George Christie, arguably the second best known of all the Hells Angels, goes on trial next week. If he wins, Christie who is now 65 will have earned the right to spend the rest of his days watching his youngest son grow into manhood and enjoying the company of his devoted wife in his spacious but not extravagant, middle class home in Ventura. If he loses he will probably die alone in a cage.
The government of the United States has brought this case against George Christie now because it has been trying to convict him of something for 30 years. And now that he has retired from his old motorcycle club this may be the federal government’s final opportunity to punish him – and also punish the people who love, like or admire him.
“He’s fair. He’s truthful. He’s kind. Law enforcement has it completely wrong. How could he be so evil? He’s such a nice guy,” Nikki Christie, the old outlaw’s pretty and articulate wife said months ago. ““I’m not his bitch. He doesn’t call me his old lady…. I get this horrible overwhelming feeling of him being gone forever so I’m not coping with that part very well…. I know he didn’t do anything wrong and I believe in him. We’re gonna win…. I didn’t know what indictment meant. I didn’t know anything. I thought the cops told the truth. I thought the newspaper told the truth. I had no idea how corrupt everything could be.”
For people who are not in the punishment business, this Christie case can seem shocking, mindlessly cruel and disillusioning. It may in fact epitomize what a young lawyer named Andrew Carlon called “The Sadistic State:” “a state run amok. It is a state that has decided that, since its unique function is the power to punish, it must pursue punishment as an intrinsic good, independent of desert (or, indeed, of the other, more consequentialist aims of punishment), transforming itself into a ‘punishment machine.’ But as we have seen, punishment without desert reduces to sadism. We get the “sadistic state,” which wields power, most fully realized through the infliction of pain, as an end in itself, the human beings in its power merely means to that awful end.”
The Crime Of Seeming Reasonable
Because he is a bright and reasonable man, Christie became a spokesman for the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club more than three decades ago. Because he was a Hells Angel, policemen who never met him decided that his intelligent reasonableness must be a criminal trick to avoid punishment.
“He’s so clean,” a law enforcement analyst complained to the Los Angeles Times. “He keeps himself removed. He’s not supposed to be doing the dirty business.”
Christie has been in serious legal trouble twice before. In 1987, a heroin addict recruited by police accused Christie and another man of soliciting the murder of a drug dealer. After a year in jail a jury found him innocent. After the trial, one of the jurors told a reporter her opinion of the charge against Christie. “He was set up.”
In 1998, Christie was charged with 59 separate counts for masterminding a perceived conspiracy in which he was alleged to have sold hundreds of thousands of prescription pills. He spent a year in jail before he pled guilty to conspiracy to sell prescription drugs and no contest to a charge of filing a false tax return. As is usual in federal cases, he was released as soon as he signed his government drafted confession.
Christie’s current prosecution is reminiscent of his earlier adventures with federal cops. He is not charged with actually performing an illegal act but rather of conspiring to perform illegal acts. Simply stated the government has told the judge it intends to prove that Christie conspired “to interfere with (interstate) commerce by extortion;” attempted “to interfere with commerce by extortion;” conspired “to use fire or an explosive to damage property;” and was part of a conspiracy that used “ fire or an explosive to damage property.”
The actual events that underlie these charges are the fire bombings of two Ventura, California tattoo shops called Scratch the Surface and Twisted Ink. Christie owns a tattoo shop in the same city called The Ink House so he had a plausible motive for putting his competitors out of business. Implicit in the government’s case is the idea that the Hells Angels is a for profit business and that club members engage in various conspiracies to enrich and benefit one another. To buttress this conspiracy theory the prosecution will call the reptilian Jorge Gil-Blanco – a “motorcycle gang expert” who is available to testify for the prosecution virtually anywhere and anytime.
In this trial, according to court documents, Gil Blanco will testify about” the “general history of the Hells Angels; breadth as an International organization; the Hells Angel’s reputation for violence; process for membership; actions required of a prospect; how criminal activities and acts of violence affect a member’s status; the role of a president of a Hells Angel chapter and his influence upon members; the organization of the Hells Angel’s Ventura chapter;” and his “ultimate opinion that only a Hell’s Angel member of significant status such as defendant Christie, could have authorized the shutting down of tattoo shops within the City of Ventura.”
The prosecution also intends to prove that Christie has instigated and led conspiracies to drive his competitors out of business before. Although he has never been charged, prosecutors will allege that Christie was responsible for an arson at another Ventura tattoo parlor named Slingers a dozen years ago. Prosecutors also will allege that Christie extorted payments from other tattoo shops in Ventura County.
All of these accusations are based on statements made by two men named James David Ivans, Jr. and Jared Ostrum “Crash” Plomell.
The official narrative of the prosecution’s case goes:
“On an unknown date prior to July 6, 2007, George Christie, a high-ranking member of the Ventura Chapter of the Hells Angels outlaw motorcycle club, contacted a known co-conspirator (Ivans) about damaging or completely destroying Twisted Ink and Scratch the Surface, each a tattoo parlor in direct competition with The Ink House a tattoo parlor owned and operated by Christie. (Ivans) then met with another known co-conspirator (Plomell) and told him that Ivans would pay Plomell to burn down Twisted Ink and Scratch the Surface. Plomell then met with another known co-conspirator (“co-conspirator #3”), and together on July 6, 2007, they drove to Twisted Ink and Scratch the Surface, where they threw a lit Molotov cocktail into each business with the intent of burning down or causing damage to each business. Plomell and co-conspirator #3 then met with Ivans to receive payment for their work in attempting to burn down Twisted Ink and Scratch the Surface. For this conduct, the government charged George Christie….”
Christie’s lawyer, W. Michael Mayock, has already raised a couple of interesting objections to the government’s case against his client.
In a motion filed last week Mayock noted that “prior to their arrests in the case” Ivans and Plomell exonerated themselves “and implicated Mr. Christie. (Ivans and Plomell) also implicated Mr. Christie as the leader in these events. (Ivans and Plomell) prior to their arrests were cooperating with the government, as informants, conducting undercover recordings and calling in reports of purported ‘incidents’ to various governmental agencies and continue to be cooperating with the government against Mr. Christie, and others. In exchange for having incriminated Mr. Christie, cooperators have all received compensation from the government in the form of financial compensation, as well as charging and sentencing considerations.”
Mayock reiterates a long standing rumor that has befouled the government’s case, “that if Mr. Christie is convicted, the cooperators sentences will be further reduced. In view of the compensation…. It has also been reported, should the cooperators fail to testify against Mr. Christie as instructed, the cooperators have been threatened with long term federal charges and life sentences.”
Mayock has also raised the most obvious question about this case which is: Even if he “directed” the firebombing of his competitors, why is George Christie being tried in federal rather than state court? The learned council phrases the question differently: As “whether an arson committed against a small business, namely a tattoo parlor, that operates as a stand-alone business servicing a local community falls within the scope of the interstate commerce element of the arson statute charged in this Indictment…. Mr. Christie contends that the two tattoo parlors, which are the alleged victims of the charged arsons, do not qualify as property ‘used in’ interstate commerce or interstate commerce-affecting activity, as required (under the law….) Accordingly, the application of (the statute under which Christie is charged) to the tattoo parlors in this case exceeds the authority vested in Congress under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution…. On this basis, an arson committed against the tattoo parlors in this case is not subject to federal prosecution.”
George Christie’s trial begins January 29.