Sean Webby, 10/28/10
When investigators searched Clay Rojas’ home, they discovered a sign that said “Support your Local Hells Angels.”
That’s precisely what investigators say the Santa Clara police officer was doing.
Rojas, a 36-year-old former Marine sergeant who served in Iraq and former San Jose police officer, faces three years in prison if convicted. He is accused of feeding a biker with “three strikes” confidential information, including DMV and criminal records.
William “Billy” Bettencourt, a member of the motorcycle gang with convictions for witness intimidation and other violent crimes, is facing life.
The potentially criminal relationship between the cop and the outlaw biker, outlined in court documents unsealed this week, is a tale told largely in BlackBerry texts. And it continues to be investigated to carefully plumb how much information the cop may have leaked — and exactly how the biker and his gang may have used the information.
In one text message exchange, court records show, Bettencourt asks Rojas to obtain information on someone.
“Want me to check her record?” the cop texted back. “Yes,” the biker texted. “Just lookn 4 dirt I guess.”
A week later, court records show, the biker is asking for money. “And jeez…$$$$$?????? LOL.”
When officers brought in Rojas on Oct. 14, he admitted he had done favors for Bettencourt since Nov. 9, 2009, because he owed the biker money, court records say. He knew Bettencourt was a Hells Angel, but he didn’t think he had done anything wrong. He said he had borrowed money other times in the past “a thousand here, a hundred there.” Bettencourt never charged him interest.
The officer said he felt pressure to do what Bettencourt asked because of the debt. The investigator asked him what would happen if he didn’t do what was asked of him. The officer replied he didn’t know but felt he had no choice, according to court documents. Rojas agreed that the information he gave the biker could be thought of as interest on his late payments.
The investigator noted before he arrested the officer: “Rojas equated his release of information to Bettencourt as if he was releasing information to a friend, not a Hells Angel.”
“This is a significant breach of the public trust,” prosecutor Chuck Gillingham said. “This officer was entrusted to use this information for law enforcement purposes only. He didn’t do that.”
The case was launched by a discovery soon after Bettencourt was busted in September by Campbell police on gang-related charges. Police raided the stout, heavily tattooed biker’s Live Oak home and seized a loaded gun, steroids, $40,000 in cash and a trove of biker gang paraphernalia. On Bettencourt’s BlackBerry, investigators found more than 10,000 texts, court records said. And they found some that passed between the biker and a strangely familiar contact labeled “Clay’s Cell.”
At least two of the investigating officers recognized the number. It was for Rojas, who had been an officer in Santa Clara for five years and helped run a police officer equipment business in Santa Clara called 10-8 Police Supply.
It was soon clear that the two had texted back and forth numerous times, according to court records, swapping jokey and familiar “OMGs” and “LOLs.”
In another text exchange, court records show, Bettencourt seemed to be asking if the officer would check on the biker’s own criminal status, to see whether he had any pending warrants. Later that day, Rojas texted him back: “Clear.”
In another exchange, court records show, Bettencourt forwarded a license plate number to Rojas. The next day, Rojas sent back the car’s make, the name of its owner and the city he lives in. He texted that he would send the address later.
Police later checked the department’s computer systems and discovered that someone had inputted that license plate from a Santa Clara Police Department computer.
There were other similar text exchanges, court records show, including one police traced from the biker to a 31-year-old San Jose woman named Vivian Rodriguez. She seemed to be asking for information about a child custody case that authorities say Rojas later gave to Bettencourt. Rodriguez is also charged with conspiracy in the case.
Terry Bowman, Rojas’ lawyer in the case, said the officer made some mistakes.
“He has made significant contributions to his country and community, but personally, he got in over his head,” Bowman said. “But he is a gang expert, not a gang member.”