The first thing to see when walking into the federal courtroom where five members of the Hells Angels are on trial for alleged violent crimes ranging from selling drugs to robbing dope dealers is a big bin that looks like a roll-out garbage can.
The bin is filled with guns. Huge guns.
FBI agent Devon Mahoney – who ran much of the two-year investigation into alleged gun selling, robbing dope dealers and dope dealing by these Hells Angels and wannabe Hells Angels – holds up an assault rifle.
It is similar to the type of rifle used to kill 28 people in December in Connecticut, most of them kids. It takes two hands to hold the rifle, it is so large and deadly.
The trial is over what prosecutors call a climate of fear, intimidation and violence by the Hells Angels. And drug dealing and guns.
In court – despite so much security around the courthouse because of the concern for trouble – anyone can listen to wiretapped conversations between Hells Angels and police informants and undercover agents about “ice cream” and “pizza” and “ice cubes,” “doughnuts” and “coffee.”
Those words, according to the FBI, were code for ounces and pounds of cocaine and methamphetamine. Some of these bikers allegedly made dope deals right up until almost midnight Christmas Eve 2011.
There was testimony from the FBI about cocaine hidden in camp pillows, meetings about drugs, and $36,000 in cash paid for a kilogram of cocaine at the Carowinds Boulevard McDonald’s, where teens meet and eat.
This is a trial that alleges so many crimes, including conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. If such an ongoing criminal enterprise is proven, RICO brings sentences stacked like cordwood.
RICO is used around America to prosecute gangs, like the Bloods and the Crips, and the Mafia.
And now – in this trial that centers on grungy clubhouses and a jewelry store in Rock Hill – it’s being deployed against what looks like the Redneck mafia.
The second thing to notice in the courtroom is that there are no motorcycles, or leather vests or insignias of winged death heads. No chained wallets. Just five defendants who are part of a culture that supposedly does not conform to society’s rules, the one percent that they are so proud to be.
But they have to conform in this courtroom.
That conformity is enforced by a phalanx of cops, federal marshals, handcuffs, detention pens, prosecutors and a judge who keeps saying “admitted” every time a prosecutor asks to play wiretaps of alleged dope and gun peddling that points at the defendants and their associates – almost all of whom have ties to Rock Hill and York County.
Defendants looking at decades in prison do not drink big cold beers in roadside bars, their huge Harleys parked at matching angles to get attention and scare squares while sneering at rules of society.
No, these Hells Angels and wannabe Hells Angels sit with lawyers and listen to those wiretaps and look at jurors who seem to not be able to get enough of these gun- and drug-dealing schemes that prosecutors allege should put them in prison for decades because of the threat to society.
The clubhouses where these bikers met and gathered in what was called “church” by them are dingy places that proudly display Confederate flags, Nazi symbols and other symbols of hate.
All Hells Angels must be white men. They do not like society’s rules, they and their lawyers say. Apparently, though, they do not like anybody who’s not white to be a part of their rebellion against rules.
At the Rock Hill clubhouse of the Red Devils, the underlings of the Hells Angels, the Rebel flag flies, tattered, along with the American flag, also tattered.
During testimony Thursday, with the jury present, the five defendants said nothing. During a break, with the jurors out of the courtroom, they laughed and talked among each other and with their lawyers.
Nobody laughed when the wiretaps were played, though.
At the head of the five defendants, seated in a pyramid, is an alleged drug dealer from West Columbia named Bruce Long. His nickname among bikers is “Bruce-Bruce.”
Behind him is Mark Baker of Lancaster, called “Lightning,” the president of the Rock Hell Nomads Hells Angels of Rock Hill; and David Oiler of Lancaster, a.k.a. “Gravel Dave.”
Wiretaps played in court Thursday, the FBI alleged, show Oiler setting up drug deals on Christmas Eve 2011; he referred to a kilogram of cocaine as “ice cream.”
Just the day before, Dec. 23, 2011, according to the wiretaps, Oiler delivered an ounce of methamphetamine to an informant buyer. The drugs were called “better than the last stuff,” then Oiler tells of how he couldn’t get what the FBI alleges is cocaine because the source was “at a Christmas party” or “eating dinner with his old lady.”
“I got one,” Oiler allegedly says of drugs, on tape.
“Tomorrow in the morning,” he says.
“Thank you, buddy,” from the informant.
“The big one will be tomorrow,” which the FBI agent testifies is about a kilogram of cocaine.
Behind Oiler and Baker are Clover’s Donald Boersma, huge and bald, nicknamed “Brooklyn Donnie” and alleged to be on track to be a Hells Angel. And at the back, Tom Plyler. Gray-haired, pony-tailed, “Uncle Tom” walks with a limp.
Plyler is also alleged in court documents to have provided guns for mayhem.
In June, 20 people from South Carolina and North Carolina with Hells Angels connections were arrested in raids after months of surveillance, court-approved wiretaps, and controlled buys using undercover agents and paid informants.
Many already have pleaded guilty, including “Diamond Dan” Bifield, vice president of the Rock Hell Nomads Hells Angels club; and David “Yard Owl” Pryor, president of the Rock Hill Red Devils club.
The defense lawyer for Long told jurors there is “a little bit of outlaw in all of us,” but that doesn’t make it criminal.
What is against the law, however, is cocaine sales, gun-running and armed robbery.
In opening arguments, defense lawyers told jurors they will not like the paid FBI informant they claim is a snitch and teller of tales, a former New York wise guy named Joe Dillulio. He sure sounds unlikable on the tapes. He says “ciao” instead of “goodbye,” like he is some Milanese fashion designer.
He is not. Defense lawyers have called Dillulio a convicted felon who ran a jewelry store in Rock Hill and is being paid by the feds to snitch and scheme. Dillulio is brusque on the tapes. He curses, and on the tapes it is heard how he is using the code name “Midas.”
But that is how police break up drug gangs. Informants turning on drug dealers happens in the smallest of small towns and in big-time federal trials. Snitches do not leave choir practice or Bible study to buy drugs in taped drug deals.
This trial is not like what you’d see on television or in movies. It does not finish quickly, with commercials for fast cars in between.
This trial is grinding work by federal prosecutor Jay Richardson. Richardson plays those tapes after U.S. District Court Judge Cameron Currie admits them.
Already a week old, the trial is just starting. Jurors were told that the trial could last six, maybe seven weeks.
There are cops all around and inside the courthouse. There are police officers with dogs, Homeland Security officers, more. Apparently, a Hells Angels trial requires it.
Just over a year ago in York, 16th Circuit Solicitor’s Office prosecutor E.B. Springs put away Hells Angels member William Sosebee for 10 years for stabbing a fellow biker for wearing the vest of a different motorcycle club in a Hells Angels bar.
Before the York trial, Hells Angels and other bikers packed a courtroom for a bond hearing. The judge banned biker vests and colors for safety reasons. Police escorted the victim home. Court staff shuttled the victim and witnesses between the York Police Department and the courthouse in police cars, over concerns for their safety.
Inside Judge Currie’s federal courtroom last week, there were a half-dozen marshals. Outside in the hall, three more. On the ground floor, three more. Outside the building, another four officers.
Richardson, the prosecutor, had no guns during his prosecution. He was armed with recorded wiretaps.
The words on the recordings spoke of huge guns transported in a guitar case. Photographs in evidence showed drugs and more drugs.
Each of the wiretaps was played out loud, and the words transcribed onto video screens for the jurors – and the five Hells Angels themselves – to read.
For the next several weeks, there are more to come.