On his way out the door yesterday, recently fired United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara unsealed a turgid and bloated, 21 page racketeering indictment of six alleged members of the New Roc City charter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.
And, a press release. Every RICO indictment must be accompanied by a press release. The point of these releases is to simplify the reporting of these sorts of indictments which may explain why that reporting is so often simple minded and unskeptical. The six indicted men are Thomas Schmidt, Joseph Kaplan, Michael Piccione, John Calvacchio, Jeff Amato and Gary Paganelli.
RICO is the ironically intended acronym for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. It was originally intended to prevent members of the so-called Mafia from investing money from criminal activities in legitimate businesses – as Al Capone used the money he made from selling demon rum to buy a dairy so he could get out of the liquor business and start selling milk. The law originally described the legitimate business bought with criminal funds – like the dairy, or a bowling alley, a bar or a Harley dealership – as a “criminal enterprise.” But the Supreme Court redefined the meaning of “criminal enterprise” in June 1981 from a “legitimate business” taken over by criminals to the criminals themselves, and that redefinition had the unexpected effects of making all crimes federal crimes and making all organizations vulnerable to the accusation that because they were organizations they might be criminal organizations.
People noticed. The Columbia Law Review called the new RICO “The Crime of Being a Criminal.”
The Los Angeles Times thought, “A good law has several essential attributes: It is clear; it addresses itself to a specific and clearly defined form of illicit conduct; it prescribes a remedy or punishment proportionate to the damage done by the offense. Statutes that fail to meet these tests are enacted not in the cause of justice, but for the convenience of the state. RICO, in fact, is one of the latter.
“RICO originally was directed against the conspiratorial activities of so-called mob families. However, the law is so loosely worded that any two instances of illegal conduct within a 10-year period – even if relatively trivial – can, if they involve use of the mail or telephone, be prosecuted as a ‘pattern of racketeering activity.’”
Cigarettes And Women
Then when nagging editorials didn’t make the redefined law disappear, people just forgot that it wasn’t always like this.
The first target of the newly redefined RICO was the Dago charter of the Hells Angels. Yesterday it was New Roc City. And the fact that it is a RICO indictment explains why so much of the indictment takes pains to label the accused as “members and associates of a criminal organization known as the New Roc Hells Angels (‘New Roc HA’ or the ‘Enterprise’) whose members and associates engaged in, among other activities, narcotics trafficking, extortion, money laundering, contraband cigarettes, prostitution and altered motor vehicle parts..”
Jaded readers will probably find the indictment amusing in a cynical way. There is no explanation about what “altered motor vehicle parts” means, for example, so it is probably reasonable to conclude that it means some member of this charter drilled out the baffles on his factory installed motorcycle exhaust so that his new $30,000 bike would actually run the way it would have run if he had bought it 15 years ago. Similarly, although the indictment takes pains to describe the charter as a cabal of pimps, it doesn’t mention any actual instances of prostitution. Instead, anyone who bothers to read this legal document will learn that as recently as 2014: “Within the United States, the Hells Angels was composed of individual Chapters in various locations throughout the United States. Members of the Hells Angels belonged to a specific Chapter, and answer to the officers for that Chapter. The New Roc HA – like each Hells Angels Chapter – was an organized enterprise that adhered to a hierarchical chain of command with a president, vice-president, treasurer/secretary, and sergeant at arms/enforcer, as well as general members. Each officer had specific obligations.”
More Government Prose
Try to stay awake while you read this passage:
“From at least in or about 2008, up to and including in or about August 2014, in the Southern District of New York and elsewhere, Thomas Schmidt, the defendant, and others known and unknown, being persons employed by and associated with the Enterprise described above, to wit, the New Roc HA, knowingly combined, conspired, confederated, and agreed together and with each other to violate the racketeering laws of the United States, to wit, Section 1962(C) of Title 18, United States Code, that is, to conduct and participate, directly and indirectly, in the conduct of the affairs of the New Roc HA, which was engaged in, and the activities of which affected, interstate and foreign commerce, through a pattern of racketeering activity consisting of:a. multiple offenses involving the distribution of controlled substances, including cocaine, marihuana and oxycodone, in violation of the laws of the United States, namely Title 21, United States Code, Sections 812, 841-(a) (1), 841 (b) (1) (A), 841 (b) (1) (C), 841 (b) (1) (D), and 846, and Title 18, United States Code, Section 2; and b. multiple acts indictable under Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956 (money laundering) and Title 18, United States Code, section 2; It was a part of the conspiracy that the defendant agreed that a conspirator would commit at least two acts of racketeering activity in the conduct of the affairs of the Enterprise.”
It’s like Faulkner when he was really drunk, isn’t it?
Sometime, somewhere, the defendants “did distribute and possess with intent to distribute five kilograms and more of mixtures and substances containing a detectable amount of cocaine.”
Late in December 2012 a couple of these guys “and others known and unknown…in the Southern District of New York…for the purpose of gaining entrance to and maintaining and increasing position in the New Roc HA, an enterprise engaged in racketeering activity, as described above, intentionally and knowingly, did assault an individual with a dangerous weapon, and aided and abetted the same, to wit, Schmidt and Kaplan, along with other members of the Enterprise, assaulted members of a rival gang known as the Diablos with a hammer.”
And also these alleged desperadoes possessed and intended to distribute “mixtures and substances containing quantities of oxycodone” and “mixtures and substances containing a detectable amount of marihuana.”
Then, after selling this “marihuana,” the accused “did conduct and attempt to conduct financial transactions affecting interstate commerce and foreign commerce, which transactions involved the proceeds of specified unlawful activity, that is narcotics trafficking, with the intent to promote the carrying on of specified unlawful activity, and that while conducting and attempting to conduct such financial transactions, knew that the property involved in the financial transactions represented the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity.” That one is the money laundering charge.
In the press release, “Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim (Bharara actually signed this indictment but Joon H. Kim got to brag on it) said: ‘As alleged, through the sale of cocaine, oxycodone, and marijuana and their violent conflict with rival gangs, members of the New Roc Hells Angels wreaked havoc on the streets of Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess counties. Together with our law enforcement partners, we are determined to combat gang and drug violence throughout the Southern District of New York.’”
And, “FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said: ‘Violent gangs such as the Hells Angels often use violence and intimidation as a means to establish themselves or protect their turf. In this case they allegedly used those tactics by attacking a rival gang member with a hammer in the middle of a restaurant and placing innocent people in danger. Regardless of the name these men operate under, the FBI Westchester Safe Streets Gang Task Force works daily to remove these alleged violent members of our society and to create a safer community for everyone.’”
If convicted, Schmidt, Piccione, Calvacchio, Amato and Paganelli face life in prison. Kaplan is looking at 20 years.
Next there will be about three years of official silence while defense attorneys try to see the evidence the government actually possesses, or may eventually possess, to prove the accusations in the indictment and the press release.