Undercover agents who investigated one-time Stanislaus County sheriff's deputy Bob Holloway testified in a Fresno courtroom this week, and a defense attorney is calling the testimony a win for his side.
"It was a good day for the defense," said attorney Carl Faller, who represents defendant Steven J. Johnson, a retired corrections officer who prosecutors say aided Holloway.
Holloway, 62, was arrested in July 2008 with 11 other men. Prosecutors say Holloway ran a criminal enterprise out of his Denair motorcycle shop. They say Holloway operated a chop shop and used violence to collect debts.
The case is scheduled to go to trial in July. But before that happens, defense attorneys are trying to get wiretap evidence in the case thrown out. The government used a wiretap to listen in on Holloway's conversations. That evidence is thought to be a key part of the government's case against him.
The defense contends that the wiretap evidence should be thrown out because investigators got the evidence under false pretenses and lied on a wiretap application they submitted to U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger in 2007.
Tuesday's testimony from undercover agents touched on part of that argument, said Faller, who attended the hearing.
The courtroom was cleared of onlookers — except attorneys and defendants — when the agents testified because they still work undercover, Faller said.
The two undercover agents talked about the progress of the investigation into Holloway and Road Dog in 2005 and 2006. They backed up what another Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent, Vincent Cefalu, told the court previously: that investigators were making headway in their probe into Holloway's activities, Faller said.
That's important because it strengthens the assertion that the government lied on its wiretap application. Wiretaps are considered an extraordinary invasion of privacy, so the government is only allowed to use one if other investigative methods have failed. That's what the FBI claimed when it asked Wanger for permission to tap Holloway's phones.
Dispute over change in strategy
But on Tuesday, said Faller, undercover ATF agent Brett Turner contradicted the idea that other investigative methods weren't working.
"(Turner) testified that they were making good progress with the undercover investigation," Faller said. "He thought there was a tremendous amount that could have been accomplished and he disagreed very much with the decision to terminate that aspect of the case."
Other ATF agents who've testified for the prosecution say the investigation was halted because of a security breach that threatened to blow the agents' cover. They've said a shipping sticker that could have been traced to the government was found on a motorcycle involved in the investigation.
Tuesday, Turner disputed the existence of the shipping sticker, Faller said. Turner said he would have seen such a sticker, because he inspected the bike, Faller said. Turner rode the bike and took it to Road Dog for repairs as part of his effort to get to know Holloway, Faller said.
The hearing was continued until Feb. 9. Prosecutors declined to comment on Tuesday's hearing.
Faller said Wanger asked an "unusual amount of questions" during Tuesday's hearing. "He seemed to be very concerned about what the true facts were," Faller said.