FRESNO — An ATF agent who once supervised the investigation into the Road Dog Cycle Shop said Friday that local law enforcement was driven by a bitter vendetta against Bob Holloway — not a quest for justice.
Agent Vince Cefalu said investigators pursued Holloway out of "personal, vindictive" motives. He said they were determined to put Holloway, a former Stanislaus County sheriff's deputy, behind bars. They thought a wiretap was the only way to accomplish that goal, Cefalu said.
"The consensus was that (Holloway) had dodged prosecutorial bullets, that he was dirty, and he needed to be gotten," Cefalu said.
Holloway was arrested in July 2008. He and 11 others face charges including racketeering, operating a chop shop and trafficking in stolen motorcycle parts from his Denair business.
Cefalu now works in the Dublin office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger heard Cefalu's testimony as part of defense attorneys' efforts to get wiretap evidence thrown out. The prosecution's case is built on thousands of taped phone calls.
Cefalu's testimony gave public validation to Holloway's supporters. They've long claimed Holloway has been unfairly targeted by law enforcement.
Prosecutors sought to poke holes in Cefalu's credibility. They pointed out that Cefalu left the Road Dog case in early 2006, almost two years before the FBI applied for a wiretap. Since then, Cefalu has filed several complaints against the ATF, alleging discrimination and a hostile work environment.
Cefalu charges that investigators lied on their wiretap application, yet Cefalu has never seen the document, prosecutors said. "How can you say someone's lying about something when you haven't seen it?" said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Cullers.
Cefalu said he was taken off the case because he wouldn't bend to local officers' demands for a wiretap. But prosecutors said Cefalu was removed because of his abrasive personality. Members of the Road Dog task force complained about Cefalu's cursing, volatility, smoking and hygiene, said ATF agent Dennis Downs, who was Cefalu's immediate supervisor in 2005.
"I have never worked in my 14 years with a more unprofessional officer," said Modesto police detective Terry Seese. "He was very abrupt, very controlling."
Cefalu has been with the ATF for 22 years. On the stand, he said he's regarded as an expert on outlaw gangs. Cefalu said he's personally conducted several undercover operations into outlaw motorcycle gangs, and he looks the part, with a goatee and ponytail. Cefalu recounted his involvement in the Road Dog Case in a raspy Southern twang.
Cefalu said he first became aware of the Road Dog case in June 2005, when an investigator from the Stanislaus County district attorney's office told him the ATF might want to join the investigation. The case captured his interest, he said, because it sounded like a chance to catch "dirty cops and Hells Angels."
From the start, Cefalu said, local agents pushed hard to put a wiretap on Holloway's phones. Wiretaps are considered an extraordinary investigative tool. A judge must give the government permission to listen in on someone's private conversations. Law enforcement can only apply for a wiretap if traditional surveillance isn't working. The FBI put a wiretap on Holloway's phones in 2007.
Cefalu claims investigators were so desperate to set up a wiretap that they "undermined" and "disregarded" other forms of surveillance.
Two undercover ATF agents on the case performed "amazingly" well, Cefalu said, but local investigators failed to support those efforts. Cefalu eventually raised concerns with his supervisors about the Road Dog investigation. As he put it, "It had gotten out of control and the whole investigation was compromised legally, ethically, professionally from every level."
Cefalu named district attorney's investigators Kirk Bunch and Aaron Gallagher and Modesto police Sgt. Rick Armendariz as clashing with him over the wiretap.
Cefalu told the court that Bunch said in 2005 that he was "bitter" about Holloway's 2001 acquittal on murder charges. Holloway was tried after he confronted a career criminal in July 1997 who tried to rob his Denair shop, accidentally killing the man during a scuffle.
"Bunch stated to me that ... Holloway had gotten away with too much and whatever it took, Bob Holloway was going to prison," Cefalu said.
Bunch, who was in the courtroom Friday, said he couldn't comment on Cefalu's testimony. "However, I do have faith in the justice system and I'm confident that justice will be done," he said.
The hearing will continue Thursday at 9 a.m.
Holloway, who is detained at a Fresno halfway house, watched Friday's proceedings from gallery's first row.
Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2378.