Retired Stanislaus County sheriff's captain Raul DeLeon walked out of a federal courtroom in Fresno smiling after a jury acquitted him earlier this month. Does DeLeon's not guilty verdict bode well for the 12 men charged in the Road Dog Cycle case?
Some say the acquittal means other law enforcement officers accused in connection with the Road Dog investigation can breathe easier. Others say juries are so unpredictable that it's impossible to know what the DeLeon outcome means.
As for the government's prime target, one-time Stanislaus County sheriff's deputy and Road Dog shop owner Bob Holloway, it's tough to compare his case to DeLeon's, said Holloway's defense attorney Bill Osterhoudt.
DeLeon's case boiled down to a fairly simple question: whether he helped Holloway and lied to federal investigators about it. Holloway, on the other hand, faces multiple charges, including racketeering and trafficking in stolen motorcycle parts.
But Osterhoudt called DeLeon's acquittal encouraging. "It underscores the fact that things aren't always as plain as the government says they are," he said. "From the beginning, they've made a lot of confident assurances about people's guilt. This shows that juries look at the quality of the evidence carefully, and we're encouraged by that."
DeLeon was the first defendant to go to trial in connection with the wide-reaching investigation. He was charged separately because he wasn't linked to the suspected racketeering operation at Holloway's Road Dog Cycle shop in Denair.
A multiyear FBI probe alleges that Holloway and his son Brent presided over a criminal enterprise at Road Dog. Authorities say that starting in 1997, Holloway ran a chop shop, trafficked in stolen motorcycle parts and encouraged the use of violence to collect debts. The complex case charges 12 defendants with more than a dozen criminal acts.
No trial date has been set for any of the Road Dog defendants. Prosecutors declined to comment on how DeLeon's May 1 acquittal could affect the larger case.
DeLeon is one of several law enforcement personnel prosecutors sought to link with Holloway, who retired from the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department in 1985.
Prosecutors say Holloway used law enforcement friends to help hide his wrongdoing and protect his criminal operations.
Among them is David A. Swanson, a former sheriff's deputy who was a court bailiff during the investigation.
DeLeon's acquittal probably is good news for Swanson, said his defense attorney, Robert Forkner of Modesto. Like DeLeon, Swanson is charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements.
"Mr. Swanson is in the same position that Mr. DeLeon was -- the charges are untrue and unfounded," said Forkner. "And Mr. Swanson expects to be acquitted of all charges, as Mr. Deleon was."
Prosecutors say Swanson gave sensitive law enforcement information to Holloway. They say Swanson told private investigator Gary Ermoian that authorities planned to search Road Dog Cycle. According to prosecutors, Swanson knew Ermoian would pass the tip on to Holloway. Prosecutors say that Swanson lied about giving the information to Holloway when investigators asked him about it later.
Forkner said the FBI never recorded any phone calls between Swanson and Holloway. During the DeLeon trial, defense attorney Paul Goyette made much of the fact that three of the 16,000 calls investigators monitored from Holloway's phones were between DeLeon and Holloway.
Also snared in the investigation is Joseph S. Tyler, 65, a former California Highway Patrol officer and part-time Merced County sheriff's deputy. The charges against Tyler include conspiring to obstruct justice and conspiring to operate a chop shop.
Prosecutors say Tyler helped Holloway by searching law enforcement data- bases for stolen motorcycle parts that Holloway had. Prosecutors say that allowed Holloway to hide the parts from law enforcement.
Tyler's attorney, Anthony P. Capozzi of Fresno, said prosecutors "play Holloway up as a big bad person with a group of minions who promoted his criminal enterprise."
Tyler wasn't one of those minions, but "merely doing his job" when he searched for stolen parts in the database, Capozzi said.
Capozzi said he's confident his client will win, because Tyler never did anything illegal. But he noted that juries are notoriously unpredictable. Capozzi said he's had clients he assumed were "dead ducks" headed for prison, but juries have surprised him with not guilty verdicts.
With no trial date set, the day of reckoning is a ways off for Holloway. Attorneys are trying to get him released from the Fresno County Jail and placed in Turning Point, a Fresno halfway house. Defense attorney Osterhoudt said jail has taken a physical and mental toll on Holloway, 61.
Attorneys also have filed a motion asking the court to suppress wiretap evidence against Holloway. Information in the motion reveals the extent of the probe into Holloway's activities. The FBI used three informants, one of whom worked at Road Dog Cycle answering phones. Undercover agents once attended a Hell's Angels Halloween party, where they befriended Brent Holloway. Agents kept close tabs on Bob Holloway, once following a pickup containing motorcycles and parts from Holloway's house to Bakersfield.
In court documents, defense attorneys contend the investigation wasn't about suspected violence or extortionate practices. Instead they claim the investigation was fueled by the "rage" of local law enforcement officials who couldn't stand to see Holloway hanging out with Hell's Angels.
In a recent filing, defense attorneys said deputies and agents "became increasingly rigid and uncompromising in their view that Mr. Holloway was consummate evil that had to be destroyed, along with the careers of those law enforcement officers who had remained friendly to him."
Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2378.