Mongols Motorcycle Club Says Its Leader Was an Informant


For far more than two many years, federal law enforcement authorities pursued the Mongols, a infamous bike club whose members had a long background of murder, assault, drug working and robbery.

In 2018, the govt scored a victory of types. Prosecutors convinced a jury in California that these crimes ended up not just the consequence of personal bikers behaving poorly, but the function of an arranged criminal enterprise that experienced participated in a campaign of mayhem. The club was ordered to pay back a $500,000 high-quality in what prosecutors hoped would be a down payment on placing it out of business enterprise.

But the group that was once the most impressive biker firm in the West other than its archrivals, the Hells Angels, is returning to court next 7 days, hoping to established aside the racketeering and conspiracy convictions dependent on what it states is new proof about its prior leader, David Santillan. The Mongols are now proclaiming that all through their attempt to defend the club in the extensive-working felony scenario, their possess leader was secretly speaking to the federal government.

A petition for a new demo and reversal of the half-million-greenback wonderful, which is scheduled for an preliminary listening to on Monday in the U.S. District Courtroom in Santa Ana, Calif., statements that Mr. Santillan, 52, covertly cooperated for yrs with a special agent from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In exchange, the club stated in its movement, the agent appears to have spared Mr. Santillan from significant legal repercussions for numerous offenses because 2011.

The unconventional lawful imbroglio delivers a rare glimpse into the concealed and unstable politics of the outlaw motorbike club and the diploma to which legislation enforcement and its targets may perhaps engage in minimal cooperation when it is noticed as mutually useful.

The A.T.F. and other law enforcement agencies have lengthy gone following biker organizations by co-opting members as informants and infiltrating the teams with their individual undercover brokers.

The Mongols are relying on an explosive video shared by Mr. Santillan’s spouse, Annie Santillan, who, during a extend when she was indignant with her husband above his infidelity, experienced her daughter file a dialogue in which he appeared to refer to security he had acquired from the A.T.F. agent.

She also reported in a text message to other Mongols, now filed with the court docket, that her partner experienced acted for a time as a confidential govt informant. “In other words and phrases,” she wrote, “he is a rat.”

Both equally Mr. Santillan, a Mongols member for virtually 25 years who was voted out of the club in July, and the agent, John Ciccone, who retired in December just after 32 several years at the A.T.F., deny that Mr. Santillan was performing as an informant all through the demo, however Mr. Ciccone’s sworn declaration does not deal with whether or not Mr. Santillan experienced acted as a private informant in the previous. Equally adult men also turned down the declare that Mr. Santillan had unveiled privileged defense details to the govt although his motorcycle club was on demo.

The current countrywide leaders of the Mongols stated they have been persuaded that the club’s former president, who controlled the Mongols’ defense workforce, experienced acted improperly. “It became crystal clear that Dave experienced betrayed the club, his oath and all the things we maintain sacred,” the club mentioned in a assertion.

Mr. Santillan has acknowledged that he talked normally with Mr. Ciccone for a period of time of several years, commonly in the existence of other Mongols users. He claimed they talked about issues these kinds of as community safety when the Mongols or other golf equipment ended up organizing functions or motorbike rallies to make sure that users stayed in line and that rival teams retained their distance.

“Never in my everyday living have I ever implicated any person in the club for some sort of nefarious action. If you are a rat, you are the scum of the earth,” he reported in an interview.

In the video, Ms. Santillan was conversing to her partner on speakerphone when he explained to her that Mr. Ciccone was retiring. “He just can’t secure me, he told me, so we have to have an exit system, he explained to me,” an apparently agitated Mr. Santillan explained to her.

Ms. Santillan claimed that she now felt “horrible” about disclosing the communications and that her husband was not, in simple fact, an informant.

“The only thing he is responsible of is speaking to John a great deal and owning some type of rapport with him,” she stated in an job interview.

Mr. Santillan reported he talked with the A.T.F. agent in excess of the many years mainly because it aided avert difficulty. “John appeared out not just for me but the club,” Mr. Santillan claimed. “That’s what I intended by ‘protect’ in the video.”

The Mongols have been fixtures on the biker scene due to the fact 1969, when the club was started in Montebello, Calif. The group has about 1,200 users in the United States, most of them Hispanic, and various chapters around the planet.

All through the practically 13 years he led the Mongols, Mr. Santillan appeared to steer the firm absent from its previous recruitment of Mexican felony gang customers and a society of “total underworld activity that the feds feasted on, in conditions of prosecutions,” reported William Dulaney, an professional on motorcycle groups who was formerly an affiliate professor of national stability at the U.S. Air Force’s Air Command and Personnel College.

Mr. Dulaney explained that Mr. Santillan “instituted new guidelines, like no extra club-driven drug small business, and created it necessary that users had to have a bike and issues like a legitimate driver’s license and registration and a task.”

As for Mr. Ciccone, he had mastered the craft of executing complicated investigations “using everything from undercovers to informants to wiretaps to subpoenas and surveillance,” reported Frank D’Alesio, a retired A.T.F. agent who infiltrated 3 biker golf equipment.

“And he was tireless,” Mr. D’Alesio claimed. “He was the guy outside all the time giving go over aid in situation some thing went completely wrong with the undercovers.”

In the situation that led to the racketeering conviction from the Mongols, Mr. Ciccone experienced acted as the scenario agent. The U.S. Attorney’s Office environment had previously tried using and failed to power the Mongols to forfeit their rights to the club’s trademarked logo, a drawing of a brawny Genghis Khan-like figure driving a chopper when brandishi
ng a sword, a landmark case that prosecutors felt would assist weaken the club by undermining its visible identity. A jury sided with the prosecution in 2019 and requested the group to give up the emblem, but Choose David O. Carter turned down the verdict as an infringement on the club’s constitutional rights.

That quest to seize the Mongols’ patch was component of a felony situation introduced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2013 less than the Racketeer Affected and Corrupt Corporations Act. The indictment did not concentrate on any men and women but alleged that the club alone had engaged in an organized conspiracy of crimes these as murder, attempted murder and drug working. That is the conviction and wonderful the Mongols are now seeking to have established aside.

“In my viewpoint, the only cause the authorities introduced this RICO case was to get one more run at the patch, obtaining failed each and every time in the past,” mentioned George L. Steele, a lawyer for the Mongols who is dealing with a independent charm in the circumstance. Federal prosecutors have been concentrating on the Mongols’ emblem since 2008.

The federal government, in its individual appeal, is producing an additional run at the Mongols’ brand, renewing an earlier request for a narrower forfeiture order that would consider away the club’s suitable to trademark exclusivity above the emblem. Such an purchase would let anyone to use the impression.

The lawyer in demand of the retrial motion, Joseph A. Yanny, mentioned the Mongols hoped to demonstrate that an incorrect romantic relationship concerning Mr. Santillan and Mr. Ciccone through the 2018 trial authorized the governing administration to hear issues it need to not have about the Mongols’ defense method — and even adversely influenced the Mongols’ presentation of their circumstance.

On one celebration during the demo, Judge Carter expressed his displeasure to legal professionals for equally sides immediately after currently being explained to by a U.S. Marshal that Mr. Santillan and Mr. Ciccone experienced been found chatting at a Starbucks in close proximity to the courthouse.

In their petition, the Mongols argue that Mr. Santillan could have been pressured to leak system and other information and facts to the authorities as a outcome of lenient therapy the defense claimed he been given for the duration of his brushes with the law.

In one of them, in accordance to their courtroom papers, Mr. Santillan crashed his Mercedes in 2017 even though driving impaired, harmful a lot of autos parked on the avenue. In an additional instance, in 2014, Mr. Santillan and his wife bought into a brawl with other people at a racetrack, the Mongols’ submitting claims.

“There is no way he’s gotten away with these incidents with no more major authorized repercussions unless an individual in regulation enforcement is in the qualifications greasing the slides for him,” Mr. Yanny said.

Mr. Santillan said it was “ridiculous” to feel that Mr. Ciccone smoothed matters over for him. Mr. Santillan supplied data from the situations to exhibit he had been convicted of offenses which includes driving beneath the influence, leaving the scene of an incident and disturbing the peace, and that he experienced been arrested, fined and place on probation.

Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law pro at George Washington College, explained that if a federal agent was searching for private facts about a legal defense, that would be “an incredible transgression.”

“There could be a particular issue that the protection attorney was unwittingly getting instructions from somebody aligned with the government,” he explained.

Both Mr. Ciccone and the U.S. Attorney’s Business office declined to remark on the motion further than the authorities reaction submitted in court docket, which reported the petition for a new demo was “replete with untrue and unsupported allegations and speculation.”

The decide will most probable look at a series of procedural issues on Monday, legal professionals reported, with added hearings expected ahead of any remaining ruling.

Susan C. Beachy contributed exploration.

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