Hells Angel denies crime connection

Neal Hall

Vancouver Sun

Friday, September 24, 2004

VANCOUVER - A Hells Angels member went on Bill Good's Vancouver radio program for 90 minutes Thursday to defend the reputation of the motorcycle club, which police allege is a criminal organization involved in drug trafficking and other serious crimes.

Rick Ciarniello said he wanted to "set the record straight" about "misinformation" in a five-page special report on B.C.'s Hells Angels, published Sept. 11 by The Vancouver Sun as part of its series on organized crime.

The 59-year-old biker, a member of the Vancouver chapter of the Hells Angels, denied it is a criminal organization. It's just a motorcycle club of like-minded men, he said.

"What I'm saying is, there was six full pages [in The Sun] on Sept. 11 --coincidence? -- about the club. There was a lot of innuendo, a lot of allegations but nothing substantive. There wasn't anything there. Ask yourself the question: Why did they put all of that in the paper?"

Ciarniello answered his own question: "It wasn't The Sun that did that. It was offered by the police, or The Sun had to get the information from the police. Just because they say something doesn't make it true. And they continuously say it, but it's still not factual."

"If somebody said something like that about me and it wasn't true, I'd be going to a lawyer and suing to clear my name, to make it right," Good said.

Ciarniello said the Hells Angels don't have the kind of "deep pockets" The Sun has to pay expensive legal fees to fight a civil lawsuit.

"There's other ways of dealing with it, I suppose, than going through all the agony of a civil trial," he added.

Patricia Graham, The Sun's editor-in-chief, said after the program aired: "Rick Ciarniello's attempts to portray the Hells Angels as nothing more than a boys' biking club aren't fooling anyone."

Ciarniello was asked during the radio program why Hells Angels clubhouses are so heavily fortified -- police, for example, found two .12-gauge shotguns and a .25-calibre semi-automatic pistol during a raid of the Nanaimo clubhouse last December.

Ciarniello replied that it was to keep people from breaking in and stealing things.

He also said "loons" sometimes come to the Hells Angels to ask them to kill people and collect debts.

Ciarniello was also questioned during the program by a guest journalist, Julian Sher, co-author of the recent book The Road to Hell: How the Biker Gangs are Conquering Canada.

Sher repeatedly asked Ciarniello why he and other Hells Angels didn't try to distance themselves from members convicted of such serious crimes as cocaine trafficking by condemning them and kicking them out.

"You have a chance now, on the radio, to say ... people who sell drugs, people who sell cocaine, do not belong in my organization," Sher said.

"Why do you keep trying to back me into that corner?" Ciarniello asked.

"Just say those six or seven words: Somebody who sells cocaine does not belong in my club, or that's not the kind of club I would want to be a member of," Sher added.

"I will say this: That if somebody sells cocaine in my club, they do it without the knowledge of the Hells Angels, they do it without the support of the Hells Angels and they do it for their own benefit," Ciarniello replied. "That's the truth."

Good pressed the biker as to why he doesn't condemn Hells Angels members involved in criminal activity. One of the cases cited was Rick Mandi, a Hells Angels prospect sentenced earlier this year to five years in prison for kidnapping, extortion and assault with a weapon.

"Well, think what's going to happen -- in the case of Mandi, he's going to pay for his crime," Ciarniello said. "Society has put that burden on him -- he's in jail. And I don't condone what he did, but I'm going to let society take that out of him. I'm not going to do it for them. What he did was not applauded by the Hells Angels."

Good interjected, "But you're here, largely, because activities like his have given your club a bad name. The club could distance itself, if it wanted to, by condemning those activities."

"Yeah, well, you know, you can condemn the activity, but what you're saying is we should go further than that and get rid of these people," Ciarniello said. "Actually, I think that would be like double jeopardy. He's got to pay for his crime."

Several phone-in callers were supportive of the Hells Angels, saying they always paid their bills. One caller said he knew a Hells Angels member who did good electrical work.

"I think it's very disturbing the number of people that are calling in in support of this organization," another caller said. "I think it's a really sad commentary on the state of the Vancouver police department that people are choosing to take the opinion of Mr. Ciarniello over that of the police department, in terms of the activity they are involved in."

A woman caller asked: "If you're such a legitimate organization, where are all the female members?"

"The reason we don't have any women is because we seek people of like mind," Ciarniello replied. "Men don't think like women.... Do you want to be a Hells Angel?"

"Oh, I'd love to be a Hells Angel. Are you boys going to let me in?" the woman asked.

"No," Ciarniello replied. "That's one rule we do have. There's no women."

 The Vancouver Sun 2004

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