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RI Hells Angels president changes plea in gun case; sentenced to five years

Joseph Lancia, the president of the Hells Angels in Rhode Island, changed his plea on Friday after reaching a deal with prosecutors, and was sentenced to serve five years in prison.

Lancia, 30, of Smithfield, appeared in Providence Superior Court along with about a dozen members of the motorcycle club wearing their full patch jackets for the hearing before Associate Justice Kristin Rodgers.

Lancia pleaded nolo contendre (no contest) to the charge of felony assault and battery, as well as carrying a gun without a license. The more serious charges of discharging a firearm when committing a crime of violence, and assault with intent to commit murder, were dismissed as part of the deal.

Lancia must return to court on Feb. 18 to turn himself in so he can begin his sentence at the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston. Along with the five years in prison, he will also be on probation for 10 years.

The main case against Lancia stems from a June 2019 incident when police said he fired a gun at a truck driven by Richard Starnino – once a prospect to join the biker club – who was involved in an ongoing dispute with Lancia. 

Investigators said video surveillance shows Lancia shooting at the truck as Starnino was driving by the Hells Angels Providence headquarters on Messer Street. The video – the main evidence against Lancia – was from the clubhouse’s own security system.

The investigation into the shooting led to a dramatic daytime raid by the R.I. State Police.

Lancia also pleaded no contest to one count of assault with the purpose of knocking someone unconscious; two other counts were dropped. Those charges stemmed from an altercation in March 2020 when a Providence police officer said he witnessed Lancia punch someone outside the Cadillac Lounge strip club. He was out on bail for the gun case at the time.

During Friday’s court appearance, Rodgers asked Lancia if the facts of the case were true.

“Yes,” he replied.

After the hearing Lancia declined to comment, but his attorney Joseph Voccola said his client decided to change his plea because “we thought it was in his best interest to do so and he wanted to put these matters behind him.”

Lancia was also ordered to stay away from Starnino for eight years as part of the plea deal.

Totaling all nine original charges against Lancia, he faced a maximum sentence of 61 years in prison if he were found guilty at trial.

Rodgers warned Lancia that on Feb. 18, when he is scheduled to return to court to be sent to the ACI, she would send him to prison for the full 18-year sentence “should you not appear in a timely manner, and I mean even five minutes late,” or if he violates the conditions of his release.

Also changing his plea was Lance Imor, 57, a full-patch member of the biker gang. Imor pleaded no contest to one charge that he removed some video surveillance equipment from the Messer Street headquarters on the day of the shooting and raid.

Assistant Attorney General Joseph McBurney told the court the video showed Lancia firing the gun at Starnino. Imor was sentenced to four years of probation.

State police had the clubhouse under 24-hour surveillance using what’s called a pole cam positioned near the building.

In a statement Attorney General Peter Neronha thanked the state police for their work on the case and said, “the people of our state should feel safer knowing that this defendant is going to serve significant time behind bars.”

“Regardless of what the references are in pop culture, the only thing the defendant and his association with a known criminal gang represents is a risk to the safety of Rhode Islanders,” he said.