Ruben “Doc’ Cavazos, the former President of the Mongols Motorcycle Club, and his son Ruben “Lil Rubes” Cavazos, Jr. were sentenced en camera by Federal District Judge Otis D Wright, II at 10 a.m. on Thursday, September 8. En camera proceedings are secret court sessions held in a metaphorical “closet.”
The secret sentencing illustrates the ongoing efforts by prosecutors in this case to conceal the prosecution from public scrutiny. A total of 11 documents related to the sentencing were sealed by Judge Wright. Wright, a former Los Angeles County Sheriff, has never taken pains to hide his hostility toward the Mongols and has openly referred to the club as an “outlaw motorcycle gang” in public sessions of his court.
Both Cavazos agreed to plea and sentencing agreements in January 2009. A key element of Doc Cavazos’ agreement was his forfeiture of the Mongols Club insignia. He confessed, “that the Mongols Registered Trademarks afforded a source of influence over the RICO enterprise that defendant admits he established, operated, controlled, conducted and participated in the conduct of….”
Subsequent court rulings found that the Mongols insignia was a “collective membership mark” that could not, by law, possibly belong to a single man. The government is still appealing that aspect of this Mongols case.
Close But No Stuffed Disco Bunny
Doc Cavazos appears now to have been the second former Mongol to begin cooperating with the government’s attempt to shut down and outlaw the Mongols. Doc Cavazos former “right hand man” Lawrence Robert “Lars” Wilson, III entered into a plea and cooperation agreement with the government on Christmas Eve 2008.
Doc Cavazos, seems to have agreed to his plea deal, at least in part, in order to help save his son. Doc’s deal was contingent on two key elements.
The first element was that Cavazos would meet regularly with ATF Special Agent John Ciccone, Prosecutor Christopher Brunwin and others and truthfully tell investigators everything he knew about the so-called “Mexican Mafia,” the Mongols and other motorcycle clubs including but not limited to the Pagans Motorcycle Club.
The second element was the delivery of the Mongols name and insignia to the government on a silver platter. Cavazos could not fulfill this condition. The fact that he could not do so has more to do with the ignorance of federal prosecutors, federal copyright law and the stubbornness of the late Honorable Florence Marie Cooper than Doc’s failure to try hard enough to please his captors.
In the end, the Mongols continued to exist so Doc and his son are probably going to stay in prison. It is possible, but very unlikely, that both men are now free and enrolled in the U.S. Marshall’s witness relocation program.
The Drawn Curtain
The official stated reason for the secrecy of so many Mongols court proceedings and of these sentencings is concern for the safety of Doc Cavazos and his son. Lil Rubes Cavazos was attacked and beaten in his San Bernardino lockup last year by assailants the prosecution believes are associated with the so-called Mexican Mafia.
An additional reason to keep all of this secret is that the actual details of the investigation and prosecution of the Mongols would at least embarrass both the ATF and the Department of Justice if they were to become public enough to receive national attention. Both Assistant United States Attorney Brunwin and at least five ATF Agents could be in actual jeopardy of criminal prosecution if details of the Mongols case become widely known and acknowledged.
Brunwin has also used prosecutorial secrecy as a weapon throughout this case to intimidate defendants into cooperating with government investigators and to force defendants to plead guilty to racketeering. Throughout the case these coerced guilty pleas have been cited and used as evidence to further the argument that the Mongols is, or at least was, a kind of criminal empire.
The Crack of Light
There is some tangible evidence that both Cavazos seem to think they have been double-crossed by Brunwin.
Lil Rubes Cavazos attorney, Gregory Nicolaysen, filed an angry memorandum last Tuesday, September 6, in which he complained: “Defendant Ruben Cavazos, Jr. hereby submits his Reply to the government’s sentencing position paper which was filed on Friday, September 2, 2011, the Friday before the Labor Day weekend and less than a week prior to the September 8 hearing. This Reply includes objections to, and a motion to strike, specific assertions contained in the government’s position as being wholly lacking in any evidentiary foundation or support. In contrast to the government’s late filing, defendant Ruben Cavazos, Jr. filed his sentencing position on June 7, 2011.”
Nicolaysen’s June 7 filing asked for a significant reduction in his client’s potential sentence based on Lil Rubes cooperation. The government’s sentencing position paper remains sealed. “There is no excuse for the government filing its sentencing position on Friday, September 2, 2011, the Friday before the long Labor Day weekend and less than a week prior to the September 8 sentencing hearing, particularly after the sentencing hearing had been continued multiple times,” Nicolaysen complained.
One of Brunwin’s favorite tactics throughout the case has been to surprise defendants with evidence, motions and other legal maneuvers at the last moment in order to place defendants at the maximum possible disadvantage.
“The entire government position should be stricken because it presents a sentencing recommendation based on bald factual assertions that have no evidentiary support, but there is insufficient time in which counsel for Mr. Cavazos, Jr. can present a meaningful response prior to the sentencing hearing,” Nicolaysen complained to Judge Wright.
The government recommend a 2 point sentencing table reduction in Lil Rubes Cavazos sentence. Nicolaysen was seeking a “time-served sentence.”
Brunwin also told Judge Wright:
“The government notes that the instant offense, and specifically the conduct of this defendant, involves the most serious crimes, specifically, armed attacks, murders and assaults committed by the membership of a very large and powerful criminal enterprise. This defendant assumed and conducted a leadership role in an organization that rewarded violence, intimidation and sexual exploitation. This defendant played a very specific and knowing role in the commission of those offenses. That role showed, at a minimum, a callous indifference to the suffering it brought to other people’s lives and the abuse of others outside the organization.”
Nicolaysen replied, “Nonsense. Prove it.”
Nicolaysen seemed particularly offended by Brunwin’s accusation of sexual exploitation. “Where did the government come up with that one? There is NO EVIDENCE of any of that. This is the very definition of character assassination. To suggest that Mr. Cavazos, Jr. had any connection with sexual exploitation – either personally or in his leadership capacity at the Mongols – is deplorable. The government has no evidence of this, and it never happened.”
At one point during the Mongols investigation, Lil Rubes Cavazos’ girlfriend was being regularly debriefed by Special Agent Ciccone. The “sexual exploitation” accusation may be connected to that.
In the end, Nicolaysen’s words indicate that both Ruben Cavazos and his son feel betrayed by the government. The defense attorney wrote:
“Every defendant in this 77-defendant case has pleaded guilty. The Cavazos defendants pleaded guilty early, and their cooperation was widely known, as discussed in the original sentencing position paper which includes excerpts from a web site called ‘The Aging Rebel’ which broadcast their cooperation on the Internet. There is no question that many, if not all, co-defendants considered as a factor in their decision to plead guilty, the fact that the two Cavazos defendants were cooperating.
“Thus, both Cavazos defendants should receive very generous downward departures simply because their cooperation status from an early stage in this litigation helped the government get many co-defendants to plead out. Inducing co-defendants to plead guilty is a key factor in granting a downward departure for cooperation. Here, there must have been DOZENS of co-defendants who considered the fact that the two Cavazos defendants are cooperators, in making their decision not to go to trial. That consideration is worthy of very generous 5K1 treatment, over and above any information provided by the Cavazos defendants during cooperation meetings.”
Nicolaysen’s assertion that “dozens of codefendants” were bullied into prison by prosecutors armed with whatever secrets the two Cavazos were reporting is correct. Now, after they have both told prosecutors everything they know and everything they can invent, the great legal beast has turned his dreadful, heartless gaze on them.