I have not held my tongue regarding the corruption at ATF and DOJ so this post will surprise many.
PART I: In the mid-90’s a person I will refer to as “Gangster X“, an Aryan Brotherhood prison gang member, helped me and my partner, now retired ATF Special Agent Louis Quinonez, infiltrate a Southern Arizona element of the AB’s. The case was titled Operation Rooster and over the course of 100 days we purchased (undercover) 100 Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s) of all types, rudimentary to sophisticated – home made garage workshop bombs that were being sold to us in our roles as debt collectors and contract killers.
The case title came from the Alice in Chains song Rooster because we had so many life and death close calls during the infil. We were running alongside some really dangerous boys.
“Yeah they come to snuff the rooster
You know we ain’t gonna die
No, no, no, ya, no we ain’t gonna die”
Our investigation came to an abrupt and premature end when one of the suspects we had been buying pipe bombs from – Eric “Stubby” Padilla – murdered a man named John Robertson in the desert outside of Tucson. A day later and believing that Lou and I were murderers for hire, we met with Stubby’s girlfriend who gave us clothes covered in Robertson’s blood asking us to destroy the evidence. Not so fast…
We used the girlfriend to re-establish telephone contact with Stubby who had left the state.
We joined forces with Detectives from the Pima County Sheriffs Department and built a plan to return Stubby to Tucson. Stubby told us he was hold-up in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Lou and I sold Stubby on the ruse that we were scheduled to air-drop a pot load in the desert outside of Albuquerque. We told him that on our return to Tucson we would pick him up, bring him home, find him fake ID’s, intimidate potential witnesses and help him hide until things cooled out.
This op was a high-risk and dangerous. The executives from ATF and the Sheriff’s Department showed the stones of old school cops allowing their people to fly hundreds of miles from home in a small plane posing as drug runners with no cover team to grab up a known murderer.
In today’s world of cautious law enforcement where street-smart cops are overridden by in-house attorneys who make tactical public safety decisions based on potential liability exposure to their coward bosses careers, this plan would be dropped faster than you could say Eric Holder.
It was also a bold demonstration of federal and local law enforcement working together, placing themselves in harms way, to protect a community with no care or concern for who got the credit.
That night Deputy Rick Pierson piloted a Cessna 210 towards New Mexico with Lou and I on board to close the deal. Rick, himself a Narc, looked like a drug pilot should. We put down in the dead of night on an runway invisible without our landing light. In his rush and excitement to greet his “friends” Stubby nearly ran face first into a three-bladed, turbo-charged propeller; saved only by Rick’s quick thinking and expert piloting as he performed a 90-degree pivot turn a moment before Ol’ Stub took steel in the teeth at 2000 rpm’s.
Once on board the 50 pound marijuana bale strategically placed in the cargo area made our lie to Stubby even smell real (no detail too small in the street game). During our flight home Stubby confessed the entire murder over the airplanes Dave Clark headsets. Once we landed at Tucson International, Stubby was arrested by the Sheriff Department’s Homicide Squad.
Legendary Tucson prosecutor Rick Unklesbay handled the case. Lou and I were called back to the courtroom to hear the jury’s verdict before we could finish a cup of coffee. It took them all of 20 minutes to give Stubby 25 to Life.
Moral of the story – don’t murder people.
Gangster X earned himself a reduction on his sentence and exited prison a free man having made possibly his lone positive contribution to society.
PART II: In 2013, Gangster X resurfaced, once again taking up residence at the crossbar hotel. He was a bit peeved that I didn’t try to help him out of a new and improved 18 year conviction. In his mind I still owed him more favors for the AB case he assisted in 20 years earlier. Truth be told, he didn’t have a hand in the Stubby Padilla investigation beyond arranging the handshakes. But, in his infinite wisdom Gangster X issued a murder contract on me and then thought it would be a good idea to tell me about it in a letter; a) what he thought of me and my reputation; b) that he was intending to murder prison guards; and, c) the he was recruiting Aryan Brotherhood wannabe’s to murder me in exchange for an AB shamrock skinpatch.
“I hope you have time to remember me before their bullet hits your punk ass brain.”
Part III: This afternoon Gangster X entered a guilty plea in Federal court admitting to writing the letter, “knowingly and intentionally making the threats“, and to placing the letter in the United States mail.
In his wildest nightmares I doubt he ever considered spending a significant chunk of his life incarcerated behind a lick for Title 18 United States Code § 876(c) – Mailing a Threatening Communication.
Gangster X’s position as a jail warrior and his influence over the AB’s must have diminished over time since I am still here today to write this post. Looks like he didn’t have any takers so unless he decides to give himself a jackrabbit parole and climb some razor wire to come find me himself, I’d guess I’m safe – at least until 2026-ish.
So, here’s the good part and in all honesty I’m happy to give credit where credit is due. Of the dozens of murder and violence threats I’ve received and ATF intentionally and repeatedly scuttling them, they got this one right! The stars lined up for me in three extraordinary lawmen.
ATF Phoenix Special Agent in Charge Tom Atteberry made sure that he did what his predecessors and current executives could not, and would not do – demand and support a comprehensive and thorough investigation. Atteberry even drove to Tucson today to personally witness Gangster X’s plea. Class move.
Atteberry had assigned ATF Special Agent Creighton Brandt to lead the investigation. Brandt was diligent in every detail working above and beyond to build an airtight case. He conducted himself like I know great ATF agents can, and still do. He was brilliant.
DOJ Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Cassell showed both tactical patience and legal expertise to bring about today’s pleading. A good and honest attorney at the house of justice.
There were 7 of us in court. Cassell and Brandt at the prosecutors table. Gangster X and his attorney at the defense’s. Atteberry, Unklesbay and I in the audience. I wanted to look Gangster X in the eye and let him know I was still here, unafraid, now, in the past or in the future. I was surrounded by the men who helped give me that opportunity.
It was truly a heartwarming day. The circumstances were unpleasant but given the hatred that ATF and DOJ hold for me, Atteberry, Brandt and Cassell had the integrity to rise above the fray and the noise displaying consummate professionalism. Unlike many of their peers they refused to buy-in to the propaganda spewed by their leadership and quite simply did their jobs exceeding well. They actually cared about me. Given my life today and relationship with ATF and DOJ, that felt weird, different, odd – but wow – it was a nice and welcomed change. I am grateful.
On this day I was proud again to have been an ATF Agent.