SANTA ANA, Calif. — After federal prosecutors won a landmark racketeering conviction against the Mongols motorcycle club, in an attempt to put an end to the outlaw group’s long record of murder, attempted murder and drug dealing, the Mongols countered with an unusual claim: Their leader, they said, had been secretly helping the government in its efforts to bring down the organization.
Three years after the 2018 case, the Mongols’ lawyers came forward last year with claims that the group’s former president, David Santillan, had been surreptitiously cooperating with a special agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for years and had sabotaged the defense.
“He is a rat,” Mr. Santillan’s wife, Annie, suggested in a text message that became a key piece of evidence in the case against the group, which was founded in Southern California in 1969 and whose members are mostly Hispanic. She later recanted the assertion.
On Thursday, after hearing testimony from more than a dozen witnesses, including from Mr. Santillan himself, over the past several months, Judge David O. Carter of the Federal District Court in Santa Ana, Calif., found that there was no convincing evidence of such a claim and refused to set aside racketeering and conspiracy convictions as well as a penalty of $500,000.
“I don’t find there’s sufficient cooperation” to merit overturning the conviction, Judge Carter said in a ruling from the bench. “Nor do I believe that there would be, quite frankly, an acquittal in a second trial.”
Mr. Santillan, who led the Mongols for nearly 13 years until he was voted out of the club in July of last year, vehemently denied that he had ever betrayed the group. After Judge Carter’s ruling, he declared vindication in what he said was “a contrived internal political witch hunt to smear my name and to get me dethroned.”