Arrests Shatter Hells Angels in So. California
Seventeen members and associates of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club were arraigned in Federal Court yesterday on racketeering, drug and conspiracy charges.
The arrests and charges have seriously weakened the club's ability to operate in San Diego County, authorities said.
Twenty of the 28 known Hells Angels in the county, including its leaders, are incarcerated, either as a result of an indictment issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office on Thursday or on unrelated criminal charges, said Michael Vigil, special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
"We have eliminated a scourge from Southern California . . . that had tentacles into the international community," Vigil said.
Ten Hells Angels were arrested Thursday night during a raid on their clubhouse on El Cajon Boulevard in El Cajon. Officers seized guns and a small amount of drugs there and at simultaneous searches at the homes of some club members.
Because the racketeering charges carry heavy sentences, "the issue is not the quantity of the drugs but the quality of people arrested," Vigil said.
More than 150 officers from El Cajon police, the DEA, San Diego County sheriff's, San Diego police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, descended on the club about 8:30 p.m. They threw several concussion grenades through the windows, forcing the men out the back door and into the hands of SWAT officers.
The raid culminated a two-year undercover investigation that involved nine months of authorized wire taps, surveillances, informants and search warrants, Vigil said.
It grew out of an investigation into two drug trafficking rings with which the Hells Angels had connections in moving marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine throughout the United States from Mexico.
In the two weeks leading to the raid, authorities arrested nearly 30 people involved in those trafficking rings on similar charges. All are expected to have hearings June 18, said Alana Wong, deputy chief U.S. attorney for the Narcotics Enforcement Section.
Forty-four people are in custody as a result of the investigation by the multi-agency task force.
Wong said a conviction on all of the charges of racketeering, conspiracy, loan sharking and a pattern of intimidation and violence could lead to life sentences.
There are "only eight Hells Angels left on the street," Wong said. "We've effectively decimated the chapter."
Officers even confiscated the Hells Angels' 6-foot Styrofoam sign that hung for years over the clubhouse's front door.
A Hells Angels representative from the Oakland chapter said he could not comment on the arrests and instead passed messages on to an attorney heading to San Diego. The attorney was not reached.
The Hells Angels and associates indicted and arraigned in Federal Court in San Diego yesterday are:
Guy "Big Daddy" or "the Boss" Castiglione, 52, chapter president from Lakeside; Mark "In the Dark" Toycen, 44, chapter sergeant-at-arms, Ramona; Donny "Mikey" Griffin, 31, Rancho Penasquitos;
And, Michael Rush, also known as Mickey Canyon, 50, San Diego; Greg "G" Bunch, 39, San Diego; John "T" Tieken, 31, Ramona; Daymond "Daymo" or "Peter" Buchanan, 34, San Diego; Frank "Nick" Caruso III, 32, La Mesa.
Also indicted and arraigned were:
Patrick "Young Pat" Haggerty, 23, Oceanside; Zachary Carpenter, 33, Lakeside; Larry "Bones" or "Coach" Kirkpatrick, 31, Bonita; David Mello, 42, El Cajon;
And, James "Jimbo" Sheehan, 46, El Cajon; Paul "Pauly" Ybarra, 49, Ramona; JoAnn Hebert, 58, San Diego; Michael "Dog Mike" Copenhaver, 38, Solana Beach; Sean "Armadillo" Jones, 32, San Diego.
The clubhouse on El Cajon Boulevard opened in 1994, said El Cajon police Capt. Dan Moody. The Hells Angels chapter, nicknamed DAGO, was founded years earlier. Painted white with a smattering of red trim lettering (the Hells Angels official colors), it has bars on the windows and doors.
The club is an international organization with 50 U.S. chapters and 200 international. It was founded in 1948 in San Bernardino.
The DEA's Vigil said law enforcement considers the club to be an outlaw biker gang profiting from crime. He pointed to the shootout between the Hells Angels and the Southern California-based Mongols club in Laughlin, Nev., in April 2002.
Vigil acknowledged that the Mongols may try to move into the Hells Angels terrority but said investigators would be watching.