(This column was published in the North Shore News on June 30, 2004)


Angels judged no social club


By Leo Knight  


For't is the sport to have the engineer

hoist by his own petard.

- William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4


THERE was a stunning court decision last week. It has the potential to rock the criminal world of the Hells Angels in a way the American RICO legislation affected the Mob.


While anyone with a modicum of common sense knows that the Hells Angels is a criminal organization not just a bunch of beefy guys who like to ride Hogs and drink beer, the courts have been reluctant to make that a finding of fact in any trial its members have been involved in.


Just last March, Judge Nancy Morrison starkly refused to do so in a sentencing hearing against Rick Mandi in a Ladner court. Mandi had been convicted on six different offences relating to a botched kidnapping of someone who allegedly owed a debt to a club member.


Evidence at bar indicated that Mandi was working on behalf of the Vancouver chapter of the Hells Angels. Mark Levitz, acting for the Crown, made the following submission in sentencing arguments: "The Crown submits that Mr. Mandi committed the offence in association with the Vancouver chapter of the Hells Angels. The Crown submits that the Vancouver chapter of the Hells Angels is without a doubt a criminal organization."


Levitz specifically stated the evidence for such a finding came from a former gang prospect, Chad Proctor, who testified for the Crown in the case against Mandi. Proctor earlier gave evidence that Mandi was attempting to extort "a debt" from Kirk Cooley and Robert Nicolson who, he testified, had stolen 7.7 kilograms of packaged marijuana from a member of the Vancouver chapter.


One of the areas focused on by Levitz was a rule in the club which specifically forbids any member, prospect or associate from speaking with the police. According to Proctor's evidence, he feared being murdered by the gang because he co-operated. He, along with Cooley and Nicolson are now in witness protection.


But, despite this evidence, Morrison chickened out. She declined to find the Hells Angels were a criminal organization. Equally, she refused to find they were not either, managing to keep her judicial feet firmly on either side of the legal fence.


Rick Ciarnello, a senior officer with the gang, said afterward, "I'm pleased she didn't find us to be a criminal organization."


Interviewed after the trial by reporters, Ciarnello said it was up to him to make the determination not the courts. "That's up to me to say and I guess I'd say we are not a criminal organization."


Last week a Quebec court disagreed with Ciarnello. Two members of the infamous Quebec Nomads chapter, Walter "Nurget" Stadnick and Donald "Pup" Stockford were found guilty of conspiracy to traffic in drugs between 1997 and 2001, conspiracy to commit murder and participation in a criminal organization.  (They were cleared of participating in the same 13 murders that Maurice "Mom" Boucher is also charged with.)


Their lawyers, Alan D. Gold, a former head of the Criminal Lawyers Association and Edward Greenspan, noted trial lawyer, tried to convince the court that the Hells Angels were a "social club."


Justice Jerry Zigman of the Quebec Superior court disagreed. "It is true that Stadnick was active in arranging for biker clubs outside of . . . Quebec to become associated with the Hells Angels for the purpose of trafficking drugs," said Zigman in rendering judgment. Stadnick, who joined the Hells Angles in 1983 and was a founding member of the Nomads chapter, was instrumental in making the Hells Angels a coast to coast network of organized crime.


One of the key pieces of evidence against them were photos and files stolen earlier from a police computer that were found in their possession. Zigman had this to say in his judgment: ". . . the reason why Stockford had the binder of photos at his residence, was because he was a participant in the conspiracy to murder them. He certainly did not have the pictures at his residence so that he could admire the faces of his enemies."


A keen observer this judge and, I might add, absolutely right. Ciarnello has made a career out of denying the Hells Angels were a criminal organization. He even challenged a senior RCMP officer to a polygraph test last summer. I doubt he had any serious intention of taking one, but that's the sort of stunt he'd pull to preach his sermon.


His arguments to the contrary no longer hold any water and Zigman has opened the door for the police to pursue gangsterism charges against members of the Hells Angels. Ironically, it was the killing of a young boy in Montreal, collateral damage in the biker war for control of the drug trade in that city, that was the impetus for Bill C-95 that amended the criminal code to include membership in an organized crime group as an offence.


Shakespeare it seems, was right.




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