Thanks in large part to the work of an on-the-ball defense lawyer, a Mongols Motorcycle Club gangster convicted on racketeering offenses won a sentencing break from what was originally sought by federal officials.
The U.S. Probation Office recommended a punishment of 87 to 108 months in prison for Peter Soto, the 39-year-old, onetime gang leader of a criminal organization involved in narcotics trafficking and violence in Southern California.
However, David M. Philips--Soto's Riverside-based attorney--found a June federal court decision in another case that suggested the government's sentencing recommendation for the gang leader erroneously inflated sentencing guidelines.
Philips' last-minute, supplemental filing to U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter caused a three-day delay in a scheduled sentencing hearing this week inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, but proved fruitful to the defense.
Though Assistant United States Attorney Christopher M. Brunwin argued that Soto's underworld crimes were serious, he acknowledged the potential impact of Philips' argument and told Carter that he did not oppose the downward grading of the gangster's sentencing exposure.
Soto, a giant of a man now sporting a head the size of a jumbo watermelon, has been depicted as a ruthless, uneducated thug and methamphetamine/cocaine dealer since his 2008 federal grand jury indictment. For example, he participated in the severe physical assault of a Hollywood club patron who accidentally bumped into another Mongol.
But Carter--one of Southern California's most experienced, criminal judges--heard from the gangster's friends and lovers, who suggested that portrait failed to capture the real Soto (a.k.a. "Bouncer"). They hailed him as a caring, stray dog lover who was abused by his parents as a youngster, suffered addictions beginning as a teenager and routinely went out of his way to please others as an adult.
The judge decided to send Soto, who looked sedated at his sentencing hearing, away for 70 months. When he emerges back into society, he'll undergo supervised probation for three years.
After the July 25 hearing, U.S. marshals delivered a chained Soto from the Santa Ana Jail to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles.
Undercover federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) infiltrated the Mongols in Operation Black Rain and later made numerous arrests amid heavy media fanfare in 2008.
Soto was captured hiding in Tijuana in 2011 after a broadcast of America's Most Wanted on Fox.
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The Mongols have their own website and believe they've received terribly unfair public, media and law enforcement ridicule.
"When we do it right, nobody remembers," they wrote on their homepage. "When we do wrong, nobody forgets . . . Live Mongol, Die Mongol!"