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4 Admit Guilt in Idaho Drug Case

A Lake Forest man will be sentenced in the stabbing. His two brothers and another man have been charged as accessories.

September 06, 2003|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

Four Orange County men, including three members of a well-known Lake Forest family, have pleaded guilty in a case involving the stabbing death of a northern Idaho man who had hired them in connection with a drug-smuggling operation.

Giovanni Mendiola, 32, pleaded guilty last week to second- degree murder while his two brothers -- Pierro 31, and Eddie, 33 -- and Tony Garcia, 31, pleaded guilty to being accessories to a separate felony, said Bill Douglas, the prosecutor in Kootenai County, Idaho, where the charges were filed.

The Mendiolas are brothers of University of Washington women's basketball players Giuliana and Gioconda Mendiola. The large but close-knit family is well-known for the athletic prowess of its youngsters as well as their aggressive behavior at basketball games and numerous run-ins with the law ranging from spousal abuse to possession of stolen property.

"Apparently they're a high-strung family," Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino told The Times earlier this year.

In the latest incident, the three brothers and Garcia were hired by Brendan Butler, a drug dealer based in Hayden Lake, Idaho, to intimidate -- even to the extent of eliminating -- Butler's competitors in a lucrative Canadian marijuana-smuggling operation.

Instead, authorities alleged, some members of the "muscle crew" argued over money with Butler, 20, who was stabbed last October and left near the Mokins Bay campground on the remote eastern side of Hayden Lake. His body was found there a month later.

"Something went wrong," Douglas said Friday. "There are no winners in this case. It's been a tragedy."

The Aug. 27 court actions, he said, were part of a plea bargain in which Giovanni Mendiola agreed to plead guilty to the murder charge provided that his brothers and Garcia were charged only as accessories for their roles in the attempted intimidation of Butler's competitors.

Under the agreement, Douglas said, Giovanni Mendiola faces a sentence of life imprisonment but could be eligible for parole in 12 1/2 years. His brothers and Garcia, he said, each face sentences of two years but could be sent to a prison boot camp in Idaho for 180 days before being placed on probation or serving the remainder of their sentences in prison.

Giovanni Mendiola is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 30, Douglas said; His brothers and Garcia facing sentencing Sept. 25.

Three others indicted separately in the case -- Justin Miller, 23, of Spokane, Wash.; Brian Weathersby, 24, of Lake Forest; and John Altamirano, 25, of Mission Viejo -- have also reached plea agreements and will be sentenced at a later date, Douglas said.

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