COLUMBIA — Flanked by a table sagging under the weight of almost 100 machine guns, rifles and pistols seized from the Rock Hill Hells Angels, prosecutors and police declared Wednesday that the Rock Hell Nomads crime gang had been vanquished.
That declaration came after the last of 16 motorcycle gang outlaws had been sentenced to a total of more than 100 years in federal prison after convictions on racketeering, drugs, weapons and other charges.
In front of the table of guns rested dozens of pounds of cocaine and methamphetamine drugs seized from the Hells Angels that will not ruin lives.
This table is a table full of threats thats how the Hells Angels operate, through threats, U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said. The Hells Angels is an organized criminal group, a hierarchal system, a gang system.
But we broke the machine down. We dismantled the organization. The organization does not exist any more.
The tool used was the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law designed to go after conspiracy crimes. The tool in federal court worked like a buzzsaw.
Rock Hill Hells Angels president Mark Lightning Baker, a 50-year-old grandfather, cried like a baby in court Wednesday, apologizing before a judge for his crimes.
Just moments before, though, the admitted meth addict who sold guns and drugs his back to the judicial bench, his hands in heavy shackles attached to a waist chain raised his middle finger to many of the cops and prosecutors who had put him and others away for years.
U.S. District Court Judge Cameron Currie sentenced Baker, who lived in Lancaster, to 15 years and eight months in prison. He had faced at least 28 years under federal sentencing guidelines.
Currie said she varied from the guidelines based on Bakers limited involvement. She said Baker didnt deserve a sentence as long as that of lead defendant Dan Diamond Dan Bifield, the former Rock Hill president and ringleader of the crime ring whose drug dealing started the investigation.
Bifield, who has spent most of the past 30 years in prison for federal convictions ranging from drug running to money laundering and extortion, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in May and was sentenced to 17 years in prison.
Prosecutors had sought the maximum sentence against Baker, who remained defiant in court Wednesday morning.
The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is all about being loyal, and I am very proud to be a member, Baker said. I will die a Hells Angel.
At its core, that is what the investigation into the Hells Angels was all about infiltrating and destroying a criminal enterprise that claimed loyalty and brotherhood and was defiant toward police and outsiders.
This was a group that had cornered much of South Carolinas methamphetamine trade, sold and delivered bundles of cocaine, and bought and sold and used enough guns to fill half the room at the U.S. Attorneys office in Columbia.
Its leaders refused to stop selling drugs and guns and laundering the profits. Its lower-level henchmen and associates continued to commit violent felonies for years to keep the money flowing.
Bifield, the most defiant of all, had accused the FBI and prosecutors of malicious prosecution and wrote to the court that he will die a Hells Angels member in prison if he has to.
He might get his wish.
Bifield, who demanded kickbacks and sold drugs and directed crimes for years, is 62. He wont get out of jail until he is almost 80.
Using wiretaps, informants and undercover operators, prosecutors proved that many in and associated with the outlaw motorcycle group were involved in an ongoing criminal enterprise of drugs, weapons, money laundering and other crimes.
The operation centered on the York County chapter of the Hells Angels and associated Rock Hill Red Devils biker clubs, but it included clubs in Lancaster County, near Columbia and in North Carolina.
These were not people who enjoyed riding motorcycles, said Dave Thomas, FBI agent in charge for South Carolina. They came together to do organized criminal activity.
After the arrest of 20 Hells Angels and associates in June 2012, a dozen pleaded guilty and four were convicted at trial. The conspiracy had been going on for years, with so many bikers and others who rode and hung around with them involved in peddling pounds of drugs.
The Hells Angels, testimony showed Wednesday at sentencing, tried to move almost 11 tons of marijuana, along with other narcotics that were measured in kilograms and pounds.
All that is off the streets, out of the hands of criminals who do not have the right to possess or use guns for illegal purposes, Nettles said.
Two others were sentenced Wednesday:
• Bruce Bruce-Bruce Long, 32, of West Columbia, convicted of 14 charges, was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison. Long was a drug dealer and runner who during the investigation allegedly threatened to bash in the heads of the prosecutors and the judge with a baseball bat.
His lawyer said Wednesday that Long was a decent man, and several people testified that he was nice despite overwhelming evidence he helped buy drugs and sold guns that were to be used to rob Mexican drug dealers, among other crimes.
Nettles described the prosecutors and police as extremely brave, tough and committed to justice, persisting despite threats of retribution from the Hells Angels.
• David Gravel Dave Oiler, 49, of Lancaster, convicted of being the main drug dealer among his 16 convictions, was sentenced to 16 years and eight months.
Oilers lawyer, Michael Duncan, described him in court as like the pizza delivery guy, delivering so many drugs so often.
Still, Oiler did not blame the Hells Angels, claiming his own drug addiction to meth and cocaine drove him to commit so many crimes.
The Hells Angels are not a criminal organization, Oiler stated in court.
But at the news conference a few minutes later, prosecutors and police said that the Rock Hill Hells Angels begged to differ.
The investigation, run through a statewide Hells Angels task force, came after complaints in York County of a growing turf war between the Hells Angels and the Outlaws, a rival gang. The Outlaws fled, and many went to prison.
That left the Hells Angels with no real competition in dealing drugs and selling guns to be used in crimes from South Carolina to New York.
Rock Hill Police Detective Tim Ayers and York County Sheriffs Deputy Joey Wallace spent almost three years on the case, working with state and federal cops.
Prosecutors defended using a paid informant, a former New York criminal and mobster named Joe Dillulio, to infiltrate the gang so evidence could be recorded, then verified by police officers. The Hells Angels all claimed that the informant entrapped them, crying foul right to the end.
But prosecutors proved crimes going back years before Dillulio went undercover.
We had to identify a person who had a relationship with these people, said federal prosecutor Jim May. They are a very violent gang. We had to pay him because he risked his life every day to do it.
Other than one non-Hells Angels member involved in selling drugs who is yet to be sentenced, Wednesday marked the end of three years of work by law enforcement.
Assistant U.S. attorney Jay Richardson, the lead prosecutor for the case, pointed out that the investigation started with the public asking police to look into the problem of Hells Angels crime and violence.
There are machine guns and shotguns and rifles, pounds of methamphetamine and cocaine out of our communities, Richardson said.
Richardson ended his remarks by pointing at the guns that maim and kill, the drugs that ruin lives, the black leather vests emblazoned with the colors of the outlaw bikers.
The Rock Hill chapter of the Hells Angels no longer exists.
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065 • firstname.lastname@example.org