The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Aref “Scarface Steve” Nagi, the former Vice President of the Highwaymen Motorcycle Club in Detroit, must be granted reasonable bail. Nagi has been locked up since October 2006.
The Highwaymen have eight chapters in Michigan and additional chapters in Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Indiana. The Detroit Highwaymen are hardly sympathetic even to other motorcycle clubs. It is reportedly the largest club in Detroit and it has allegedly been banned from the Michigan Confederation of Clubs.
DRANO And DRATT
The DOJ obtained indictments against 22 members and “associates” of the Highwaymen on September 5, 2006. Most of the indicted were from Detroit although one defendant lived in Fort Lauderdale, another in Memphis and a third in Buffalo, New York. The fact that three defendants were from outside Michigan is, presumably, what made it a federal case.
The defendants were taken into custody dramatically, as is the case in modern America, by police dressed like video-game commandos. Multiple police forces carried out these arrests and several of them had the cute, contrived names that have infested law enforcement like fleas in a pack of stray dogs: DRANO, the Down River Anti-Narcotics Organization, for example; and DRATT, the Down River Auto Theft Team; as well as the unashamedly self-important “Joint FBI/Detroit Police Department Violent Crimes/Gang Task Force.”
The “criminal enterprise” with which the 22 were charged was an alleged “conspiracy” to distribute marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy. Nagi did have a bail hearing a week after he was arrested, but a judge named Donald A. Scheer ruled that he was both a flight risk. Last year, after Nagi had spent 838 days in jail, a federal judge named Nancy G. Edmunds said that “the length of time,” Nagi had been held without trial, “is starting to bother me.” Yesterday, the Appeals Court told Judge Edmunds to “fix a reasonable bail and/or conditions for release.”
The Superseding Indictment
Last April 21st a federal Grand Jury returned a 35 count, 47 page superseding indictment of 78 members and associates of the in and around Detroit. United States Attorney Terrence Berg called the case “…the largest prosecution in the history of Michigan of a motorcycle gang and one of the largest in the history of the nation.”
The superseding indictment accused Club National President Joseph “Little Joe” Whiting and others of conspiracy to commit murder, armed robbery, extortion, assault with weapons, drug dealing, trading in stolen goods, and obstruction of justice. The indictment also accused club members of: The armed robbery and murder of a man named Ruben Guzman in September, 2003; conspiring to murder three men named Gerald Deese, Doug Burnett and Phillip McDonald between 2005 and 2007; a house arson in 2004; and various crimes against members of the Black Pistons Motorcycle Club and the Liberty Riders Motorcycle Club in order to “(maintain) control over Highwaymen Motorcycle Club territory (turf) through acts of intimidation, threats and violence.”
The Detroit Comedy Show
The indictment also immediately unleashed a little scandal in Detroit.
One of the indictees was a former Garden City, Michigan police sergeant named David “Stifler” Tomlan and it was Tomlan’s second indictment in 14 months. In March 2008 Tomlan was accused of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and anabolic steroids and of lying to the FBI about it. The superseding Highwaymen indictment accused Tomlin and others of stealing “some motorcycles” from the Myrtle Beach “Motorcycle Week” in May, 2006 and bringing them back to Michigan in a “U-Haul trailer.” Tomlan was also accused of conspiring to get “more than five” kilos of cocaine.
The April indictment also accused an attorney and “highly respected community leader” named Hatim “Tim” Attalla. The day before he was indicted, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing had appointed Attala to the city’s “crisis turnaround team.”
Too Dangerous For Bail
For the last seven months, prosecutors have argued that Aref “Scarface Steve” Nagi is such a dangerous individual that his release might intimidate former members of the Highwaymen who are known to be cooperating with prosecutors. Two club members named Robert “Bobby” Burton and Gerald “Byrd” Peters have been publically identified as cooperating witnesses.
Last week Judge Edmunds rescinded the bail for two defendants in the case for allegedly threatening Peters. Michael “Cocoa” Cicchetti, the current President of the Detroit chapter of the club, and Erick “Pok-a-dot” Manners allegedly invited Peters to a club meeting to discuss how the club “should handle cooperating witnesses.”
Assistant United States Attorney Diane Marion told the Detroit News that both of the cooperating witnesses “are in extreme danger.” She confirmed that the two men were cooperating witnesses and said both “have been moved.”
But the Appeals Court ruled that Nagi still had a right to bail. “The charges against Nagi are serious,” the court wrote, “but they do not include the even more serious conspiracy to commit murder charges that some of Nagi’s co-defendants face, some of whom remain free on bond, and none of whom have spent anywhere close to three-plus years in detention.”