Courts & Crime

Levy hearing also hints at shadowy Fresno crime figure

Subject 1 is a dangerous man, officials believe; maybe, one of Fresno, Calif.’s worst.

His name remains secret, closely held by prosecutors and investigators. But over three days this week, during hearings related to the revived Chandra Levy murder case, the man dubbed “Subject 1” was repeatedly cited as a top Fresno-area law enforcement target dating back to the 1990s.

Murder, drugs and more were all mentioned in connection with the mysterious Subject 1. One informant was quoted as calling the man “very influential.” An FBI special agent said Subject 1 had once been considered the “number one priority” for Fresno County Sheriff’s Office detectives.

“Do you know what is currently going on with regard to the potential prosecution of Subject 1?” defense attorney Jonathan Anderson asked on Friday.

“No,” Fresno-based Assistant U.S. Attorney Dawrence “Duce” Rice answered, “I don’t.”

A longtime prosecutor for both the Justice Department and, previously, the Fresno District Attorney’s office, Rice was summoned to a Washington, D.C. courtroom this week as part of a defense effort to secure a new trial for the man convicted of killing Levy.

Levy, a 24-year-old former federal government intern, disappeared May 1, 2001, shortly before she was to return to her family’s Modesto, Calif., home from Washington. She was on the verge of obtaining a graduate degree from the University of Southern California.

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

Rice and the other witnesses called this week had nothing directly to do with the Levy case. They did, however, have past dealings with a former Fresno gang member named Armando Morales. In 2010, he was the pivotal witness against Ingmar Guandique, the man accused of killing Levy. Morales testified that Guandique had confided in him while they were cellmates.

Guandique is now serving a 60-year prison sentence after being found guilty of first-degree murder. He has maintained his innocence and is seeking a new trial.

The three days of hearings this week, and additional hearings in February, focused on the credibility of Morales and his previously undisclosed record of snitching. In bringing that story to surface, witnesses have also shone a spotlight on some of Fresno’s back alleys.

Witnesses, for instance, identified by name the man who in about 1996 agreed to introduce an undercover agent into the Bulldog Nation gang. The confidential informant was facing state criminal charges. Those charges were dropped and federal charges imposed so that federal authorities could control the informant.

“I wanted to get the guy out and try to make an undercover operation go,” Rice explained.

The ensuing operation succeeded, ensnaring Morales and others on guns and drug charges, to which Morales eventually pleaded guilty.

After Morales had been busted, a new FBI special agent name Julio Cordero arrived in Fresno in 1997 and began learning from sheriff’s department counterparts about Subject 1.

“The sheriff’s office said (he) was their top priority,” Cordero said. “I made the individual a top priority for the FBI.”

A lot of people were afraid of Subject 1, Cordero recalled. They apparently had reason to be. Once incarcerated, Morales allegedly told investigators that he had helped plan and, apparently, execute a murder along with Subject 1. Morales also allegedly told investigators that another individual had been gunned down in front of Subject 1’s Fresno-area residence.

“It appears to be details that other people wouldn’t know,” Cordero said of the information provided by Morales.

Unhappily, Cordero recounted that a new supervisor subsequently ordered him to shut down the investigation potentially involving Subject 1, in order to focus on other priorities.

“I did not pursue this,” Cordero said, “because I was not allowed to.”

Rice, though, cautioned throughout this testimony Thursday and Friday that Morales was a problematic witness.

“He had such incentive to give me any line of bull,” Rice said. “When you deal with a cooperator, you’re pretty much dealing with the devil, because they’re willing to turn on a friend.”