INDIANAPOLIS — An enforcer in the Outlaws Motorcycle Club was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison Thursday.
Joshua Bowser was accused of participating in instances of fraud, extortion and a drug conspiracy as a member of the group the government paints as a criminal organization.
Bowser's public defenders, Monica Foster and Gwendolyn Beitz, were able to convince Judge Tanya Walton Pratt to shave about a decade off the upper level of an advisory guideline. The government, represented by Brad Blackington, painted Bowser as a leader in several of the illegal acts he and other people associated with the motorcycle club participated in.
Bowser was among 42 people indicted across the state in 2012 as part of raids conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Marshal Service and U.S. Attorney’s Office.
According to a 70-page, 37-count indictment, Bowser helped Fairland resident Charles Ernstes collect a debt by extortionate means. Federal officials have accused Ernstes of collection of extensions of credit by extortionate means. He has pleaded guilty and will be sentenced April 11, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The indictment says from Feb. 11, 2011, through Feb. 24, 2011, Bowser and Ernstes knowingly conspired to extort as punishment a person who had not repaid a loan.
According to the indictment, Ernstes loaned the victim $138,000 as a business cash transfusion, and after the victim filed a bankruptcy petition, Bowser and Ernstes conspired to assault the victim. The indictment also stated that on or about Feb. 23, 2011, Ernstes paid Bowser for coordinating the assault during a meeting at the Saw Mill Saloon in Indianapolis.
The government tried to come down hard on Bowser, and he wasn't offered a plea deal since his arrest in raid of the Indianapolis clubhouse in July 2012.
"He seemed to be one of the main leaders," said Tim Horty, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of Indiana. "Still 15 years in federal prison is an acceptable sentence."
Bowser pleaded guilty to several individual illegal acts and was granted a rare "no contest" plea on the overarching charge relating to the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, which the judge granted as she admitted it was essentially a guilty plea.
Foster said that Bowser acknowledged that the government had enough evidence to convince a jury that the Outlaws are a criminal organization, but would only plead guilty to his individual acts.
"He wasn't going to plead guilty to the notions that the Outlaws Motorcycle Club was a corrupt organization," Foster said.
A group of fellow Outlaws sat in the courtroom to show support.
As the judge and lawyers attempted to wade through the murky waters of complicated federal sentencing guidelines, a sticking point was how to classify Bowser's role in those acts.
Blackington insisted that Bowser should be classified as a manager or supervisor of a criminal organization, if not a higher leader, in the acts which included assaults over money collections, assault of fellow club members and mail and insurance fraud. But Beitz argued for consistency in sentencing, saying that none of the other defendants were treated as managers or leaders, though they had similar roles in the acts. And, she argued that the government was taking an incident-by-incident view as they tried to argue an over-arching leadership role.
Foster gave a passionate speech, where she told the judge that Bowser grew up with a mom more interested in drugs and a revolving door of men than in her son, who was abandoned to the streets of Las Vegas as a teenager. His mom, who Foster said had cleaned up, nodded in agreement of the assessment.
"Most people would be destroyed by that upbringing," she said. The Outlaws were a group that brought him love and a sense of belonging.
"I really like this client," Foster said Friday. "The government just had this guy so wrong."
She also described the RICO indictment as "silly," saying that some of the predicate acts included two counts of having a raffle.
"Seemed like the government was making a giant mountain out of a very small hill," she said, acknowledging that while some members of the club did bad things, a 51-defendant RICO case was overkill.
She said in court that he wasn't Whitey Bulger or other mobsters the government have filed RICO cases against.
Judge Pratt mentioned several times that she believed the Outlaws are a criminal organization and had to consider his no contest plea and abdication of responsbility. But, Bowser was unrelenting.
"I don't expect you to understand. I love my brothers and they love me," he told the judge before telling his fellow Outlaws and then his mother that he loved them. "This has been two years coming. I'm ready for you to smack me with that gavel, your honor."
Several other of the 51 co-defendants have already pleaded guilty and have been sentenced.
Nick Cusack is a staff writer of The Shelbyville News.