The strange and terrible saga of the New York Mongol is finally over. After forty-one months Robert “Commanche” Santiago is finally free
Santiago was arrested at the conclusion of a 21-month-long undercover investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Its press release name became “Operation On The Road Again.” It might have been the most half assed ATF investigation yet. On the Road’s target was the Pagans Motorcycle Club and it culminated with two federal indictments in two separate federal districts.
The government oversold the case from the start. The public was told that these Pagans had been conspiring to bomb Hells Angels. It wasn’t true. The public was told that the investigation had discovered the secret burial place of a murder victim. That wasn’t true either. Eighteen Pagans and one Mongol were arrested. The one Mongol was Commanche Santiago. At the time of his arrest he was the only Mongol in New York. The worst character among the arrestees was a Pagan named Tracy Lahey. Guess which guy flipped.
“What did you do,” Santiago was asked more than three years ago when The Aging Rebel first started looking at the 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 was 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 knew he as innocent and he is famously stubborn. So he faced up to 40 years in prison instead.
Santiago was a victim of numerous legal maneuverings intended, as is usually the case in federal justice, to prevent justice. The entire, vicious game of federal law is rigged to coerce defendants into unjust plea bargains.
An ATF agent named Robert Grunder summarized the accusation of Santiago like this:
“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 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.”
None of the accusations were true. The audio tape had gaps that indicated editing. There were numerous inconsistencies and anachronism in the ATF Reports of Investigation. Unscrupulous federal policemen and unscrupulous federal prosecutors conspired to round up as many guys as possible and kept them in jail until they confessed to something. Santiago’s case was complicated when a search of a garage behind his home found an unloaded .22 caliber revolver and five rounds of .22 caliber ammunition. Santiago had a previous felony drug conviction and he was charged with “Narcotics Distribution,” the “Possession and Use of Firearms in Furtherance of Narcotics Distribution,” and “Firearms Possession.”
For the next three and a half years Santiago was compelled to wrestle with the system. He challenged the evidence in several hearings and lost on various technicalities. Prosecutors intentionally confused the case and sought numerous delays. The case was so complex and so much of it was sealed that it was virtually impossible to cover. Finally after 41 months, Santiago agreed to plead guilty to a charge of using a telephone to arrange a drug deal in return for a sentence of time served.
After his release Santiago said, “The government does all this just so they have an excuse to take people in. Then they do whatever they can to get you to the point where you have to plead to something. Guys who hear about my case should know that with the feds you’re going to do some time. It’s better to be a man and get sent up and come out with your head high than do what Tracy Lahey did. Lahey made a deal that says he doesn’t get sentenced until after everybody else. Now he’s still locked up and I’m free. All Lahey had to do was keep his mouth shut and he would have been out before us.”