State

Defense gets turn in Road Dog case

The way prosecutors tell it, the story of Robert C. Holloway and Road Dog Cycle reads like a crime movie screenplay: a one-time Stanislaus County sheriff's deputy who built a criminal empire out of his Denair motorcycle shop, maintaining power through fear and violence — and with help from Hells Angels and crooked lawmen.

Holloway, 61, was arrested a year ago along with 11 other men. He's charged with racketeering, running a chop shop, trafficking in stolen motorcycle parts and using violence to collect debts. Three defendants have pleaded guilty. Holloway is in a Fresno halfway house awaiting trial.

Today in a federal courtroom in Fresno, the story is expected to take another dramatic turn — only this time defense attorneys are writing the script.

An agent from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is expected to tell the court that investigators lied in order to get permission to put a wiretap on Holloway's phones. Defense lawyers say the agent's claims cast doubt on the case against Holloway.

"You don't usually see this in a case, where you have a government officer himself challenging the conduct leading up to something as important as a wiretap," said Bill Osterhoudt, one of Holloway's attorneys. "I think the judge will be interested in hearing it out."

The agent, 50-year-old Vince Cefalu, said Thursday he couldn't discuss his testimony. Cefalu said he was the lead investigator on the Road Dog case in 2005 and 2006, before the FBI became involved. He still is employed by ATF, working in the agency's Dublin office.

Web post talks of 'shortcuts'

In a posting on the whistle- blower Web site CleanUpATF.org, Cefalu said investigators took "illegal shortcuts" to get the Holloway wiretap. "The officers committed perjury in their application affidavit for the tap," Cefalu wrote in the posting.

When Cefalu spoke up about the "unethical and illegal" actions, he was removed from the case, he wrote in the Internet posting.

Prosecutors say Cefalu is a disgruntled employee with an ax to grind. Cefalu has filed several complaints about misconduct at ATF. He's asked for federal authorities to investigate his claims.

Defense attorney Carl Faller, who represents Road Dog defendant Steven Johnson, said he expects prosecutors to paint Cefalu as an unreliable source, but he believes Cefalu is credible.

"This isn't somebody with unknown qualifications who was sitting in their basement wearing an aluminum foil hat waiting for spaceships to land," Faller said. "This is someone who was then and is currently employed as a federal law enforcement agent."

Phone calls to be argued

In addition to Cefalu's testimony, U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger will hear arguments on whether to throw out wiretap evidence against Holloway. Defense attorneys have filed a motion to suppress the evidence.

Thousands of taped calls from Holloway's cell, business and home phones make up the heart of the government's case. Tossing out that evidence would "put a tremendous hole in the middle of the prosecution's case," Faller said.

It was Wanger who gave investigators permission to tap Holloway's phones in the fall of 2007. Wiretaps are considered an extraordinary step because they intrude on a citizen's privacy. To use one, investigators must convince a judge that traditional surveillance methods aren't working. They also must show that there's probable cause to believe that the wiretap target has, is or will commit certain crimes.

Defense attorneys say the FBI failed to do both. In court filings, defense lawyers charge that the FBI relied on hearsay and emotionally charged innuendo — not hard facts — to make a case that Holloway was engaged in criminal activities. Prosecutors say agents proved there was "substantial basis" for probable cause.

Motions filed concerning the wiretaps reveal the extent of the government's digging into Holloway — and, more interestingly, what they thought they would uncover.

When the FBI first applied for a wiretap in September 2007, agents told Wanger they expected to catch Holloway involved in money laundering, firearms violations, and manufacturing, importing and selling meth and marijuana. Holloway isn't charged with any of those crimes.

Documents give money clues

Prosecutors have yet to say how vast and profitable Holloway's suspected racketeering operation was. Court documents provide some clues. One search warrant turned up $13,000 in cash, several stolen motorcycle parts, a loaded 9 mm pistol and a 12-gauge shotgun. In a guilty plea, Hells Angel Ray Heffington admitted to trafficking in stolen motorcycle parts worth $10,000 to $30,000. Holloway's estranged son told the court in May that Holloway has money and connections stashed across the globe.

Court filings show that government agents were tracking Holloway as far back as 1999. As the probe grew, it included undercover agents and at least three informants, one of whom worked at Road Dog. Agents followed Holloway to San Diego. They trailed a truck carrying motorcycle parts from Denair to Bakersfield and then to Los Angeles.

Defense attorneys say those surveillance methods worked, but agents intentionally downplayed their success to justify the wiretap application.

Prosecutors say that's not true. They say investigators couldn't use traditional methods because Holloway had too many connections with law enforcement and outlaw biker gangs. Holloway, who was once a sheriff's deputy, would be wise to law enforcement techniques, they say. Using informants and undercover agents was risky, prosecutors say, because Hells Angels have a history of retaliating against people who give information to the government.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378.

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