The FBI, along with lower level law enforcement officials, have come under fire several times over the past year for questionable evidence gathering tactics, according to a report filed for The Las Vegas Review Journal. It seems the officials continue to bend the rules even after backlash from the public over possible rights violations.
The most recent accusation involves drug and weapons charges against members of the Vagos motorcycle club. The possible misconduct centers around a government surveillance video of a conversation between an undercover Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent and members of the club.
What is Operation Pure Luck?
The undercover operation, known as Operation Pure Luck, was a three year investigation by the ATF to gather evidence against the members of the motorcycle club. The controversy centers around the actions of undercover ATF agent, Agostino Brancato, who was able to gain exclusive access to the club by becoming a member during the investigation. Brancato was a veteran of the L.A. County sheriff’s department and had extensive experience infiltration motorcycle clubs.
The operation culminated in March of 2013 with a cocaine deal in Searchlight, Nev. The sting ended with more than two dozen club members being arrested and charged with drug and weapon trafficking charges. Many of the conversations and meetings between Brancato, and those suspects who are alleging government misconduct, were recorded.
Was there misconduct?
The allegations center around the video recordings leading up to the sting. The videos contain several conversations about the drug deal between Brancato and two club members, Anthony McCall and Jeremy Halgat. The videos, supposed to be used as evidence in favor of Brancato, detail several discrepancies in the agent’s story.
In one of the first videos recorded, McCall appears to be drunk when the initial idea of the cocaine deal is brought up by Brancato. In the video, McCall is seen agreeing to participate in the deal while allegedly slurring his words, with a bottle of vodka on the table in the background. Lawyers for McCall claim he was not inclined to traffic the drugs until the idea was mentioned to him while he was intoxicated. A portion of the video also shows the agent asking McCall if he needed a ride home more than once.
The second part of the alleged misconduct concerns a subsequent video recording between Brancato and Halgat. In the video, Halgat, who has no previous criminal record, can be heard repeatedly telling the agent he was not interested in trafficking drugs. Halgat is currently facing cocaine trafficking charges in one case and conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession of a weapon during the sting in another case.
Is dismissal possible?
This past July, a lawyer for Halgat obtained a recommendation from a magistrate judge to dismiss all charges against Halgat. The magistrate cited evidence that points to “outrageous government conduct.” Assistant U.S. Attorneys dismissed the recommendation from the magistrate and claimed no misconduct took place. A rare joint hearing in which two federal judges were presented with the videotapes took place last month.
The judges heard over six hours of testimony from Brancato, where he defended his actions and the outcomes. The focus of the joint hearing was the alleged misconduct by Brancato where the judges faced the decision of dismissal for both suspects. They decided on a joint hearing to conserve resources. The federal judges have not yet issued their ruling.
If you or someone you know are facing drug or conspiracy charges, contact Brian J. Smith today. As a top Las Vegas criminal defense attorney, Brian Smith can give you the answers and the help you deserve. Call us today at (702) 380-8248 for more information.