Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Mongols MC: Feds going after clubs colors at racketeering trial

Santa Ana, California. (October 31, 2018) BTN —The feds have called the Mongol Nation "the most violent and dangerous" biker gang in the country, and they're trying an unusual tactic to dismantle them: Stripping them of the trademarked patches that are prized by members and feared by rivals.

A racketeering trial is set to begin in Santa Ana, California, later this week — opening arguments begin Wednesday — in which prosecutors accuse Mongol Nation of operating as an organized criminal enterprise involved in murder, attempted murder, assault, drug-dealing and more.

The Feds are going after the Trademarked colors of the Mongols MC

And prosecutors want to force the organization to forfeit "any and all marks" that include the organization's logo — the word "Mongols" and a drawing of a Genghis Khan-styled rider on a motorcycle.

That caricature is serious business for the Mongols, court papers say.

Higher-ups in the estimated 600-person gang "will frequently bear patches that indicate that they are officers in the enterprise," and they earn those patches through violence and mayhem, prosecutors say.

"The Mongols Gang is a violent, drug trafficking organization that advocates and rewards its members and associates for committing violent crimes, including, and specifically, assaults and murders, on behalf of the gang and in order to promote what the gang terms 'respect,' prosecutors wrote in one court filing.

In another filing, they said the club's 'Mother Chapter' may award a specific Mongols member a 'skull and crossbones' or 'Respect Few Fear None' patch to those members who have committed murder or engaged acts of violence on behalf of the Mongols."

The Feds showing off motorcycles and colors they confiscated from the Mongols MC

The U.S. Attorney's Office for California's Central District has been trying to go after the patches for a decade. Then-U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien first announced the unusual legal bid after 79 members of the gang were indicted in 2008.

“If the court grants our request ... then if any law enforcement officer sees a Mongol wearing his patch, he will be authorized to stop that gang member and literally take the jacket right off his back," O'Brien said at the time, according to a McClatchy report.

But that bid and a later one got shot down in court. A federal appeals court gave prosecutors the green light to try again last year. Opening arguments are is set to begin for the expected eight week trial on Wednesday. Prosecutors say they expect to call 96 witnesses detailing the gang's criminal history.

Defense lawyers say the motorcycle group is simply a loose configuration of riders in the Southwest, not an organized criminal enterprise. They also maintain that the government doesn't have the right to seize the patches of members who haven't been involved in any criminal activity.

In court filings, the group's lawyers say they plan to call former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura as an expert witness on the group and its history. Ventura — also a former professional wrestler and actor — was a member of the the group in the 1970s. Defense lawyers also want to call journalist Lisa Ling, who interviewed the group for a CNN documentary in 2015, to testify about the "organization and structure of the club."

The government has objected to both Ventura and Ling being called as witnesses, saying neither is an expert.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Bandidos MC: Maximum security prison only option for former member

Moncton, N.B. (October 30, 2018) —A “charismatic” former member of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club serving a life sentence for a brutal Toronto-area murder has lost a bid to get out of the highest-security prison on the East Coast.

A New Brunswick judge has ruled that Randolph Brown — once connected to the Bandidos MV — will keep his new “maximum security” status and be housed at the Atlantic Institution near Renous, N.B.
Brown, 47, was handed a life sentence in 2008 with no parole eligibility until June 2016 after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

Confiscated vest with Bandidos MC colors 

He had spent much of his time at New Brunswick’s minimum-security Westmoreland Institution before being moved to the nearby medium-security Dorchester Penitentiary in 2017, and then to the Atlantic Institution in August 2018.

Brown, originally from Jackson’s Point, Ont., went to court to fight the reclassification.

Justice Denise LeBlanc of New Brunswick’s Court of Queens Bench described two sides of Brown in her ruling this month. Officials describe him as “charismatic and well-spoken,” with one saying she had always found him personable and easy to talk to. He was described as “a forthcoming and cognizant individual, someone who possessed the ability to succeed.”

But he was also an integral part of Dorchester’s “sub-culture activities, including intimidation, extortion, muscling, assault, trading in and possession and distribution of contraband/unauthorized items, possession of stolen property,” according to LeBlanc’s ruling.

Brown was seen on camera “collecting” items from other inmates, and head-butting another prisoner.

Corrections officials argued his transfer would alleviate “a major hold held over general population offenders and reducing the risk of creating either more associate participation or potential victims of the sub-culture hierarchy.”

The warden felt Brown had needs that required a highly structured environment, the judge said.

“In protecting the safety and security of the institution, I have no alternative but to approve the proposed involuntary transfer to higher security,” the warden said in a report.

In her ruling, LeBlanc said the warden’s decision was reasonable and justified, and she rejected Brown’s bid and ordered him to pay $750 in costs. Brown is one of four men who pleaded guilty in the 2005 death of Shawn Douse, a Keswick, Ont., drug dealer.

Another biker was upset that Douse had been selling cocaine to family members. Brown admitted he stuffed a T-shirt into Douse’s throat to kill him, after he was beaten unconscious.

Douse’s body was found in a Pickering, Ont., field on Dec. 8, 2005. He had been bound and gagged, with a bag over his head, and set on fire.

SOURCE: The Star

Monday, October 29, 2018

Man arrested over Hells Angels T-shirt wins hearing

Edmonton, Canada (October 29, 2018) BTN — A man arrested by security guards at West Edmonton Mall for refusing to remove a Hells Angels support T-shirt has won a hearing with the province’s law enforcement review board.

Paul Sussman claims Edmonton police officers who responded to his 2016 arrest did not take his complaint about the security guards’ conduct seriously, and that he was given the runaround when he later attempted to file a formal complaint.

The Alberta Law Enforcement Review Board (LERB) dismissed the police service’s attempt to have the complaint thrown out as frivolous and vexatious, and took the rare step of awarding Sussman $750 in costs before the matter goes to a full hearing.

Sussman was shopping with his teenage son at the mall on Aug. 28, 2016, when he was approached by mall security for wearing a Hells Angels “support T-shirt.”

Sussman was told to remove the shirt or leave because gang support paraphernalia is against mall policy. He was told if he did not leave he would be removed for trespassing.

Sussman refused because he believed the request was unlawful, the decision states. When security attempted to arrest him, he allegedly became “belligerent and aggressive” and resisted by linking arms with his son to avoid being handcuffed.

Security eventually took him to the ground, arrested him and took him to the mall security office. Two police officers arrived to deal with the case, though no charges were laid in the case.

The officers drove the man and his son to their car. During the ride, Sussman said he wanted to file an assault complaint against the guards but the officers “did not give him the form and did not take his complaint seriously” and told him instead to visit the west division police station.

Sussman went to the station the next day and told an officer at the front desk that he wanted to lay a complaint against mall security. According to the complaint, Sussman was wearing the same shirt and alleged the officer “refused” to help him.

“The appellant (Sussman) was of the opinion that it was because of his shirt,” the decision states. Instead, the west division officer told him to call the police complaint line. When he did, he was told to contact one of the officers who responded to the mall complaint.

Around a year later, Sussman filed formal complaints with city police, claiming the two mall officers and the west division officer failed to properly investigate his complaint. Police Chief Rod Knecht ordered investigations into the complaints but found there was no reasonable likelihood the officers would be convicted of misconduct.

The officer working at west division, however, was given a warning about “providing good customer service to citizens trying to report matters to the front counter.”

Sussman appealed the complaint to the LERB in April. Knecht and the police service sought to have it dismissed as “frivolous and vexatious” but the board disagreed.

The board also ordered each officer to pay Sussman $250, saying costs were warranted because their submissions failed to establish the complaint was made in bad faith and “attacked the appellant unnecessarily and on a personal level.”

The complaint will go to a hearing before the LERB, though no hearing dates have been set. The board hears appeals from both citizens and police officers outside of internal police complaints systems.

SOURCE: Edmonton Journal 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Pittsburgh Mayor defends drunken cops who started fight with Pagans MC members

Pittsburgh, PA (October 27, 2018) BTN — Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on Friday pushed back against Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala’s characterization of the city police investigation of a brawl between undercover officers and members of the Pagans motorcycle club.

Kopy's Bar in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania

Mr. Peduto called Mr. Zappala’s statement that he had problems with police management “disappointing” and “unfortunate,” and said he had not yet decided whether the undercover detectives used appropriate force when they fought with four Pagans in Kopy’s Bar on the South Side on Oct. 12.

Related |Pagans MC: Bar owner says cops would not leave MC members alone

Related |Pagans MC: District attorney waits on critical info from cops 

Related |Pagans MC: Attorneys say new video shows cops started bar fight  

Related |Pagans MC: The cops were drunk and started the fight

“What I saw is troubling, with the actions of escalation of force that didn’t seem to be warranted, but without full evidence of what actually happened, it’s very difficult to make that judgmental call,” Mr. Peduto said. “And a district attorney’s role is to investigate first, then comment; not comment and then do an investigation.”

Mr. Zappala said Thursday that Pittsburgh police initially turned over only a small part of the video evidence  in the case, and that his office did not receive the rest for more than a week. Mr. Peduto said Mr. Zappala received all the evidence he wanted within 48 hours of the request.

“I can understand why he would want information immediately, but some of that had to be obtained by our officers, such as the cameras, the video, and then compiled to be able to give that to him,” Mr. Peduto said. “I think 48 hours is a fair amount of time.”

But Mr. Zappala’s spokesman, Mike Manko, said Friday it took far longer than 48 hours. The DA’s office requested the evidence Oct. 18 and received it Wednesday -- a day after the office was forced to postpone a scheduled preliminary hearings for the Pagans. Additionally, Mr. Manko said, body camera footage was delivered late Thursday afternoon.

“These requests are memorialized in dated emails,” Mr. Manko said.

Mr. Peduto also said Kopy’s Bar was frequented by motorcycle gangs and that area is “suspected of being a major trafficking area of illegal drugs.”

Mr. Manko said police evidence does not support that characterization of the bar, and an attorney for the bar, George R. Farneth II, said Friday it’s simply not true.

“We categorically deny that allegation and would encourage the mayor to come forward with all the evidence he has to support such an allegation,” Mr. Farneth said. “Short of doing that, this is a veiled attempt to cover for a police department for his city that in a lot of respects is out of control, as evidenced by these police officers.”

Mr. Farneth said the bar has not been cited by the Liquor Control Board or has needed to call police for more than a decade. Mr. Farneth said Kopy’s Bar is not frequented by bikers.

“If you go on a regular day of the week, any day of the week, the chances of a biker being in the bar are slim to none,” he said. “It’s locals, everyday common folk.”

Six members of the Pagans motorcycle club were there Oct. 12., and four left in handcuffs. Frank Deluca, Erik Heitzenrater, Bruce Thomas and Michael Zokaites each face several felony charges as a result of the fight, which their attorneys contend was started by intoxicated undercover detectives.

Detectives Brian Burgunder, David Honick, Brian Martin and David Lincoln had been drinking in the bar from 7:33 p.m. until the fight about 12:40 p.m., surveillance video shows.

Police officers are prohibited from drinking alcohol while on duty, but Mayor Peduto said Friday there is an unwritten understanding that undercover officers can drink while on the job to maintain their covers.

“That being said...someone would be expected while doing undercover work to be able to consume while still being able to properly respond,” he said. “And not being in a situation where the intoxication level would jeopardize themselves or other officers. That’s what we’re looking at right now. There isn’t a policy in place, it’s a common sense call.”

Attorneys for the men arrested say each of the undercover detectives drank between 13 and 19 drinks, many on the rocks, before the fight broke out.

The mayor said he’s asked Pittsburgh police Chief Scott Schubert and Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich to create an alcohol policy for undercover officers by looking at how other cities handle the matter.

Mr. Farneth on Friday called on police to be more transparent and said they should release body camera footage from uniformed officers who responded to the fight to resolve any lingering questions about how the incident and subsequent investigation were handled.

The affidavit in the case, written by Detective Burgunder, was not finished and filed in City Court, Downtown, until 1 p.m. Oct. 12 -- nearly 12 hours after the fight. The document was approved by the District Attorney’s office about 11 a.m.

That timeline appears to violate Pittsburgh police policy, which typically requires officers to finish reports before the end of their shifts. Defendants cannot be arraigned or processed at the jail until the police affidavit is filed. Court records show the Pagans were arraigned about 6:40 p.m. Oct. 12.

Pittsburgh police spokesman Chris Togneri would not say Friday whether Detective Burgunder was granted permission to wait to file the paperwork. Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, said Friday the end-of-shift policy helps ensure that officers can accurately recall what happened.”

“I think it’s inappropriate that it was filed so late and I believe it’s also contrary to the policy expectation that the report be completed prior to the end of shift, and with the rare exception and with a supervisor's approval,” she said.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Pagans MC: Bar owner says cops would not leave MC members alone

Pittsburgh, PA (October 26, 2018) BTN — A notarized statement from Kopy’s bar owner who tended bar the night four Pagan motorcycle club members fought with several heavy drinking undercover cops appears to challenge how Pittsburgh police have described the fight.

The attorney for one of the Pagan's members charged in the fight contends the police officers were drunk and started the fight because the cops didn’t like how the motorcycle club members were dressed.

Related |Pagans MC: District attorney waits on critical info from cops 

Related |Pagans MC: Attorneys say new video shows cops started bar fight  

Related |Pagans MC: The cops were drunk and started the fight

“Our position is that my client was not engaged in any criminal activity, was not the subject of an investigation, but rather was the subject of drunk police officers who didn’t like the way they were dressed,” said Lee Rothman, the attorney for Frank Deluca, who faces charges of aggravated assault, conspiracy and riot along with three others of the Pagan motorcycle club.

Security footage from inside the bar also shows one undercover officer punching Deluca in the head at least a dozen times. The fight occurred about 12:30 a.m. on Oct. 12 at the South Side bar. Four Pagans fought with several undercover Pittsburgh police officers who were at the bar investigating a drug complaint, authorities have said.

Public Safety spokesman Chris Togneri said the department cannot comment on ongoing investigations, though investigators are reviewing all video footage. The incident is being reviewed by the Office of Municipal Investigations and the Citizens Police Review Board.

A court affidavit from Stephen Kopy indicates that the undercover officers came in about 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11 and identified themselves as construction workers. They ordered alcoholic drinks, Kopy wrote. The Pagans came in about 11:30 p.m. and sat at the opposite end of the bar.

“On several occasions, the undercover officers called me over and made statements indicating that they had an issue with the bikers at the other side of the bar,” Kopy wrote. “Each time I discouraged them from taking action.”

Twice before the fight, one of the officers spoke to the Pagans, but Kopy was not certain what was said, he wrote in the affidavit. Shortly before 12:30 a.m. Oct. 12, one officer identified himself as an undercover officer and told Kopy “he liked me and did not want to see anything happen to my bar,” according to the affidavit.

Kopy wrote that the officer said the bikers were dangerous. When he asked for clarification, the officer said the bikers were “staring and pointing at them,” according to the affidavit. He wrote that he did not see the bikers staring or pointing.

One officer asked Kopy what he and the bikers had spoken about, Kopy wrote, and wanted to know if he was associated with the Pagans.

“I was then asked by one of the undercover officers whether I was ‘siding’ with the bikers,” Kopy wrote in the affidavit. “I told them that I was not ‘siding’ with the bikers. I just did not agree with the undercover officers that the bikers were trying to cause trouble.”

Kopy wrote that as the bikers got up to leave, the officers stopped them and began talking to them. He said he called 911 when one of the officers and one of the Pagans began arguing. Uniformed officers arrived, and Kopy wrote that he was hit with pepper spray.

Video from the bar shows a conversation between the undercover police and Pagans beginning cordially. It shows Deluca shaking the hands of two of the officers. Rothman said the incident escalated with officers who “were highly intoxicated and agitated because members of a motorcycle club came in dressed a certain way.”

Rothman contends that the video shows the officers drinking for hours beforehand. He said he counted one who “had four Jack Daniels on the rocks – full glasses – within one hour and never stopped drinking.”

Deluca pushed one of the undercover officers, sparking an all-out brawl. Uniformed officers arrive on scene, called by the undercover officers because they’d been outted as cops, according to the criminal complaint filed against the Pagans.

Deluca, Michael Zokaites, Bruce Thomas and Erik Heitzenrater have been charged in connection to the fight. A preliminary hearing scheduled for Tuesday was continued until Nov. 6.

The footage shows one officer holding Deluca against the bar while an undercover detective punches him repeatedly in the face. Rothman said Deluca has damage to his orbital bone and elbow and, as a union electrician, is now unable to work.

Kopy’s affidavit also covered the aftermath of the brawl.

Some time later, two of the undercover officers returned to the bar with three or four uniformed officers, a lieutenant and a detective, he wrote.

Kopy wrote that the lieutenant asked if the bikers were regulars, to which he replied they were not. He said the lieutenant asked why he let them into the bar wearing their Pagan club jackets, and Kopy told them he had no reason not to let them in.

The lieutenant asked why Kopy did not have a dress code for his bar, and he responded that he never needed one.

“The lieutenant then stated that ‘this was my fault for letting them in with jackets,’” Kopy wrote. “I responded that the bikers did not cause the fight and the lieutenant then began screaming to me about the bikers being dangerous and referenced that they had gun and that someone could have been shot or killed.”

That would have led to the bar being shut down, Kopy said the lieutenant told him, and he would have to “live with a dead customer on my conscience,” according to the affidavit.

Later, two of the undercover officers asked Kopy if he’d outed them as cops to the bikers, according to the affidavit. Kopy told them he’d been unaware they were law enforcement until just before the fight.

One week later, a city detective came to remove the security camera hard drive and make a copy, Kopy wrote. Kopy had also provided copies to attorneys for the bikers and the Pittsburgh Police Citizens Review Board after they requested them.

The detective told Kopy that during the process the data was lost and the security system would not work.

“Upon stating that the data might be lost, I informed that the (review board) and the bikers’ defense attorney had copies to which (the detective) sounded surprised to hear such news,” Kopy wrote.

Kopy’s affidavit was signed Monday, Oct. 22, along with a notary.


Bride in White

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Pagans MC: District attorney waits on critical info from cops

Pittsburgh, PA (October 25, 2018) BTN — The Allegheny County District Attorney says he is waiting on critical information from Pittsburgh police about a bar fight involving undercover officers and members of the Pagan Motorcycle club. "That's why I got cameras up and down Carson Street because I don't want to go through this nonsense," said Stephen Zappala, Allegheny County district attorney.

 A lot of questions remain over what led to the fight inside Kopy's, and the role of the undercover police officers seen on the video. “I don't know what kind of games these guys are playing, but this is serious stuff," Zappala said. "That's one of the reasons I'm talking with the U.S. attorney.” Zappala says he just received more than a dozen disks of security footage from the night of the fight, nearly two weeks later. “I don't know that they're undercover," Zappala said. "I don't know why they're in the bar.

Related |Pagans MC: Attorneys say new video shows cops started bar fight  

Related |Pagans MC: The cops were drunk and started the fight

We haven't heard from a supervisor that they were on-duty. We haven't heard from a supervisor who the target was, if there was in fact a target.” Attorneys for the four Pagan suspects facing assault charges have criticized the officers conduct, saying they had 40 drinks between them before the fight.

Zappala said he's still waiting on critical information from police, including body camera video from the responding officers. “Controlling a situation or trying to hurt somebody are two totally different things," Zappala said. "This is the second time we've had somebody repeatedly struck in the head. I have a problem with that.”

The Pagan MC members involved in the bar fight are scheduled to be in court next month. Various news sources asked Pittsburgh police to respond to the district attorney's criticism over the handling of the investigation, but a spokesman declined to comment.


No Surrender MC: Founder gets six years in prison

Breda, Netherlands (October 25, 2018) BTN — The founder of the No Surrender motorcycle club has been jailed for six years for assault, extortion and making threats, as well as laundering €1.3 million. Klaas Otto left one of his victims with permanent injuries and threatened to cut off his children’s ears, the district court in Breda heard.

The 51-year-old told another victim that his wife would be raped by members of his club if he refused to pay up. ‘He used the threat of severe violence to force his victims to hand over large sums of money and cars,’ judges said in passing sentence. The court said there was an ‘atmosphere of menace’ surrounding Otto, who denied all charges against him.

Several alleged victims refused to testify because they feared reprisals, but the court found Otto guilty of threatening and mistreating two car dealers. The sentence was lower than the 10 years demanded by prosecutors, partly because the court decided other charges including arson and letting off a hand grenade had not been proven. Judges also took account of the fact that Otto had been the target in a shooting incident and had been detained in custody for 18 months on a charge of threatening a prosecutor, which the court decided was not supported by the evidence.

His incarceration was ‘too long and too severe,’ the court decided. The prosecution service said last December it would seek a nationwide ban on No Surrender similar to the one imposed on rival motorcycle clubs Saturadah and Bandidos.

SOURCE: Dutch News

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Pagans MC: Attorneys say new video shows cops started bar fight

Pittsburgh, PA (October 23, 2018) BTN — Four members of the Pagans Motorcycle Club were all charged after a brawl at Kopy’s Bar on the South Side earlier this month. They are Frank DeLuca, Eric Heitzenrater, Bruce Thomas and Michael Zokaites. New video was released by their attorneys on Tuesday.

Screenshot of the bar fight - Photo credit: KDKA

Before the brawl, you can see DeLuca reaching out to shake hands with undercover officers. “Our clients are minding their own business at the bar trying to ignore them.

Related |Pagans MC: The cops were drunk and started the fight

The officers are repeatedly going over, tapping them, touching them, trying to engage them,” said attorney Wendy Williams. The attorneys believe things escalated due to the amount of alcohol they say the undercover officers were drinking. “The main aggressor in this incident is seen drinking a fifth and a half of Jack Daniels in shots over the course of four to five hours,” said Williams. “One of the officers brandished a firearm.

He could barely stand. He was wobbly. Displayed a firearm to one of the defendants,” said attorney Martin Dietz. “After this melee occurred, all seen on video, my client was restrained by four, possibly six officers and punched in the face after hair being pulled back and neck being pinched over 23 times in face and head,” said attorney Lee Rothman.

 As for Thomas and Heitzenrater:

 “My review of video shows he took no aggressive stance, no aggressive actions and violently thrown to the ground unprovoked,” said attorney Thomas Will. “My client absolutely engaged in no aggressive behavior and he was what we call sucker-punched twice by an undercover detective,’ said Dietz.

 This case has been continued until Nov. 16.


Monday, October 22, 2018

Bacchus MC: Sentencing begins for club members

Nova Scotia, Canada (October 22, 2018) BTN — A justice of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court has reserved his sentencing decision in the case of three members of the Bacchus Motorcycle Club who have been convicted of extortion and intimidation.

In convicting Patrick Michael James, 51, Duane Jamie Howe, 49, and David John Pearce, 44, Justice Peter Rosinski also said that the Bacchus motorcycle club is a criminal organization, the first time that designation has been made in Nova Scotia.

The men were convicted in a trial this summer. The convictions stem from incidents in 2012 involving a man whose identity is protected by a publication ban.

The man tried to open a chapter of the Brotherhood Motorcycle Club in Nova Scotia. It is not an outlaw gang, but it uses vests and patches similar to those worn by outlaw riders.

Man ordered to disband club

When the Bacchus members saw social media posts of the Brotherhood club, they ordered the man to disband the club and destroy the patches. He was to provide proof by showing the shredded patches to Bacchus members.

Later, Pearce and Howe spotted the man at a Bikers Down event. They confronted and threatened him, prompting the man to sell his motorcycles and install a panic alarm in his home.

Sentencing arguments began Monday

In his sentencing submissions, Crown prosecutor Glen Scheuer argued that the criminal organization designation was one reason the sentences should be substantial. He recommended a five-to-six year sentence for James and four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half year sentences for Howe and Pearce.

Scheuer submitted photographs taken from Pearce's Facebook profile which show the man wearing T-shirts and sporting decals on his motorcycle that were supportive of motorcycle gangs.

Scheuer said the social media posts included the phrases "Police and government are very corrupt" and "All cops are bastards." 

Bacchus tattoo in police photos

Patrick MacEwen, Pearce's lawyer, said that wearing clothing that supports these groups is not a crime and the clothes are readily available for purchase by any member of the public.

MacEwen also said that Pearce is showing a Bacchus tattoo with the dates 2010 to 2012 in one of the photos introduced by police. MacEwen said any member who leaves the gang in good standing must put an end date on his tattoo and that's what his client did.

MacEwen and the other two defence lawyers also pointed out that all three men have avoided any further run-ins with the law in six years it has taken the case to make its way through the courts.

He recommended a sentence of six months for Pearce, who was the only one of the three to accept the judge's invitation to address the court.

"Ever since when this happened I do regret that it happened," Pearce said. The Crown had argued that all three men showed no remorse for their crimes.

Trevor McGuigan, the lawyer for James, recommended a two-year sentence for his client.

McGuigan said James has been taking care of his father and breeding rare dogs, while avoiding any further criminal activity. McGuigan said there was no physical violence in this crime.

Pat Atherton represents Howe. He said his client should be eligible for the shortest possible sentence.

Atherton said if it wasn't prohibited by case law, he'd be arguing that Howe get a sentence in the community. Instead, he suggested a one-year sentence would be sufficient.

He questioned a forfeiture order the Crown had requested, saying there was no proof some of the items seized from Howe's home were associated with any crime.

He mentioned a brass ring with a one per cent symbol on it. Gangs like Bacchus and the Hells Angels are known to use the one per cent symbol to identify themselves as the one per cent of motorcycle riders who are considered outlaws.

Rosinski will hand down his decision Nov. 7.


Friday, October 19, 2018

Finks MC: High ranking member pleads guilty to 1st ever order

Newcastle, NSW (October 19, 2018) BTN — Toast with beetroot and feta, a flat white, two months in jail and the state's first ever conviction for breaching a Serious Crime Prevention Order.

Former high-ranking Finks bikie Troy Vanderlight only ordered the first two when he sat down for a light lunch with the president of the Gladiators Port Stephens chapter at the Heritage Gardens cafe at Ashtonfield in August.

Police photograph Troy Vanderlight's Finks vest during raids earlier this year. 

But when Strike Force Raptor investigators got a tip-off, it turned out that the time in jail and the conviction for contravening the order, imposed by the NSW Supreme Court in April in an unprecedented attempt to put a stop to the Hunter's violent bikie “civil war”, were also on the menu.

Vanderlight was one of five Finks, as well as five Nomads, hit with the strict 12-month orders, which banned them from associating with any member of any bikie gang.

And ironically, Vanderlight was meeting with the Gladiator to discuss how he could attend a funeral without breaching the orders.

“He was breaching the orders to see how he could avoid breaching the orders,” Magistrate John Chicken said on Friday.

Vanderlight, 27, who police allege was the Newcastle president of the Finks outlaw motorcycle gang, and who twice had his house shot up during the tit-for-tat attacks earlier this year, had pleaded not guilty to contravening the serious crime prevention order and two other charges after his arrest outside the Ashtonfield cafe on August 17. He was due to face a hearing in Maitland Local Court on Friday, but pleaded guilty to contravening the order - the first of its kind in NSW - after prosecutor Benjamin Bickford agreed to withdraw the other two charges.

Mr Chicken said there was nothing to suggest the lunch meeting on August 17 was for a “nefarious purpose” and noted the conflict earlier this year had not involved the Gladiators.

Mr Chicken also said a discrepancy in the NSW Supreme Court orders meant he could not be satisfied that Vanderlight was the Newcastle president of the Finks. That fact reduced the objective seriousness of the offence and he ordered Vanderlight serve an 18-month community corrections order, the new equivalent of a good behaviour bond, that Mr Chicken said would test Vanderlight’s claims that he was no longer a member of the Finks.  

Vanderlight remains in jail, refused bail on charges of affray and participating in a criminal group relating to an alleged brawl with a member of the Newcastle Nomads in a car park of Charlestown Square in January this year.

And, despite serving his time for breaching the Serious Crime Prevention Order, Vanderlight might be destined to live under even more stringent conditions, with the matter listed again in the NSW Supreme Court next Thursday to vary the conditions against him. 

Ready Panhead

Harley-Davidson Panhead Chopper

Sleeping In

He needs a House Mouse to take care of things

Devils Henchmen MC: Celebrating 40 years of Brotherhood

Washdyke, New Zealand (October 19, 2018) BTN — Some might see them as unorthodox but the Devils Henchmen MC say they're maturing as the Timaru club revs up to celebrate 40 years. They will mark the milestone this long weekend and say there's plenty of life left in the club - despite an ageing membership.

The club has gained notoriety over the years - specifically in the early 90s - when gang tensions intensified in South Canterbury, capturing national attention. On the eve of their birthday, club members maintain there have been misconceptions over the years.

"Everyone is getting older and wiser; no one is getting any younger," club member Bryn Cox said.

The Devils Henchmen are celebrating 40 years over Labour Weekend. Bryn Cox stands at the gates 
of the club's Washdyke headquarters.

Founding members of the Devils Henchmen in 1978, from left, Smiley, Bird, Pogal and Woody

The Devils Henchmen MC during a ride in the 1970's.

Things have changed and he acknowledges periods of violence.

He said the club still can't get past the stigma of past problems.

Devils Henchmen MC member Bryn Cox stands at the gates of their Washdyke headquarters.

"We are not gang members, we are motorcycle club members." 

The celebrations kick off on Friday with a ride around South Canterbury on Saturday, and live entertainment in the evening.

The club is expecting 300 to 400 people from around the country for the weekend, he said.

Some agencies are "still portraying that we are dirty bikie scum and drug dealers", he said.

The club's Washdyke headquarters, photographed by John Bisset in 2004.
Cox has been a member for 19 years and started hanging around the club in 1981 - aged 19.

"It's my family.

"These are my brothers, their wives and children are my family too."

At 40, the club is maturing and more savvy, he says. "We are tax paying members of the Timaru public."

The club still has a healthy membership, he said.

While protesters took to the streets of Timaru to drive the destructive and highly addictive drug methamphetamine out of the district last month, the Devils Henchmen banned the drug "very early", he said. "We seen what it was doing to other clubs."

Founding member John (Woody) Woodhams says the motorcycle club scene has changed a lot in the past 40 years. "It's a lot more streamlined and polished now. We used to sleep on the sides of roads, now it's the motel or camping ground."

Woodhams, 68, said he is one of the lucky ones. "I don't drink, smoke or take drugs."

Woodhams was introduced to motorcycle clubs in 1970 when he met a member of the Antarctic Angels in Invercargill and rode to Timaru where there were about five motorcycle clubs.

"It's all about motorcycles at the end of the day.

"A motorcycle club is an organisation. In large the police would like to see all motorcycle clubs and street gangs gone; it's not going to happen."

Woodhams acknowledges the club's ageing membership. "Some of us are getting so old now we are drawing a pension. "We are getting long in the tooth but we are still quite fit.

"If you can survive all the trouble of when you are young then you develop more tolerance at the end of the day." Tolerance is a virtue, he said. "Instead of smacking someone in the head you tend to give them a warning.

"All we can do is try to present a good image but you are fighting a tide."  

Co-founding member Smiley said club membership is about trust and honesty. "The biggest one is respecting each other. "The whole scene has changed, we haven't changed as people. "We all stand for camaraderie and respect each other."

Sergeant Grant Lord, of Timaru, said police are aware of the anniversary celebrations and had attempted to contact the club. "We have attempted to contact the Devils Henchmen and they have not responded in relation to what their celebrations entail," Lord said.  

"It's not unusual for police to maintain contact with gangs or clubs when they have activities including celebrations and funerals. The Devils Henchmen have always had an event over Labour Weekend and we have always policed them." 

Story and Photographs by: Al Williams and John Bisset


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Hells Angels MC: Member turned snitch granted escorted prison outings

Quebec, Canada (October 17, 2018) BTN — Stéphane "Godasse" Gagné, a former high-ranking Hells Angel MC member sentenced to life behind bars in 1997 for killing a prison guard, has been granted escorted leave from prison. The Parole Board of Canada authorized Gagné's first outing at the end of a hearing that lasted just under two hours Wednesday morning.

Hells Angels MC members on a run

Gagné, 48, a former hitman whose testimony helped convict the longtime head of the Quebec Hells Angels, Maurice Boucher, in 2002, simply nodded when board commissioners told him his request for an escorted temporary absence was approved.

"Merci," he offered as he left the room, appearing to choke up.

'Ultimate assassin'
 Gagné pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in December 1997 for the killing of Diane Lavigne as she drove home from her shift at Montreal's Bordeaux jail.

He was also involved in the murder months later of another prison guard, Pierre Rondeau, and the attempted murder of a third guard, Robert Corriveau.

Gagné agreed to testify against Boucher, fingering him as the man who ordered the killings — testimony that was instrumental in putting the crime boss behind bars.

In exchange, prosecutors agreed to charge Gagné with a single count of first-degree murder, for Lavigne's death, and one of attempted murder.

Gagné was sentenced to life in prison and has now served about 21 years.

Julian Sher, an investigative journalist and the author of several books on organized crime and the Hells Angels, said in an interview with CBC News that Gagné was "the ultimate snitch, the ultimate traitor, but also the ultimate assassin."

Though not actually eligible for parole until 2023, Gagné​ applied for early parole and was granted a hearing in 2016. At that initial hearing, Gagné recognized the harm he did as a drug dealer and assassin, apologizing to the two daughters of the prison guard he killed.

But it wasn't enough to gain his release. Board members at that time challenged his motives, telling him he sounded self-centred.

Buddhist monk taught him to meditate

At Wednesday's hearing, the parole board heard how Gagné had gained self-awareness, recognizing past errors and acknowledging he is not immune to making others.

He told the board he had learned to meditate from a Buddhist monk while in prison.

"I don't use violence to solve my problems," he said, when asked about his risk factors. "I now know how to manage my emotions. Meditation helps me a lot."

Gagné's case management worker described how the convict had come to recognize his own errors and that he is not immune to making others.

The parole board heard that he takes part in group activities and AA meetings, quitting smoking even before tobacco was prohibited in prison, working out regularly and abstaining from alcohol and drugs.

Gagné has worked in the kitchen of the institution where he's being held since July, his case worker noted, calling him "a devoted worker" who is helpful and shows initiative — qualities that will one day help him find a job on the outside.

54 months in isolation
Gagné said he is well aware his safety and the safety of those around him is at risk, because he's known as an informant.

"When I'm in the gym and someone arrives after being transferred from another institution, I watch out for myself," he told the parole board commissioners.

Stéphane "Godasse" Gagné

He said of the 21 years he's served in prison, he's spent a total of 54 months in isolation, for his own safety.

"I've lived through all that and fought to stay alive," he said. "I'm done with criminality."

Pressed by Parole Board Commissioner Marie-Claude Frenette on how he could have taken the lives of innocent people, Gagné said he'd done it because he needed recognition.

"What I did makes no damned sense and was disgusting," he said. "I still need recognition, but I seek it out in positive activities rather than negative ones."

He said he used to be cold and detached from his emotions, not thinking of the future.

"Now I'm patient," he said. "That wall that caused me to be so cold is falling away," although he said the years in solitary confinement had left him scarred.

His lawyer, Sandra Brouillette, said her client had become more transparent in the two years since his first application for early parole was refused.

Brouillette said Gagné recognizes that as an informant, he presents a risk to people around him, and he's aware of what will happen if he does not do as he's told by the escorts during his outing.

As for whether his own life is still in danger — and how his safety will be protected, should he be granted parole — journalists present at the hearing were asked to leave the room when that aspect of Gagné's case was discussed with the inmate, his case workers and his lawyer.

Hells Angels MC: Member pleads guilty, sentenced to 4 ½ years

Fredericton, Canada (October 17, 2018) BTN — A Fredericton man and woman associated with the Hells Angels will be incarcerated for various drug and weapons charges.

Robin Moulton, 49, a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, was sentenced in Woodstock Court of Queen's Bench on Wednesday to four and half years for possession of cocaine with the intention of trafficking and possessing a drug press intended for trafficking purposes.

Marie Antonette Bugay, 41, described by the court as an associate of the Angels, was sentenced to 30 months in jail for possession of a loaded firearm without a license, possession of property obtained by crime and possession of cocaine.

Both plead guilty and, as a result, the Crown withdrew 10 additional charges, including illegal weapons possession and illegal weapons storage. At the time of the charges, the pair were in a romantic relationship and Bugay was associated with Moulton's company that sold clothing representing the Angels.

Both were sentenced together as part of a joint indictment stemming from their arrest on Aug. 22, 2017. They were apprehended by police as part of an ongoing joint-force investigation into motorcycle club activities in New Brunswick. Moulton, described by the court as a full-patch Hells Angels member for 12 years, sat next to Bugay during Wednesday's sentencing.

Moulton, wearing a black long-sleeve shirt with a grey goatee and his grey hair in a ponytail, kept his gaze lowered for most of the proceeding, occasionally sharing glances with Bugay, who wore a black shirt with a grey vest and black thick-rimmed glasses.

The investigation
During the delivery of the facts by Justice Richard G. Petrie, the court heard that Moulton had been under police surveillance as a part of Operation J-Trident. Police witnessed Moulton using three storage lockers in Fredericton and one in the Woodstock area. On May 11, 2017, Moulton was observed by police to be moving a large hydraulic shop press from a storage locker in Fredericton to a storage locker in Woodstock.

Robin Moulton being led away in handcuffs 

Police determined that to be significant as it is often used as a tool to compress cocaine. After obtaining a general warrant, police covertly entered the Woodstock storage locker and found trace amounts of cocaine on metal blocks and the hydraulic press.

A second warrant allowed officers to covertly place a motion-activated camera inside the locker, and another warrant led police to find a 9-millimetre Berretta pistol stuffed inside a mitten. Police disabled the weapon before returning it. When the handgun was later analyzed, Bugay's DNA was found on the trigger.

The camera installed in the storage locker captured images of Moulton using the hydraulic press to compress a white powdered substance into bricks, which were then put into clear bags and placed into a duffel bag before leaving.

Police then followed Moulton, pulled over his rental car and, upon searching the vehicle, found 272.4 grams of cocaine at about 35 per cent purity valued at between $12,000 and $24,000. Moulton was arrested, leading to search warrants at his residence, Bugay's residence and the additional search lockers in Fredericton. Police found 28.9 grams of cocaine valued at between $1,400 and $4,000 at Bugay's home. She was later arrested while in her vehicle, where a duffel bag stuffed with $77,000 in cash was discovered. It was determined this to be the proceeds of crime.

In addition to prison time, both Bugay and Moulton are ordered to provide a sample of DNA for a databank. Bugay will be required to forfeit the $77,000 seized by police, is prohibited from owning a firearm for 10 years and was fined $600 in victim surcharges, while Moulton is banned for life from owning a firearm and was fined $400 in victim surcharges. Bugay had no prior charges before her arrest. The court mentioned that Moulton also had a prior drug possession charge from about 10 years ago.

Previous incarceration
Although not mentioned as a part of Wednesday's court proceedings, Moulton was previously sentenced to five years and four months in federal prison for trafficking cocaine and for possessing a prohibited or restricted weapon with ammunition.

His sentence began on July 30, 2008, but he was released on February 17, 2012, with special conditions.

Moulton was not to associate with anyone known or believed to be involved in criminal activity or associate with club members, including the Angels. He was also ordered to provide his parole officer with financial records as well as to reside at a specific place.

Hells Angels Club Run

Members of the Hells Angels MC rolling down the freeway

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Snitch Files: An ATF agent has a story to tell

Los Angeles, California (October 16, 2018) BTN — The following is an account of an ATF agent and his skewed view of motorcycle clubs. What is not amusing is him betraying the trust of the clubs he prospected and joined. His story is presented here, unadulterated and in his own self glorifying words.  

How I Infiltrated One of L.A.’s Most Vicious Motorcycle Gangs—and Lived to Talk About It

ATF agent Darrin Kozlowski went deep undercover to take down the Hollywood chapter of the Vagos
By Mike Kessler and Darrin Kozlowski

On and off for almost 20 years, I investigated and infiltrated outlaw motorcycle gangs as an agent for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. I wasn’t the only agent to go deep undercover, and I don’t claim to be the best. But the work I did took a lot of bad guys off the streets. I infiltrated the Warlocks in West Virginia in a case that took me up and down the East Coast—Florida, South Carolina, Brooklyn, the Bronx—and resulted in 57 federal arrests (including four Hells Angels) and 49 search warrants executed in six states that turned up 175 firearms (including two sawed-of shotguns and one machine gun), one silencer, one pipe bomb, and body armor.

Here in L.A., I infiltrated the Mongols for three years on what was ATF’s most successful undercover case to date and remains the largest single enforcement operation we’ve done. We prosecuted more than 100 members of the Mongols on weapons and drug charges; 79 of those members were hit with RICO charges, too.

Through all these cases, I came to learn what it’s like to be inside the heads of the guys who ride with outlaw motorcycle gangs—their mentality, their conversations, how they perceive the public and their enemies, and their lack of regard for law enforcement and for innocent lives when there’s a confrontation. Like in Laughlin, Nevada, in 2002, when the Mongols and Hells Angels opened fire on each other in a casino, or the 2015 Twin Peaks restaurant shoot-out between the Bandidos and Cossacks in Waco, Texas.

Even though I’m retired, there’s a lot I still can’t say—partly for my own safety and partly because it would be potentially dangerous for other agents. But there’s one case I can talk about: my infiltration of the Vagos in L.A. back in 1997. It was my first long-term undercover case—in Los Angeles or anywhere—and it nearly got me killed.

The Vagos were as bad as outlaw motorcycle gangs got—right up there with other “one-percenter” gangs like the Hells Angels and the Mongols. If you look closely at the patches on their jackets, you’ll see a diamond with “1%” in the middle. That’s their way of saying they don’t live like the rest of us. Some of these guys had rap sheets as long as a traffic jam on the 101. We’re talking about drug running, illegal weapons sales, and any other moneymaking schemes. Of course, they never refer to themselves as “gangs,” and they might have some regular guys as members. Some even hand out toys at Christmas. But that’s to enhance their public image. That diamond is there for a reason. The Vagos had hundreds of members and dozens of chapters, stretching across the country and into Mexico. And they were growing fast. That’s the outlaw motorcycle gang way: Recruit, grow, and take over more territory by any means necessary. These are the same dudes who’d one day kill a Hells Angel in public up in Reno, and then murder someone else in public in Bakersfield. We wanted to go deep and pull them out by the root.

I don’t know what surprised me more, that Junior had been killed or that his girlfriend knew who I was. I’d never met the woman—didn’t even know her name, and, to my knowledge, she didn’t have mine. I’d been cultivating her boyfriend as an informant when he got run down by a car on Sunset. He was riding a Harley I’d arranged for him to use, and the car hit him so hard it lopped off one of his feet. Died on the spot.

This was in early ’97, a few months after I’d transferred to L.A. from ATF’s Milwaukee office. I was an ambitious 31-year-old agent with a wife, a kid, and another on the way. Back in Wisconsin, I’d taken an interest in working outlaw biker gangs, so I learned to ride on a friend’s Honda, then managed to get a Harley that ATF had seized, a Fat Boy with straight handlebars, no windshield, no saddlebags. I rode to biker bars and events. I let my hair grow, dressed the part, tried to understand the scene. I’m originally from Chicago’s South Side—a tough, working-class part of the city. I knew how to be around bad guys because I grew up with a lot of them. I’m not sure if I blended in because I was fairly quiet and soft-spoken, or if I got that way in order to blend in.

After four years in Milwaukee I was reassigned to California and brought the bike, Wisconsin plates and all. My goal, the one I proposed to my new bosses, was to investigate and infiltrate the one-percenters of Greater L.A. After arriving, I got in touch with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. They’d been keeping tabs on these guys. My contact there told me about a potential confidential informant—a CI—named Junior. He said Junior’d tried to join the Hells Angels but had been “run down the road” for some reason. I got Junior a bike and gave him some cash. We started in Hollywood, where he had a connection with the local Vagos chapter.

The name is Spanish slang for someone who does nothing all day—a vagrant or vagabond. They formed in the 1960s in the Inland Empire, and while they do have a Hispanic presence—the Venice chapter back in the day was pretty much entirely Hispanic—they’re mostly white; no blacks. The horned creature on their patch is Loki, a god of mischief in Norse mythology.

But you don’t get to wear that logo as a “full-patch” member without putting in a lot of time. Unless you have enough street cred or contacts to get “windowed in,” the first step is to hang around until they give you permission to refer to yourself as, well, a “hang-around.” Make it through that phase, and you become a “prospect.” Then they give you the “rocker”—the bottom part of the patch that goes on the back of a vest—which means they’re gonna really test you to get the full patch. Junior wasn’t an official hang-around, but I was playing the long game: I wanted him to get his patch, and he’d be able to vouch for me so I could try to get my patch, too.

Junior had some contact with a guy in the Vagos’ Hollywood chapter named Chuck [names have been changed], a short, beer-bellied dude with black-framed glasses. He wore a painter’s cap with the brim flipped up, had ink from neck to toes, and ran a tattoo shop in West Hollywood. Junior started hanging around there, and he was a good CI—showed up on time, took license plate numbers, eavesdropped, reported back to me. In fact I’d seen him a few hours before the accident, at a bar on the Strip where he gave me some information and I gave him some cash.

I was sitting in my office downtown the day after Junior died when his girlfriend called. I offered my condolences and hung up, wondering if I was screwed. “Junior must have talked about me,” I thought. Did his girlfriend know any of the Vagos he’d been hanging around with? Did he tell her he was working with ATF? If the same thing happened today, I’d call of the operation. But I was young, and ATF hadn’t done many of these biker gang infiltrations; there wasn’t a lot of official protocol. So I decided I’d pay Chuck a visit.

I parked my bike outside the tattoo shop. I knew what Chuck looked like from the sherif’s department’s binders, but I had to fake it and ask for him inside. I introduced myself as Koz, which is my real nickname—short for Kozlowski—but I figured if anyone asked, I could say that it was short for “Kamikaze” because of how I rode my Harley or some bullshit like that. I wanted a name that I responded to instinctively.

I told Chuck I was a buddy of Junior’s, that I knew he’d been hanging around the Hollywood Vagos, and that I had some bad news. Chuck knew about the crash on the Strip but not that Junior was involved. We talked for a while, and he told me to come back in a few hours. When I showed up again, Chuck got on his bike and had me follow him east to their clubhouse—basically a two-level cinder-block warehouse at Hollywood and Kenmore—where I rode in and somebody locked the chain-link gate behind me. There were about ten guys, their bikes all lined up. Chuck introduced me. “Wait here,” he said and went in the building with the other guys.

An hour or so later, someone came out and called for me. “Get in here.” As I walked inside, this heavily fortified metal door slammed behind me, and they patted me down for a wire. Now I’m scared shitless, locked in a windowless building with a bunch of outlaw biker dudes who were very likely convicted felons. I had no cover team, and I didn’t have much in the way of what we call a “backstop”—a story about who I am or what I do for a living, though I was at least carrying a driver’s license and Social Security card under my alias.

They patted me down and found my service weapon in my boot, a SIG Sauer semiautomatic. Back then, the LAPD carried Berettas, so I wasn’t too concerned that they’d suspect me of being undercover. Even though their guns were on a table, they let me keep mine. Next thing I knew, I was being interrogated. Four Vagos kind of stood out. There were Tiny Dan and L.A. Lenny, who happened to be badge-carrying L.A. County juvenile probation officers. There was Lars, the chapter president, who was super fit from training as a boxer and whose wardrobe consisted of jeans and a white T-shirt. And then there was Big Rick, a large guy in his late thirties or early forties with a long ponytail, a Fu Manchu mustache, and a “nobody fucks with me” air of authority. He held the title of international sergeant at arms. Outlaw biker gangs are organized like the mafia or the military, which makes sense, since the gangs were started by ex-military guys after World War II.

I was shaking so hard I couldn’t even work the kickstand on my bike. I just dropped it.

So there I was, in what’s essentially a bunker, and I knew I was shaking. I was pretty sure they knew it, too. Big Rick did most of the talking.

“How did you know Junior?”

“Why are you carrying a gun?”

“Why do you have Wisconsin tags on your bike?”

This went on for at least 30 minutes, and I had to wing it. Big Rick took notes the whole time, and I was trying to keep my story straight, thinking, “What kind of outlaw takes notes!?”

At one point, Big Rick said to me, “We have reason to believe that Junior was working with ATF.”

It felt like my head went completely sideways. He didn’t say “LAPD” or “the cops” or “the feds.” He said “ATF.” I have no idea what came out of my mouth next, except that it was pure bullshit. I wasn’t thinking about my wife or my kid or my kid on the way. I was focused on not getting a bullet in the head.

Whatever I said satisfied them. When we got back outside the building, they told me they were going to a bar and that I should follow. They got on their bikes and turned east on Hollywood. I turned west, gunning it to the 101 and the 170 into North Hollywood, where two ATF agents waited for me in a parking lot. I was shaking so hard I couldn’t even work the kickstand on my bike. I just dropped it.

Maybe the Vagos knew someone in the LAPD who pulled the VIN off Junior’s bike and linked it to ATF. In any case, I figured it was a lost cause. But a week later my pager went off. It was Big Rick. I had more bravado on the phone: “You’re probably calling to tell me you checked into my story and learned it’s all bullshit. And guess what? You’re right. You guys had some hair up your ass about who I am, talkin’ about cops and ATF and a bunch of other nonsense. I don’t know any of you, and I had no reason to trust any of you, so I fed you some bullshit and got the hell out of there. I didn’t know where you were going or if you were gonna take a pipe to my head or what. And you know you’d have done the same damn thing.”

Rick didn’t seem fazed. “Hey man,” he said, “I’m just calling because we’re having a function this weekend at the clubhouse. We want you to come back. But leave your gun at home.”

This meant one of two things: Either they were gonna let me become a hang-around or they were gonna kill me.

The Hollywood chapter, which had about ten members who lived all over L.A., threw a regular party called Green Hell. (Sometimes the Vagos refer to themselves as Green Nation.) Plus Loki has sort of a Satanic vibe, what with his horns and all. They also flaunt the number 22, since “V” is the 22nd letter in the alphabet.

Green Hell went from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. at the clubhouse. It was a moneymaker. The guys would go to bars and strip clubs, recruit guests, and offer late-night work to the strippers. There was a cover charge and a cash bar, a pool table, a couple of stripper poles. It drew a big crowd. Hollywood people always showed up. The band Matchbox 20 came one night. The Guns N’ Roses drummer, too. Even a few movie stars came. People liked the underground feel. I don’t think most realized that it was a Vagos party or that if things jumped off, there could be serious violence.

My job was to stock the bar, watch the gate, work the door. At one Green Hell, a guy from the Armenian Power gang was making trouble, and when we tried to throw him out, he put up a fight. I knew I had to put hands on him to avoid blowing my cover. A few of us escorted him to the street and threw him into a parked car, which caused his head to smash the side-view mirror. A few days later, during church—what outlaw motorcycle gangs call weekly chapter meetings—a bunch of Armenian guys came to the clubhouse when I was watching the gate. One of them said, “I wanna talk to Lars.” Lars came out, they walked down the block, and within a few minutes they’d brokered a peace deal. Everything was cool. A few months later, in the parking lot of a nearby restaurant where they all hung out, the Armenian guys showed me a trunk full of machine guns.

On another church night, I was outside by the gate when I looked up and saw a car rolling by. Then a hand with a gun emerged from the sunroof. Blap-blap-blap-blap-blap! I heard the zing of a bullet as it went past my ears. We never figured out who it was.

By that point it was late spring, and I’d gotten more backstops in order: a place to live, some address history. My Harley had California plates, and I had a truck registered to my undercover name. I’d rented a little apartment in a North Hollywood fourplex near Victory and Lankershim with its own garage. I’d park my ATF vehicle, a small GMC truck, a few blocks away and walk to my undercover place and slip in through the alley. Sometimes Vagos would come by to hang out or see what I was up to. I had an ATF cover team in place about 50, maybe 60 percent of the time, doing drive-bys, but a cover team can’t really save you in this type of role; it just keeps an eye out from time to time and cleans up if things go bad.

My best friend from the academy, Frank D’Alesio, was doing the same sort of infiltrating with the Vagos in Las Vegas at the time. It was a coincidence, but we used it to our advantage. Being an Italian American from a Rust Belt city with a mafia presence, Frank portrayed himself as a connected guy with side hustles across the country. He told them that he had a business associate from back East named Koz who was hanging around with Vagos in Hollywood, and I told the Hollywood Vagos about Frank. The Vagos have a rule that’s basically “if it doesn’t have to do with the club, it’s no one else’s business.” Frank and I figured if we followed the rules, maybe they’d respect us enough to do business together.

We would talk at night to keep our stories straight. Pretty soon Frank and one of his informants were making runs to L.A. We’d see each other at Vagos functions, go on errands together—taking packages from Point A to Point B, that kind of thing. We knew better than to ask what was in the packages; it was way too soon for that.

The head of the entire Vagos organization was a scraggly-haired, bald-domed guy called Whitey who was in his fifties and wore a cowboy hat and Fu Manchu. He looked like the comedian Gallagher, or a clown, which is funny because he’d brag that he was the first person to play Ronald McDonald in a commercial. He lived in the San Gabriel Valley. I remember one time he made me and Frank try to sell a bunch of videos of him riding around on a motorcycle. Anything to make money for the gang. We took the tapes to ATF, got some cash, and brought it back to Whitey.

By month three of my hang-around phase, I’d seen plenty—felons in possession of firearms, guys using or selling drugs, the two probation officers associating with known felons involved in a criminal enterprise. I watched and listened and filled out reports as I got to know some of the Vagos. Big Rick would have me to his house in Covina, where he had a lot of weapons. We’d go drink beer and play darts. He was kind of my sponsor, my main point of contact, not unlike Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco. (My original contact—Chuck from the tattoo shop—wound up moving away.) I liked Rick, and I have to admit it felt good to have his confidence in me. People ask if I ever felt conflicted about tricking these guys. Sometimes I did, but you have to reel yourself in and remember they’re part of a criminal organization.

One weekend in the summer of ’97, about four months after becoming a hang-around, I was with a bunch of them headed to Las Vegas for a big officers’ meeting, which happens maybe once a year. They ride in tight formation, wheel to wheel and basically shoulder to shoulder—ranking members up front, rank-and-file in the middle, followed by prospects, and finally the hang-arounds in the back, choking on exhaust and dust. And they ride fast. When you see a pack of them on the highway, there’s a good chance they’re going to a meeting, unless they’re out to show their presence and mark territory. Or they could be on a “run” to a fund-raiser where they’ll take over a park or campground, hand out fliers, charge a cover, sell food and beer—it’s basically a bake sale for bad guys.

On that weekend in Vegas, the Vagos rented out a VFW hall. Whitey, Lars, Chuck, and Big Rick were there. So was Frank, since he was local. We knew we were close to becoming prospects because they’d made us fill out applications. That’s another weird thing: Outlaw biker gangs make the path to membership pretty damn official. They do background checks. You give them a Social Security number, driver’s license—all sorts of stuff, including a fee, which goes toward a private investigator. By chance, I met the PI vetting me. He was hanging around with some Vagos, and when I introduced myself, he was like, “Yeah, man—I know who you are.”

At the VFW hall, Frank and I weren’t allowed to hear the others talk business. We sat in another room, waiting to be called in. I believe I went first. As I walked in, I was facing all the high-ranking officers. They asked, “Are you willing to kill for the club?” They more or less played head games with me to see what I’d say and to test my commitment. But after a few minutes, they eased up and gave me my bottom rocker—the part of the patch that says “SoCal” on it.

It was official: I was a prospect. When they were done with me, they called for Frank and did the same routine on him. Even though you can wear what you want, outlaw motorcycle gang members always wear a denim or leather vest. It’s basically the uniform. The Vagos told me and Frank we had 30 minutes to get the rockers on our vests, so we found an upholstery shop nearby and had our bottom rockers sewn on. Later, when I was with the Warlocks, I was ordered to carry a sewing kit. I think one-percenters are the only outlaws on the planet who keep a needle and thread handy.

Being undercover is a terrible way to live. You actually have three lives: your undercover persona, your family persona, and the persona as a law enforcement officer, doing the paperwork and acting like a respectable civil servant. Even though I knew management had my back, dealing with them was the hardest part. They wanted results faster than I could deliver, and they didn’t understand—not in any real way—that every time I was with the Vagos I could have wound up dead. And at the same time I was wondering if I was gonna get whacked, I had to take mental notes about everything I was seeing and hearing—the guns, where I was told to take a package, who’s in possession of what illegal substances. The only reason it didn’t drive me insane was because I was too busy trying to juggle it all, to keep it straight and survive.

Once you’re a prospect, they own you, especially if you don’t have a straight job. I wished I’d made a real job part of my backstory. They thought my hustle with Frank was the extent of it, so they figured I had loads of free time when, really, I had a family at home. They called me a lot. It could be anything from “Hey, prospect, cut my grass” or “Hey, prospect, take this package over to Big Rick’s place” to just hanging out. Saying no wasn’t an option.

I was missing doctors’ appointments for the kids, coming home too tired to do dad duties, and making my wife deal with the whims of my undercover work. I knew it was tough for her. Later, when I traveled back East to infiltrate the Warlocks, I’d be gone for months at a time, which put a huge strain on my family life. My long shaggy hair, goatee, grubby clothes, and steel-toed boots didn’t help, especially in the suburbs, where I lived during those cases. I can’t tell you how many times I showed up at my kids’ school functions only to see parents and teachers shy away from me. If I wanted to lie low, I’d dress a bit nicer, but I was hardly clean-cut. When I infiltrated the Mongols in L.A., I got fully sleeved out with tattoos, so blending in as a civilian got even harder.

Some Vagos, mostly guys from the San Fernando Valley and San Gabriel Valley chapters, used to hang out at a bar near Sunland and Foothill boulevards in the Tujunga area. The owners supposedly didn’t like them wearing their patches in the place and gave them a hard time. So that juvenile probation officer, Tiny Dan—he was obese, with close-cropped hair and a dark goatee— decided, “Let’s go to this bar and document how they’re harassing us and discriminating against us.” The idea was to file a lawsuit and make some money. About a dozen of us rolled to this bar after meeting up and establishing the ground rules. One rule was “No weapons of any kind.” The thing is, since becoming a prospect I’d begun secretly carrying my gun again. My thinking was “If shit breaks bad and I’m supposed to help these guys or defend myself, I don’t want to be caught flat-footed.”

We walked into the bar, and the Vagos had a chip on their shoulder from the jump, looking to stir shit up, talking with the bartender about wearing their colors. Somebody must have made a call or tripped an alarm because LAPD showed up within minutes—multiple cars, lights flashing. They brought us outside one by one, lined us up in front of the bar, and started patting us down. One of them found my gun tucked in my waistband and called out, “Gun!”

As I was being cuffed I looked down the line and the Vagos looked at me like, “What the fuck, Koz!? We said, ‘No guns.’ ”

I was the only guy who got arrested, and I had to make it look legit. A neighbor of mine happened to be a ranking LAPD officer based in the Foothill station. He knew I was ATF, but he didn’t know I was undercover until I told him everything in my cell. Even though I had an alias, a fingerprint check would have turned up my real identity because it’s cross-referenced with an FBI database. Tiny Dan also knew a girl at the front desk, which I learned only later; if she’d gotten my real identity, she could’ve spilled the beans. But Dan came and bailed me out the next morning. The whole night, my wife was at home, wondering why she hadn’t heard from me. When I finally saw her, she said, “I see that you’re not dead. So if you weren’t in jail, you’ve got some explaining to do.”

Before I went to court, my ATF colleagues met with the judge, and he agreed to go along with it to make things look by the numbers. In court, he sentenced me to two years of probation and time served at the Foothill station for carrying a concealed weapon. The whole episode actually gave me more street cred, but I hadn’t forgotten about Junior’s girlfriend or the grilling I’d gotten a few months earlier.

By the fall of 1997, about seven months into the case, Frank and I had already been getting hints that we were going to get our full patches when all the Vagos met up at the next national run. This was good news. The bad news? Rumor was that it’d be in Mexico. Working on foreign soil as a federal agent is a bureaucratic nightmare. ATF would have had to notify the Mexican authorities, who could be corrupt or incompetent or simply unwilling to let us work there. And even if we thought we could pull it of, we still had to run it through the proper channels in D.C. We asked, “Hey, can guys in an undercover role dip in and out of Mexico?” The answer wasn’t only no, it was “Hell no!”

The easiest thing would have been to go regardless, hope nothing happened, and come back without telling anyone. But if we got caught, our careers would be over. Frank and I decided our only option was to come up with an excuse not to go. At the time, ATF was part of the U.S. Treasury Department, which had its own federal criminal database. We managed to get something put into the system that red-flagged our aliases for suspicion of trafficking marijuana from Mexico into the U.S. near Brownsville, Texas. That way we could tell the Vagos, “Hey, we got red-flagged a while back and can’t cross the border.” And if they had a source with access to the system, it’d look true.

Fortunately, at the eleventh hour, the national run wound up being slated not in Mexico but in Fontana, near San Bernardino. That happens to be where the first biker gang, the Hells Angels, was founded; in nearby Redlands, a gang called Psychos got started before some of its members split off and formed the Vagos. For whatever reason, Frank, his CI, and the other Vegas guys didn’t go to Fontana, but a hundred Vagos from other chapters made the run to this large property with a long dirt driveway. I worked security in front, bored as hell, watching my cover team drive by now and then. Finally someone from the gathering yelled, “Prospect, get back here. And bring your bike.”

I got on my Harley, and as I rode down the driveway the gate closed behind me; up ahead, they all stood in a horseshoe formation, blocking me. Someone yelled, “Get off your bike, prospect!” I’d barely put the kickstand down when they started pushing, shoving, slapping, even punching me. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I was thinking, “Did I do something wrong? Do they know I’m an undercover cop?” I was glad I wasn’t wearing a wire, but mostly I was thinking, “If this gets bad, just claw your way over that fence to the street! Don’t let yourself fall to the ground with a hundred guys trying to stomp you with steel-toed boots.”

Lars, the Hollywood chapter president with a boxer’s build, was in front of me, pushing, yelling stuff I could barely process, like, “You fucked up, Koz! First you got rough with the Armenian. Then you got people coming around shooting at you. Then you get arrested for possession when we agreed not to carry weapons. You’re fucking trouble, man!”

I tried to stick up for myself without getting physical or making anybody angrier. I’m like, “That’s fuckin’ bullshit, Lars. I did what I needed to do.”

Then after a minute or two—it felt like hours—it all came to a stop. Lars handed me my full patch, grinned, and said, “Get that patch on.” Everybody started cheering.

When we left, my cover team was watching for me, assuming I’d be at the back of the pack. But I was closer to the middle. After they finally spotted me, they were high-fiving one another. “He got his patch! He’s in!”

I was excited, too. I’d be able to attend church meetings, learn more about the inner workings of the gang. The six or seven months of work—the stress on me and my family—all of it was paying off.

Halloween came soon after I got my patch, and there was a party at a member’s house in the San Fernando Valley, around Reseda and Parthenia. Some Vagos lived in two or three houses on the same block, and the party was hopping. I was even kind of enjoying myself. But then Lars, Tiny Dan, and a smelly, raspy-voiced guy named Pig Pen Pete found me and said, “We need to talk.” We went to another backyard, which was empty, and Dan, the probation officer, said something like, “Hey, we know you got patched in, but we still have some checking out to do. I’m going to have to roll your fingerprints.” He was acting like it was a formality they forgot about, so I wasn’t getting too hinked up. “Sure man, whatever you need,” I said, trying to play it cool.

Dan pulled out an ink pad and fingerprint cards and took my fingerprints, asking me, “Do you go by any other names?” I told him no, and then we walked back to the party.

A few days later, I parked my government vehicle down the street from my undercover apartment in North Hollywood and walked down the alley so I could enter through the back door as usual. My undercover truck and Harley were in the garage.

No more than five minutes after I arrived, there was a knock at the door. It was Lars. “Hey, we gotta call Big Rick,” he said, sounding kind of cold.

“Alright, what’s up?”

He said, “Let’s just get Rick on the phone.”

When I put the phone to my ear, Big Rick said, “What were you doing today?”

I’m like, “I don’t know. I was out and about.”

Rick’s like, “Oh, yeah? What were you doing?”

“Taking care of some business, nothing related to the club.”

Then he asked, “Well, what car were you in?”

I told him I drove my truck, and he said, “I don’t think you were in your truck.” Turns out Lars and some guys were at my place earlier in the day. “They went in your garage and saw your truck and bike.”

I started backpedaling: “OK, well, yeah, you’re right. I had a different car.”

“What kind of car was it?”

“It’s really none of your concern. I was in someone else’s car, taking care of some stuff with other people. Nothing to do with the club.”

Rick told me to put Lars back on the phone, who didn’t say much to Rick other than “Yeah…yeah…yeah.…” He hung up, turned to me, and said, “We still got some concerns about who you are. Where’s your patch?”

I’m like, “Lars, are you kidding me?”

“We may be wrong about this,” he said, “and if so, we’ll owe you an apology. But right now, I need your patch until further notice.”

I was pissed. I wasn’t about to let these assholes blow up all my hard work. I doubled down: “This is bullshit. This is amateur hour. Why didn’t you sort this shit out before? Is this some kind of joke?”

But Lars said, “Don’t make contact and don’t come around the clubhouse.”

At one of the SFV houses, we found a human skull wrapped in a bag. It wasn’t decorative; it had material on it.

So I gave him my patch, vest and all. He was kicking me out of the Vagos two weeks after I was patched in and seven months into an operation that had taken me away from my wife, my newborn, and my two-year-old. Once I knew Lars was gone, I called my cover team, which rolled by to be sure other Vagos weren’t outside waiting to kick my ass. Then they got me out of there. For the next eight weeks or so, I was back at the office, helping put together all the evidence we had on these guys so we could make some arrests and, hopefully, weaken the gang.

Looking back, I was lucky. According to an ATF agent in San Diego who’d heard it from his own CI, the whole thing could be traced back to Junior, my own informant, and his girlfriend. She’d crossed paths with some Vagos right after I was patched in, and she told them that Junior had been working for the ATF when he died. She even gave them the business card I’d handed Junior, which had my Wisconsin information on it. (I’d crossed out the old phone number and written my L.A. number on it while I was waiting for new cards.) So the Vagos put the pieces together, and according to the CI, they were going to “take care” of me.

Out in Las Vegas, nobody suspected Frank of being undercover. They actually thought he was my target and warned him, “Hey, your buddy Koz out in L.A., he’s with the ATF and he’s been working you.” Frank wound up on the phone with Big Rick and the Vagos president, Whitey, who said something along the lines of “I think Koz needs to be eliminated.” At that point Rick said, “I’m getting off this phone call right now,” and hung up. Frank used me as an excuse to lie low and slowly drift away from the Vagos without suspicion.

Over the next several months, we got warrants for Vagos in L.A., Vegas, and San Diego, and we assembled teams of officers—ATF, LASD, LAPD, and local law enforcement from other counties—to move on multiple locations. That included Rick’s place, Lars’s place, Tiny Dan’s place, the Hollywood clubhouse, and the San Fernando Valley houses from the night of the Halloween party. The raids happened before dawn. I didn’t participate, but I was at the SFV properties right after it all went down. Three Vagos were sitting handcuffed on the sidewalk. Pig Pen Pete was one of them, and he started yelling at me, calling me a motherfucker. All told, my work helped us make 13 arrests on everything from drug and gun possession in L.A. and Vegas to possession of commercial-grade explosives down in San Diego. At one of the SFV houses, we found a human skull wrapped in a bag. It wasn’t decorative; it had material on it.

Frank and I received official recognition from headquarters in D.C., and our work inspired enough confidence to help ramp up and improve the undercover branch. It also helped us avoid making some of the same mistakes again in future cases. Looking back, I did a lot of things wrong and made a lot of mistakes. I was mostly flying by the seat of my pants, but that made me a better undercover agent when I infiltrated the Warlocks and the Mongols.

After my Vagos infiltration, the Hollywood chapter lost more or less half its membership. And when it started to pick back up, I worked behind the scenes as a co-case agent and supervising CIs on a two-year infiltration that netted several arrests across five Southern California counties on charges ranging from drug and gun sales to street terrorism, attempted murder, and murder. It wasn’t lost on us that the number of people we put in handcuffs was 22. And if it wasn’t for my first case with the Vagos, my work—and ATF’s—taking down major players in the Warlocks, the Mongols, the Hells Angels, and the Aryan Brotherhood might not have landed indictments and convictions numbering in the hundreds. We didn’t put them out of business, but we sure as hell slowed them down.

Darrin Kozlowski spent 28 years as an ATF agent before retiring in 2017. Mike Kessler is a regular contributor to Los Angeles. His last piece was about peacocks being poached on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.