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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

California - Santa Clara cop now faces federal charges for allegedly feeding information to Hells Angel

By Howard Mintz

Deepening his legal troubles, a Santa Clara police officer now faces federal criminal charges for allegedly supplying confidential information to a member of the Hells Angels to pay off a debt.
In an indictment unsealed on Monday in federal court in San Jose, Clay H. Rojas, a five-year veteran of the Santa Clara police department, is charged in fraud and conspiracy counts with furnishing inside information to William "Billy" Bettencourt, a suspected member of the Hells Angels Santa Cruz chapter. Rojas, the indictment alleges, provided the confidential information, such as criminal and DMV records, to Bettencourt.
The indictment also names Bettencourt and Viviana Rodriguez, who is accused of seeking Bettencourt's aid in getting the inside information. Bettencourt, who has a prior felony criminal record, already is in custody without bail on related state charges and faces life in prison under the "three strikes" law.
For Rojas, 36, the indictment marks an escalation of a criminal investigation into the allegations involving the Hells Angels. He was charged in state court in October with a felony for allegedly feeding the material to Bettencourt. Now the feds have piled on the new charges.
It is not clear whether the federal case might supplant the state prosecution, but the federal charges carry a stiffer penalty. The federal charges against Rojas, which focus on "honest services fraud" as a police officer, carry a maximum 20-year sentence,
although he would be unlikely to face the maximum. The state charges, which can still be pursued if the federal case falters, call for about a three-year term if Rojas is convicted.
A federal magistrate judge refused to release Rojas on bail last Thursday when he was arrested on the indictment, forcing him to spend the Christmas weekend in jail. He is scheduled to return to court on Wednesday for another hearing.
Daniel Jensen, Rojas' lawyer in the federal case, could not be reached Monday. One of the officer's lawyers in the state case told the Mercury News in October that Rojas made some mistakes and "got in over his head," but that he is a "gang expert, not a gang member."
Rojas, a former Marine sergeant who served in Iraq and who also is a former San Jose police officer, is accused in the indictment of carrying out the scheme between July and October, shortly before his arrest on the state charges. While most of the allegations mirror the state charges, the federal indictment reveals that money was behind Rojas' alleged involvement with the Hells Angel.
"Bettencourt induced Rojas to obtain confidential criminal history and motor vehicle information by giving Rojas money in the form of a 'loan,'" the indictment states. "Bettencourt then requested and received confidential information from Rojas, in lieu of money, in return for an extension on repaying that financial obligation."
The indictment includes references to several cryptic text messages between Rojas and Bettencourt, including one in August that simply read: "$?".
Court records in the state case contained more direct exchanges between the two men, such as one from Bettencourt in which he asked Rojas to obtain information on someone. "Want me to check her record," Rojas texted back. "Yes," the Hells Angel replied. "just lookin 4 direct I guess."
Contact Howard Mintz at 408-286-0236