The two remaining defendants in the Christie case, George Gus Christie, Jr. and Kyle Douglas Gilbertson agreed to plea deals late Friday afternoon that will allow both men to stay free and get on with their lives. Christie pled guilty to two counts of conspiracy and left the courthouse without his ankle bracelet. Gilbertson pled guilty to one charge that may allow him to keep his job as an air traffic controller.
The agreements were reached after the second day of what promised to be the most informative and amusing biker trial ever. “Motorcycle gang expert” Jorge Gil-Blanco was scheduled to testify for the prosecution. Former Bandidos Motorcycle Club Presidente George Wegers and former Mongols Motorcycle Club member Al Cavazos, two men who both believed they were entrapped by federal police, were going to testify for the defense.
The presiding Judge in the case, The Honorable George H. Wu, seriously wanted to avoid trial. He allowed jury selection to linger for two full days. During that time Wu repeatedly encouraged the prosecutors, Jay Robinson and Carol Chen, and the defenders, Michael Mayock and Larry Bakman, to settle the case. On Friday Wu resorted to bribing the opposing parties with homemade cake if they would agree to a settlement.
The stakes were high for both sides. The government was probably about to lose. The defense intended to expose the essentially corrupt nature of federal motorcycle club cases. Worse, the loose and unconventional Wu was perilously close to establishing case law precedents that might ruin the prosecution of dozens of other motorcycle club cases present and future. In a pretrial hearing earlier in the week Wu had forbidden Gil-Blanco, who seemed star struck by Christie, to use the words “gang” and “outlaw” in his testimony. However Wu then continued to refer to “gangs” when he questioned prospective jurors. Even Larry Bakman made repeated references to “motorcycle gangs” when challenging juror prospects.
Christie faced two charges that carried minimum sentences of 30 years each and another charge that carried a mandatory sentence of life in prison. Gilbertson faced similar penalties.
The settlement was negotiated by another federal district judge, John Walter, during one three hour sit down after the trial recessed for the week. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
Throughout the course of the case the defendants and their relatives have been specifically forbidden to talk to The Aging Rebel. The prohibition remained in effect on Saturday and neither Christie nor Gilbertson nor Mayock nor Bakman have contributed to this story in any way. Multiple sources speaking on conditions of anonymity have contributed and verified the facts stated here. Christie and Gilbertson’s plea and sentencing agreements have not yet been filed with the court.
The Christie Sting
George Christie was a long-time President of the Ventura charter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club before he retired from the club in the Spring of 2011. Because he is a bright, reasonable and charming man he became a frequent spokesman for the Angels. And, because his demeanor and appearance undermined law enforcement efforts to demonize the Angels as mythic villains Christie himself became a federal law enforcement target from about 1980 onward.
Federal police go after Christie about every ten years. In 1987 he was tried and acquitted of solicitation to murder. In 1998 he was arrested and thrown into solitary confinement until he pled guilty to conspiracy to sell prescription drugs and no contest to a charge of filing a false tax return.
The Department of Justice went after Christie again in 2007. The most recent attempt to get George Christie was roughly contemporaneous with an ATF undercover investigation of the Mongols Motorcycle Club called Operation Black Rain. Black Rain began with the recruitment of a Mongols patch holder in Ventura named T.J. Stansbury in June 2005. Stansbury was well acquainted with the tattoo business in Ventura County. One of the first persons Stansbury entrapped was a tattoo artist named William “Target” Owens. Owens was President of the Mongols Ventura chapter. The first ATF undercover agent introduced to the Mongols by Stansbury was Greg Giaoni. Giaoni has “Dirty White Boy” tattooed on his chest. The tattoo was put there by Target Owens.
Mongols And Angels
When Black Rain began, three years after a well-publicized fight between Mongols and Hells Angels in Laughlin, Nevada, relations between the two clubs were very tense but less so in Ventura County than elsewhere. Owens knew Christie and has spoken glowingly about him. Christie was a participant in one of the first altercations between Mongols and Hells Angels in 1978 but eventually, for both pragmatic and idealistic reasons, he became a dove in the often violent dispute between the two clubs. Throughout the first decade of the new millennium, federal police provably welcomed conflict between Mongols and Angels.
For example, the fight between the clubs in Laughlin was clearly preventable, but was allowed to escalate over a period of two days by undercover federal agents. The hour-long, immediate prelude to the fight between the clubs was observed by federal agents in the video surveillance room at Harrah’s Laughlin. The ATF apparently had confidential informants among the Mongols when the fight began. And, the fight itself became the rationale behind a massive undercover effort to destroy the Mongols and the Hells Angels that included both Operation Black Rain and an investigation of the Hells Angels that came to be called Operation Black Biscuit. It was in that context that Christie became the target of an investigation by the FBI.
The operation that originally targeted Christie was a sideshow in a grand government strategy to encourage violent crime between motorcycle clubs. Federal police could then take credit for saving the public from a situation those saviors had created.
Until yesterday’s settlement was reached, Christie was being tried for conspiring to firebomb two Ventura tattoo shops named Scratch the Surface and Twisted Ink. Until he sold the business last month, Christie was the owner and proprietor of a tattoo parlor called The Ink House. The prosecution in the recent case has alleged that Christie had the two shops firebombed because he wanted to drive his competitors out of business. However, if the prosecution had not thrown in the towel yesterday, the defense attorneys would have offered the jury an alternative version of what was actually going on.
Several of the artists who worked at the firebombed tattoo shops had ties to the Mongols. The extent to which the government actually created those firebombed shops is still unclear. Christie probably would have testified that his interest in the shops was not about destroying his competition but about keeping what peace he could between Mongols and Hells Angels in Ventura. The defense might have been able to prove that the two shops were opened just down the street from Christie’s business in order to provoke Christie and the Ventura Hells Angels. Surveillance video cameras in the two shops were supplied by the FBI. The cameras were maintained by the FBI and supplied much of the evidence the prosecution hoped to use.
In a court document filed last December, prosecutors bragged that they had video evidence of Gilbertson’s participation in the alleged conspiracy.
“Consequently, on or about June 4, 2007,” one passage begins, “Co-conspirator One met with defendant Gilbertson and relayed defendant Christie’s orders to him. Later that night, at 9:27 P.M., defendant Gilbertson walked into “Scratch the Surface,” accompanied by Brian Russell, Rick Russell, Benji Hurtado, and an unidentified male. Once inside the business, defendant Gilbertson, B. Russell, and R. Russell walked up to the two employees working at the time of the incident and each said the following: ‘There is only one tattoo shop in this town.’ ‘Pack up your stuff.’ ‘Your time is up.’ ‘Pass it on to the owner.’ ‘We’ll be back.’ Defendant Gilbertson and the other individuals then walked out of Scratch the Surface. The entirety of this incident was captured on the shop’s security camera.’
The Christie Sting
Of course it was. That’s why the FBI put the cameras in the shop in the first place. That was why the FBI hired two of the co-conspirators in the case, James David Ivans, Jr. and Jared Ostrum “Crash” Plomell, and paid them at least $60,000. The FBI wanted to inflame passions between Mongols and Hells Angels in Ventura and get George Christie at the same time. The FBI cameras failed to operate only once during the “investigation.” That was the night, according to prosecutors, “Defendant Christie personally walked into Scratch the Surface in February 2007 (and) asked employees if they knew who he was.” Christie went there to try to encourage peace between Mongols and Angels. The mysteriously malfunctioning video could have proven that.
Interesting though a trial would have been, there is no certainty that Christie and Gilbertson would have won. If the questioning of prospective jurors this week proved anything it was that at least 20 percent of good citizens in Southern California have seen the biker drama Sons of Anarchy and most of them think the show reflects the reality of motorcycle clubs. The opinions of prospective jurors about outlaw clubs has also been significantly effected by reality shows like Gangland. And, nobody can or will stop calling the Hells Angels a “gang.”
The Christie trial could have forever changed American attitudes about the ongoing war between cops and outlaws. Or, it could have simply ruined the lives of two more innocent men. In the end Christie and Gilbertson, after almost two years of extra-judicial punishment, decided to give the prosecution a paper verdict and walk away free.
And, Judge Wu made good on his promise of free cake. And the prosecutors, by the way, didn’t get any.