A federal judge has rejected claims by an imprisoned member of the Highwaymen Motorcycle Club which could have undermined a racketeering case that sent more than 30 members of Detroit's home-grown motorcycle gang to prison.
Highwayman Gary (Junior) Ball, Jr. uncovered records that showed the lead defendant in the case — former Highwaymen vice president Aref (Steve) Nagi — had previously served as a police informant.
In court filings, he raised concerns that Nagi could have served as a "spy in the camp," secretly working on behalf of the government, while Nagi's attorney led discussions of defense strategy for all defendants in the case arising from a lengthy and wide-ranging FBI investigation.
Ball, 52, who is serving a 30-year sentence for conspiracy to deliver cocaine, transporting stolen motorcycles, and other 2011 convictions, also argued that alleged conflicts of interest by two attorneys who represented him — Lee O'Brien of Troy and Lawrence Shulman of Birmingham — deprived him of a fair trial and effective defense.
Using Michigan's Freedom of Information Act, Ball obtained documents that showed Nagi — who railed against "snitches" as a Highwaymen leader — was an informant for Troy Police in a 1992 drug case that also involved the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
But U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds, who issued a 50-page opinion that followed an evidentiary hearing this summer, said a search of records found no evidence that Nagi had ever acted as an informant for a federal law enforcement agency, and prosecutors testified he did not act an informant in the Highwaymen case, or attempt to do so.
Ball "has not shown that his conversations were surreptitiously monitored, let alone that any information gained was used to prejudice his defense during trial," Edmunds wrote in her opinion.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds. (Photo: U.S. District Court, U.S. District Court)
Ball's Alabama attorney, David Schoen, called the ruling "a disgrace."
"We are definitely appealing it," Schoen said in an e-amil to the Free Press.
O'Brien, Ball's first attorney in the biker case, also became, though the charge against him was later dismissed. O'Brien represented Ball too early in the proceedings and for too brief a period for any conflict to adversely affect Ball's rights, Edmunds wrote.
Shulman, who replaced O'Brien and in two other cases represented another Highwaymen defendant without Ball's knowledge, made decisions while representing Ball that were "consistent with a reasonable, legitimate trial strategy," Edmunds wrote.
Edmunds said Ball could appeal her rulings on the alleged conflicts of interests involving his attorneys.
The Highwaymen, founded in Detroit in 1954, gained infamy in the 1970s when some members were convicted of bombing and raiding homes and clubhouses of rivals. The outlaw motorcycle gang, which at least until the racketeering indictments was Detroit's largest, was seen by many as an outlaw among outlaws — banned from a federation of Detroit clubs founded by a former Outlaws president.