talk about justice at any time during this year’s campaign.