A federal agent testified this week that he destroyed tapes and CDs of recorded conversations between undercover investigators and Bob Holloway.
The recordings were evidence in the case against Holloway, a one-time Stanislaus County sheriff's deputy charged with running a chop shop out of his Denair motorcycle outlet.
Holloway's case is scheduled to go to trial in July. Before then, defense attorneys are trying to prove that investigators lied when they asked for a judge's permission to tap Holloway's phones.
If the defense wins that argument, they'll win a victory: The wiretap evidence against Holloway would be thrown out of court.
Defense attorneys said Tuesday's hearing helped cast doubt on the government's actions against Holloway.
Arthur Peralta, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testified Tuesday that he destroyed recordings of undercover agents talking to Holloway in April, when Holloway was under indictment on federal racketeering charges.
Peralta said on the stand that he doesn't subscribe to newspapers or follow TV news, and was unaware that Holloway had been indicted. Holloway was indicted and taken into custody in July 2008 after a multiyear, multiagency investigation into his activities.
Peralta said he spent about 45 minutes cutting the tapes and CDs into small pieces and put them into a trash can because he wanted to clean out old files.
Holloway's attorney, Roger Vehrs, said he believes the ATF acted with a different motive. "We contend the reason why (the recordings were destroyed) is that there was evidence on the tape of our guy saying he wasn't involved in criminal activity," Vehrs said.
Defense attorneys hope to learn more about the inner workings of the ATF investigation in March, when they'll get a look at files in the case. Prosecutors and defense lawyers will go over the case files page by page with U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger to decide which material can be released to the defense team.
"We think (the case files) will demonstrate a lack of candor from some of the witnesses that have been testifying," Vehrs said.
The hearing on the ATF case files is scheduled for March 23 at 1 p.m. in Courtroom 3 before Wanger.