(video) — As the Hells Angels mark their 35th anniversary with a party in Nanaimo this weekend, police say the group continues to expand in B.C. despite a series of high-profile arrests and convictions over the last decade.
More than 300 bikers from across Canada are expected to attend the Vancouver Island bash to celebrate the day the first three B.C. chapters were formed, July 23, 1983.
Since the 25th anniversary party in Langley a decade ago, members of B.C.’s most notorious gang have been murdered, shot, charged with murder and convicted of international drug smuggling, extortion, manslaughter and more.
The B.C. Hells Angels started with branches in Nanaimo, Vancouver and White Rock, but have now expanded to 10 chapters and 114 members, entry-level prospects and hang-arounds — the term used for men hoping to join the HA.
Police will be in Nanaimo this weekend to gather information and make sure the biker festivities don’t get out of hand.
Sgt. Brenda Winpenny, of B.C.’s anti-gang Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, said “it’s well-documented that many of the participants of these events are individuals and members of clubs associated to and who participate in criminal activities.”
CFSEU Staff Sgt. Lindsey Houghton noted the many high-profile cases in recent years that link the Hells Angels to violence, drug trafficking and other crimes.
• In 2013, Kelowna Hells Angels Norm Cocks and Robert Thomas pleaded guilty to manslaughter for beating Kelowna grandfather Dain Phillips to death as he attempted to resolve a dispute his sons had with some HA associates. They were sentenced to 15 years.
• In September 2016, two other Kelowna Hells Angels were convicted for their roles in an international cocaine importing scheme that had been cooked up by police as part of an undercover operation.
• A month later, prominent Mission Hells Angel Bob Green was shot to death at an all-night booze and drug party in Langley.
• Early this year, West Point Hells Angel Larry Amero was charged with conspiracy to commit murder for plots that left two rivals dead in 2012. And B.C. Hells Angels Jason Arkinstall and Chad Wilson were convicted in Spain of importing cocaine.
“I think it is fair to say that there’s a portion of the public who sees through their lies and sees through this free-living, charity-riding mystique that they want to portray and see them for what they are, a significant international criminal organization,” Houghton said.
Members of the Hells Angels ride to Oceanview Cemetery in Burnaby during their annual Screwy Ride to honour the murdered Dave “Screwy” Schwartz in Vancouver on April, 8, 2017. RICHARD LAM / PNG
“They are still expanding, they are still looking to shore up their power base and ensure that they maintain the highest levels of influence and intimidation within the criminal landscape, the organized crime landscape.”
Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said Thursday that he doesn’t expect any problems at this year’s party.
“To be honest with you, they used to come to the city every year and have a big party out at Angel Acres. I don’t believe they were ever much of a problem,” he said of the bikers and their large property, which the B.C. government is trying to seize through a civil forfeiture case. “I don’t expect that they will cause the community any challenges.”
He said the provincial government would be covering the costs of the extra police in town for the weekend.
Asked if he considers the HA an organized crime group, McKay said: “Police would know better than myself, but I believe there are connections there, yes.”
“Police are doing their job to ensure the safety of our community and we thank them for that,” he said.
Hells Angels spokesman Rick Ciarniello did not respond to requests for an interview about the anniversary. Ciarniello has been a fixture in the courtroom during the civil forfeiture trial over the fate of three clubhouses which the government agency says would be used to commit future crimes if the Hells Angels were allowed to keep them.
The trial began in April, but has been adjourned until the fall.
The front entrance outside the Hells Angels clubhouse on Victoria Avenue in Nanaimo in 2004. Bruce Stotesbury / Times Colonist
Houghton said that despite the efforts of the police, some in the public still support the Hells Angels and “think they are OK people.”
“We still see when they do these rides, that people come out to watch them because they are interested,” he said.
Seventy-one per cent of B.C.’s Hells Angels have criminal records for violence offences, Houghton said.
And the Hells Angels have links to other gangs, like the Red Scorpions, Independent Soldiers and Wolf Pack that have been directly involved in a violent gang war over the last decade, centred in Metro Vancouver.
“We know as the province’s gang agency that we have a lot of work to do to educate the public about what these people and the groups and what their reputations really are,” he said.
Timeline of some events related to the Hells Angels in B.C. over the past decade:
July 13, 2009 – Four Hells Angels were convicted on a series of charges stemming from the E-Pandora investigation targeting the East End Hells Angels in Vancouver.
Aug. 14, 2011 – Hells Angel Larry Amero was seriously wounded in a targeted Kelowna shooting that left Red Scorpion Jonathan Bacon dead and two others wounded.
Hells Angel Larry Ronald Amero in file photo Vancouver Sun
Nov. 1, 2012 – Amero charged in Montreal with associates in the Wolf Pack with leading international cocaine smuggling ring.
Jan. 30, 2013 – Two Kelowna Hells Angels, Norman Cocks and Robert Thomas, pleaded guilty to manslaughter for beating Kelowna grandfather Dain Phillips to death as he attempted to resolve a dispute his sons had with some HA associates. They were sentenced to 15 years in jail.
Dec. 16, 2014 – Longtime Hells Angel Robert “Fred” Widdifield, a founding member of the Nanaimo chapter, was convicted of extortion and theft. He was later sentenced to five years.
Sept. 30, 2016 – Kelowna Hells Angel Dave Giles convicted of one count of conspiracy to import cocaine, one count of conspiracy to traffic cocaine, and one count of possession for the purpose of trafficking cocaine; James Howard was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to traffic cocaine and one count of possession for the purpose of trafficking cocaine; and Bryan Oldham and Shawn Womacks were found guilty of one count of possession for the purpose of trafficking cocaine.
Oct. 16, 2016 – High-profile Hells Angel Bob Green is found shot to death in Langley. A day later, his friend and gang associate Jason Wallace turned himself into police. He later pleaded guilty to manslaughter after telling the court his and his family’s lives were threatened after the drunken, drug-fuelled shooting.
Senior B.C. Hells Angel Bob Green. PNG
Oct. 26, 2016 – White Rock Hells Angels prospect Mohammed Rafiq, 43, was shot in the face while driving near his Burnaby home. He survived.
March 19, 2017 – The body of Nanaimo Hells Angels prospect Michael Gregory Widner is found near Sooke, days after he was reported missing. He was murdered.
Aug. 30, 2017 – Montreal conspiracy charges stayed against Hells Angel Larry Amero due to delays in the case.
Jan. 25, 2018 – Hells Angel Larry Amero is charged with conspiracy to kill rivals Sandip Duhre and Sukh Dhak. Both were shot to death months apart in 2012. The murders are believed to have been retaliation for the 2011 Kelowna shooting.
April 23, 2018 – Civil forfeiture case begins in B.C. Supreme Court, more than a decade after the case began. It has now been adjourned until fall 2018.
Hells Angels chapters in B.C.
Vancouver, opened in 1983.
White Rock, opened in 1983.
Nanaimo, opened in 1983.
East End Vancouver, opened in 1983.
Haney, opened in 1987.
Nomads, opened in 1998.
Mission City, opened in 1999.
Kelowna, opened in 2007.
West Point, opened in 2012.
Hardside, opened in 2017.