The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives successfully avoided justice and accountability last Wednesday. Four ATF agents named Gregory Giaoni, Paul D’Angelo, Darrin Kozlowski and John Ciccone avoided justice and accountability.
Two men named Richard Clayborne and Jose Gonzalez were found guilty of the murder of a Mongol named Manuel Vincent “Hitman” Martin in the wee small hours of October 8th, 2008. Clayborne and Gonzalez may have even pulled the trigger. But determining who pulled the trigger is only a fraction of the story.
Martin was killed after attending a party at a bar called The Mix at 2612 Honolulu Avenue in Montrose, California – part of the great sprawl of Los Angeles near the Glendale city line. At the time of Martin’s murder Giaoni, D’Angelo, Kozlowski and Ciccone were all participants in a three-year-long undercover, and still mostly secret, provocation that was intended to turn the Mongols Motorcycle Club into a blatantly criminal enterprise. The three undercover agents had all joined the Mongols Cypress Park chapter and quickly became full time Mongols. They were always everywhere. They never left a party early. They provoked fights and solicited crimes. Some of the crimes they solicited were blatant entrapments. The provocation, or investigation, was eventually christened Operation Black Rain. Ciccone was the case agent for Black Rain. Koslowski was the lead undercover.
Giaoni, D’Angelo and Kozlowski all rode to the party at The Mix with Martin. Ciccone drove the chase car. All three men had been identified as possible ATF agents by club members. Kozlowski’s photograph had appeared in a book titled Under And Alone about an earlier ATF investigation of the Mongols. However, according to multiple sources, then Mongols president Ruben “Doc” Cavazos refused to believe the men were cops after they passed a lie detector test.
The three undercovers shared a safe house less than a mile from The Mix and less than three miles from the Los Angeles headquarters of the ATF in Glendale. The safe house was always well stocked with drugs. Numerous sources have said that both Giaoni and D’Angelo appeared to develop substance abuse problems during the course of the investigation. Both men carried nasal spray bottles putatively filled with methamphetamine and sniffed from them frequently. According to multiple sources, Giaoni took his motorcycle apart while intoxicated on methamphetamine and couldn’t put the bike back together.
All three undercovers feared and distrusted Hitman Martin. In one particularly lurid Report of Investigation, Kozlowski described Martin terrorizing a Hells Angel supporter for wearing the wrong tee shirt. All three undercovers were aware that several months before his death, Martin had stabbed a Hells Angel. And, numerous informed sources believe that Martin was suspicious of the three “Cypress Park brothers.”
Looking For Fights
After arriving at The Mix on the evening of October 7, the three undercovers immediately went looking for fights. “They were trying to say we were there to fight some Russian dudes, which was totally not the truth,” a Mongol who was there said. “They tried starting shit with the bouncers there, and a few other people until Hitman chilled them out.”
Claybourne and Gonzalez, both members of Glendale’s Toonerville Rifa 13 clique, were among the ATF agents victims.
The night of the Mongols party, there was also an ongoing federal investigation including extensive electronic surveillance of Toonerville Rifa 13. Activities of both the Mongols and Toonerville investigations were monitored by a single Los Angeles area fusion center – which at the time was widely described as “The War Room.” A principal function of The War Room was “deconfliction,” or warning undercover agents and their backups about possible dangers posed by chance encounters between undercover agents in unrelated cases.
“The War Room,” according to police documents, “provide(d) real time operational and tactical intelligence support by tracking, around-the-clock, all Federal, State and local law enforcement ‘high risk’ operations within the four county region.” The party at The Mix was being monitored by the Drug Enforcement Administration, ATF, FBI, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, the Glendale PD and the Los Angeles Police Department.
According to one very informed source, “Hitman came to me and (another Mongol) and said he had to see us the next day because we ‘had to talk about the new dude that was hanging with the Cypress Park (ATF) brothers.’ Mind you, in this entire investigation those Cypress Park guys never left a party early once. They rode in with Hitman. Yet, that night they left an hour or an hour and a half before everyone else. Why would they leave early? Right after Hitman came to me and another brother? Why did they leave then?”
It is likely that the three undercover agents and the chase car left early because they had been warned that there would be retaliation for the trouble the agents had provoked. It is a common and ongoing practice in ATF undercover investigations to intentionally try to provoke violence in general and “wars” between competing groups. The Aging Rebel has long tried to substantiate exactly what happened that night. On multiple occasions and in violation of federal law the ATF has ignored multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for specific documents pertinent to both the Toonerville and Mongols investigations on October 7, 8 and 9, 2008.
About three minutes after leaving The Mix at about two a.m. on October 8, Hitman Martin and a Mongols hang around named Ronald “Porno Ron” Hamburg were fired upon by assailants in a dark sedan as they entered the Glendale Freeway. Clayborne and Gonzalez have now been convicted of being the men in the dark sedan. The Aging Rebel believes eleven shots were fired in all. One of those shots struck the heel of Hamburg’s boot and was carried away from the crime scene. Martin was armed at the time of the attack but never got off a shot. He was shot once in the chest as he turned back to look at his attackers. He pulled over to the shoulder of the road, fell off his motorcycle and died. Attempts to resuscitate him by both Mongols and paramedics were unsuccessful. He was 30-years-old and the father of two small children.
The shooting received extensive publicity in Los Angeles because of the impact the crime scene had on local traffic. Most reporters tried to blame the Hells Angels for Martin’s death. The president of the Frisco charter of the Angels, Mark “Papa” Guardado had died after being shot and stabbed by a Mongol named Christopher Bryan “Stoney” Ablett about a month before. Abblett had turned himself into police in Oklahoma the previous day. The Los Angeles Times quoted a retired FBI agent and “biker gang” expert named Tim McKinley who said, “It is just game-on between the two groups (the Angels and the Mongols) and it has been for quite a while now. They’re in a gang war.”
But police were well aware of the circumstances of the shooting. Local and federal police searched The Mix shortly after Martin was pronounced dead. A Glendale Police spokesman disingenuously told the eager press, “We don’t know if he was specifically targeted, it’s a random situation or if this was some sort of road rage incident.” A subsequent press release added the interesting detail that “thirteen shots” had been fired at Martin. Not eleven shots, one of which was carried away in Hamburg’s boot but thirteen. It was the closest to the truth any official statement about the murder ever got. The idea was to associate the murder with the so-called Mexican Mafia. The thirteenth letter of the alphabet is M, or as it is pronounced in Spanish, eme. Toonerville, like virtually all Mexican cliques in Los Angeles is loosely affiliated with La Eme. In early October 2008 the Mongols, at least half of whom are Chicano, had only recently ended a five-years-long feud with the Eme.
It seems undeniable, nor has any attempt at denial ever been made, that Martin was murdered in retaliation for deliberate provocations made by on duty ATF agents; that those agents and numerous other police authorities in Los Angeles knew in advance that a shooting was about to occur; that none of the police who knew the shooting was about to occur bothered to warn or otherwise safeguard any of the Mongols the undercover agents had fatally endangered; and that the forewarned undercover agents fled the danger zone to prepare their alibis and plot how to best exploit the situation.
It is highly probable that Christopher Brunwin, the Assistant United States Attorney in charge of Operation Black Rain knew the details and circumstances of Martin’s murder. On October 9, as Martin’s body was being autopsied and without any logical conclusion to the undercover investigation having been reached, Brunwin asked a grand jury to return a racketeering indictment against 79 Mongols.
That same day Kozlowski, unaware than the investigation was ending without have reached a dramatically satisfying conclusion, was attempting to incite a war between the Mongols and the Toonerville clique. Kozlowski “tried as hard as he could to get me to cosign on the Toonerville dude as being the shooter,” a Mongol who had been at The Mix said. The Mongol refused because he had been standing outside the cocktail lounge when Porno Ron telephoned for help. And, as he stood there he thought he saw Claybourne just getting into his car. “When that didn’t happen he went to the National Sergeant at Arms and said that we were at the bar to start shit and he kept up his Toonerville hype. He even tried to get me and another Bro that was there that night in trouble over the shooting and thrown out bad.”
Local police announced that Martin’s murder had been solved at a meticulously orchestrated press event on July 9, 2009. Los Angeles Chief of Police William Bratton told his audience that 20 members of the Toonerville Rifa clique were in custody. Four people, the Chief explained, had been arrested for murder, four for attempted murder and twelve more had been arrested on suspicion of violating drug or gun laws. The implication was that the four murder suspects were involved in the Martin shooting. A Glendale police spokesman said, “Obviously since that shooting, it’s been nine months of a grueling investigation.”
In fact Claybourne, who is now the convicted shooter, was not arrested for the murder until 2:10 p.m. on August 12, 2009. Claybourn is neither Mexican nor a resident of Glendale. His eyes are blue and he lived in Chatsworth. He was arraigned at 8:30 a.m. on September 11.
The July 9 press conference was the last time any police official made any statement about Martin’s murder until Clayborne and Gonzalez were convicted last week. The two men will be sentenced April 16.