Former U.S. Prosecutor Now a Defender

By HPATRICIO G. BALONA | Staff Writer
Posted April 09, 2007

DELAND -- The doorbell rang.

Rick Jancha jumped up and switched on the security cameras. Through the television monitors, he could see a man standing at the front door. He quickly ushered his wife to safety and called police.

"They asked me if I had a gun and I said 'Yes,' " recalled Jancha. "They said to put it down, and I said, 'No, I will not.'"

Authorities had earlier intercepted a telephone conversation from a Spring Hill drug kingpin in jail, Charles Montgomery aka "Fat Charles," who was planning to break out of jail, kill some U.S. marshals and come after Jancha, the DeLand-based federal prosecutor who put Montgomery behind bars. That plan was foiled, but there was talk a hit man was hired.

As viewers gawked at Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the Super Bowl in 2004, U.S. Marshals shut down Jancha's entire neighborhood and stopped a man near Jancha's home who said he had only come to ask for a job.

Now retired after 21 years with the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Middle District of Florida and settling into his new role as a defense attorney, Jancha likely won't be making any new enemies any time soon. But enough old enemies remain to keep him on guard.

As manager of the Orlando office of the Organized Crime and Federal Narcotics Task Force, Jancha was at the center of investigations that busted several drug organizations and jailed drug lords and kingpins in 35 counties in Florida, including Volusia.

Death threats emanated from the Outlaws motorcycle gang and from Juan Miguel Diaz and the Ridgeway brothers, also known as the "Fat Boys."

He prosecuted the Ridgeway brothers for drug trafficking and several homicides, including the murder of Angel Medina, who was found shot in the head in Lake County in 1994. Several homicides were linked to the drug gang.

But none came close to being as bad as Spring Hill's "Fat Charles" Montgomery.

"It became very personal when he threatened my family," Jancha said.

"Fat Charles" and his brother Michael terrorized the community of Spring Hill and for more than 20 years moved millions of dollars worth of drugs through DeLand. In July 2004, Michael Montgomery was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.

"The state had arrested (Charles Montgomery) like 40 times and when we got him, I told him, 'No deal; you are going away for life,' " Jancha recalled. He was sentenced in April 2004 to life in prison.

Jancha, 55, retired in January and joined the Orlando law firm of Mark NeJame, LaFay, Jancha, Barker and Tumarkin, P.A.

Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson credits Jancha for cleaning up Spring Hill, long known as a drive-through drug market.

"He put a world of people away. He is an awesome and very intelligent lawyer," Johnson said. "We are really going to miss him."

NeJame said his firm is building a federal division around Jancha's experience to handle federal cases involving fraud, drug and white-collar crimes.

Jancha says his retirement has allowed him to return to what he loved -- being a defense attorney before the federal government recruited him.

The Mason, Mich., native now will be an advocate for those traumatized by the legal system. And that desire stems from a haunting childhood memory. He remembers the fear and terror in his father's eyes as police apprehended him at a feed mill, dragged him to the police station and accused him of stealing money.

The store owner's son later confessed to stealing the cash.

Seeing his father so upset and scared prompted Jancha and his brother Paul to make a pact to become defense lawyers.

"This big powerful man, that was my father, was scared to death about the legal system. I promised myself I'll never let that happen to my Dad or family again," Jancha said. "Now, it's an honor when someone comes to you and puts their trust and their lives into your hands."