Road Dog case worthwhile?

Prosecutor 'pleased,' but defense insists accused 'overcharged'

August 14, 2010 

BA FBI Road Dog Cycle 5

An FBI task force entered Road Dog Cycle earlier Friday morning, February 1, 2008. Members of the FBI task force outside building. (Bart Ah You/The Modesto Bee)

BART AH YOU — Modesto Bee

  • Timeline

    • February 2008: FBI agents and Central Valley Gang Impact Task Force investigators conduct two raids on Road Dog Cycle in Denair.

    &bull July 2008: Holloway and 11 other men are indicted on charges of racketeering and extortion. Holloway is arrested and taken into custody at the Fresno County jail.

    &bull May 2009: Raul DeLeon, a former Stanislaus County sheriff's captain accused of conspiring with Holloway, is acquitted by a federal jury.

    &bull June 2009: Defendant Michael J. Orozco, a Manteca motorcycle club leader, pleads guilty to one count of conspiracy to collect extensions of credit by extortionate means. He is released from custody in November.

    &bull June 2009: Holloway is released to a Fresno halfway house.

    &bull June 2009: Defendant Ray Heffington pleads guilty to trafficking in stolen vehicle parts. He is released from the Fresno County jail in August. Earlier in the year, two other men arrested in connection with the Road Dog investigation, Daniel Martell and Roger Bird, pleaded guilty to being felons in possession of firearms. Martell and Bird were not defendants in the racketeering case.

    &bull July 2009: Defendant Reynaldo Sotelo pleads guilty to conspiring with Holloway to traffic in stolen motor vehicle parts. Sotelo is not in custody and has not been sentenced. His attorney has said he expects Sotelo to serve six months or less of home detention.

    &bull June 2010: Holloway pleads guilty to one count of racketeering. He could receive up to 51 months in prison. His son, Brent, pleads guilty to trafficking in stolen motorcycle parts and could receive a 10-year sentence. Anthony D. Fantacone of South Carolina pleads guilty to the same charge and could spend as much as a year in prison.

    &bull August 13, 2010: A jury finds Gary Ermoian guilty of obstruction of justice and Steven Johnson guilty of obstruction of justice and perjury; Dave Swanson is acquitted of obstruction charges.

    &bull September 2010: Bob Holloway, Brent Holloway and Fantacone are scheduled to be sentenced.

    &bull November 2010: Gary Ermoian and Steven Johnson are scheduled to be sentenced.

It's been 2½ years since federal agents and gang task force members broke down the door of a Denair motorcycle shop, the first public sign of a lengthy investigation into its owner's activities.

Investigators later indicted Road Dog Cycle owner Bob Holloway, accusing him of running a criminal enterprise out of his shop. Holloway, a former Stanislaus County sheriff's deputy, and son Brent were charged in federal court with racketeering, running a chop shop, trafficking in stolen motorcycle parts and using violence to collect debts.

Authorities also targeted some of Holloway's friends and acquaintances, many of them with law enforcement backgrounds. They accused the men of obstructing justice by, among other things, getting information on the Holloway investigation and giving it to him.

"They were out to get Bob Holloway," Robert Forkner, an attorney in the case, said Saturday. "This whole case was overcharged from the beginning."

Forkner represented Anthony D. Fantacone, 68, of Boiling Springs, S.C., arrested as part of the Road Dog case.

"He was charged with carjacking with a gun," Forkner said. "He ended up pleading guilty with no jail time."

In June, Fantacone pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of blackmail.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Cullers, who prosecuted the case, said Saturday that he was "pleased with the overall outcome of the investigation."

Several took plea deals

Several other defendants, including the Holloways, also reached plea agreements. Former Stanislaus County sheriff's Capt. Raul DeLeon went to trial; a jury acquitted him of conspiring to obstruct justice and making false statements to investigators.

As to whether the defendants were overcharged, "The guilty pleas speak for themselves," Cullers said.

Friday night, a jury returned verdicts on the remaining three defendants in the case: private investigator Gary Ermoian, court bailiff Dave Swanson and retired corrections officer Steven Johnson. Ermoian and Johnson were convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice, with Johnson also convicted of making false statements and perjury before the grand jury. Swanson was acquitted of charges of conspiracy and making false statements.

"Mr. Swanson gets caught up in this witch hunt for Mr. Holloway," said Forkner, also Swanson's attorney. "He didn't even know him. He can get his life back now after 2½ years of being accused of being a felon."

While all the cases have been adjudicated, the case isn't quite over.

Bob Holloway, Brent Holloway and two other men who pleaded guilty in June are scheduled for sentencing next month. Johnson and Ermoian are to be sentenced in November.

After that, it's likely at least one appeal will be filed.

"We are very disappointed in the jury's verdict," said John Balazs, who represents Ermoian. "I remain wholeheartedly convinced of Gary Ermoian's innocence."

Balazs said that during trial, a former U.S. attorney testified that after reviewing all of the wiretap recordings used as evidence in the case, he believed Ermoian didn't do anything wrong.

Acquittal or new trial urged

"We intend to file a motion asking the judge to enter a judgment of acquittal for Mr. Ermoian or, alternatively, to order a new trial," Balazs said in an e-mail Saturday. "If unsuccessful, we will appeal the jury's verdict."

Carl Faller, who represents Johnson, said he and his client are considering their options.

"We will be evaluating post-trial motions in regard to potential motions for new trial or something of that nature," he said.

Roger Vehrs, an attorney for Bob Holloway, said he had no comment Saturday. In his June plea bargain, Holloway admitted that he extended lines of credit to members of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang, then used extortion to make them repay what they borrowed.

At that time, Vehrs said extortion typically involves a physical threat, but that Holloway didn't threaten anyone; the government said just being involved in such dealings qualified as extortion.

Holloway was acquitted of murder charges in 2001. He stood trial after he confronted and killed a career criminal who tried to rob Road Dog Cycle in 1997.

That case echoed in the racketeering prosecution, Forkner said.

"The (Stanislaus County district attorney's) office wasn't too happy about that," Forkner said. "Half the Sheriff's Department was supporting Bob Holloway. That created a real rift."

Cullers said the investigation, which involved a task force of Modesto police, the district attorney's office and a number of federal agents, was aimed at putting criminals out of business.

"We dismantled what we felt was a criminal enterprise operating in Denair and Modesto," he said. "We also sent a strong message that obstructing law enforcement can carry strong repercussions."

Forkner said the prosecution was a misuse of the judicial system.

"The ATF, the DEA, the FBI ... you've got all these federal agencies going after Bob Holloway," Forkner said. "And we've got three murders in Modesto and Stanislaus County in the last seven days. You'd think they'd have something better to do than going after stolen Harley Davidson parts."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or 578-2343.

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