Police concerned about rise of Hells Angels puppet clubs

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NANAIMO — They arrived in unison, their faces covered by bandanas, and parked their Harleys in front of the old Hells Angels clubhouse here.

The patches on their backs said Los Diablos — The Devils — and featured the profile of a grim reaper with blood dripping from a fang.

Their bottom “rocker” stated their territory — the Tri-Cities.

And their presence at the invitation-only Hells Angels anniversary party this weekend established their bona fides as one of the HA’s newest puppet clubs.

Members of the Los Diablos, a puppet club of the Hell Angels, leave the Nanaimo Hell Angels’ clubhouse in Nanaimo, BC, July, 21, 2018. RICHARD LAM / PNG

B.C.’s anti-gang agency says there’s been a disturbing increase in the number of affiliated motorcycle clubs opening in B.C. with the Hells Angels’ permission.

“What we have seen is an expansion of the clubs themselves. People here on Vancouver Island will know the name Savages and the Devil’s Army — they are very high profile,” Staff Sgt. Lindsey Houghton, of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, said. “Over one the Lower Mainland there are groups like the Jesters and the Shadow Club.”

And now there is Los Diablos, currently using a local Starbucks as its clubhouse.

Diablos pulled their face coverings up higher to avoid police lenses as they entered the weekend party, attended by more than 200 bikers.

A members of the Los Diablos, a puppet club of the Hell Angels, leaves the Nanaimo Hell Angels’ clubhouse in Nanaimo. RICHARD LAM / PNG

Houghton said the support clubs are dubbed puppets because the more established biker gang members are pulling the strings.

“The term couldn’t be a better term and that is their term. These guys are puppet masters in the truest sense,” Houghton said. “These are the farm teams for the Hells Angels.”

CFSEU biker experts have already seen puppet club members transfer over to become full-patch Hells Angels in recent years.

With the average age of a Hells Angel in B.C. at 49, new blood is needed, Houghton said.

“If they are going to survive, they need to replace those older members — many of them are retiring — with these younger guys,” Houghton said.

“These young guys are aggressive. They are the ones who want to make money. They don’t have the money and the stature and the reputation especially in the criminal underworld that these old guys have, having built from the early ’80s.”

Houghton said it is important for police to attend events like the anniversary party to documents associations between new puppet clubs and the Hells Angels.

Members of the Horsemen Brotherhood arrive at the Nanaimo Hell Angels’ clubhouse in Nanaimo, BC, July, 21, 2018. RICHARD LAM / PNG

Both the Devil’s Army and Langford Savages appeared to be helping with party preparations and were seen carrying in supplies. The Army, based in Campbell River, was manning the barbecue.

Also in attendance were the Throttle Lockers, from 100 Mile House, the Jesters and Shadow Club, both out of Surrey, the Horsemen Brotherhood and a few out-of-province puppet club members.

Houghton said CFSEU is tracking the puppet clubs.

“We know who they are. We watch them very closely and that’s why events like this are very important for us from an intelligence perspective,” he said. “This is an invitation-only event so you have to have some pretty significant status to get invited to this. It is a big event for the Hells Angels.”

Members of the Shadow Club, a puppet club of the Hell Angels, look at the bikes parked outside of the Nanaimo Hell Angels’ clubhouse in Nanaimo, BC, July, 21, 2018. RICHARD LAM / PNG

He said the puppet clubs have to mimic the Hells Angels in structure and rules. Not all of them survive. In recent years, the Renegades in Prince George folded after a series of arrests of members.

Hells Angels spokesman Rick Ciarniello, who attended the anniversary party, did not respond to requests for an interview.

Houghton said puppet clubs are used to protect Hells Angels members so “they are multiple degrees separated from the actual street-level distribution of drugs.”

“They do a very good job of insulating themselves. And quite frankly, that is one of the reasons why they’ve been successful. And it is a challenge for police to gather information and evidence to investigate them. Never mind the fact that people are fearful and they don’t want to come forward.”

Police stop members of the Los Diablos, a puppet club of the Hell Angels, in Nanaimo, BC, July, 21, 2018. RICHARD LAM / PNG

But they can also face risks when Hells Angels are targeted with violence and they are nearby.

“There are real consequences. Even just hanging out with them, it may seem like fun riding bikes with these guys for the weekend, but you are putting yourself at risk, you are putting your family at risk,” Houghton said. “And that’s why we are here to make sure that everyone stays safe.”

Members and guests of the Hell Angels hang out on the back deck of the Nanaimo Hell Angels’ clubhouse in Nanaimo, BC, July, 21, 2018. RICHARD LAM / PNG

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