Framing Dave Burgess

February 9, 2009

All Posts, Features

If you are reading this now you probably already know all about Dave Burgess. You know about his arrest and his conviction and you know about the stain that he must now wear for the rest of his life like a scarlet letter.

Most of what you think you know about Burgess is the work of a very competent, 31-year-old reporter named Matt Joyce. Joyce works for the Associated Press (AP) in Wyoming and whether you did or did not see his name at the top of your page, whether your anchor person mentioned him or not, Joyce was the guy who told you about the case.

Joyce deserves his job. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree from Colorado College in Colorado Springs -a very expensive, liberal arts college for, mostly, the children of America’s ruling class. He holds a Masters from the University of Texas at Austin. And besides the AP Joyce has worked for the Durango Herald and the Waco Tribune-Herald.

But, it is also fair to assume from his work that Joyce does not fear, hate or even distrust the police. Probably, he has never been “subdued” or lectured about life by a little, fat man in a judge dress. Nor is Joyce a member of what was once called the “working press.” Joyce belongs to what is now generally regarded to be the “professional press.”

So Matt Joyce accurately reported what he saw and heard, he got some quotes and he moved on. He self-evidently never bothered to give Burgess’ indictment and trial the thought it deserved. And, that is at least unfortunate.

Because a broader, less hurried and slightly more skeptical approach than Joyce took to the matter of the United States of America, Plaintiff, v. David Burgess, Defendant, No. 07-CR-298-J raises vexing issues about the policing of America in the new millennium.

In fact, the longer you stare at the case the more it starts to look like Dave Burgess might have actually been framed.

David Burgess

Burgess makes a good villain because he is an interesting man. And, as there is a Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times,” so there may be a way to curse a boy: “May you grow up to be an interesting man.”

Even his enemies concede he has a few redeeming qualities. Burgess is artistically inclined. He likes to take photographs and he has posted many of them to a web site called DavesWorld81. Here and there among the snapshots are some real photographs. They are indistinguishable from the little frozen moments that hang on gallery walls on La Brea and in Chelsea. But, Burgess never tried to sell them. He just basically gave away what he saw to anybody who wanted to look.

He didn’t have to sell his photographs, anyway. He usually had money, cars, motorcycles and a home. He married a knockout blonde. She was a former Budweiser girl and after they separated they remained business partners. Some men dream of harems. Burgess owned a whorehouse called the Old Bridge Ranch. And, in a year when Harley-Davidson is promising a guaranteed dose of outlaw mystique with the purchase of each and every 883cc Sportster, Dave Burgess was the President of the Nevada Nomads charter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.

Burgess now may be one of the four Angels’ patch holders every citizen knows: Sonny Barger, George Christie, Chuck Zito and Burgess. Whether you like him now or not, many men regard Burgess fondly. Ironically, many people find his sentimentality toward children to be his most appealing quality.

But, he could have been wiser. For example, he still calls himself “The Alpha Male,” which begins to hint at the extent to which he miscalculated his life. Everybody who takes a moment to think knows that Dick Cheney is the new American Alpha Male.

Consequently, while Dick Cheney negotiates the price of his memoir Dave Burgess sits in the United States Penitentiary at Lompoc. The man who likes to see what other men cannot is currently trapped in a grey, concrete box surrounded by the exquisite California coast.

His release date is May 7th, 2021. If authorities think he becomes sufficiently rehabilitated he will be eligible for parole in 2013. If he is paroled on the earliest possible date he must still submit to the nagging indignity of supervision by a parole officer until 2023.

And, he must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life because last July he was convicted of the federal offense of possession and interstate transportation of child pornography.

It started on a lonely road in Wyoming.

The Routine Traffic Stop

US 80 is one of four Interstate Highways along with the 10, 40 and the 90, to which the 80 is sometimes joined, that traverse the entire breadth of the contiguous states. Burgess and another Hells Angel named Shayne Waldron got on the 80 in Reno and by ten o’clock in the morning on July 24, 2007 they had gotten as far as Uinta County in the southwest corner of Wyoming.

Uinta County is cattle country. It holds fewer than 20,000 people. And, by the time you get there Route 80 has become a monotonous, four lane, split grey ribbon. It is surrounded by low, tan prairie at the Utah state line but soon climbs into a confusion of rocky hills.

The men were travelling in Burgess’ white, Freight Liner motorhome. Waldron was driving. The men were going to a Hells Angels national run in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and they were towing their bikes in a trailer. Looking out the window Burgess would have seen the original, transcontinental railroad line playing hide and seek with the modern interstate.

That section of road is regularly patrolled by a career, Wyoming Highway Patrol officer named Matthew Arnell. Arnell is a thick, jowly Navy veteran who is entering early middle age. He takes himself and his work seriously. He is on the Board of Directors of the Wyoming Highway Patrol Association. And, like any professional highway patrolman in any state he knows how to milk a traffic stop.

He stopped Burgess and Waldron because the license plate on the bike trailer was expired. The two men said, yeah, they knew and explained that they were on their way to Wamsutter, Wyoming, which would have been an hour and half away, to pick up another set of plates from the trailer’s owner.

Some lazy cops might have written the men a ticket and let it go but Arnell was not lazy. He investigated. He wondered why the men called each other “brother” and yet had different last names. He looked in the trailer. And, either through markings on the bike or tattoos on the men or psychic powers or some combination of all of the above Trooper Arnell soon determined that the men were Hells Angels.

The Dog Alerts

Wyoming does not have a gang problem but it thinks it does. Wyoming thinks gangsters are moving in from, as one official put it, “urban areas like Utah” and Trooper Arnell obviously decided to give these two out-of-state gangsters a good, old-fashioned Wyoming welcome. Arnell stalled the stop and requested the assistance of a Uinta County Sheriff’s Office K9 unit.

Uinta County does this all the time. The small, mostly rural county has only two “Range Detectives” but it has three K9 units. Eventually, a thick man in blue jeans and a tan shirt arrived with a happy, slightly goofy Labrador retriever.

Arnell would later state, maybe, that during the traffic stop he smelled the odor of “burned marijuana.” Smell is one of the most subjective senses but what is undeniable is that the there was no marijuana burning in the motorhome at the time of the stop and neither Burgess nor Waldron were stoned. The subject of driving under the influence never even came up.

Arnell, it seems obvious, was just looking for an excuse to toss the motorhome. And, he is probably a professional enough cop to know that if he had come across the motorhome parked he could never have searched it because, legally, it would have been a residence. But, because he stopped it while it was moving it was only a vehicle and the rules for searching a vehicle are less strict than those that secure the privacy of a home.

The cop tried to get consent to search. He said something like “There are no illegal drugs, atomic bombs, biological weapons, gold from Fort Knox, anything like that in there is there, gentlemen. Nothing in there you don’t want me to know about, is there? Then you won’t mind if I search the vehicle.”

Burgess said he minded. You know, on account of the Constitution and all.

So then the Labrador alerted. The dog alerted on the state of Wyoming. The dog was outside the Freight Liner, on the driver’s side and smelled something.

But that alert led the K9 officer to lead the Lab around to the home’s door and in its enthusiasm, as is the way with Labradors, the dog ran inside. Both Arnell and the dog handler observed that the Labrador looked “confused” and interpreted the dog’s confusion as evidence that the dog was attempting to alert on multiple locations where drugs could be found.

The Roadside Search

The two cops then believed they had probable cause to search the motorhome without a warrant. Really, in hindsight, it seems logical that the point of the search was to give a couple of Hells Angels a hard time and gather “gang intelligence.” It was a most through roadside search.

The Freight Liner had two rooms and in the back room, the bedroom, Trooper Arnell found a K-Mart shopping bag with a small wood pipe inside. The story, the legal fiction, goes that Arnell thought the pipe “smelled like” marijuana and he then observed what he thought were “traces” of marijuana in the bag.

He searched all the clothing in the motor home and when he found nothing which aroused his suspicion he searched all the clothing again. This time Trooper Arnell found a piece of “tissue paper” inside a shirt. After searching the tissue paper he found what appeared to be a small amount of cocaine.

The drugs probably were not planted. Arnell may carry small amounts of cocaine around with him to plant on deserving suspects but he probably did not do it this time. Unless Wyoming really intended to prosecute the two men for possession of small amounts of recreational drugs, all Arnell had to do was say he found the drugs, anyway. All that is necessary legally, to effect a search is to find “felony amounts” of an illegal drug and the whole point of the detention was to comb the motorhome

Burgess admitted that the pipe in the plastic bag was his.

The whole drug charge was a sham and was eventually dropped. Although Arnell never mentioned it in his affidavit he would have seen a Compaq laptop computer and a palm sized, Seagate, portable hard drive sitting in the bedroom. The whole point of fabricating a drug charge was, probably, to gather “gang intelligence.” The whole point of seizing and searching the motorhome would have been to search the computers.

You Have The Right….

Burgess and Waldron were both Mirandized and taken into custody. The home on wheels, the bike trailer and the bikes were all towed to a Wyoming Highway Department garage in Evanston.

Evanston is a nice, little city with a great view of the mountains for which Uinta County is named. It looks like the town in the movie Shane, only 140 years farther on in the history of the Republic. In Evanston, Arnell was met by a local Agent of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), named Russell Schmitt.

Schmitt tested the “white powder” Arnell “found” in the motorhome. Sure enough, it tested positive as cocaine and at that moment, Russell Schmitt became the lead investigator in the case. Schmitt actually wrote the affidavit and went with Arnell to obtain the search warrant. All of what Arnell and the dog handler had supposedly, previously done and said and observed were all actually written down by Schmitt. And, Schmitt has a little history with affidavits and search warrants.

Schmitt began his law enforcement career in a little department in Green River, Wyoming and while employed there he appeared in the middle of a case any Wyoming lawyer should know. Schmitt seems to have bullied and lied his way into effecting the arrest of a Green River “drug dealer” named Richard D. Cordova. Cordova was not exactly an outlaw which hindered his defense. He basically threw himself on the mercy of the cops and wound up doing a couple of minutes in the penitentiary.

Probable Cause

But the affidavit Schmitt wrote to get a search warrant was questionable enough to eventually be reviewed by the Wyoming Supreme Court. “We agree that the affidavit in question comes uncomfortably close to violating the protections guaranteed Wyoming citizens,” the court wrote about the pretense Schmitt had used to get the warrant. But “in deference to the judicial issuing officer,” which is to say the judge Schmitt talked into issuing the warrant, Wyoming let Cordova’s conviction stand.

In the end, the legal razor’s edge that cut Cordova but not Schmitt was the fine line of “intent” -which may be even more subjective than the sense of smell. Cordova could not prove that Schmitt intentionally tried to violate the Constitutions of Wyoming and the United States. The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that even if Schmitt had lied he had not lied “deliberately” and if he disregarded the truth he did not do so “recklessly.”

So a cynic might think that Schmitt knew how to lie his way into a search of almost anything. Unless you live in Fairyland you understand that Arnell and Schmitt had already booted up the computers and looked around before they ever applied for the warrant.

Schmitt carefully worded the affidavit and later, almost certainly, perjured himself in an evidence hearing by stating that it was perfectly normal and reasonable to search through all the records on somebody’s personal computer if you could just catch them with personal use amounts of common recreational drugs.

“Based upon training and experience, your Affiant knows that persons involved in trafficking or the use of narcotics and dangerous drugs often keep photographs of coconspirators or photographs of illegal narcotics in their vehicle,” Schmitt claimed. “Your Affiant knows that paraphernalia for packaging, cutting, weighing, and using is commonly kept in the vehicle of the drug trafficker. Subjects involved often keep pay-owe sheets, and receipts of customers and subjects also involved with drug trafficking keep weapons to protect there (sic) Narcotics and drug proceeds.”

This was two guys on vacation in, like, an off-brand Winnebago.

Let’s Bust Bush

The last three Presidents have all admitted to using marijuana, although Clinton preposterously claimed to have never “inhaled.” George W. Bush is, reportedly, a recovering cocaine fiend. So, does that mean that if George W. Bush is travelling through Wyoming one day and Russ Schmitt catches him with one of his old marijuana pipes that Schmitt can then go through all of Bush’s computer records? Because Bush might be a drug dealer? Because he probably stores his drug dealer’s scrap book on his PC?

Who believes that? A Circuit Court Judge named Michael Greer believes that. He issued the warrant.

You decide if Schmitt perjured himself or not. This is from a transcript of an evidentiary hearing.

Schmitt Speaks

Question: And why did you think that it was important to take that computer and that hard drive that you saw right there?

Agent Schmitt: Well, ‘cause, you know, we’d already found cocaine and marijuana, and, you know, there’s a good chance that, one, it would have pictures of coconspirators or other people or e-mails of drug trafficking or the person that drove the vehicle itself standing there with drugs to show that, yes, this person is into drugs or, I mean, several reasons.

Question: So photographs certainly?

Agent Schmitt: Yes, sir.

Question: Names or information pertaining to other people that might be engaged in illegal activity?

Agent Schmitt: E-mails.

Question: E-mails that might show or relate to illegal activity relating to these controlled substances or controlled substances; is that correct?

Agent Schmitt: Yes. In a lot of them we’ve confiscated several computers where they are actually downloading things on how to make methamphetamine, recipes. And I think that-to be honest, I believe that’s-I know there wasn’t methamphetamine found at this, but that kind of started the trend for taking computers 2 years ago because of the downloading of methamphetamine recipes, and then it just kind of went from there to be more mainstay all the time.

Schmitt and Trooper Arnell tossed Burgess’ motorhome a second time. We are to believe, everyone is supposed to believe, that Trooper Arnell’s roadside search, when he unfolded all of Burgess’ and Waldron’s shirts twice and went through their socks and their underwear was a “cursory search.” And, the reason we should believe this is because Arnell never saw the computer and the portable hard drive just sitting there. The two men did not discover the computer equipment until the second search.

Discovering A Computer

And then later during this second, more thorough search at the Evanston garage, and aided by his ghost writer Agent Schmitt, Trooper Arnell “discovered” a second, palm-sized, portable hard drive. Arnell found a Maxtor drive, according to public records, “under one of the couches in the motor home, when he slipped his hand into a very small opening under the seat of the couch and had to remove his wristwatch to get his hand back out of that opening.”

No other drugs or evidence of drug dealing or drug manufacture were found. No other contraband was found: No guns, switchblade knives, samurai swords, atomic bombs, biological weapons or large amounts of cash, that sort of thing.

Can you smell anything yet? Does it smell like burned marijuana?

Thorough professionals that they are, Arnell and Schmitt then stepped away from the case and went to do more important police work -keeping gangs, presumably, from moving into Wyoming from urban areas like Utah. Agent Schmitt turned the computer equipment over Wyoming DCI Intelligence Analyst Elvin Ehrhardt on July 25th, the day after the traffic stop.

And, the fact that the hardware was turned over to Agent Ehrhardt is interesting because it demonstrates where the state of Wyoming, and particularly the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), were going with the case. Ehrhardt is the Wyoming DCI “authority” on street gangs. It was his job to gather and interpret “intelligence” about motorcycle clubs.

Internet Crimes Against Children Team

Agent Ehrhardt took the computer and drives to the offices of the Wyoming Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Team. That’s right. Read it again.

The ICAC comprises five DCI agents, one Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent and one agent from the FBI. Even if the Department of Justice had not known that they had Burgess by the short hairs before, the FBI knew after that. And, where they stored Burgess hardware was in an office full of child pornography.

Since Ehrhardt is a “gang expert,” and most law enforcement agencies consider the Hells Angels to be a “gang” you might expect him to retain custody of this “evidence.” But, Ehrhardt transferred custody of the hardware to another DCI cop, Special Agent Randall Huff.

Huff is a very experienced and computer savvy cop. He served as a uniformed officer for six years. He has worked for the Division of Criminal Investigation since 1990 and he has worked as a trainer for other departments throughout the United States on how to seize and exploit computer evidence. Most of his work involves child pornography.

Most of Agent Huff’s work does not involve, as Agent Schmitt so eloquently put it, “…computers where they are actually downloading things on how to make methamphetamine, recipes. And I think that-to be honest, I believe that’s-I know there wasn’t methamphetamine found at this, but that kind of started the trend for taking computers 2 years ago because of the downloading of methamphetamine recipes, and then it just kind of went from there to be more mainstay all the time.”

Preliminary Forensic Examination

Agent Huff held the hardware for a week, without looking at it -so the story of the official chain of custody of the evidence goes. Then he gave the hardware to yet another DCI cop, Special Agent Scott Hughes. And, then Agent Hughes finally began his “preliminary forensic examination” of the laptop and the two hard drives.

Then he paused for 20 days. Maybe the ICAC is a no-smoking office. So, maybe he went out for a cigarette. The official version is that he was waiting for a copy of Judge Greer’s Search Warrant.

Maybe Agent Schmitt had to walk that warrant all the way to Cheyenne. Anyway, the warrant finally arrived on August 21st. And, then the next thing Agent Hughes did was he went and he had a meeting with the Senior Assistant Attorney General of the State of Wyoming, David L. Delicath.

Let that sink in for a minute, too. Not a staff attorney. Not even an Assistant Attorney General.

David Burgess’ computer hardware, the evidence that had been seized -rather than subpoenaed-because it might reveal fleeting intelligence about the identities of drug dealers or possibly a new recipe for crank was passed from cop to cop four times, stored in an office containing child pornography and at least one known FBI Agent, and then before anyone would examine it the Agent who had custody of it asked “the advice” of the Senior Assistant Attorney General of the State of Wyoming.

Purportedly, the conversation was about “the scope of the search warrant.” But again, cynics who have actually been to court might be inclined to think that what was happening was all the cops were getting their stories together.

And then, sixteen days after that, Agent Hughes, according to public documents, finally “began the process of acquiring (or copying) and previewing the contents of the Maxtor External Hard Drive.” The Maxtor was the hard drive Trooper Arnell found hidden in a couch. And, its discovery was so memorable that Arnell remembers he almost lost his watch.

Nice detail in the story there. Very nice. It lends what writing pros call verisimilitude. It is a graphic detail that makes a story sound true.

Computer Forensics

There is a fairly standard protocol for the forensic examination of computer hardware called, Forensic Examination of Digital Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement. It was published by the Department of Justice in 2004 and the deliberateness with which Agent Hughes conducted his examination seems to indicate he had a least heard of the document.

One of the key first steps in a computer forensic examination is to ensure that the hard disk is “write protected.” Agent Hughes, simply by reading the manual, would have known to do that, but there is no indication that any of Burgess’ computer equipment was ever write protected before August, 1st.

The software Agent Hughes employed to search the Maxtor hard drive is a low end -about $700-but standard suite of evidence acquisition tools used in computer forensic examinations called “EnCase.” Law enforcement agencies use EnCase because it is a most excellent tool for finding only what the search warrant says the cops are looking for. The EnCase developer brags:

“SMART EVIDENCE COLLECTION: no other forensic tool gives organizations the ability to forensically preserve only the relevant evidence without capturing the entire hard drive.”

And, in Burgess’s case Hughes, purportedly, would have been looking for “text strings,” what geeks call words, like “crack,” “crank,” “HA” or maybe, “my new recipe for making methamphetamine.”

Recreational drugs were still what the case was supposed to be about. Every cop connected to the case, including Agent Hughes, testified under penalty of perjury that from July 24th until September 6th the case against Dave Burgess was about suspicion of drug dealing. The putative reason for conducting a search of Burgess’ hard drives was to find evidence of drug dealing. But Agent Hughes did not look for that.

Discovery Of Child Exploitation

According to public documents, Agent Hughes, 44 days after the traffic stop: “…on September 6, 2007, began the process of acquiring (or copying) and previewing the contents of the Maxtor External Hard Drive. The EnCase preview function utilized by Special Agent Hughes permitted him to view images while the process of acquiring the contents of the hard drive proceeded. This preview revealed ‘multiple images of child exploitation.’ Special Agent Hughes testified he noted the name of the file, minimized the image, allowed the acquisition process to continue, but immediately stopped looking at images. Thereafter, a search warrant was applied for and obtained in Laramie County, Wyoming, which authorized the search of the laptop and the two external hard drives. Following execution of the search warrants specific to the laptop and external hard drives, further evidence of child exploitation was found and the instant charges were brought against defendant Burgess.”

What Hughes found is what lawyers call a “smoking gun.” What everybody is supposed to believe is that prima facie evidence of a damning crime was discovered in the course of routine police work in a highly professional police laboratory. Just like on CSI. And, if you are a moron who has never before heard the term “computer forensics” it sounds pretty bad for Dave Burgess.

Things That Make You Go Hmmm

There are, however two exculpatory possibilities: The hardware seized from Burgess was altered; or, the hardware seized from Dave Burgess was replaced.

Everybody who does computer forensics understands that portable hard drives are used to archive data that was originally collected and assembled somewhere else. But no evidence of that collection and assembly of Burgess’ alleged, mind-boggling collection of kiddie porn was ever found.

The police looked. The FBI looked. Agents assigned to the Reno Resident Agency of the Las Vegas Field Office of the FBI raided Burgess’ home and seized every piece of computer equipment they could find. They also would have looked for photographs, books and magazines. But they never found how or where Burgess got the pictures.

It was never offered as evidence but the FBI would have also tracked all of Burgess internet use for years but no evidence of the origin of all this pornography was ever found. The FBI, at least during the Bush Administration, would not even have needed a search warrant. The FBI could have just used a National Security Letter (NSL.) NSLs get issued everyday. But nobody ever determined where the pornography originated.

It is more certain, because of traceable serial numbers, to determine where the Seagate and Maxtor hard drives were bought. Credit card records prove that Dave Burgess bought portable hard drives similar to those “recovered” from the motorhome. He bought them in Reno, near where he lives. The drives Hughes examined were purchased in Las Vegas, at the opposite end of the state.

The Point Of The Case

Supposedly, Burgess’ computer hardware contained a carefully cataloged library of 60,000 images and the point of prosecuting people who possess these images is to protect the children in those pictures. It might be an inherently flawed strategy. It might be like prosecuting random crack addicts for running the Cali Cartel.

But whether it is a good law or not, a smart law or not, almost everybody who might read this will agree wholeheartedly and unreservedly that child pornography is wrong and should be stopped and the children who are exploited should be rescued.

So, the question might then be raised, how many children were rescued as a result of the photographs found on Burgess’ hard drive? How many missing children were identified? How many children? Nobody would expect the Wyoming Internet Crimes Against Children Team, or the FBI, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to identify any of these kids but where were they? When were they? Isn’t that the point of this case?

Or, was the point of this case to link the text strings “Hells Angels” and “Kiddie Porn” together in a headline?

The Mustang Ranch

Before you make up your mind about Burgess you should also know that the FBI has been trying to pin something on him for a very long time-maybe as far back as the mid-seventies.

Dave Burgess is the nephew of Joseph and Sally Conforte. Joe Conforte opened a legal brothel called the Mustang Ranch in 1971. In its heyday the Mustang was the third largest employer in Storey County, Nevada -after a pet food factory and the school system-and the taxes it paid provided about an eighth of the County’s budget.

The Mustang Ranch replaced the “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” as the most famous brothel in the world. To the world outside Storey County, the place, in the words of one author, “represented ‘badness’ on multiple levels.” Despite, or maybe because of, its “badness” the Mustang eventually became three whorehouses: Mustang One, Mustang Two and, about 150 yards away from those two buildings, the Old Bridge Ranch.

The Mustang was notorious for almost 20 years and Dave Burgess was managing the place shortly before it was eventually closed down by the Federal Government in 1990. Joe Conforte and a Storey County Commissioner named Shirley Colletti were indicted for fraud and racketeering and Conforte disappeared. Some say he disappeared to South America. The Feds never got him.

By the time his uncle escaped Dave Burgess had split off and was operating the Old Bridge as a separate business. That and the fact that he was his uncle’s nephew and that he had managed the Mustang were probably enough to make him one of the FBIs “usual suspects.”

Everybody Breaks The Law

All cops know that everybody breaks the law. Everybody. It can’t be helped. There are so many laws.

Most of the time cops just stare out at everybody until they see one of us breaking a law. Sometimes, if cops do not like your attitude, they will ignore everybody else and just stare at you.

Something like that happened to Dave Burgess. The cops paid extra special attention to the Old Bridge Ranch.

Federal prosecutors went after Burgess’ in-laws. Burgess’ father-in-law, Jay “Cowboy” Rigas and his son Troy were indicted for being the “drug kingpins” of Northern Nevada. Both men worked at the Old Bridge Ranch, which they all seemed to consider as a “family business,” and both were convicted after an almost year-long trial for selling cocaine.

It was a classic example of legal musical chairs. Twenty-four people were alleged to have sold cocaine in Nevada, Northern California and Washington. Twenty-two of them turned state’s evidence, sat in witness chairs and testified that it was all Jay and Troy Rigas’ idea. Jay and Troy were left standing when it came time for somebody to be sentenced. Jay Rigas is still in jail and many law-abiding people honestly think that his trial was a miscarriage of justice.

Dave Burgess’ mother-in-law, Yvonne Rigas, was so incensed by what she considered to be the railroading of her husband and son that she passed out leaflets in the courthouse parking lot. The leaflets were the product of a Libertarian group in Montana called the “Fully Informed Jury Association.” The papers said, “True Or False? When you sit on a jury, you have the right to vote your conscience.”

So, after her husband and son were locked up Yvonne Rigas was indicted for conspiracy and jury tampering for putting the papers on the wind shields of cars. It was a blatantly bogus charge. And, it could also be interpreted to mean that the United States of America was conducting a vendetta against the family that still ran what was left of the Mustang.

The Hells Angels

The long history of the official harassment of Dave Burgess and his uncle and his in-laws could fill a book. Burgess had numerous tax audits and suits disputing whether whores are employees or independent contractors and whether Troy Rigas, who Burgess rehired after his release from prison, was a moral enough person to work in a whorehouse and so on.

It is a dreary litany. Washington and Jefferson might have found it sad. But then, what would Andrew Jackson have done to Trooper Arnell?

The more Burgess was legally harassed the more alienated from the legal process he seemed to become. It was particularly not helpful to his cause that he became a member of the Hells Angels. Troy Rigas and another brother named Sohn Rigas also became Hells Angels and Sohn Rigas picked up a charge after the great biker brawl in Laughlin in 2002.

Most police agencies assume that the Hells Angels are a criminal organization. No one has ever actually proved that the Hells Angels are the Mafia but that is exactly who police think they are. So, as time went by and the files the FBI kept on Burgess grew, Dave Burgess started to look more and more like Michael Corleone.

Worst of all, the cops could never get Burgess. He was convicted of “conspiring to possess marijuana” in 1990 but that one conviction was overturned on appeal. So he had a clean record. He was legally an innocent man.

The cops must have laughed bitterly. The real Michael Corleone! An innocent man! Hah!

Framing Dave Burgess

Then, Burgess was riding as a passenger in a white motorhome that was stopped for a routine traffic violation in Wyoming in late July, 2007. And, suddenly the guy who was so smart that law enforcement couldn’t touch him was revealed to be a moron who was so stupid that he never even bothered to encrypt his giant collection of child pornography.

Or, maybe Dave Burgess was framed. Maybe.

Maybe in the George W. Bush America, during the war on terror, during the Alberto Gonzales administration of the Department of Justice, after Tommy Chong, in an age when even the Girl Scouts can legally be categorized as a “street gang,” maybe a “naive” person, maybe an idealist might think it might be possible that Dave Burgess was framed.

And all of this happened before the AP’s man in Wyoming, Matt Joyce, ever heard Dave Burgess’ name. Then the headlines started. “HELLS ANGELS! KID PORN!!”

Burgess’ Reno home was invaded by a SWAT Team in October, the house was searched but no evidence of child pornography either in digital or printed form was found.

Burgess has stated publically, on his MySpace page, that at the time of that raid he was told by FBI Agents, “…if I did not agree to get the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club involved in some criminal adventure they (the FBI) would make sure to make me look so bad that even my brothers in the Hells Angels would disown me, and that I would spend the next 20 years in prison branded as a pedophile!”

Burgess has also publically protested that the “…U.S. attorney offered me a deal, but part of the deal was that I would lose my brothel (not sell it, just close it and lose it.) Again, I said ‘NO DEAL.'”

Indictment And Trial

Burgess was indicted on November 14th. He appeared before a judge 12 days later and at that hearing the prosecutor, James C. Anderson, actually asked the magistrate to deny Burgess bail because he was a member of the Hells Angels. Burgess pleaded not guilty the next day and went on trial in April.

“Investigators found tens of thousands of child pornography images, carefully organized and explicitly labeled, on computer equipment belonging to Nevada brothel owner and Hells Angel member David Burgess,” was how Matt Joyce led his story on Wednesday, April 16th.

America was further informed that Burgess’ computer hardware “revealed just an almost unimaginable amount of child pornography” on those hard drives. “We’re talking about crime scene photographs of young children being treated in a way that no child should be treated.”

Burgess was represented by a Public defender named James H. Barrett. Burgess had a $2 million IRS lien against his personal assets at the time of his indictment. And, both Burgess and the prosecutor seemed to regard Barrett as a nitwit.

The Public Defender

Barrett knew it, too. “The Defendant has indicated in open court that he lacks confidence in Counsel and has, as well…indicated the likelihood that he will seek to
question the effectiveness of counsel in the conduct of his defense,” Barrett complained to the Judge in the last of multiple attempts to withdraw from the case. The judge let Barrett resign after Burgess was convicted. Burgess’ attorney at sentencing was Dion Custis.

The prosecutor also seemed to sense the coming of an appeal based on the ineffectiveness of Burgess’ advocate. So, Anderson tried to get the judge to deny Burgess’ indigent status but that motion was overruled.

The jury was reminded over and over that Burgess was a member of the Hells Angels who ran a whore house.

Troy Rigas and Burgess’ estranged wife Ingrid both testified that Burgess. whether he was an outlaw or not, whether he used recreational drugs and ran a legal whorehouse or not, was not a man fixated on the sexualization of little children. Troy Rigas said the Hells Angels would not tolerate it. Ingrid Burgess testified that she had “known David for many years, almost 30 years. I’ve been around him a lot, and I know he wouldn’t do anything like this.”


The jury was unmoved. The jury believed the cops. Burgess was convicted that Friday. The jury deliberated less than four hours.

Burgess continued to protest his innocence and that annoyed the judge, an experienced and sometimes liberal jurist named Alan B. Johnson. “I would hope that at some point this defendant will be able to acknowledge his preoccupation with child pornography and the damage it has done to his life, his business and his family members,” Johnson lectured Burgess.

Then Judge Johnson sentenced Burgess to 15 years in prison, ten years of supervision upon release, lifetime registration as a sex offender and a fine of $20,000.

Burgess still claims he is innocent. But the longer you stare at his case the more it seems to be more than a simple matter that an innocent man might have been wrongly convicted.

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65 Responses to “Framing Dave Burgess”

  1. Renee DeMond Says:

    I met David when I was 19, I’m 53 now. He was the nicest guy in my neighborhood. Far from a pedophile, he could have any woman he wanted. He never wanted a sexual relationship with a child, thats ridiculous. Its all ridiculous. Anyone who ever knew David knows better, end of story!
    I’m just a regular gal, always have been yet the feds have shown up at my door accusing me of bank robbery, said they knew everything and it all checked out..HA! what a joke. They asked me to fess up, I asked them simply “if you know everything and have had been watching me for awhile-then what kind of car did I drive?” 9 white suvs entered my complex, all blacked out windows, big shots inside and not one of them even knew if I had a car. They are a total joke. NV LE are not properly trained individuals with guns, dangerous but Feds they are trained idiots. All the hooplah to meet me was inspired by a guy who was jealous of the guy I was dating so called in a secret witness tip on a recent bank robbery. My boyfriend and the bank robber were the same height and owned the same sweatshirt…wonder what that cost us (US citizens, yes I do pay taxes)in gas alone for this little visit. If they don’t like what your doing around here-if they aren’t getting anything out it you may just disappear. I’m grateful that David is alive and will be getting out soon. He’s a good man and friend if you were lucky enough to know him like that. His wife is truly the kindest person I know to this day even though the “MAN” has taken nearly all the men in her family from her all because they weren’t benefiting from their entrepreneurism. Problem is we put these sad impotent men in a position of power to begin with. That is how they begin controlling us all either through the sorrow they inflict or taking of our freedom. FIGHT BACK—-VOTE!!!!

  2. Rachel Varga Says:

    Why don’t you call them by the proper term “brothels” instead of whorehouses. The word whore is a derogatory word. It is meant to invoke the idea that they are immoral or below other women. What’s wrong with the phrase working girls or courtesans?

  3. Chuck Says:

    I was around the OBR back in those days. Met Dave and spoke to him often. Can’t imagine that happening. The Reno/Sparks Pd had been hassling him forever.Especially since the paint job they put on that house off McCarren there. Plant? Left by some previous party goer? Broke the chain of command/lied to get search warrant? All means the same thing for a patch member or the Red and White. I got the notice that Reno was changing, and no longer was in need of my dirty deeds done dirt cheap. And I better head out. So upon my release, I got the hell out. That’s my best advice. Nevada has grown a lot. But it’s still a good old boy state too.

  4. NikkiB Says:

    It’s strange, I have not thought of David or the Old Bridge Ranch in years but the Reno days came up earlier tonight and I decided to Google him. Finding this broke my heart. I did not know this man well but I find it hard to believe that he was into child pornography. He would never have been that stupid regardless.

    I am deeply sorry for David and all of his family members. They seemed like nice people to me and I have nothing but fond memories of of them.

  5. Doug Chaney Says:

    The thing is (I think) is that this whole world is infected by sin and backlash of sin. By nature we all usurp God in deciding what is good and what is evil. “Man’s Justice” is an oxymoron I think, the law is a joke because people in general think that the end justifies the means….individually we all want to believe we have the RIGHT perspective on things…just ask anyone! We all think that in some way “only I can really see” that we KNOW…” But there is total justice at least, not one guilty person is coming out of this alive! And not one innocent will ultimately perish …except due to our nature there is none that are innocent.

    Where does that leave anyone? Either on their knees facing the ground and begging for mercy or else in pride thinking “NO! I AM righteous!” The biggest lies in my opinion? “turn in here with US in this group/congregation/church WE are His people, WE KNOW” Or the other end of things “hey, it’s all good brother” … Well I’m no different, I actually have to think I understand too…but you decide if I have it right or not?…..ALL of my hope is pinned on the only hope I know of, that there really is a merciful God to plead with and to HOPE He might allow me to see my own sin and repent of it (if that is what He wants!) or… Whatever He wants I HOPE He might allow my heart to want THAT!!

    Oh please God! This world is too much for me! I can’t do it any more! I hate all the hate we have in our hearts! Oh God I don’t want it! Take it away and let me be like the Son I read of in the Bible! Make me like that Oh Lord or however you want me! Forgive my sin Oh Lord and make my heart sincere to forgive sins towards me! Create in me a NEW heart! I don’t want to perish!! Make me teachable and teach me! Let me not lust after what I think I want but cause me to want what YOU want! I just give up!! I am just SO overwhelmed Oh God by this world and what my own pride has inflicted on others!!!!!! I can’t live with it!! Lord have mercy! Will you destroy us all?? Can you not save at least some? Or who will be left to declare your righteousness if we all perish for our rebellion? Who will glorify YOU Oh God?!! Save Lord!! Oh have mercy on some!!! Have mercy even on me a sinner??

  6. Jim666 Says:

    Homeland security again,
    Maybe they wont lump us in w/ this crowed ?–politics.html

  7. FF Says:

    The compromised chain of custody on the computer alone should have been enough to have had this case thrown out.


  8. WARTHOG Says:


    Tightening your shit and covering all your bases is all well and good, but that won’t keep the feds from fucking with you. Check this link out:




  9. Denise Rodriguez Says:

    I worked for David for many years at the Old Bridge Ranch. Before they arrested him the law had been trying to find something to take him down because they were angry because of him starting HAMC in Nevada. So this doesn’t surprise me.

  10. Sieg Says:

    Stroker is right, this should be up-front all the time.

    The Occupying Force is out of control, for sure, and here’s the latest and greatest:


  11. stroker Says:

    Just finished reading “Framing Dave Burgess.” (took me a while, yes. I wanted to read it thoroughly, and give it the attention it deserves)I think opening this thread again is appropriate, because of the importance of this book.
    What Rebel’s crafted here is an alarming tale of government collusion and corruption, certainly on a scale as bad as anything we’ve seen out of the law enforcement community in this country. Anybody with an ounce of brain-power can only reason Dave Burgess WAS framed!
    I think opening this thread again is right, because of the importance of notifying as many readers of Rebel’s site as possible. There are new commenters today, that need to learn of this travesty, if for no other reason than to see what our “law enforcement” is capable of.
    Every MC in the world should read this book (and “Out Bad” also) to see just what it means to be an MC in a world where the biggest gangs are “legal”, and legitimized by a naïve public that believes any drivel the LE community throws at them!
    I suggest that any club officer reading this should seriously consider requiring your club brothers (or sisters) to read this important story.
    It should scare you. It should anger you. It should, and will open your eyes. It should drive you to cover your butt, to tighten your shit up, to get rid of loose cannons, to re-think what is and isn’t important to you and your club. Don’t give LE any reasons to fuck with you! Make sure that brother’s tail-light is working. Make sure your registration is current. Make sure there’s no incriminating “anything” in your clubhouses! tighten up your membership entrance requirements. Do background checks. treat every person that comes around as if they are a CI or snitch. don’t get set-up!
    I’ve become somewhat of a broken record around my club, but I do not care. This is the real deal, and forewarned is forearmed.

    Amazon’s got the book here:


  12. Rebel Says:

    Dear Herman MC,

    I believe that if Dave Burgess was harassing the daughter of a club brother his charter would have dealt with it. I doubt you were a member of that charter. I think you are just making shit up. If you, now after the book is out, have proof that Burgess was that kind of creep send it to me. I’ll withdraw the book.

    Are you Rob?


  13. HERMANMC Says:


  14. WARTHOG Says:



  1. Old Bridge Ranch - April 2, 2016

    […] of Burgess’ arrest and trial is an interesting tale in itself. An introduction can be found here.) Burgess was eventually found guilty of possessing and transporting child pornography and […]

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