Brent Olthuis told B.C. Supreme Court that three B.C. biker clubhouses should be forfeited to the government because they would likely be used to commit crimes if the bikers are allowed to maintain control of them.
After more than a decade, the director of civil forfeiture’s lawsuit against the Hells Angels finally got underway before Justice Barry Davies at the Vancouver Law Courts on Monday. It all started in November 2007 when police raided the Hells Angels’ Nanaimo clubhouse, which became the subject of the first civil forfeiture action. In 2012, the government agency filed suits to get clubhouses of the East End and Kelowna chapters forfeited as well.
The suit alleges that if the Hells Angels get to keep the clubhouses they will be used “to enhance the ability of a criminal organization, namely the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, to commit indictable offences.”
The Angels have filed a counter-claim, seeking to get B.C.’s Civil Forfeiture Act declared unconstitutional. Olthuis told Davies on Monday “this is a case fundamentally about things, and under the civil forfeiture statute, the likely use to which those things are going to be put in the future.”
He said almost all Hells Angels chapters are required to maintain a clubhouse as its “base of operations.”
“We say one of the main purpose or main activities of the Hells Angels is the facilitation or commission of serious offences that if committed would likely result in the direct or indirect receipt of material benefits by the Hells Angels,” Olthuis said.
“The Hells Angels pursues those ends, in part by cultivating or protecting a brand that is associated with violence and intimidation.”
He said the evidence at the trial would show that the clubhouses are used for nefarious purposes.
“These are the sites at which members will congregate for the purpose of counselling or conspiring to commit crimes of violence or financial gain,” he said.
“They are safe houses. They are places where members of the Hells Angels meet, where they recruit new members and support clubs, where they collect and store legal funds to defray legal costs for criminal prosecution, all in confidence.”
The Hells Angels also use the clubhouses to collect and store data on members, rivals, suspected informants and police investigations that threaten the Hells Angels brand.
“The clubhouses function as planted flags. They are warnings or reminders to rival criminal organizations that the areas in question, the places of these clubhouses, are Hells Angels turf,” Olthuis said.
He told Davies that over the five-week trial, he would call on police experts on the Hells Angels from across Canada, as well as two men once close to the club — Micheal Plante and David Atwell — who became police agents and testified in criminal cases in B.C. and Ontario.
“The picture we say that will emerge is one of an entity determined to ensure its own survival, to avoid designation as a criminal organization and to avoid infiltration by law enforcement primarily to ensure the Hells Angels brand which is referred to and will be referred to as the power of the patch for its members exclusive use in furtherance of criminal activities,” Olthuis said.
He said the Hells Angels trademarked its patch because “it is a calling card.”
“Hells Angels, the trademarked death head and other words associated with the club serve as warnings to non-affiliated persons that the wearer or bearer of these marks is a member of a feared organization,” Olthuis said.
“Individual members would lose a great deal of their currency in the criminal world if the name and trappings of the Hells Angels were removed from them.”
The first witness in the government’s case is a former undercover Mountie who posed as a South American drug lord in an investigation that led to convictions against Hells Angels David Giles, who died last year just months after getting a record sentence for conspiracy to import and traffic cocaine.
The officer, whose identity is shielded by a publication ban, testified about three meetings he had with Giles and others in Panama in 2012 to arrange cocaine purchases. He said Giles told him about being a Hells Angel and having achieved the ranks of vice-president and sergeant at arms in his Kelowna chapter. He also showed the cop his death head tattoos.
Giles also admitted to having previously imported cocaine from South America to Canada, the officer testified, including a 2001 shipment of 2.5 tonnes on a fishing boat called the Western Wind that was seized by the U.S. Coast Guard.
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