Thursday, August 5, 2010
A peek inside the Hells Angels' home
The Manitoba Hells Angels clubhouse -- now under provincial government ownership -- was both a Las Vegas-style party pad and a powerful, heavily fortified symbol of the gang's dominance in the criminal underworld.
Court documents obtained Wednesday by the Free Press provide a rare and detailed glimpse into the inner-workings of the notorious outlaw bikers and the place they called home.
The 2,865-square-foot Scotia Street home, currently assessed at $357,000 on the open market, was taken over by Manitoba Justice officials last week after filing a claim under the Criminal Property Forfeiture Act. It is the first time such a step has been taken in Manitoba and mirrors similar seizures in Ontario and British Columbia.
"The clubhouse serves as a symbol to rival criminal organizations of their presence and domination over unlawful activity in the area," Det.-Sgt. Ken Downs wrote in an affidavit filed in support of the court application. "It provides a base of operations, a place to make social ties and recruit new members, is a safe area to conspire about the commission of unlawful acts... and allows the Hells Angels to commit unlawful activities in secrecy."
Downs is a member of the Thunder Bay Police Service with extensive knowledge of the Canadian biker scene. He said the Manitoba chapter specifically began using the property, located behind the Kildonan Presbyterian Cemetery, because it was the last home on a dead-end street.
"This deters surveillance by rivals and police," said Downs. He said the Hells also had the home registered under the name of Leonard Beauchemin, a resident of Keewatin, Ont., with previous ties to the gang.
"This is a purposeful act done to disassociate the organized crime group from illegal profits. They are aware... it presents challenges for effective law enforcement," Downs wrote.
Beauchemin now has a month to appeal the interim order, which cites the clubhouse as a hub of criminal activity such as drug trafficking and money laundering.
Police also make the case the clubhouse had a "frat house" type atmosphere meant to build strong bonds between bikers. In several hundred pages of affidavits and photographs, police document various features of the home including an elevated stage and stripper pole where exotic dancers routinely performed, a well-stocked bar that included a running tab for all members, two full-sized video arcade games and a pool table.
The walls were covered with photographs of other Hells Angels members and chapters around the world, and crude signs including one that read "NO RATS, NO FAT CHICKS, NO GUNS." A huge portrait of founding Hells member Sonny Barger also hung above the fireplace.
There was also a VIP "Members Room" that was only open for full-patch bikers, not prospects or hangarounds. The room contained a chalkboard to allow bikers to "write out their conversations instead of speaking them for fear law enforcement had installed listening devices."
The Manitoba chapter also had a large supply of "support wear" T-shirts, hats and tuques which carried slogans such as "Silence is golden, duct tape is silver"; "When in doubt knock ' em out"; "Three can keep a secret if 2 are dead"; and "Shoot rats not drugs."
Police also provided written documentation that show the collection of monthly dues, minutes taken from monthly gang meetings known as "Church" and even lists of rules and regulations that all Hells members and associates must follow. Police say there was also an "extraordinary" surveillance system surrounding the property, which included nine hidden exterior cameras that would be monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week by designated members assigned to work "The Shift." Some of the cameras possessed "night vision" that would allow the bikers to clearly see images in the dark.
Police included extensive details of the Hells Angels history around the world, including details on the 35 existing Canadian chapters that include an estimated 476 active members.
There are also lengthy summaries of previous surveillance done on the Manitoba bikers, including a blow-by-blow account of observations made by police monitoring their 2009 Halloween party at the clubhouse.
Besides the clubhouse, police seized two motorcycles and four vehicles on the property, plus all contents of the house such as furniture. However, most Hells Angels-related paraphernalia was already gone, seized last December during Project Divide, a major police sting operation that used a former biker associated as a paid informant who captured dozens of drug and weapons deals on audio and video surveillance.
A total of 35 people were arrested, and 22 have already pleaded guilty and received lengthy prison sentences. Police launched two similar projects in 2007 and 2005 which have left the Manitoba chapter reeling.
STRICT CODE OF CONDUCT: A list of rules to be followed
Like any clubhouse, the Hells Angels had a strict set of rules that all members, associates and visitors were expected to follow. Police detailed many of these in court documents obtained Wednesday by the Free Press. They included the following:
HAVE ON YOU AT ALL TIMES:
Your house key and gate opener
Pens and a note pad
Lighter and rolling papers
Condoms and gum
Rolaids and Tylenol
Winnipeg phone list and phone or pager
Learn to roll a smoke.
Wear your vest at all times to parties, every time you're on your bike or at the clubhouse.
Never leave your vest lying around, hang it up and show respect. Never leave it in an unsafe area like your truck or car.
Take pride in yourself and your club.
Shake every member's hand right. Don't rush. Repeat names. Get to know your members, including their smoke brand, coffee size and what they want in it.