FRESNO — Two pictures of Raul DeLeon emerged in a federal courtroom Tuesday: a dedicated peace officer who served with distinction, and a man who let his friendship with a suspected criminal come before his sworn duties.
Lawyers presented the opposing views during opening statements in DeLeon's trial. He's charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements to FBI investigators in connection with the Road Dog racketeering case.
Which picture jurors believe determines whether DeLeon, who retired from the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department as a captain in 2008, will go to prison for up to 25 years and pay fines of up to $250,000.
The charges against DeLeon stem from an FBI investigation into the Road Dog Cycle Shop in Denair. Authorities say former sheriff's deputy and Road Dog owner Robert C. Holloway III presided over a criminal enterprise at Road Dog, running a chop shop, trafficking in stolen motorcycles, and using threats and violence to collect debts.
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DeLeon is accused of conspiring with Holloway to obstruct justice — specifically, impeding the FBI probe into Road Dog. Prosecutors say DeLeon served the alleged conspiracy by giving sensitive law enforcement information to Holloway, and concealing knowledge of Holloway's suspected criminal activities from authorities.
During a 2007 phone call, say prosecutors, DeLeon gave Holloway information about which law enforcement agencies were serving a search warrant at the home of one of Holloway's employees.
Prosecutors also say DeLeon knew that one of Holloway's employees, a Hells Angel, wanted to hide his Hells Angel patch and a motorcycle from authorities. They claim DeLeon kept this information from law enforcement.
Prosecutors say that when FBI investigators asked DeLeon specific questions about his communications and relationship with Holloway, he lied.
Prosecutors base their charges on secretly recorded phone calls between DeLeon, Holloway and others, and a secretly recorded interview between DeLeon and FBI investigators.
Pleaded not guilty
DeLeon has pleaded not guilty to all charges: four counts of making false statements and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.
To prove their case, prosecutors must establish that DeLeon created a criminal partnership, or conspiracy, with Holloway with the specific intent of influencing the FBI probe into Road Dog.
They must also prove that DeLeon knowingly lied to investigators, and that the false statements he made were "material," meaning that they were important enough to change the course of the Road Dog investigation.
In the prosecution's opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark E. Cullers told the jury that the case boils down to whether DeLeon lied to the FBI.
"But just as important, the case is about making choices," said Cullers. Evidence will show, said Cullers, that DeLeon made a choice to lie to the FBI to protect his friend, Robert Holloway.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Paul Q. Goyette worked to take some of the steam out of the government's case.
He urged jurors to consider the government's evidence in context, and to be aware that DeLeon's statements in phone calls and the taped interview could be taken out of context to prove a certain point.
He contended that DeLeon and Holloway were acquaintances, not friends — and never co-conspirators.
Goyette said DeLeon tried to help investigators with their probe into Road Dog by telling them where they could find Danny Dugranrut, a Hells Angel and Road Dog employee who was wanted by authorities.
Different interretations of actions
Goyette also countered the idea that DeLeon tried to protect Holloway. He argued the opposite, saying that DeLeon once told a Ceres police sergeant, "Holloway has always been on the edge, and he may be a bad guy. We've always suspected him of something, but we've never been able to catch him."
Goyette also gave a different description of the conversation during which DeLeon is said to have lied to investigators. Prosecutors have said investigators "questioned" DeLeon about his communications with Holloway during that conversation. But Goyette said DeLeon thought investigators were "brainstorming" with him about suspected leaks in the Road Dog investigation.
"He thought he was one of the team," said Goyette. "It was very very important to him that if in fact there was some kind of leak, especially if it was in his department, ... he wanted to help find that out."
One witness testified Tuesday, FBI agent Nathan Elias. Under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Laurel Montoya, he described the Road Dog investigation.
He said the investigation was hindered by an "unusual" number of leaks. The leaks were traced to law enforcement officers, said Elias. On cross examination, Goyette had Elias describe the leaks again, and pointed out that DeLeon was not implicated in any of those leaks.
The day started with jury selection. The 12 jurors and two alternates who will decide the case include a vice president at Gallo Wines and a construction superintendent from Oakdale and a registered nurse from Fresno.
Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2378.