Kingsmen 'tough guy' accuses club president in murders

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Filip Caruso admits to being a tough guy and a hot head, and the former Kingsmen would be the first to tell you his violent reputation earned him immediate status in the biker club.

Within the Kingsmen community, Caruso, a convicted felon five times over, may be best known for his role in a gun-toting confrontation outside the South Buffalo clubhouse just weeks before the murders of Kingsmen Paul Maue and Daniel "DJ" Szymanski.

Caruso, angry over the promotion of another Kingsmen Motorcycle Club member, came armed with a Kel-Tec rifle hidden in his pants and, with Maue and Szymanski watching his back, confronted then national president David Pirk and regional president Timothy Enix.

"The talking just went to screaming and yelling," Caruso told a federal court jury this week. "There was about 200 people standing and watching."

By all accounts, the confrontation ended peacefully, but Caruso suggested the consequences became clear the next day when he met with Pirk in Lockport.

He said Pirk was convinced Maue, who had come armed with a small baseball bat, was behind the South Buffalo incident. At one point, he gestured with his hand to indicate what he planned to do to his fellow Kingsmen.

"He put his fingers like this," Caruso, his hand in the shape of a gun, told the jury.

And what did you take that to mean, asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph M. Tripi.

"That he was going to kill him," Caruso answered.

Caruso said he thinks Pirk wanted him to commit the murders;  but instead, he called Maue and warned him, he told the jury.

Caruso's testimony is the latest chapter in a federal court trial that revolves around the allegation that Pirk ordered the September 2014 murders outside the group's North Tonawanda clubhouse as a message to rival Kingsmen.

Prosecutors claim Pirk, a longtime Kingsmen and North Tonawanda native, was promoting an effort to turn the club into a criminal organization, or "one-percent" club.

Pirk's defense lawyer called Caruso's story "insane" and wondered aloud why Pirk would confide in him given his leadership role in the confrontation the day before.

Over the course of two days, the defense repeatedly questioned Caruso about his reputation for lying to law enforcement and at court proceedings and noted that, conveniently, no one except Pirk can verify his version of what happened at their one-on-one meeting.

Caruso, who insists he is telling the truth about his conversation with Pirk, acknowledged he has a far different history.

"Sometimes you have to lie," he told the jury at one point.

He also told jurors he was questioned by federal agents about a week after the murders and, from the outset, denied any involvement in the killings.

"They were asking about your whereabouts?" William T. Easton, one of Pirk's lawyers, asked Caruso.

"I told them I wasn't there," he answered.

Questioned about his use of cocaine and reputation for always being armed, Caruso denied some of it and admitted some of it. He also told the jury about his mental health – court papers say he's bipolar – and current treatment.

At one point, Easton asked Caruso about the first of his four felony convictions and, before answering, Caruso reminded him that it was five, not four.

He also spoke unabashedly about his extensive criminal record, often answering "Yup," when asked to confirm the details of a specific assault or weapons conviction.

"I had a reputation for being a tough guy," he told the jury.

When Easton asked about a stolen Cadillac in 2006, Caruso smiled, looked at the jury and said, "That was a nice car."

Several jurors laughed out loud.

Even before the start of the trial, Caruso's testimony was widely anticipated, in part because of what he might say but also because of his reputation for unpredictability.

During his time on the witness stand, he spoke often about his growing dispute with the Kingsmen in the weeks leading up to the murders and his decision to "jump patch" and join the rival Nickel City Nomads, a local club with ties to the Outlaws.

Caruso said his decision, more than anything else, stemmed from the death of his dog, killed by a fellow Kingsmen and left for dead inside the West Side clubhouse.

Caruso, who was charged in the same indictment as Pirk, is scheduled to go on trial later this year but nevertheless testified against Pirk, Enix and Andre Jenkins, the three Kingsmen currently on trial. He faces decades in prison if convicted of the drug dealing, gun sales, acts of violence, criminal conspiracy and other charges he faces, and defense attorneys used their questioning to hint that he was testifying in hopes of getting a deal from prosecutors.

Jenkins is currently serving life without parole because of a state court conviction in the double murder.

The trial before U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Wolford continues Friday.

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