In a turf dispute over the sharing of evidence, federal officials took over the prosecution of a case involving allegedly violent Hells Angels gang members after refusing to turn over FBI reports to state prosecutors, in spite of a state judge’s order to produce the records.
The last-minute shift in jurisdiction occurred as the case was about to go to trial in Essex Superior Court. A jury had been selected, and opening statements were slated for Tuesday.
The change angered the Essex district attorney’s office, which said resources and taxpayers dollars were wasted in preparing the case.
“The Commonwealth wants the court to know that the [district attorney’s] office played no role in the decision to withhold the documents that were the subject of the court’s order,” attorneys for Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett said in a court filing Tuesday.
“The Commonwealth greatly regrets that the decision of the [US attorney’s office] to withhold these documents has resulted in the waste of countless man-hours and tens of thousands of dollars,” the prosecutors added in the filing.
Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for the US attorney’s office, responded in a statement, “We were surprised by the comments in today’s state court filing, and we will be discussing it with the Essex district attorney’s office.
“We filed the federal complaint against the defendants following consultation with the Essex DA’s office,” the statement said. “Our office has a long history of cooperation and coordination with the Essex DA’s Office, which has led to many successful prosecutions at both the state and federal level.”
The FBI said in a statement it was also surprised by the filing and noted the case had originally been investigated by a North Shore Gang Task Force made up of local, state, and federal law enforcement officials.
The bureau added that “the decision to release documents for any state prosecution is made jointly by the United States attorney’s office and FBI, based on federal regulations.”
“As a task force investigation, this matter was investigated and coordinated closely with the district attorney’s office for many months,” the FBI said. “This one specific investigation will not hinder our effective working relationship with it in the future.”
It is not unusual for federal prosecutors to take over a state prosecution and move a case to the US court system, where penalties for violent crimes could be much more severe.
But the decision to shift prosecution of the case to the federal government now under apparently contentious circumstances surprised legal observers because of the time already spent at the state level and because of the dispute over the sharing of evidence.
“I can’t believe the feds would make them go through all this effort and then just refuse to turn over . . . evidence,” said attorney Robert Sheketoff, who represents one of the defendants in the case and had argued for the records. “It tells me their policy of not turning over notes is more important than the deference [to state prosecutors].”
In the case, several reputed Hells Angels gang members and their associates are accused of savagely beating a member of an associate club, the Red Devil’s Motorcycle Club, for failing to follow the gang’s laws. They also allegedly forced him to sign over ownership of his motorcycle, and one member allegedly threatened to kill him and rape his girlfriend if he did not comply.
During a pretrial hearing two weeks ago, an FBI agent who initially investigated the case testified that he interviewed the alleged victim several times this year before the victim agreed to wear a wire in a meeting with one of his alleged attackers. However, the agent did not produce reports of all his interviews.
A state judge ordered prosecutors last week to turn over all the reports and postponed opening statements until Tuesday. Federal officials refused to turn over the notes from the agent’s follow-up interviews with the alleged victim, saying they were still only drafts and the reports were not finalized.
Essex prosecutors said in the court filing Tuesday, “We’ve been informed by the US attorney’s office that they will not provide us with the unfinished FBI [reports] relevant to this case, nor will they order the FBI to complete the [reports], despite the fact that many of these have been unfinished for nearly 10 months.”