March 12, 2008

Stanislaus bailiff's exit tied to raids at cycle shop

A longtime Stanislaus County bailiff who was suspended last month is suspected of passing information to a retired deputy who owns a motorcycle shop that has been the target of a federal investigation, according to a search warrant obtained by The Bee.

A longtime Stanislaus County bailiff who was suspended last month is suspected of passing information to a retired deputy who owns a motorcycle shop that has been the target of a federal investigation, according to a search warrant obtained by The Bee.

Legal papers show that retired deputy Dave Swanson's abrupt departure from the courthouse Feb. 5 is tied to high-profile raids of Road Dog Cycle in Denair and the investigation of Capt. Raul DeLeon, who was escorted from the administrative suite at the Sheriff's Department in early December.

Swanson, who was placed on paid leave only three days before his retirement, said he has no connection to owners of the motorcycle shop and has not compromised any investigation during 25 years on the job at Stanislaus County Superior Court.

"I have never given confidential information to anyone that would jeopardize any law enforcement investigation," Swanson said in a statement, which was provided by defense attorney Robert Forkner.

Sheriff Adam Christianson and a spokesman for the FBI declined to discuss the matter, saying the investigation is ongoing. A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office could not be reached for comment.

Raids were performed by members of the Central Valley Gang Impact Task Force. A search warrant, signed by U.S. District Court Judge Oliver W. Wanger in Fresno, was prepared by Steven P. Jacobson, an investigator from the district attorney's office who is referred to as a task force agent with the FBI.

Jacobson and several FBI agents served the warrant on Swanson on a Tuesday morning, after Judge Ricardo Córdova finished his morning docket. Investigators confiscated Swanson's cell phone and sifted through his desk, filing cabinet, mailbox and locker.

An affidavit filed in support of the search warrant shows that the authorities were looking for anything that would tie the bailiff to:

  • Robert Holloway, owner of Road Dog Cycle on Main Street in Denair, which is known for rare motorcycles and a wide selection of parts. Holloway, a retired sheriff's deputy, had his 16-year career cut short in 1985 after a drunken driver slammed head-on into his patrol car. He gained notoriety in July 1997 after he confronted a career criminal who tried to rob his shop, accidentally killing the man during the scuffle. A jury acquitted Holloway of murder charges in 2001.
  • Kathy Holloway, wife of Robert, who worked at the Sheriff's Department for 25 years and was a secretary for DeLeon for a portion of that time. She left the department in 2005, after she was investigated in connection with misuse of computer services. Kathy Holloway is a deputy city clerk in Ceres, but she was placed on paid administrative leave last month after the authorities served search warrants at her husband's motorcycle shop, their Turlock home and their son Brent Holloway's home west of Modesto.
  • Defense attorney Kirk McAllister, a longtime friend of Robert Holloway. He won not-guilty verdicts when Holloway was accused of murder and argues that the latest raids on Road Dog Cycle show that investigators still are mad about losing the murder case.
  • Defense attorney Mary Lynn Belsher, who represents Kathy Holloway. In January, she convinced Stanislaus County Judge Donald E. Shaver to quash a subpoena that Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris sent to the Sheriff's Department. The prosecutor wanted to share copies of statements Kathy Holloway gave during the internal affairs investigation with a criminal grand jury and complained in legal papers that a closed-door proceeding had to be canceled because of Belsher's interference. The judge sided with Belsher because Kathy Holloway was told that nothing she said during the April 2005 internal affairs investigation could be used in a criminal proceeding.
  • Private investigator Gary Ermoian, who works for McAllister and Belsher and other attorneys around the region.
  • In addition to any communications with the Holloways, their lawyers or the private investigator, the authorities were looking for anything that would tie Swanson to the Hells Angels or any other outlaw motorcycle gang.

    The affidavit says investigators were on the lookout for photos, stickers, and red and white clothing associated with the Hells Angels, who are notorious for trafficking in drugs and stolen property.

    It says Jacobson could search for officer safety bulletins issued in the fall, dated Sept. 19 and Oct. 18, which contained information about Road Dog Cycle. The investigator told the court that he had given Swanson those bulletins, and wanted to see whether they were still in Swanson's evidence locker.

    Exactly what the authorities found is unclear because a return on the search warrant is sealed by the court.

    Forkner said Swanson surrendered his badge and gun, turned over his personal cell phone and had nothing to hide. He said he couldn't imagine why it would be inappropriate for a bailiff to have officer safety bulletins in his locker. More important, he said, Swanson shared those bulletins with no one.

    "This entire investigation arises out of the district attorney's office being sore losers when it comes to Mr. Holloway," Forkner said, adding that McAllister and Belsher are zealous advocates who irritate the authorities by winning their cases.

    McAllister and Belsher said their clients have done nothing wrong.

    The defense attorneys said they have no ties to the Hells Angels or any other outlaw motorcycle gang.

    They said Swanson never has passed them insider information.

    They said they weren't sure what connection DeLeon had to the inquiry, other than confirming the existence of a subpoena when Belsher called on Kathy Holloway's behalf.

    And they said they don't know what the district attorney's office planned to take to a grand jury during the fall, though Belsher said she suspects Kathy Holloway was a target, rather than a witness.

    Belsher said she thinks the local authorities are engaged in a fishing expedition, taking their case to the FBI after the district attorney's plan to convene a grand jury was foiled, disparaging reputations in the process. "Nobody named here has done anything wrong," she said.

    McAllister said the authorities have proceeded in a manner that is high-handed and suspicious. "I don't intimidate, and I'll keep defending Holloway as vigorously as I always have," he said.

    Ermoian said he works for Belsher and McAllister, doesn't have any special connection to Swanson, is not associated with the Hells Angels and has not received inquiries from any investigator. "Nobody's asked me anything," he said.

    Forkner said his client, Swanson, has been caught up in a witch hunt.

    He said the former bailiff was professional with defendants in his courtroom, but does not associate with outlaw gang members, didn't work with Robert Holloway and has been to Road Dog Cycle only one time.

    He said Swanson is a member of the Blue Knights, a motorcycle club for law enforcement officers, raising money for charities through fun runs and other activities.

    He shared copies of favorable job reviews Swanson received in recent years, as well as commendations for taking extra security precautions during a four- defendant home invasion robbery trial. And he said Swanson had to retire early to take care of an adult son who needs around-the-clock care.

    Because of the leave order, Swanson could not attend his retirement party at the courthouse, which doubled as a fund-raiser for his family and was sponsored by the Deputy Sheriff's Association.

    When Swanson was escorted from the courthouse, he was given a memo from Christianson, which said the bailiff was being "placed on administrative leave pending adjudication of a completed criminal investigation."

    More than a month later, no charges have been filed.

    The sheriff warned against reading too much into the wording of the memo, saying he is cooperating with an ongoing federal investigation.

    Swanson's attorney said the district attorney's office and the FBI should file some criminal charges or clear a bailiff who has done no wrong.

    "If the criminal investigation has been completed, then the district attorney's office should send a letter of apology to Mr. Swanson," Forkner said.

    Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.

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