April 1, 2023

3R Trail

Feel the difference

Was the chief of the Mongols motorcycle gang a double agent?

Drunk and despondent, David Santillan known as his spouse to beg for forgiveness.

The president of the infamous Mongols bike club promised he’d put his infidelities driving him, get sober and be a much better father to their young children.

Then the dialogue, which she was secretly recording, turned to John.

“John instructed me previously — I have 1 yr,” Santillan said. “One year, he’s retiring … and he can not safeguard me. He advised me. So we have to have an exit method.”

“John” was John Ciccone, an agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcoholic beverages, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who had investigated the Mongols for a long time.

Livid at her partner — and the actuality that his mistress experienced been harassing her and her youngsters — Annie Santillan texted the June 2021 recording to two members of the Mongols. Her husband, she wrote, “has been working with the federal government [this] total time.”

“He is only a CI,” she wrote — a private informant. “Or in other words and phrases, he is a rat.”

It was an explosive assert. 3 yrs before, a federal jury had convicted the Mongols of racketeering, locating that the group was a prison firm whose associates had overwhelmed and killed rivals and trafficked in medicine.

Now, listed here was proof suggesting that their chief experienced a mystery romantic relationship with the agent who led the investigation.

A motorbike rally in Hollister, Calif.

(Robert Durell / Los Angeles Instances)

Attorneys for the team requested U.S. District Judge David O. Carter to established aside the jury’s verdict, which had despatched no Mongols to jail but charge the club a $500,000 wonderful. As “a mole in the defense camp,” they claimed, Santillan experienced shaped the Mongols’ demo method in strategies that served prosecutors and handed within information of it to Ciccone.

Carter, who oversaw the demo, ordered the two sides back into his Santa Ana courtroom just lately for a hearing to decide what, if any, romantic relationship existed between the ATF and the president of one of its perennial targets.

What ensued was an unappealing airing of the Mongols’ soiled laundry. In a single corner was the group’s longtime lawyer, Joseph Yanny, who could hardly conceal his contempt for a previous customer he now considers a double agent. In the other was Santillan, who mentioned bitterly that he’d been drummed out of the Mongols and unfairly labeled a rat with out “due course of action.”

Launched in Montebello in the 1970s, the Mongols are what the ATF has dubbed an “outlaw bike gang,” together with the Hells Angels, Pagans and Vagos, among the other people. Nevertheless their associates insist they are very little extra than social clubs, authorities say they murder a single yet another in bitter rivalries and deal medications and guns.

A short, nicely-constructed person with tattoos that climbed over the neck of the collared shirt and blue accommodate he wore to courtroom, Santillan, regarded as “Little Dave,” testified that he joined the Mongols in 1997. A 12 months afterwards, he was admitted to “Mother Chapter,” a governing overall body inside the club.


Three years right after a federal jury convicted the Mongols of racketeering, a recording surfaced suggesting that their chief experienced a solution relationship with the agent who led the investigation.

(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Occasions)

Following paying out a 12 months in Lompoc penitentiary for mail fraud, Santillan returned in 2000. 10 several years afterwards, he was tapped as president.

Yanny requested Santillan what his existing status was within just the club.

“I really don’t have a single,” Santillan stated.

Wasn’t it true he was what the Mongols named “out bad”?

“So you say,” Santillan shot back. He chosen the phrase “in limbo.”

Following his spouse circulated what he known as “the infamous video” and labeled him as an informant, Santillan was stripped of his title and excommunicated, he said angrily.

He said he has not mended relationships with his onetime biker brothers, about a dozen of whom sat stonily in the courtroom as Santillan testified. But he has reconciled with his spouse the two have set aside their divorce proceedings and are dwelling jointly.

Yanny grilled Santillan about Ciccone, a self-explained “street agent” who retired in December immediately after a 32-year profession with the ATF, considerably of it used investigating the Mongols and other motorcycle clubs. Santillan said he fulfilled Ciccone all-around 2013, whilst in court for an earlier racketeering circumstance introduced versus the Mongols.

Santillan reported he spoke with Ciccone only a handful of moments around the several years, primarily when the agent was surveilling Mongol gatherings.

“It was tiny converse, and I usually had anyone all around me,” he testified. “It was extremely brief. Minutes, if that.”

Ciccone, he mentioned, was a “fair” lawman who “never put no bullshit circumstance on the club.”

When Ciccone took the stand, he informed Carter there was nothing magic formula about his romance with Santillan, which had been minimal to “public safety troubles.” He said he had formulated “an open line of communication” with Santillan to reduce violence at general public events, the males would satisfy in entrance of other Mongols as a “deterrent.”

Members of the Mongols motorcycle club Saturday on the new 6th Street Viaduct.

Customers of the Mongols bike club Saturday on the new 6th Road Viaduct.

(Damian Dovarganes / Linked Press)

“That displays the Mongols the ATF are here,” he testified. The agent recalled telling Santillan and his subordinates, “We’ll allow you have your fun just maintain your individuals in examine, so to talk.”

“I’d do the similar issue if I was conference with some Hells Angels,” he included.

As the racketeering demo approached in 2018, nevertheless, prosecutors informed Ciccone he need to cease talking with Santillan, he mentioned.

“We figured he was heading to be the facial area of this situation, so they said, ‘Hey, check out not to have any much more conversation with him,’ ” Ciccone recalled. He denied, however, that prosecutors at any time told him his interactions with Santillan up to that stage were inappropriate.

A great deal of the hearing hinged on Santillan’s drunken remark to his wife that “John” would no for a longer period be able to “protect” him. The comments, Santillan explained, stemmed from a day he went to an ATF creating to decide up boxes of Mongols house that were being staying returned following the demo.

He and Ciccone were “shooting the breeze” when the agent reported he was retiring in a 12 months. He prompt that Santillan consider performing the similar, for the reason that “whoever usually takes his position may well not be as pleasant,” Santillan recalled.

The agent, Santillan explained, reminded him that he hadn’t been arrested for any really serious crimes for the duration of his time as the Mongols’ president.

Santillan claimed that he experienced stayed out of difficulties since he “cleaned dwelling,” placing an conclude to the drug dealing and shootouts that invited indictments. “I figured I didn’t get indicted in 13 a long time, I was ahead of the recreation,” he said.

“Almost like you had a guardian angel?” Yanny asked.

Santillan did not reply.

Ciccone and Santillan denied owning a top secret alliance, but Yanny was intent on proving that the Mongols’ onetime president had tried to undermine the club’s defense at trial.

He grilled Santillan about an e mail he’d sent in the lead-up to the trial, in which Santillan demanded that Yanny take out himself and Ciccone from the defense’s list of witnesses.

The instruction bothered Yanny. He replied to Santillan that it set him in “a in the vicinity of unachievable placement,” and without having Ciccone’s testimony, “we have no chance of winning this scenario.” The agent, he noted, supervised all of the informants and undercover agents who had infiltrated the Mongols. Failing to phone the agent to testify, he added, would drop “below my obligation to act as a zealous advocate.”

Now, in mild of the recording, Yanny tried out to paint the request as portion of Santillan’s more substantial program to undermine the Mongols’ odds at trial.

Why, he demanded, experienced Santillan desired to maintain the agent off the stand? Was he scared of Ciccone?

“The whole club is,” Santillan reported.

Santillan pushed again, declaring that Yanny was eaten by a “personal issue” between himself and Ciccone and inclined to “ranting and raving” about the agent. He reminded Carter that in the course of the demo, the lawyer had accused Ciccone of stoking conflict involving the Mongols and the Hells Angels, then sitting back again when they erupted into violence. The allegation, Santillan explained, was “a conspiracy idea by Joe Yanny.”

Santillan reported he hadn’t wished Ciccone to testify mainly because the jury would have been put off by Yanny’s deeply own line of attack.

“You explained to me you ended up heading to badger him on the stand,” Santillan informed Yanny, “cut his head off and s— down his throat.”

Yanny denied this.

Ciccone remained on the witness record, but Santillan reported that shortly in advance of the Mongols rested their case, he, Yanny and the Mongols’ other lawyers voted unanimously in the hallway outside of Carter’s courtroom against contacting him. Even if he had wanted to dictate the club’s demo technique, Santillan explained, he didn’t have the electricity to do so.

Yanny called it “an outright lie” that it was determined by a vote — and not by Santillan himself. He pointed to a textual content information Santillan sent to another lawyer through trial: “Joe does not get in touch with the last shot I do,” he wrote.

Yanny questioned Santillan about an encounter with Ciccone at a Starbucks in the vicinity of the courthouse, which a juror witnessed and documented to the U.S. Marshals Service. “There was very little inappropriate,” Santillan claimed. “It was a chance come across.”

Yanny also showed the court a photograph of Santillan sharing a pair of Bud Lights with Christopher Cervantes, a retired Montebello police lieutenant who partnered with Ciccone on investigations of the Mongols. Santillan explained that he was bowling previous 12 months with his grandchildren just after staying exiled from the Mongols when he ran into Cervantes at the bowling alley’s bar.

Asked what they mentioned, Santillan once again stated they ended up “just shooting the breeze.”

“You did not see a trouble conference with the enemy?” Yanny requested.

“I’m a civilian now,” Santillan reported.

Just after two days of testimony from Santillan, his wife and Ciccone, Carter ongoing the listening to without having ruling on the Mongols’ request for a new trial. Ciccone will resume testifying July 22, and Yanny has indicated that he intends to get in touch with witnesses who will dispute some of Santillan’s account.