MONROE CORRECTIONAL COMPLEX, Wash. — Jorge Rivera was likened to John Gotti in a documentary on the History Channel’s “Gangland.” In 1994, Jorge — then president of the notorious street-gang Los Solidos, which operates out of Hartford, Conn. — was interviewed on CBS by newsman Dan Rather. Later that year, he was arrested and charged under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization) Act following an investigation conducted by a federal task force consisting of agents from various departments, along with Hartford police officers — all working under then-Deputy US Attorney John Durham. The very man former Attorney General Bill Barr tapped as, basically, a counter special counsel to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Until now the narrative spun in the media has been, for the most part, one-sided. In total, the convictions relating to Jorge included, amongst others, RICO Racketeering, RICO Conspiracy, Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering (including, but not limited to, the murders of Marcelina Delgado, Angel Serrano, Michael Diaz and George Hall), Conspiracies to Distribute Controlled Substances, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and bribery.
Still, there’s more to the story.
For the first time in 26 years, Rivera agreed to tell, in an exclusive interview, how he believes he was misrepresented by non-credible witnesses and was subsequently condemned to spend the rest of his life in prison.
“From 1990-’98, gang-violence and police corruption plagued the city of Hartford,” Rivera tells me. “Records indicate that officers were accused of taking bribes, extortion, using excessive force, and newspaper articles show that the police department was under a corruption probe.”
Jorge says a double standard in the criminal justice system was on display in his case, because law enforcement officials were basically exempted from the very laws they were enforcing on others.
“However, the Internal Affairs Division records from the Hartford Police Department have revealed a culture of policing where officers rarely received punishment for their crimes but rather were found to have no fault in many of the complaints brought against them,” Rivera says. “Unsurprisingly, the charges were almost always dropped, unsubstantiated, or people were afraid to come forward.”
During the course of his trial, Rivera petitioned to have the personal records of his investigating officers examined and entered into evidence. This would have revealed the corruption probe, but the petitions were denied. He was ultimately given a life-sentence for an array of charges that, at the time, made little sense to him.
“I received ineffective counsel that never explained the process to me, nor what to expect during trial. Had the motions to examine the records of the officers been granted, their conduct would have been known,” Rivera explains.
The case for corruption later emerged into the public eye when multiple Hartford Police Department (HPD) officers — many of whom worked under John Durham at the time and were responsible for building the case against Jorge — were imprisoned for incidents such as: manslaughter in the first degree, assault in the first degree, supplying guns to drug-dealers and informing them of upcoming raids, kidnapping, sales of narcotics, burglary, assault with a firearm, robbing drug-dealers at gunpoint, extortion, accepting bribes, and more.
Robert Lawler, one of the key officers involved in investigating Rivera, was caught with a large stash of drugs and drug-making equipment in his office in the late nineties, yet continued to work on Durham’s task force. He was later charged with manslaughter for an incident in which he shot two men in a car.
Recalling his own experiences with this officer, Rivera says, “I had a bench warrant for failure to appear, and him and another cop picked me up. I guess they heard some rumor that we were gonna kill a cop or something, so they took me to the gang task force office, cuffed one of my hands to the chair, and he cocked his gun and threw it on my chest while the other one stood and watched.
“‘You wanna kill a cop?’” Rivera recalls. “‘Go ahead. Kill a cop.’”
For 26 years, Jorge Rivera has sat in prison with little to do but wonder why a prominent federal prosecutor would oppose the prospect of examining evidence for corruption within his own task force or even amongst officers who built cases to which he was assigned. The fact that motions were submitted has left no doubt in Rivera’s mind that Durham was aware of allegations, yet uninterested in discovering the truth — that the officers investigating him were not only unapologetically corrupt, but out to get him by any means, Rivera alleges — illegal or otherwise.
“One time at about 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning, they picked me up outside the club and drove on this back road to the river’s entrance,” Rivera recalls. “They took me to the water and said, ‘We know this is where you throw the bodies. Why don’t we just throw you in here right now?’ They didn’t have any reason to be detaining me, so after that, they let me go.”
“I can tell you as a general proposition,” Durham himself — in a November 19, 2002 deposition concerning the conduct of one of his officers — stated, “the United States Attorney’s Office request federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies that their personal records be checked before they testify, so if there’s anything in an individual police officer’s or agent’s file which reflects on their veracity, that’s disclosed to the prosecutor because the prosecutor has an obligation to disclose that to the defense.”
When asked what he would like to see happen, Rivera says, “I would like to see my case reopened, as there may have been evidence collected that may fall under the ‘Fruit of the Poisoned Tree.’”
Rivera maintains the corruption later uncovered throughout the very system that incarcerated him necessarily tainted the government’s case against him.
“The Hartford Police Department worked with state and local law enforcement to gather intelligence, and given the multiple allegations against the HPD, there is no way of knowing if the evidence followed the chain of custody,” Rivera says. “They say justice is blind. I believe she is also deaf, for the pleas of the innocent often fall upon deaf ears. We live in a world where poor people are convicted and sentenced to life in prison for drug charges, yet the privileged can continue on with their lives with merely a slap on the wrist.”