Black Piston members are criminals, but Ontario motorcycle club not a criminal organization, judge finds

When police crashed into the fortified clubhouse of the Black Pistons Motorcycle Club in St. Catharines, Ont., in the early hours of Nov. 6, 2013, the raid ended an eight-month drug probe with arrests and charges that the club was a criminal organization.

Police seized the biker club’s constitution, a membership list, bikers’ crested jackets, new crests for an expansion as well as drugs, money and weapons.

The court, however, has now split the difference between the police allegations and denials of the accused: key members, including the founder of the Black Pistons, were found guilty but a judge rejected a call to declare the club a criminal organization.

“I accept that there was a certain criminal element in the membership of the Black Pistons, and it may have been a widespread criminal element,” Justice Joseph Henderson said in his lengthy decision, written Sept. 6. “However, the fact that an organization has members who are criminals does not mean that the organization is a criminal organization as defined by the Criminal Code.”

Bob Tymczyszyn / Postmedia Network file
Bob Tymczyszyn / Postmedia Network fileGuns seized as part of Project Resurgence.

The decision is a blow to police who heralded the importance of their case by giving it the code name Project Resurgence, chosen because the Pistons were reclaiming the region on behalf of their mother club: the large, U.S.-based Outlaws Motorcycle Club, the arch-rivals of the better-known Hells Angels.

This was the first major police project in Canada to target the Black Pistons, considered a support club, sometimes called a “puppet club,” for the Outlaws.

Evidence of a planned expansion was ample.

Nine of the 11 Black Pistons in the city were on the cusp of becoming Outlaws members and forming a new Outlaws chapter at the time of the arrests. Police seized a box containing nine embroidered sets of Outlaws MC patches, destined for the backs of proposed members, along with smaller crests with the words “St. Kitts,” signalling the name of the chapter was to be the nickname of the city of St. Catharines.

And Mario Macedo, 46, was found inside the clubhouse when police arrived in 2013 and was arrested during the raid. He is a long-time member of the Outlaws and came to St. Catharines to oversee the patch over, court heard. While in town, he learned of a cocaine “dry spell” and brokered a $47,000 cocaine deal for some members.

Bob Tymczyszyn / Postmedia Network file
Bob Tymczyszyn / Postmedia Network fileThe Niagara Regional Police hold a press conference for Project Resurgence on Nov. 7, 2013.

Police say biker gangs use the “power of the patch” — the colours members wear on their back — to instill fear to further criminal aims. Having biker gangs named as criminal organizations mean members can face harsher prison sentences.

It’s a contention motorcycle clubs strongly contest.

In court, lawyers for the accused argued the Black Pistons is a social organization of motorcycle enthusiasts.

In the end, the judge deemed the Pistons to be “somewhat organized” crime.

Police found a three-page typed document in the home of Randy McGean, 44, of St. Catharines — described as the chapter’s founding member — entitled “Black Pistons MC National Constitution.”

It lists rules that new members must be at least 21 years old, able to ride a motorcycle, own a traditional U.S.-made motorcycle and have known a member for two years or more. Members must visit all other chapters and attend mandatory functions; must attend weekly “church” meetings.

There is a mandatory two-month probationary period for new members and fines are listed for the loss of a club patch. Also, its says, the abuse of drugs and alcohol and assaults on fellow members are not tolerated.

Bob Tymczyszyn / Postmedia Network file
Bob Tymczyszyn / Postmedia Network filePatches seized as part of Project Resurgence.

The Pistons had a clubhouse at 80 Page St. When police raided it they found a handwritten document titled Members List taped to the wall behind the bar, listing nine names.

The judge said the documents did not actually help the Crown.

“I recognize that the constitution could easily be a smoke screen designed to hide any criminal activity,” Henderson wrote. “I do not believe for a second that the Black Pistons do not tolerate criminal activity just because their constitution says so. But, I also accept that the constitution on its face sets out a legitimate purpose for the Black Pistons, namely that it is an organization for motorcycle riders to organize runs and to socialize.”

Postmedia Network file
Postmedia Network fileMembers of the Outlaws motorcycle gang and the Black Pistons attend St. George's Anglican church in Newcastle, Ont., for a funeral in December 2005.

As for the list, Henderson found problems, notably that McGean was not on the list while Macedo, a member of the Outlaws, was.

Several people charged, including Macedo, pleaded guilty earlier. Macedo was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.

McGean along with Isaac Lucas, 38, and Lyle Gough, 27, pleaded not guilty and fought both their drug charges and the criminal organization charges.

McGean and Lucas were found guilty of drug but not guilty of criminal organization charges. Gough was found not guilty.

They have not yet been sentenced.

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Adrian Humphreys
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