In what appears to be a test case in the American campaign to outlaw motorcycle clubs, the United States Department of Justice is trying to seize the American Outlaws Association clubhouse in Fort Wayne. The forfeiture attempt is part of a racketeering case filed in July 2012 and titled United States v. Bowser et al.
Civil forfeiture is one of the most potent weapons in the federal arsenal. Forfeiture proceedings are difficult and expensive to fight. Forfeiture may be granted on only a “preponderance of the evidence” standard. The forfeitures are often grossly disproportionate to the alleged crime and the connection between contested property and a convicted person is often tenuous.
For example, in 2008 former Mongols Motorcycle Club president Ruben “Doc” Cavazos agreed to a plea and sentencing agreement in which Cavazos gave the name and insignia of his former motorcycle club to the government. Multiple federal judges in multiple cases ruled that Cavazos couldn’t do that but more than five years later the federal government is still trying to seize the Mongols name and patch.
The Patch Pullings
The proposed Fort Wayne forfeiture results from a plea agreement signed last August by a defendant named Dax G. Shephard.
Shephard confessed that he told other members of the Outlaws that members of the “Iron Coffins Motorcycle Club had been making disparaging comments about the Outlaws Motorcycle Club.” Shephard and several other club members drove to a garage in Butler, Indiana and forcibly took an Iron Coffins patch from one person and took Iron Coffin shirts from two others. According to the confession at least four punches were thrown.
Shephard also confessed to participating in the expulsion from the club of a former Outlaw named Brian Glaze. Glaze had stolen $17,000 from the club. Shephard and others “confronted Glaze about stealing the money from the Outlaws MC treasury” and “instructed Glaze to give him his jewelry, vest, shirts, and belt, all of which contained the OMC logo.” Shephard also watched as a tattoo artist “blacked out many of the OMC tattoos on Glaze’s body. The blacking out of the tattoos caused Glaze to bleed significantly.”
Shephard pled guilty to racketeering and was sentenced last August to 46 months in prison and 60 months of supervised release and was fined $5,000.
The Small Print Taketh Away
Part of the boilerplate in Shephard’s plea deal was a government drafted confession that the Outlaws is a criminal racket and an agreement by Shephard to forfeit his interest in the Outlaws’ clubhouse at the corner of West Main and Cherry streets in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
U.S. Marshalls posted a preliminary motion of forfeiture on the property on October 3rd. On October 29th, officers of the AOO Black Region filed a Petition for Relief from Preliminary Order of Forfeiture with Judge Tanya Walton-Pratt arguing, among other things, that the clubhouse wasn’t Shephard’s to give away. Ten days ago the government filed a counter-motion that asked the judge to ignore the Petition for Relief because it had not been properly signed.
Judge Pratt has not yet ruled on either motion or scheduled a motion hearing on the matter.