The great war of the legal briefs is still unfolding in the Pagans case in Charleston, West Virginia. It is boring so we will try to be brief. But it is important anyway because it is case about whether motorcycle clubs are inherently rackets or fundamentally something else. In particular, it is a case about whether accusing a motorcycle club of being a racket actually proves that it is one.
Last week Steven Lowe, the Assistant United States Attorney who is prosecuting this case, belted out a memorandum that is a 16,700 word-long medley of RICO’s greatest hits. Lowe’s legal assumption appears to be that if any court, civil or criminal, anywhere, accepted a legal argument in a racketeering case then the presiding judge here, a man named Thomas E. Johnston must find those arguments applicable to this case. The judge might think this is a simplistic view of case law or he might not. Loew must think it is worth a shot.
So, for example, Loew argues that the Pagans are a racket even though they were not trying to make money – which is what everybody understands “racket” to mean – because three years ago the National Organization for Women prevailed in a civil suit against a man named Joseph Scheidler and his Pro-Life Action League. Loew references another civil case, Reves, that would seem to prove that most of the accused in this case cannot be tried under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization statute, and then he cites an instance where a member of an Asian-American extortion ring, called the Green Dragons, was proven to be part of the extortion plot although he was not running it.
It is kind of zany. It is like asserting that Shakespeare and Snooki from Jersey Shore must be the same person because it is provably true that they have both used the words “jack” and “ass.”
Loew’s memorandum goes on like this forever. The Pagans are guilty of “affecting interstate commerce” because “multiple circuit courts…have held that a minimal impact on interstate commerce is sufficient.” You know, like sometimes the Pagans ride on federally financed highways. So that proves that. You have to wonder what Lowe thinks is not a racket.
The Patch Pulling
For months, the racketeering crime at the center of the Pagans case was a raffle. The Pagans raffled off a motorcycle. The prosecution loudly announced but never sought to prove that the raffle was a fraud. Because, the fraud allegations were just to poison the jury pool, What Loew really wanted to show was that the Pagans Motorcycle Club was an interstate, pyramidally structured racket with illegally obtained profits moving up the ladder from patch holders in New Jersey and Virginia to club officers in West Virginia.
Well, to make a long story short, that one made everybody laugh.
Now the Pagans case is based on the club’s assertion of pre-eminence over other clubs in Pagans’ territory. It is a dangerous argument for motorcycle clubs because if it works in the Pagans case it will be used against every other pre-eminent motorcycle club in the country. It is impossible to tell if Loew suddenly got smart about this line of attack, or if he now has everybody’s favorite ATF short person whispering in his ear or if he just happened to type this like the infinite number of monkeys typing at the infinite number of keyboards. But it is a smart way to attack one percenter clubs.
The alleged crime he is using to exemplify this “pattern of racketeering activity” is a patch pulling party in which both Pagans and members of the Last Rebels Motorcycle Club ordered members of the Road Disciples Motorcycle Club to surrender their “16” flair. These little “16” patches (for the 16th letter of the alphabet) are the official “friends of” patches the Pagans use and they were probably understood by everyone there to be Pagans property. But, after those little patches were surrendered, a government paid, agent provocateur named Ronnie Howerton, returned to the Road Disciples clubhouse and seized that club’s cuts and colors.
The government argument is that when Howerton did that he was working exclusively for the Pagans and not for the Department of Justice of the United States.
Guilty Pleas Prove Racketeering
Loew’s memorandum was supplemented by another 2,000 words from a “defense” attorney named W. Michael Frazier who “represents” a defendant named Steven Stover.
Stover was one of the Last Rebels who attended the “16” patch pulling. He pled guilty to committing a crime of violence in aid of racketeering. Judge Johnson refused to allow that plea because he has doubts that the Pagans can actually be proven to be a racket. Frazier insists, on behalf of his client, that the Pagans are a racket and his client is guilty.
This would be harmless, except to Stover, if it affected only this one defendant. But just like the long running Mongols case on the west coast, the strategy in West Virginia is to use guilty pleas to prove the existence of the “Pagans racket.” In California, the prosecution coerced guilty pleas and has now trumpeted those pleas – which were actually accusations written down by the prosecutors – as “proof” that that club was what the government was accusing it of being.
In Loew’s argument last week He wrote that “it has been established by the guilty pleas of Floyd B. Moore and David Cremeans” that the Pagans “engaged in racketeering activity.”
The fate of the Pagans and other big clubs may now depend on whether the judge decides to sing along.