Born to be Wild

Bandidos, Angels, Nomads, Mongols: a roundup of recent motorcycle mayhem.

'Most significant' roundup

Seattle, June 8, 2005: Twenty-eight Bandidos are charged with racketeering, kidnapping, assault, and drug and firearms violations. All have since made plea agreements, while charges against a few of the original defendants have been dismissed, says Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg. Top leaders who pleaded guilty include: international president George Wegers of Bellingham; Christopher Horlock, national treasurer from South Dakota; and national sergeants-at-arms Jimmie Garman (arrested with 30 firearms), Bellingham, and Hugh Henschel (six firearms), Ferndale.

Officials describe the Bandidos as an international crime ring operating out of Whatcom County. The two-year federal and local probe included the use of informants, some of whom may have infiltrated the club despite the Bandidos' lengthy initiation process to determine a prospective member's loyalty and weed out rats or cops. The FBI, ATF, U.S. Marshals, and other agencies also used court- ordered wiretaps and pen-register call tracing. U.S. Attorney John McKay calls it the "most significant" biker gang bust in two decades, referring to the mid-1980s indictment of 14 Northwest Bandidos who were part of a 90-biker U.S. sweep in which Wegers was also arrested. He got 18 months for a drug charge then.

Wegers is getting two years for racketeering conspiracy this time, but officials insist that overall they've dismantled the gang—again—using stiffer sentences from the RICO Act now. Others who have pleaded guilty include Bernard Ortman, 46, the Missoula chapter president who oversaw a Montana battle with a rival club, the Kinsmen, who had invaded the Bandidos' turf. At a Great Falls motorcycle shop, 11 armed Bandidos took the owner prisoner and forced him to give up his Kinsmen colors. A talkative member of the Kinsmen was also targeted for a hit, prosecutors say, contending that Wegers was part of a conspiracy to cover up the crime. Also pleading guilty to assorted charges: Glenn Merritt, 64, Bellingham chapter president; William E. James, 53, the Bellingham secretary; Britt Anderson, 34, of Bellingham; and Dale Granmo, 49, of Missoula.

Killing Santa

Seattle, Feb. 8, 2006: Five Nomads–the Hells Angels Washington state chapter—are charged with murder and racketeering crimes from Alaska to Oregon. Among them are Richard "Smilin' Rick" Fabel, 48, of Spokane, president of the West Coast Hells Angels and head of the Washington Angels chapter since 1996. Ex-Angels Rod Rollness, 45, of Snohomish, and Joshua Binder, 30, of North Bend, are accused of killing Michael "Santa" Walsh, 47, whose body was found near Granite Falls in 2001. Rollness and Binder, who could face the death penalty, allegedly killed Walsh to boost their biker reputations.

A bloodstained vest belonging to Rollness was taken as evidence and is to be tested for Walsh's DNA. Walsh wasn't a Bandido but was last seen at a party at the home of another nonmember, Paul Foster, 49, who was charged with helping Rollness and Binder cover the murder. Another Spokane man, Ricky Jenks, 29, was charged with racketeering and had just finished a 21-month sentence for manslaughter after killing another man in a shoot-out.

On June 27, new charges were added to the Nomads indictment, bringing the total to 15 counts and 12 acts of racketeering, including murder and attempted murder by Jenks and Fabel "to perpetuate" a battle with the Mongols Motorcycle Club. Prosecutors call this state's Angels "a highly organized criminal enterprise" which continues to threaten violence against witnesses, including several who are now seeking to join the Witness Security Program. They "have indicated that they would go to jail rather than testify at a trial out of fear of violent retaliation," court papers state.

Unlike some of the Bandidos leaders, the Angels are maintaining their innocence and vowing to go to trial, claiming the charges are exaggerated and unprovable. Their attorneys are sifting through 2,000 documents and weighty evidence including more than 400 photographs, videotapes, body-wire transmissions, and telephone traces. The Seattle indictment says Fabel's "decision-making authority" as president included "directing, sanctioning, approving, and permitting other members to engage in criminal activities including murder, attempted murder, intimidation, extortion, robbery, and trafficking in stolen motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts."

Seven State Angels Charged in Nevada

Elsewhere: In Vancouver, B.C., 10 Angels arrested in January are charged with gun and drug running; in June 2005, 18 other Angels were charged with similar offenses and with being part of a criminal organization.

In Laughlin, Nev., 42 Hells Angels were arrested and dozens are currently facing trial for more than 70 crimes, including three murders, growing out of a 2002 melee at Harrah's Club. A memorable video of the riot shows a Hells Angel member bashing a rival Mongols Motorcycle Club member in the head with a huge crescent wrench. Jeffrey D. Carney, 42, of Kirkland, was charged in connection with that riot. So were Fabel and Jenks (see above), along with Ronald Arnone, 39, Tacoma; Steven Pearce, 49, Silverdale; Brian Wolff, 40, Spokane; and Michael Mills, 45, Wenatchee, the Nomads' vice president. The indictment issued in Las Vegas alleges Fabel was among those who masterminded the fight, supposedly started by prospective Angels whose reward would be full membership and a patch. Courts are currently considering efforts by Angels attorneys to have the charges tossed.

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