SAN FRANCISCO -- In an embarrassing turn of events for prosecutors trying for the second time to convict Hells Angels members and associates on racketeering charges, a key prosecution witness said in court he was paid some $60,000 by federal agents as a 'reward' for his testimony.
Thomas 'Big Red' Bryant, 37, a former member of the motorcycle club, made the assertion during his testimony in the second trial of 11 Hells Angels and associates on federal racketeering and conspiracy counts.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick said he was 'outraged' and would take the matter to the Justice Department.
During cross-examination, Bryant said federal narcotics agents characterized $30,000 in $100 bills they gave him as a 'reward' for his testimony against the Angels in the first nine-month trial which ended in a hung jury July 2.
In addition, Bryant said, he received at least $15,000 from the federal Witness Protection Program for living expenses, $14,000 from the Drug Enforcement Agency and the promise that the U.S. attorney's office would help him apply for a loan from the Small Business Administration.
Defense attorney Richard Hodge Monday asked for a mistrial in the second trial _ which began a month ago _ arguing that 'the government has in effect, if not in fact, bribed its own witness.'
'The government's conduct is shocking and outrageous and amounts to the purchase of testimony,' he said.
Orrick said he was 'quite concerned about the highly unusual step of paying a witness $30,000' and ordered Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Mueller to supply details on the matter.
Mueller told the judge the $30,000 payment probably was made by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.
Daniel Addario, San Francisco district director of the DEA, said 'it's not unusual' for the agency to pay informants.
'We have paid $5,000, $10,000, $20,000, $30,000. We've paid more,' he said.
U.S. Attorney G. William Hunter said he would file a report requested by the judge answering specific questions regarding Bryant's testimony by Monday. It will be presented at a closed hearing.
Hunter said the fact Bryant was paid as an informant wasn't new.
'Such an agreement was disclosed in the first trial. The defense attorneys made reference to this in the closing statements of the first trial.'
Hunter wouldn't comment on amounts quoted, but said Bryant got $30,000 'for services or cooperation as an informant which he had been since 1975.'
He refused to substantiate Bryant's statement that he received the payment as a reward. Hunter said Bryant would be paid nothing for testimony during the second trial.