Kingsmen president offers surprise testimony, denies ordering murders

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When David Pirk talks about the murders of Paul Maue and Daniel "DJ" Szymanski, he is quick to suggest his fellow Kingsmen were working for him, not against him, when they were shot execution-style outside the North Tonawanda clubhouse.

Pirk, the former Kingsmen president accused of orchestrating the killings, acknowledged taking part in a plot Wednesday but said it was a plan that included Maue and Szymanski and targeted another member of the Kingsmen Motorcycle Club.

Speaking publicly for the first time about the murders, Pirk denied any involvement in the 2014 killings and instead pointed the finger at former Kingsmen Filip Caruso.

"My suspicion was that it was Filly's crew," he told a federal court jury. "That it was Filly or his crew."

Pirk, the Lockport native who rose to power in the Kingsmen five years ago, testified over the course of three days and was asked several times about his role in the double murder that prosecutors claim was intended as a message to rivals within the club.

"Did you order anyone to kill Paulie or DJ?" defense lawyer Cheryl Meyers Buth asked at one point.

"No," he answered.

Pirk's decision to testify caught many by surprise and is the latest development in a three-month trial revolving around allegations that Pirk and two other Kingsmen – Timothy Enix and Andre Jenkins – planned the murders of Maue and Szymanski. Jenkins is already serving life without parole for a state court conviction tied to the killings.

Prosecutors attempted to poke holes in Pirk's story and at one point asked him about the four people who Pirk claims were part of the plot targeting Caruso. Pirk is the only one of the four still alive.

"That's pretty convenient for you that we can't that verify that," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph M. Tripi.

"Inconvenient," Pirk responded.

Using phone records from before and after the murders, Tripi asked Pirk why he used a "burner phone," a disposable prepaid cellphone, to call Enix and Jenkins but relied on his personal phone to call Maue.

Prosecutors claim Pirk, as part of the plan to lure Maue outside the North Tonawanda clubhouse, wanted him know the national president was calling so he would be sure to answer. Pirk's call to Maue came just minutes before the murders.

"You bought a burner phone to conceal your involvement in this crime, isn't that right?" Tripi asked at one point.

"No," said Pirk.

Now 67, Pirk was living in Florida at the time of his arrest, but as a kid, he called Amherst and West Seneca home. When he got married, he and his wife and children settled in Lockport.

Even then, Pirk was an avid biker and, during his testimony, told the story of how he came to join the Kingsmen. He was getting beat up by a group of thugs one day when a group of Kingsmen happened by and intervened on his behalf.

Four decades later, the full-back tattoo on Pirk's body – the knight's helmet with red plume on top – is testament to his loyalty to the Kingsmen.

During his three days on the stand, Pirk took the jury through his version of what happened during the days leading up to and after the murders. Even under questioning by Tripi, who repeatedly challenged his credibility and honesty, Pirk stayed calm and even-tempered.

"Paulie was afraid of Filly," he told the jury said at one point. "He knew he was going to kill him."

To hear Pirk talk, it was Caruso he was targeting, not Maue and Szymanski. He said their plan was to beat up Caruso as punishment for threatening Maue and others.

He also claims Caruso was angry that someone in the club had shot his dog – he believed Maue was involved – and told Pirk, "I'm going to kill them."

From Day One of the trial, the suggestion that Caruso, not Jenkins, committed the murders has been at the core of the defense strategy. Caruso, who is scheduled to go on trial later this year, is among the many Kingsmen now cooperating with the FBI and prosecutors.

From the start of the trial, Caruso's lawyer has suggested the defense strategy was expected and is rooted in Pirk's earliest statements to the FBI when he and Enix suggested Caruso might be the killer.

"That's their only defense," John P. Pieri, Caruso's defense lawyer, said weeks ago.

During his testimony, Pirk acknowledged using the burner phone – he claims his personal phone wasn't working – and calling Maue the morning of the murders. He told the jury he simply wanted to tell Maue and Szymanski to call it quits that day.

"Did you call Maue to lure him into the parking lot?" Meyers Buth asked him.

"No," said Pirk.

At several points, Pirk was asked about a security video showing Jenkins leaving the North Tonawanda clubhouse on his Harley just moments after the killings. He acknowledged Jenkins was a suspect in the minds of many Kingsmen, but said he came away convinced Jenkins was innocent after the two men spoke on the phone after the murders.

"He said he didn't do it," Pirk told Tripi.

"So that was the seminal moment," Tripi responded. "Those were the words – I didn't do it – that convinced you."

Tripi also questioned Pirk about Jenkins' near fatal confrontation in Tennessee with several gun-toting Kingsmen who suspected he was the killer. Two Kingsmen testified that Jenkins begged them to call Pirk and, when they did, Pirk ordered them to let Jenkins go.

When asked about the incident, Pirk said he was simply trying to avoid another killing.

"I said, 'work it out,' " he told the jury. "I told them, 'we don't kill people. We just lost two brothers.' "

Tripi said Pirk's intervention in Tennessee is just one example of how he protected Jenkins after the murders, a strategy that included telling the FBI that Caruso, not Jenkins, should be the primary suspect.

"You withheld all that information because you and Jenkins were guilty, true?" Tripi asked.

"Not true," said Pirk.

"You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by lying," Tripi asked him.

"I would have to say that is true," Pirk acknowledged.

Under questioning from Meyers Bush, Pirk later said he was not lying while on the witness stand this week.

Pirk finished his testimony before U.S. District Elizabeth A. Wolford on Wednesday, and Jenkins declined to offer a formal defense.

The trial continues Thursday.

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Phil Fairbanks
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