Ciro Mancuso, skiing star Julia Mancuso’s father, was in the marijuana industry before it was legit —a premature ganjapreneur. In the 1970s and ’80s, Ciro, a real-estate developer based in Squaw Valley, California, ran a big  smuggling operation. Big as in freighters full of Thai weed.  His top lieutenants were friends from his college skiing team. When Ciro was about to be taken down by the feds in 1989 he tried to implicate his lawyer, defense specialist Patrick Hallinan, as some kind of co-mastermind. Hallinan was tried and acquitted in 1995.  In 1996 Patrick’s brother Terence Hallinan, the district attorney of San Francisco, was the only law-enforcement official in California to support Proposition 215, the medical marijuana initiative that would ultimately make Ciro’s crimes  seem, in retrospect… not legal, of course, but sort of heroic.
In 2010, when Julia Mancuso was making headlines at the winter Olympics in Vancouver, journalist Kate Coleman observed that the media were “ignoring the back story of the tiara-wearing princess whose private bus and whole career was boosted by her doting father.” Coleman, who is Berkeley-based and always chooses interesting subjects, then recounted the story of  Ciro Mancuso’s unheroic second act. 

His legal troubles stemmed from a 1989 arrest which itself was the result of a federal task force investigation hearkening back to the 1970s.  The Reno, Nevada investigators had a hard on for the wealthy Squaw Valley developer, and they initially seized his beautiful homes in Squaw and Hawaii along with millions of dollars in Swiss and California banks, along with some of the cash buried on some of his other real estate holdings in northern California and Nevada.  He seemed destined to serve a long prison sentence.

But the federal prosecutors soon turned their sights on what they thought was an even juicier target to put away:  Ciro’s long time attorney and putative friend, Patrick “Butch” Hallinan. Hallinan was a colorful, prominent Bay Area attorney whose clients had included Bill Honig (the California state education czar) and others.  Moreover, he was the son of a legendary leftist attorney, Vincent, an accused Communist who ran for U.S President on the Progressive ticket in 1952.  All the Hallinans were known for their leftist activism, including his mother Vivian, who demonstrated against Pinochet in Chile while wearing eye-popping jewels and designer clothes.

Offering Ciro inducements in return for cooperating in nailing his former attorney, the drug importer put on a wire and sold out his attorney and named all his best ski buddies and partners. He even edited the long pages of indictments against Hallinan for the prosecution, helping with the charges. Moreover, Ciro, with prosecution’s blessing, headed down to Mexico to talk a “witness” and co-conspirator into heading north to testify.  So Ciro even acted as a federal agent, a point that eventually would be ripped apart by Hallinan’s defense.  Ciro’s various properties initially seized by the government were returned to him, along with his bank accounts and millions of cash dollars, without tax agents even looking into the case.

It took six years for L. Anthony “Tony” White, the chief prosecutor, to bring the case to trial against Hallinan. Many defense attorneys rallied to Hallinan’s cause, viewing the racketeering charges under the RICO act as open season on any criminal defense attorney.  Hallinan was respected and had done what any good attorney would do, they argued, such as advising co-conspirators to leave the country so they couldn’t testify against his clients, or hiring lawyers for them, acts which contributed to obstruction of justice charges. One ex federal prosecutor weighed in that if the government went after every attorney the way they did after Hallinan, “almost all defense attorneys would be put in jail.”

Even San Francisco’s then federal prosecutor Michael Yamaguchi intervened to stop what he regarded as a dangerous precedent for the U.S. Justice Department tantamount to declaring war on lawyers.  Hallinan’s wife Lauren said Yamaguchi confided in her that he had traveled back to Washington five times trying to get them to withdraw support for the Reno prosecutors.  But he failed.

Hallinan’s attorney was more than up to the job.  A bold-face-named lawyer who had successfully prosecuted Oliver North in the Iran-Contra case, John Keker ripped apart Tony White’s case on the stand.  In the end the blue-collar the jury took only 5 hours to acquit Hallinan.  But it was all costly:  Hallinan’s wife said it cost more than a million dollars.  “And,” she said by phone this week, “Butch had a huge law practice at the time that was hurt badly.  He earned no income during that year.”  She said his practice never fully recovered.

The tape recordings Ciro made didn’t prove that Butch had acted as consigliere for the huge cartel business, or anything criminal, and Hallinan walked. The jury foreman publicly opined afterwards that Ciro had all the credibility of “a used car salesman.”

The prosecution blamed Ciro for the failed case.  He was sentenced to nine years but served only four and was out in 1999, quickly putting together his charmed life again.  Not long after,  The Tahoe Quarterly called him an “aging preppie” and ex-felon who “exudes an easygoing air,” and the writer gushed on: “Aided by a high-alpine deep tan, he looks more like 38 than 58.  He loves architecture.”  And Ciro has glossed over what he has done, and especially has omitted the more unsightly mess he made as a rat fink for the Feds — at least in the eyes of most of Hallinan’s supporters and other defense attorneys:  “It’s easy for some to label me a terrible criminal.  I was a product of the sixties, and, to me, this wasn’t criminal stuff.  I didn’t find it morally wrong… We were a bunch of close friends, guys I skied with, who decided to smuggle marijuana.”  Of course, Ciro turned in his friends as well, and all 13 of them also trotted into the witness box against Hallinan.  And it wasn’t just a little pot; it was enormous amounts of the stuff, ship after ship, and millions of dollars.

But Ciro charmed with his looks and his insouciant air.  And so does his daughter, who is also a great skier.  She has overcome a lot about her father, including a few years of estrangement from him.  She has credited him as her biggest booster in her rise to being an Olympic champion in ’06. (Her parents divorced years ago and both have remarried to others.) Few would ever blame her for her father’s sins, including both Hallinan and his wife.  “I haven’t seen her since she was three,” Hallinan said last week, “and don’t hold anything against her.”  He claims he’s no longer bitter about Ciro (he sued Mancuso unsuccessfully immediately after his not guilty verdict); he blames the Feds more, although his wife is not that sanguine about it.

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