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July 29, 2014

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Tangled in legal web, informant scrambles to stay out of prison before murder trial

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Raul Gonzalez

Metro gang detectives orchestrated the December 2013 plea deal: Convicted killer and police informant Raul “Sparks” Gonzalez would admit guilt in a robbery case. In exchange, he’d be released from jail.

Three weeks after being set free though, Gonzalez killed again, police say.

Now in jail awaiting trial on the murder charge, Gonzalez, 34, wants a judge to set aside the guilty plea in the robbery case.

The legal web in which Gonzalez is entangled is a complicated one, bound together by his lengthy criminal history that includes a voluntary manslaughter conviction in 2002, alleged gang ties and his willingness to feed information to authorities. It appears his latest maneuver, which will be heard Monday in Clark County District Court, is an effort to avoid prison time — at least for the time being.

In a motion filed last month in Clark County District Court, Gonzalez's attorneys argue the defendant did not mean to plead guilty on Dec. 20, 2013, to a charge he faced in connection with a Jan. 4, 2011, robbery that he was in jail for.

Gonzalez admitted to the crime as part of a deal with police and state prosecutors. He originally faced up to life in prison in the robbery case before apparently becoming an informant with the FBI-led Las Vegas Safe Streets Gang Task Force and receiving the plea deal. The arrangement greatly reduced his initial charges and freed him from the Clark County Detention Center.

Now, though, Gonzalez says his court-appointed attorneys didn't spend enough time with him to review the deal. Gonzalez could have avoided prison time and instead been put on probation if he had complied with the conditions of the agreement. But because he was implicated in a new crime after his release — the Jan. 14 shooting death of his girlfriend's uncle, Eric Montoya — prosecutors now are seeking harsher punishment in the robbery case.

Clark County District Judge David Barker will decide Monday whether to accept the plea reversal request. Gonzalez's newly appointed attorney, Randy Pike, declined to comment on his client's case.

Gonzalez, a purported leader in the 28th Street gang, allegedly told Metro Police he shot Montoya dead because the suspect thought Montoya was planning to retaliate against Gonzalez for being a police informant.

Gonzalez has since pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. A trial is scheduled for Oct. 13.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Danielle K. Pieper, who requested Gonzalez's release in December on behalf of five Metro detectives, objected to Gonzalez's plea reversal request in court documents. Pieper did not return a message requesting comment.

At Monday's hearing, Barker also will consider a request from Maria Landeros, Montoya's longtime girlfriend and the mother of his four children. She wants the court to force Metro to reveal the names of the five detectives who requested Gonzalez's release.

Their names were redacted from Pieper's written request, which Barker unsealed last month.

In court records, Metro Deputy Chief Al Salinas argued the detectives' lives would be in jeopardy if their names were made public.

"The persons who(m) the officers engage with may be known dangerous ex-felons, gang members or members of organized crime; persons with known or suspected violent criminal histories," Salinas wrote in a court filing.

In the filing, Salinas noted that last year alone, Metro handled about 100 shootings, 37 battery incidents and three homicides committed by “known gang members.”

"If the identity of the officers is released, violent retaliation against the officers is highly likely," he wrote.

Salinas said that two of the officers named in the letter — one of whom is a supervisor — have been removed from the task force after an internal investigation found they should not have ordered the felon's release.

FBI officials, meanwhile, have denied using Gonzalez as an informant or helping to free him.

"We've implemented more stringent protocols for our task force officers," Salinas said. "Getting people out of jail is not part of our normal protocol."

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