It is likely that the four remaining defendants in the federal Hells Angels case ongoing in Columbia, South Carolina – Mark William Baker, David Channing Oiler, Bruce James Long and Thomas McManus Plyler – will learn their fates this week. The case went to the jury last Thursday afternoon. Despite the lurid, stupid and alarmist coverage of the case in the local press and despite the theatrically placed troop of Marshalls, Bailiffs and Barneys in and around the court house, the jury is not sequestered. Now the defendants can only pray the jurors do not read newspapers.
The local press convicted the defendants almost year ago. Columbia Jay School should use the coverage of this as a case study of how not to do it.
The journalistic low point was the 1450 word incitement to lynch written by Andrew Dys and published in the Rock Hill Herald after the first week of the trial. Dys, an author and a Herald columnist and reporter not only writes in clichés and stereotypes but also believes they are good for his readers.
“RICO is used around America to prosecute gangs, like the Bloods and the Crips, and the Mafia,” Dys, a man who never heard of United States v Turkette, wrote. “And now – in this trial that centers on grungy clubhouses and a jewelry store in Rock Hill – it’s being deployed against what looks like the Redneck mafia. The second thing to notice in the courtroom is that there are no motorcycles, or leather vests or insignias of winged death heads. No chained wallets. Just five defendants who are part of a culture that supposedly does not conform to society’s rules, the one percent that they are so proud to be. But they have to conform in this courtroom”
“Defendants looking at decades in prison do not drink big cold beers in roadside bars, their huge Harleys parked at matching angles to get attention and scare squares while sneering at rules of society,” Dys informs. Readers who are thinking of becoming bulimics can read the rest of Dys’ take on the case here.
The Columbia paper, the State, also declined to cover the trial. It sort of assigned a reporter named Noelle Phillips to the case. Phillips stopped by for two days, February 12 and February 25, and what she seemed to learn was that only guilty men stand trial in federal court. Other days she was busy covering the death of a firefighter, an incident of good hearted cops helping other cops and a divorce. She also picked up an award from The South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, a group whose name begs the obvious question: Is there a South Carolina Coalition for Wife Beating and Rape?
But even when no one hears, trees still do fall in forests. There still was a trial. It was about a flurry of contraband sales and whether those sales were the result of a pre-existing and ongoing criminal conspiracy or something else. After closing arguments last week, The Aging Rebel asked two informed sources to summarize what had just happened. They complied on conditions of anonymity. This is what they thought was important.
There is ample electronic surveillance that proves defendants sold guns and drugs to a professional snitch named Joe Dillulio. The obvious question is why. The less obvious but more important question is who caused this outburst of criminality – the Rock Hell Nomads or the FBI?
Dillulio is a lifelong con man who was eager to buy contraband on behalf of the government. So far Dillulio has earned about a half million dollars for his treachery. Jurors watched and heard the surveillance at trial. Andrew Dys, who apparently has never seen an episode of Punk’d, was very impressed by it. The context of that surveillance was less obvious.
The prosecution also characterized the defendants as a “conspiracy.” The case was tried in federal court under RICO because the government alleged that the 20 people indicted in the case were a criminal enterprise who conspired to sell guns and drugs.
Throughout the trial the defense focused on the details of those drug and gun transactions.
One of those deals fell through in February 2012. Defenders argued it was representative of most of the “crimes” charged in the case. Dillulio paid defendant Bruce James Long in advance for 500 grams of cocaine. Long took the money and called a drug dealer who moved weight. Wire tap evidence indicates the dealer told Long he could have as much cocaine as he wanted – that the amount was no problem. But Long never went through with the deal. He was tempted by the $18,000 Dillulio offered him and he had the means and the opportunity to procure the drug. But, in the end he returned the money. And, Long lied to Dillulio when he did that. Long told the snitch that he couldn’t get the cocaine. The fact that Long felt obliged to politely lie to the con man is telling.
Another issue that came up repeatedly at trial concerns the definition of “conspiracy.” Prosecutors told jurors that a conspiracy is any agreement between two or more people to commit a crime. Under the government’s theory in this case, virtually every illicit drug sale in America is a conspiracy that can be prosecuted under RICO. The only exceptions would be transactions where one person manufactures the drugs then distributes and sells them. What happened in South Carolina was that Dillulio invited the alleged conspirators to commit the same government financed crime over and over.
Another contested point was whether the government created the contraband sales or not. The government used a “window theory” to explain the criminalization of the accused. According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson, Joe Dillulio opened a window to show the crimes the defendants were already committing. But the fact is there was never any evidence of criminal activity except the defendants membership in the Hells Angels and there is no evidence to show that any crimes were committed without the participation of Dillulio.
Richardson asked the jury to believe that the Hells Angels are by definition criminal. But everybody connected to the Rock Hells Nomads was under extensive surveillance from the time they patched into the motorcycle club and there was never any evidence of criminal activity until Dillulio arrived on the scene. Similarly, all criminal activity ceased as soon as each of the indictees separated himself from Dillulio. The defense attorneys tried to show the jury that Dillulio and his government handler Devon Mahoney caused the criminality.
Paying For This
The prosecution had to convince the jury that Dillulio was credible and tried to portray the snitch as a reformed con man. The defense told the jury that Dillulio had never stopped being a con man. “The guy is utterly unbelievable,” one source said. “Dillulio organized the ‘organized crime.’ He created the connections and the pattern of illegal activity.”
In the end, this case wasn’t about Hells Angels, redneck mafias or bad press. The case was about money. In the time of sequestration, prosecution has become an important industry.
Anyone with a calculator, a pen and a Tops reporter’s notebook can and should add up how much this all has cost so far. Maybe Dys and Phillips can handle that part of this story. Of course there are no official estimates and the total costs are deliberately obscured. But anyone who has ever covered one of these cases knows the largest expenses result from electronic surveillance. In this case that surveillance continued for more than two years. In addition, informants were paid and protected; a grand jury was impaneled; raids were carried out and all the policemen got overtime and lunch; evidence was collected; copies were made; defendants were jailed; witnesses were flown in and out of state; additional security was provided for the trial; a trial jury had to be subpoenaed and impaneled; and a courtroom, judge and staff had to be devoted to the trial. So, the entire case cost at least $10 million. It probably cost much more.
The government believes that all that was necessary to end the threat to the state of South Carolina, population 4,723,723, from the 70 or so Hells Angels who live there. So, the Department of Justice probably just spent about $140,000 for every Hells Angel in South Carolina. That’s what the Rock Hell case was about. Money.
As Sonny Barger once put it in a television interview, “Why don’t they just give us the money and we’ll promise to be good.”