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Monday, January 19, 2015

USA - Motorcycle Clubs Still Legal

It is already 2015 and it still isn’t illegal to ride a motorcycle or belong to a motorcycle club. At least not technically.  Most of the government acts as if it is, though.
Here’s what’s happening at the beginning of the New Year.

Big Brother v. The Mongols MC

The Mongols Motorcycle Club has been under more or less constant legal attack since former government agent William Queen started hanging around the San Fernando Valley chapter of the club in 1998. In 2008 the Department of Justice brought a racketeering indictment against more than six dozen Mongols and former club president Ruben “Doc” Cavazos. Dozens more members had personal property seized and had to endure years of legal puffery to get it back. A central goal of the indictment was to seize the Mongols’ name and insignia. Police announced and the press reported that henceforth any cop in America could “rip” Mongols patches “off the backs” of any Mongol they encountered. It was an unconstitutional attempt to outlaw the club. Several federal judges ruled patch pulling by the authorities was unconstitutional.
But one of those judges, a former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy named Otis D. Wright, suggested to prosecutors they might get around the Constitutional issue by indicting the club as a whole. So the same federal prosecutors who pursued the 2008 case, Christopher Brunwin and Steven Welk, are prosecuting a case called USA v. Mongol Nation. Brunwin and Welk intend to prove that the club promotes crime and protects criminals. Wright, who imagined the case, will preside over it by what the Central District asserts is pure luck. Long term, the government doesn’t have a chance of passing Constitutional muster, but that isn’t the point. The point of the case is to bankrupt the club with scurrilous prosecutions. The government has unlimited resources. The Mongols Motorcycle Club does not.
The Mongols trial begins March 24.

Big Brother v. David Martinez

The current racketeering case against the Mongols is weak. Most of the racketeering acts it alleges predate the 2008 case against the club and prosecutors are eager to pin something more recent on the Mongols. That is what led to a series of Swat raids in the early morning hours of October 28.
According to NBC, the raids on seven homes were part of an law enforcement effort “to head off retaliation by the Mongols against members of their longtime rival Hells Angels…as well as a sport bike club known as the G-Zer (pronounced ‘geezer’) Tribe, based in the East Los Angeles area. The motive for the payback appears to stem from at least two recent encounters between members of the three gangs on Los Angeles and Riverside County freeways in which Mongols members were shot at or pushed off their bikes. At least one Mongol member was killed, another was paralyzed and several others were wounded in the incidents, according to the sources.”
The affidavit underlying the search warrants was sealed to protect the identity of a confidential informant. The raids were also carried out in the middle of the night by militarized police in order to punish the occupants of the homes. The raid on Martinez’ home wouldn’t have attracted much publicity except that a Swat officer named Shaun Diamond died on Martinez’ front porch. Diamond was wearing body armor and a Kevlar “fritz” helmet at the time. He was, according to multiple police sources, shot in the back of the head. Almost everyone who has knowledge of the incident except prosecutors believe Diamond was killed by friendly fire. Police allege Marrtinez fired the shot that killed their man and they recovered the gun he used to do it.
Prosecutors have charged Martinez with first degree murder with enhancements that could put him on death row. He has been in jail for more than two months. His family tried to hire a private attorney but couldn’t afford to pay for one. Martinez next court appearance is scheduled for this Wednesday.

Big Brother v. The Hells Angels MC

The surreal trial of three Hells Angels named Timothy R. Bianchi, Nicholas F. Carrillo and Josh L. Johnson also resumes Wednesday in Lake County, California. The three men are accused of beating a member of the Vagos Motorcycle Club named Michael Anthony Burns at a tattoo convention in Lakeport, California in June 2011. The fight lasted about a minute. The legal case is now in its fourth year.
Burns suffered significant facial injuries and told police he had fallen. The initial investigator in the case, Lake County Sheriff’s Sergeant named Gary Frace, tried to close the case but was reprimanded by then Sheriff Francisco Rivero.
Rivero seems to have an obsession with the Hells Angels. A month before the fight at the tattoo convention, Rivero convinced himself that 150 Hells Angels were on their way to Lake County to rumble with a third as many Vagos. Rivero scrambled every cop in the county, deployed snipers and set up roadblocks to stop the imaginary pack of Angels.
Rivero’s obsession has been fed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Eventually the charges against the three defendants were amended to include a felony – aggravated assault. The felony made it possible to also charge the three Angels with a “gang enhancement.”
When the trial began last month, Lake County Deputy District Attorney Art Grothe told jurors, “I intend to show that when the individuals did what we allege they did, it was in benefit of and in furtherance of a criminal street gang, that is the Hells Angels,”
Sometime in the last 40 months the case ceased to be about a simple, if unfair fight, among four grown men and became a trial about what people think of the Hells Angels. The defendants are in effect being tried for the imaginary crime of belonging to a motorcycle club. The principal witness against the Hells Angels will be a biker expert named Jorge Gil-Blanco. Gil-Blanco specializes in testifying against Hells Angels. He will probably be the first witness called to the stand Wednesday. He may testify for up to a week and when he is done former Sheriff Rivero will tell the jury what he thinks.

Kinsgmen v. Kingsmen

The murders of two Kingsmen Motorcycle Club patch holders named Paul Maue and Daniel “DJ” Szymanski may begin to make sense to the general public before Spring. Police allege the two men were “executed” by a Kingsmen from Deland, Florida named Andre L. “Li’l Bear” Jenkins. Police haven’t revealed a plausible motive for the murders but they have said they broke the case with the help of an informant.
It is a curious incident of homicide about which it is easy to speculate. The press in Buffalo seems inclined to think of Jenkins as club assassin. The truth is probably stranger than that.
Jenkins is black and he is a relatively new to the biker scene. He was convicted of burglary and imprisoned in South Dakota for 12 years before his parole in 2010. He absconded from parole sometime after that, made his way to Florida, worked in a car wash and became a member of the Kingsmen’s Daytona Beach chapter.

There is an ongoing federal investigation of the murders. Jenkins has already been indicted on a federal charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. And William J. Hochul, Jr., the United States Attorney for the Western District of New York told Dan Herbeck of the Buffalo News, “This charge is an important step in our investigation, but by no means is it the end of our investigation.” Herbeck also reported, “federal agents are continuing to investigate the circumstances surrounding the September 6 murders of two bikers outside the Kingsmen Motorcycle Club clubhouse in North Tonawanda.”