The federal racketeering case in South Carolina titled U.S. v Bifield et al. is still meandering like an old river. The case is very far from the sea. And, the action in the last month has boiled down to two issues: The inevitable superseding indictment and whether the defendants should trust their lawyers.
The 97 page superseding indictment was filed September 19. The case began on May 17. The most recent indictment is docket entry 571 in the case.
And nothing could better illustrate what a rigged game federal justice is than those three brief declarations. In the current practice of federal law first you throw the maximum number of suspects and their wives in a cage and hold a press conference to announce this victory for law and order. Then after tormenting, threatening and lying to the suspects for months the prosecutors demand to start all over again. The superseding indictment is never accompanied by the obligatory photo opportunity of smug and evil bureaucrats posing with a table full of drugs, guns and cuts but it still counts in court anyway.
The Superseding Indictment
Version 2.0 of the indictment begins with the usual, long, Gangland style description of the Hells Angels as an “enterprise” because only enterprises may be charged under RICO. The original idea of RICO was to prevent gangsters from corrupting legitimate enterprises like Bill’s Bowling Alley, Herb’s Hoagies or the United States Congress. And that original intent was eventually corrupted to mean that any “enterprise” may be named in a racketeering indictment. But, in practice only institutions that are both arcane and unpopular are targeted – like the Hells Angels. The defendants in this case face long prison terms simply because they are members, associates, friends or relatives of Hells Angels. And, as everyone from Kurt Sutter to the WWE knows, Hells Angels are very glamorous. Prosecutors, investigative journalists and policeman all bathe in this glory.
Specifically, the new and improved indictment alleges “the Enterprise” of:
“Preserving, protecting and expanding the power, territory and profits of the Enterprise through the use of intimidation, extortion, narcotics distribution, money laundering, arson and acts and threats of violence. Enriching the members and associates of the Enterprise through, among other things, intimidation, extortion, narcotics distribution, money laundering, arson, trafficking in stolen goods, prostitution and firearms trafficking. Promoting and enhancing the Enterprise’s reputation and its members’ and associates’ activities. Assisting, supporting and obtaining assistance and support from the regional, national and international Hells Angels in their activities including: Legal matters, rivalries (such as the rivalry with the Outlaws Motorcycle Club), exchanging information about current membership, exchanging information about criminal investigations, relying on other Hells Angels Chapter members to assist the enterprise in furthering its criminal conduct and aiding and protecting other Hells Angels members in their criminal activity. Using the enterprise to facilitate the possession and use of controlled substances. Funding the operation of the Hells Angels. Promoting a climate of fear and keeping victims, potential informants, witnesses and others in fear of the Enterprise and in fear of its members and associates through violence and threats of violence.”
The generalities in these indictments are almost always a little comical – a strange mix of distortion, fabrication, fact and farce, like listening to Daffy Duck explain in detail how it is a scientific fact that there is no such thing as God.
It is clear that one either gets the concept of motorcycle clubs or one does not and most people do not. It doesn’t matter what the cops and lawyers think. Professionally, federal police cannot understand motorcycle clubs and continue to get paid at the same time. Cops and prosectuors are hired guns with ambitions. They get paid to win. So one game prosecutors play is a variation on one of Zeno’s paradoxes. Not everyone in this case can prove they are innocent of an infinite number of imaginable crimes. Consequently they all must be guilty of all imaginable crimes.
Bifield’s Pro Se Motion
Frustration with this obstinate refusal to comprehend motorcycle clubs as non-criminal organizations separate from any members who might commit crimes led the lead defendant in this case, Dan Bifield to file a hand-written motion that would allow him to represent himself, or in the cant of lawyers, to act pro se.
“I’m also requesting that you allow me to have some kind of legal assistance while doing so,” the accused man continued. “I just feel that it will be in my best interest to represent myself considering that I have been a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club for 37 years! No one could explain to the jury better than I could of the fact that we are not an organized crime enterprise! I should have a right to do all that in my opening and closing arguments. I’d also like to have the right to cross examine the government’s witnesses on the stand because of illegal things and entrapment that has been done to us.”
Bifield’s motion consternated some of the defense attorneys – the ones who think they can win this case. For at least a month these attorneys have been looking for witnesses without criminal convictions who have intimate knowledge of motorcycle clubs and who would be willing to testify for the defense. One of the goals of these attorneys has been to find ways to help jurors understand that the Hells Angels is not a criminal organization and that to belong to that club does not automatically make you a criminal.
One person close to the case called Bifield’s pro se motion a “bad idea. We are all very scared this will really mess up what we are trying to do.”
In the end Dan Bifield did what his reputation said he would do at his hearing for self representation. He did what he decided was the right thing for everybody in the case. He chose “to continue representation by current counsel.”