Courts & Crime

New trial for convicted Chandra Levy killer leans on informant’s credibility

Chandra Levy was killed in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park in May 2001.
Chandra Levy was killed in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park in May 2001.

A former Fresno, Calif., gang leader fed scoops to law enforcement long before his testimony secured the conviction of the man accused of killing Chandra Levy, a court hearing revealed Wednesday.

Bulldog Nation founder Armando Morales gave up his methamphetamine supplier, a federal agent testified. Morales wrote a 14-page history of his street gang, a spinoff rival to the older Fresno Bulldogs. He turned over numerous names, including the identities of his gang’s five-man ruling council.

“He provided a lot of information,” stated Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent Colene Domenech.

All of which matters, 18 years after Morales’s final guns-and-drugs bust in Fresno, because of how it seemingly conflicts with his courtroom posture during the 2010 trial of Ingmar Guandique. Morales testified that Guandique, while they were cellmates in Kentucky, confessed to killing Levy.

A 24-year-old former Bureau of Prisons intern, Levy disappeared May 1, 2001, shortly before she was to return to her family’s Modesto, Calif., home from Washington.

Levy’s disappearance, and Guandique’s eventual trial, attracted considerable national attention because of revelations that she had been having an affair with then-Rep. Gary Condit. Levy’s remains were found in Washington’s Rock Creek Park in 2002.

Guandique is now serving a 60-year prison sentence after being found guilty of first-degree murder.

During Guandique’s trial, Morales presented himself as a man unaccustomed to cooperating with law enforcement. His credibility, as well as questions about what Guandique’s prosecutors knew about him prior to putting him on the stand, now stand at the center of defense efforts to obtain a new trial.

If Guandique’s prosecutors had known about Morales’ previous cooperation with law enforcement, despite his efforts to minimize his involvement, they would have been obligated to inform Guandique’s attorneys.

On Wednesday, during the first of three days of hearings this week, federal investigators offered new details about Morales and the information he provided after being arrested by a heavily armed ATF tactical team on the early morning of Oct. 17, 1996.

Some information proved good.

Domenech, who in 1996 was an ATF special agent based out of the Fresno office, recalled that Morales opened up a little bit during a 40-minute post-arrest interview after she made a point of adjusting his handcuffs from back to front and letting him say goodbye to his family.

“He said because we treated him with respect, he would answer one question,” Domenech recalled. “We asked him who his narcotics supplier was. He gave us a name.”

The supplier was busted and found guilty at trial, Domenech recalled.

At various times, Morales also provided information about the shooting of a California Highway Patrol officer, as well as the smuggling of weapons and the ordering of a hit on another inmate, among other gang-related mayhem.

Other information turned over by Morales, though, proved less immediately useful, including his account of how he founded the Bulldog Nation as an alternative to the Fresno Bulldogs.

“Actually, I’m not sure how much of it was true and how much of it was fiction,” said retired FBI Special Agent Ron Eowan.

Eowan was married to Domenech at the time, as they jointly worked the investigation of the Fresno gangs. They have since divorced.

Morales called himself an enforcer during the Guandique trial, and his potential for danger was recalled vividly Wednesday.

Following the 1996 bust, Domenech said, investigators heard that Morales had ordered a hit put out on the confidential informant who had helped infiltrate the gang. The informant was quickly moved out of Fresno, as investigators took Morales seriously.

“He was a very violent person,” said Domenech, who is now the ATF’s resident agent in charge of the Portland, Ore., office.

The Fresno-based federal prosecutor who put Morales behind bars, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dawrence “Duce” Rice, is set to testify Thursday; Rice’s colleague, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin P. Rooney, will also testify.

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