How the July and December 2003 Raids Played Out (23)

For a layperson, it’s hard to follow these complicated orgies of retribution because of the immense lapses of time between events, and because the system tends to shuffle people around. Are the charges local, state, or federal, or all three? And that’s only the criminal side. Civil suits are often involved. Once a person is taken into custody, charges can multiply. Charges are laid aside and later resurrected. Some defendants are tried separately and some together.

In the immediate aftermath of the April 2002 Laughlin, Nevada incident, the authorities hadn’t known who to blame for what. Only one person was immediately arrested and accused of anything, and weeks later he was released, at least temporarily. The feds fell back and devoted months to analyzing the casino’s many surveillance videos. On the first anniversary of Laughlin, a local newspaper noted that currently no criminal charges had been lodged against anyone. When the Black Biscuit investigation terminated with the July 2003 sweep, the analysts had still not sorted out Laughlin to their satisfaction. The 40-some people who were grabbed in Arizona in July were only charged based on the Solo Angeles/Dobyns/fake Mongol murder and miscellaneous drug and weapons crimes.

It took a few more months to get the Laughlin ducks in a row for the December 2003 sweep. 42 Hells Angels members, prospects and “associates” were federally indicted, basically for being at Harrah’s Casino when all hell broke loose. The charges included racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder, firearms trafficking, possessing explosives, vehicle theft, etc. No Mongols were charged.

Meanwhile, back in Arizona, a superseding indictment had been obtained, additionally charging 16 Hells Angels, including Augustiniak and Eischeid, with Kramer’s murder of Cynthia Garcia, under the Federal VICAR (VIolent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering) Statute.
Many had already been charged with crimes allegedly committed during the Solo Angeles/Dobyns operation. A VICAR conviction involving a murder carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole (the same sentence Danny has received, twice, which is why we use the terms “overcharged” and “overconvicted” in regard to him.)

Early in 2004 the State of Nevada indicted half a dozen each of Mongols and Hells Angels. There were other charges, but mainly every defendant was charged with conspiring to murder each person who had died in the casino. Which meant the 6 Hells Angels were charged with conspiring to murder their own two dead brothers; and similarly, the 6 Mongols were charged with conspiring to murder, among others, their fellow Mongol.

To compound the Nevada prosecutor’s absurdity, all the defendants were initially required to show up in court at the same time. In a predictable and surely not unanticipated demonstration of solidarity, each group showed up with an army of their club brothers, necessitating the corresponding presence at the courthouse of more than a hundred Las Vegas cops. After a couple of repetitions, the judge wisely decided to schedule the two clubs’ court appearances separately.

Meanwhile, motorcycle enthusiasts made the news when the Mongols and Vagos clashed during a charity toy run, and somebody got shot. Also that year, the city council of Hollister, California voted to cancel the annual 4th of July Motorcycle Run. The town known as the “birthplace of the American biker” had sponsored this event since the late 1940s, but now feared another Laughlin-type incident.

In the Arizona VICAR case, bickering over discovery issues went on for a couple of years. Allegedly, thousands of pages of investigative records, along with photos and audio and audio/video recordings, were still undisclosed to the defense. Apparently, even the prosecutors were kept in the dark about a lot of stuff. Slatella, Ciccone, and other agents had some kind of pissing match going on with the public servants who were supposedly on the same team. After the prosecution repeatedly violated discovery orders, the judge set an “absolutely last” date for compliance.

Plea offers were made to almost everyone in this case. Each offer included a guarantee of no more than a five year sentence, and many were much less. Several Arizona Hells Angels accepted the offers and entered pleas of guilty or no contest to other federal crimes they had been charged with in July, 2003. Part of the agreement required admitting they had acted as a criminal enterprise. Still, that “racket” included only the individuals, not the whole HAMC.

Discovery Compliance day rolled around, and when the remaining defendants appeared in federal court, the government dismissed all the charges against the ones who had not availed themselves of the opportunity to plead guilty. Naturally, the few who had taken the plea bargains were upset, because if they had just waited a bit longer, their charges would have been dismissed too. So then there was more court, as many of them tried to have their pleas withdrawn. Anyway, that prosecution fell apart early in 2006 and didn’t even get close to a trial.

Somehow, amongst all this confusion, Maricopa County, Arizona nevertheless managed to charge Eischeid and Augustiniak, who had not been included in the plea bargaining group, with the murder of Cynthia Garcia. Unfortunately, Eischeid had been in the wind since 2004. Because he was a clean-cut suit-wearing stockbroker and owner of two houses, a judge had let him out on bond and “personal recognizance.” He threw a goodbye party, sawed the tracking device off his ankle, and went missing. Either Eischeid or a fan of his set up a MySpace page that said, “Catch me if you can” and also, “The ladies call me blue eyes . . . I live to ride for the Hells Angels.” He is held up as an example by the people who believe that only commercial bond agencies should be used, because when a suspect skips, at least someone has an incentive to go after the fugitive.

Back in Nevada, 44 defendants (two more had been added, in a superseding indictment) were pending trial. It was decided to split them into groups of 11 and hold four trials, the first starting in October, 2006. The defendants were accused of planning and executing an attack on the Mongols at Laughlin. But the evidence showed that Mongols, pulling out knives and guns, initially converged on Hells Angels. Normally, a defense attorney denigrates any claim made by the police. This time, the defense was happy to point to a Las Vegas police document that said, plain as day, “Intelligence reports indicated the Mongols intended to bolster their status by attacking members of the Hells Angels.” Throughout the trial, Judge Mahan continually reminded the jury not to form opinions about the defendants based on their club affiliation. His biker-positive attitude extended to complimenting one defendant’s shirt.

Proving the motorcycle club to be an organized criminal enterprise was problematic. One difficulty with the racketeering concept is, apparently, the organization doesn’t charge its members very much to belong, and any profits made by individual members belong to them and not the club. The government would like to sell the idea that bar fights are a symptom of racketeering, but as James R. Petersen once pointed out in a Playboy article, “Bar fights are consensual combat… Bar fights are their bowling league.”

Expanding on the cockup mentioned briefly at the end of Section 7… About three weeks into the Las Vegas trial, on a Friday, a former Hells Angel (who called ATF Agent Ciccone after he was kicked out and was signed up as an informant) took the stand. This fellow had been only a prospect when the Laughlin incident occurred and wasn’t even in Harrah’s Casino that night. But he testified for the government for six hours, about overheard conversations between numerous Hells Angels. He also testified that his case agent Ciccone had only paid him $500 and that he had not received any other money from the government. Ciccone sat at the prosecutor’s table during the entire trial and said nothing to anyone about the rat lying. Per the numerous, daily news stories in the Las Vegas newspapers, at the end of the day’s testimony, Ciccone brought “…two steamer-sized trunks… filled with documents into the courtroom, and turned them over to the defense attorneys…” They contained documents whose production had been ordered months earlier.

Over the weekend, the 11 defense attorneys went through the thousands of documents. Among the many surprises they found were ATF receipts and cancelled checks made out to this very same rat, totaling some $80,000. Motions were prepared for filing, first thing Monday morning. Trial had been scheduled to resume Tuesday morning, at which time the irritated judge sent the jury home for the day. Many motions related to the paperwork in the trunks were argued.

The failures of disclosure were characterized by the defense as “flagrant misconduct and withholding crucial evidence.” As one official delicately put it, “The discovery violations led to settlement discussions.” Wednesday morning, everyone was back in court. The judge told the jurors to forget all the testimony they had heard from the rat on Friday, and again sent them home. Thursday morning, the jury was excused from further service. The trial was over. A plea agreement was reached that included the pending Clark County charges of murder conspiracy against 6 Hells Angels. Six of the 11currently on trial would plead guilty to minor charges, with maximum possible sentences of 30 months and all other charges against them and the rest of the defendants would be dismissed.

Once the jurors had been excused, they spoke to the press of how they had picked up on myriad flaws in the government’s case and were “less than impressed” by it. Some members of the panel stuck around to meet’n’greet with the bikers and their lawyers. One Hells Angel asked the jurors to “please accept our heartfelt thanks.”

The government tried to save face by spinning the fiasco as a minor victory and a “good thing.” Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden (whose later firing, by the Bush administration, cited his office’s handling of this case) said, “The government concluded under the circumstances that the guilty pleas by the six most active and culpable participants in the crime would best serve justice and the public interest.”

That left 6 Mongols charged in Clark County, with conspiring to murder two Hells Angels and one Mongol. The entire case had been put on hold, by the Nevada Supreme Court, shortly after it was filed. The same court eventually agreed with the defense attorneys’ argument that it made no legal sense to charge everyone with conspiring to murder their own guys.

In the end, the July and December 2003 sweeps, and the “operations” on which they were based, didn’t amount to a hill of beans. From all appearances, there was a certain amount of stuff that the ATF didn’t want revealed. Okay, the price was to let a couple of murders slide, along with some other really bad actions, but that was inconsequential compared to the keeping of important secrets.

About Pat Hartman

I write. Please see the page "How I Inherited a Hells Angel"
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