Hells Angels lose club­house

Biker gang set­ting up shop in Ni­a­gara Falls, po­lice say

The Niagara Falls Review - - NEWS - GRANT LAFLECHE

The home of one of Ni­a­gara’s most no­to­ri­ous crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions may soon face the wrecking ball.

Lawyers rep­re­sent­ing the own­ers of the Hells Angels club­house on Darby Road in Wel­land have un­til Dec. 6 to ap­peal a rul­ing that the build­ing be for­feited to the On­tario gov­ern­ment. If they don’t ap­peal or an ap­peal fails, the for­ti­fied build­ing will likely be de­mol­ished, po­lice sources tell Post­media.

How­ever, po­lice say the de­struc­tion of the build­ing that was once the cen­tre of the Hells Angels em­pire on wheels in Ni­a­gara doesn’t mean the gang has gone ex­tinct.

Us­ing mostly bik­ers from outof-town chap­ters to bol­ster their num­bers, the gang has be­gun to estab­lish a pres­ence in Ni­a­gara Falls, po­lice say.

In a Nov. 6 rul­ing, Jus­tice Jas­mine Ak­bar­ali found the Hells Angels’ Wel­land com­pound was, in part, pur­chased by and used to plan the ac­qui­si­tion of the pro­ceeds of crime. As a re­sult, Ak­bar­ali re­jected the ar­gu­ments from the own­ers of the club­house — which in­cludes for­mer Hells Angels Ni­a­gara pres­i­dent Ger­ald (Skinny) Ward — that the for­fei­ture was im­proper and clearly not in the in­ter­ests of jus­tice.

“Given the fa­cil­i­ta­tion or par­tic­i­pa­tion of the own­ers in the un­law­ful ac­tiv­ity, and that for­fei­ture will fur­ther the CRA’s goals in­clud­ing crime pre­ven­tion, it is not clearly not in the in­ter­est of jus­tice to order the for­fei­ture,” says Ak­bar­ali’s rul­ing, which also or­dered three of the four own­ers of the prop­erty — Ward, ex-Hells An­gel Randy Beres and Tony Panetta — to pay the Crown $32,425 in le­gal costs.

The fate of the Hells Angels club­house has been a ques­tion mark since 2006 when a provincewide joint forces po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion called Project Tan­dem re­sulted in the ar­rests of key fig­ures within the Hells Angels across On­tario in­clud­ing Ward.

The ar­rests re­lied heav­ily on in­tel­li­gence gath­ered by Hells Angels mem­ber turned po­lice in­for­mant Stephen Gault, who used a wire to record sev­eral con­ver­sa­tions with Ward about buy­ing co­caine.

In 2009, Ward pleaded guilty to co­caine traf­fick­ing and pos­sess­ing the pro­ceeds of crime. He was also found guilty of di­rect­ing the drug traf­fick­ing of five Hells Angels mem­bers for a crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tion.

He was sen­tenced to 14 years in prison, mi­nus five years for pre­trial cus­tody time. He also had to for­feit $304,430 and his Har­ley-David­son mo­tor­cy­cle.

Ward was paroled in 2015. In May 2017, the Pa­role Board of Canada re­moved the con­di­tion on his stat­u­ary re­lease that only al­lowed him to re­turn to his Wel­land home on week­ends from his halfway house. He now re­sides with his wife in Wel­land.

Ward was part owner of the Darby Road club­house with his brother Richard Ward, Panetta and Beres. Ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, they con­trib­uted a down pay­ment for the prop­erty of about $20,000 each.

Beres was only a mem­ber of the Hells Angels for a short time and af­ter he left the gang in 2003 be­came an “ab­sen­tee owner” of the club­house and never re­turned to the prop­erty, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

Richard Ward died 2005, and thus his “in­ter­est in the prop­erty was ex­tin­guished.”

In 2009, On­tario’s Min­istry of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral seized the prop­erty and be­gan the le­gal process of hav­ing it for­feited as pro­ceeds of crime. How­ever, years of le­gal wran­gling kept its ul­ti­mate fate in limbo.

In June of this year, lawyers rep­re­sent­ing the club­house own­ers ar­gued the seizure was im­proper, it was not pur­chased us­ing the pro­ceeds of crime and was not used for il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity.

Al­though Jus­tice Ak­abarli re­jects some of the Crown’s ar­gu­ments, in­clud­ing the idea that the club­house was used as an il­le­gal bar or a lo­ca­tion for the buy­ing and sell­ing of co­caine, she found the club­house was used to plan crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity.

Know­ing they might be un­der sur­veil­lance, the Hells Angels used a white board and hand sig­nals dur­ing meet­ings — called church meet­ings — to com­mu­ni­cate and avoid the pos­si­bil­ity of their con­ver­sa­tions be­ing recorded or in­ter­cepted by po­lice, the court records say.

Ak­abarli also notes that Ni­a­gara Re­gional Po­lice in­tel­li­gence re­ports were found in the club­house “sug­gest­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion has a so­phis­ti­cated in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing ca­pa­bil­ity and is in­ter­ested in po­lice ef­forts to surveil (the Hells Angels).”

She also ac­cepted po­lice tes­ti­mony that the heavy for­ti­fi­ca­tions and se­cu­rity sys­tems at the club­house were in­stalled “to cre­ate a place where the mem­bers could meet to form crim­i­nal con­nec­tions and to aid in their crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties, es­pe­cially in­volv­ing the drug trade.”

“Based on this ev­i­dence, I con­clude that the club­house is used as safe haven to plan il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing the drug trade, and to guard against po­lice in­ter­fer­ence with those ac­tiv­i­ties,” Ak­abarli says. “I am sat­is­fied that church meet­ings were not sim­ply op­por­tu­ni­ties to dis­cuss club­house main­te­nance but that the club­house was used to hold these meet­ings in order to fa­cil­i­tate and plan un­law­ful ac­tiv­ity.”

She also says it was rea­son­able to con­clude that mem­bers of the Hells Angels used drug money to pay club dues which were then used to pay the mort­gage on the build­ings.

“I thus con­clude that the mort­gage was paid down, at least in part, through funds ac­quired through un­law­ful ac­tiv­ity. (The club­house) is thus pro­ceeds from un­law­ful ac­tiv­ity.”

If the gov­ern­ment ul­ti­mately wins the case, the Darby Road club­house won’t be the first biker head­quar­ters to fall in Ni­a­gara.

In 2002, the Out­laws mo­tor­cy­cle gang’s long­time home on Oak­dale Av­enue in St. Catharines was re­duced to rub­ble af­ter a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­sulted in its seizure.

How­ever, po­lice say even if the Wel­land club­house is ul­ti­mately seized by the gov­ern­ment and de­stroyed, that won’t mean the end of the Hells Angels in Ni­a­gara.

Ni­a­gara Re­gional Po­lice Det. Sgt. Shawn Clark­son says the 2006 po­lice st­ing crip­pled the Hells Angels op­er­a­tions lo­cally. With­out Ward’s drug-traf­fick­ing op­er­a­tion, the club be­came a shell of its for­mer self.

Clark­son says the gang brought in mem­bers from London and Wind­sor to keep the Ni­a­gara chap­ter run­ning. Only two orig­i­nal Ni­a­gara mem­bers were left, he said. An­other six mem­bers are from the London and Wind­sor ar­eas.

“They are re­cruit­ing here, and the out-of-town guys are re­cruit­ing as well,” Clark­son says. “They aren’t what they used to be, but they are still here and try­ing to re­build.”

The gang also has be­gun to for­tify a prop­erty at 7863 Garner Rd. in Ni­a­gara Falls, he says.

“This is what hap­pens. They try to re­build, and we keep do­ing our jobs,” Clark­son says.

Clark­son says the NRP has “his­toric” suc­cesses in out­law biker in­ves­ti­ga­tions, in­clud­ing Project Tan­dem, giv­ing po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge that can be ap­plied to fu­ture op­er­a­tions. glafleche@post­media.com twit­ter.com/grantrants

POST­MEDIA FILE PHOTO

Ni­a­gara Re­gional Po­lice seized the Hells Angels Ni­a­gara com­plex on Darby Road in Wel­land on Mon­day, June 1, 2009.

POST­MEDIA FILES

This prop­erty at 7863 Garner Rd. in Ni­a­gara Falls is where po­lice say the Hells Angels have been meet­ing.

MAG­GIE RIOPELLE/POST­MEDIA FILES

Po­lice seized the Hells Angels Ni­a­gara com­plex on Mon­day morn­ing. Part owner Tim Panetta, right, was called to the fa­cil­ity, once po­lice had con­trol of the com­plex, to un­lock the front gate and be served with the war­rant.

JACK BOLAND/POST­MEDIA FILES

Ger­ald “Skinny” Ward pres­i­dent of the Ni­a­gara chap­ter is charged in Op­er­a­tion Tan­dem. Ward is pic­tured at the Oshawa chap­ter party bar­be­cue in 2002

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.