In a surprise move, federal prosecutors on Tuesday abandoned their criminal case against a San Jose lawyer who had been charged with playing a role in tipping off the target of a major South Bay drug investigation.

The U.S. attorney's office dropped a January indictment against Michael Edward Hingle, who was accused of revealing the drug probe to a notorious Hells Angels officer later shot to death in an unrelated incident. Hingle is known for representing Hells Angels.

Federal prosecutors did not explain a reason for the decision, which was disclosed in a brief court filing.

But Hingle's lawyer told this newspaper that prosecutors dropped the case after being presented evidence showing there had been no wrongdoing.

"The government did the right thing," said Mary McNamara, Hingle's lawyer.

A federal grand jury indicted Hingle on charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for allegedly revealing a major drug investigation in October 2011 to Steve Tausan, a Hells Angels officer gunned down just days later at the funeral of slain Hells Angels leader Jeffrey "Jethro" Pettigrew.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Hingle broke the law by tipping off Tausan to alert a target in "Operation Garlic Press," an investigation that resulted in dozens of indictments, primarily against members of a violent, Gilroy-based gang linked to gun and methamphetamine trafficking.

But McNamara said Hingle merely revealed information that days before had been publicly filed in a separate criminal case he was defending in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

In that state case, a local deputy district attorney, in asking a judge for a delay, noted that the lead police investigator was about to take part in the Gilroy drug operation.

Federal prosecutors, according to McNamara, agreed that Hingle could not be charged with a crime for revealing information already made public by a state prosecutor.

McNamara added that the case illustrates the level of government scrutiny on anyone associated with the Hells Angels, "even a lawyer."

The two federal prosecutors handling the case could not be reached for comment.

Contact Howard Mintz at 408-286-0236.

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