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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Puppet biker clubs tied to Hells Angels have top cops in B.C. worried

Puppet biker clubs tied to Hells Angels have top cops in B.C. worried

By Kim Bolan, VANCOUVER SUN September 24, 2009 StoryPhotos ( 1 )
Biker club patchesPhotograph by: Vancouver Sun, Vancouver SunNew biker clubs with links to the notorious Hells Angels are sprouting up all over B.C., much to the concern of police specialists in outlaw motorcycle gangs.

An HA support club known as the Jesters has opened a new clubhouse in the 10600-block of Scott Road in Surrey, and another group with links to the Angels — the Shadow motorcycle club — took over a Whalley clubhouse off King George Highway earlier this year that had been run briefly by the Outcasts puppet club.

Police have seen other biker clubs started in recent months in Ashcroft, Fort St. John, Campbell River and 100 Mile House, most of whom have made appearances at events with the Hells Angels.

"This is also a phenomenon we are seeing across Canada," Insp. Gary Shinkaruk, of the RCMP's Outlaw Motorcycle Gang unit, said Wednesday. "There are more of these support puppet clubs springing up right everywhere, even in the Maritimes."

Police say puppet clubs are being used as a survival tool by the Hells Angels after a series of recent convictions of high-profile members and the growth of violent rival mid-level drug gangs such as the United Nations and Red Scorpions.

The puppet gangs — so-called because the Hells Angels are thought to pull their strings — create a much larger network that HA members can use criminally, while insulating themselves from law enforcement. Just this summer, as the Haney chapter of the Hells Angels celebrated its anniversary, police saw bikers wearing a three-piece patch for the fledgling "Devil's Army" motorcycle club. Shinkaruk said the Devil's Army is headed by long-time Hells Angel associate Ricky Alexander, 54.

The patch shows the puppet club as operating out of Campbell River, although Alexander is a Lower Mainland resident who owns an acreage in Mission and condos in Burnaby and Pitt Meadows. "They came out of the Haney (Hells Angels) clubhouse sporting those colours. That certainly indicates they have the approval," Shinkaruk said.

"It is certainly my belief that they are going to be subservient to Haney and at their beck and call." He said the Haney chapter has "had internal strife and difficulty with the Red Scorpions," two reasons why they might want to expand their circle of friends.

The new Devil's Army head visited the RCMP in Campbell River to tell them the group was not criminal, Shinkaruk said. Alexander was convicted in April of 2001 of possession of a prohibited firearm and ammunition after being stopped in Vancouver with what police believed was a hit list in the glove box of his rental car and a loaded pink handgun in his waistband.

The first name on the hand-written list was "John Suspect" who Vancouver police said was a person of interest in the murder a month earlier of full-patch Angel Donald Roming. Also on the list were three of John Suspect's associates, including a man later gunned down at a Vancouver gas station.

Police biker specialists have also seen a new biker club out of Fort St. John called the Handsome Bastards, linked to the Prince George Renegades, a Hells Angels puppet club for the last 11 years. It was at the Renegades' clubhouse about a year ago that police first saw the "Lost Souls," a new patched club operating out of Ashcroft, Shinkaruk said.

Earlier this year, police became aware of another puppet club called the Throttle Lockers, out of 100 Mile House, which has links to the Hells Angels chapter in Kelowna. Another group of concern to police has been around for the last three years and is called the Veterans' Motorcycle Club. Its website indicates every member has to own a Harley Davidson and have been in the Canadian Armed Forces for at least three years.

No one listed on the site returned e-mail requests for interviews Wednesday. On the Veterans' website, the bikers claim they are "not a 1-per-cent club," meaning they are not involved in criminal activity. But police say they do have an association with the Hells Angels.

Shinkaruk said no one can use the "MC" on their back patches in B.C. without first clearing it with the Hells Angels. "In order to have the three-piece MC patch, you need to have the sanctioning or approval of the Hells Angels," he said. "This is primarily a Hells Angels province when it comes to outlaw motorcycle gangs." Rick Ciarniello, spokesman for the Hells Angels, denied Wednesday that his club has any puppet or support groups. "We don't have any of those," he said.

"I have nothing to say about any of that. It has nothing to do with us." Asked about the Devils' Army being present at the Haney party this summer, Ciarniello said: "Everybody who comes to our event doesn't necessarily have anything to do with us."

He said the puppet club expansion "is a non-story." "Listen Kim, it has got nothing to do with us," he said before hanging up the phone. Documents found by police in 2006 when White Rock chapter sergeant-at-arms Villy Roy Lynnerup was arrested with a gun at Vancouver International Airport tell a different story. The Hells Angels papers made reference to two new puppet clubs: the Outcasts, linked to the Vancouver chapter, and the Jesters out of the White Rock club. There was even a copy of the Jesters' clown-face patch, which was just painted on the front of its new Surrey clubhouse on an industrial property on the north Surrey flats. It is surrounded by a high wire fence with a private-property sign stuck on the front gate. The sign on the door says "no cellphones or cameras."

The Outcasts was a short-lived club. It operated from the same unit off King George that the Shadow motorcycle club took over a few months ago. Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said she had been made aware of the two new clubs in town.

"They are on police radar. They are aware of them. Our bylaw officers are aware as well," Watts said, adding that if action can be taken, it will be.

"The RCMP and bylaws are looking at exactly what is going on here," she said. Shinkaruk said the Hells Angels may need the new associations to prosper in B.C. after a number of convictions of high-profile members in recent years. "They need more of a presence so that the outlaw motorcycle gang thing can survive," Shinkaruk said. The move comes after the expansion across B.C. of mid-level drug gangs such as the United Nations, the Independent Soldiers and the Red Scorpions, said Insp. Andy Richards, a biker expert now with the Port Moody police.

"They are not happy that groups like the UN gang, the Red Scorpions, the IS, have grown in the last five years. And I think the rebirth in B.C. of many of these puppet clubs is their response to losing some ground in the pecking order," Richards said. He said in the 1990s, there was a similar period in which HA puppet gangs with names like the Squamish Tribesmen, the Smithers Talismen, the Williams Lake Wildcats and the Regulators were formed. "Then they kind of fell by the wayside," he said. Some Regulators became HA members.

"Now we are seeing a period of regrowth where the club is recognizing that they need to bolster the ranks and grow — even by virtue of puppet clubs — to be a competitor out there in the criminal underworld." He said the puppet clubs "exist at the discretion of the Hells Angels and they are subordinate to the Hells Angels."

There is a risk to affiliation with puppet clubs, Richards said. In Quebec, police managed successful prosecutions by recruiting informants and agents in the puppet clubs. "And that was their ultimate downfall," Richards said. "In my view, the Hells Angels are constantly doing the sort of risk/reward analysis: What is the risk of having these puppet clubs out there with criminal ties to our members versus what is the reward from that same relationship?"