Never-ending war’: How Alberta is cracking down on the Hells Angels and the outlaw biker gangs that support them

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(video) --- An orange glow on the horizon burnt off a light July fog as a surveillance unit with the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) monitored the movements of Shane Lance Daly early one morning.

For close to a year, police had been keeping tabs on the 39-year-old, a man they allege is a full-patch member of the Dirty Few Motorcycle Club, a known Hells Angels support club.

But on July 25, police were ready to take action.

Daly pulled his dusty charcoal-coloured Lincoln Navigator out of the Spruce Grove Tim Hortons tacked onto the Shell gas station just off Highway 16A.

It was just before 7 a.m. as he turned right onto Campsite Road then left onto the highway.

Seemingly out of nowhere a marked RCMP cruiser pulled into the inside lane, dashing in from the north on Jennifer Heil Way.

The white cruiser was not really in pursuit, but the officer blocked Daly from using an approaching off-ramp.

“Not a clue,” a covert ALERT officer tailing Daly said during a lull in the relentless radio chatter when asked if the suspect had any idea what was happening. (The officer cannot be named because of his role in the investigation.)

Seconds later an unmarked police pickup truck hurtled in behind Daly, its red and blue lights flashing.

Daly pulled over immediately. The short-lived pursuit ­— if it could even be called that — lasted less than 1.5 kilometres.

Wearing a black flak jacket emblazoned with ALERT in neat white lettering, a six-foot three-inch hulk of an officer stepped out of the pickup truck accompanied by another stocky officer wearing a police-issued camouflage coat, a backward baseball cap and sunglasses.

Without a fuss, struggle or barely a raised voice, Daly was arrested.

With a cigarette dangling from his bottom lip, he was handcuffed, put in the back of yet another police vehicle and driven away.

As a beat officer waited on the edge of the highway for a tow truck to impound Daly’s SUV, a marked RCMP cruiser parked in front of a nearby condo complex in Spruce Grove.

A glittery gold Harley, a Dirty Few motorcycle club sticker on the front windshield and Hells Angels supporter stickers on the rear, sat nearby.

The bike, police allege, was also Daly’s. It too was impounded.

The seemingly flawless, choreographed takedown of Daly was the culmination of Project Entry — a year-long, joint investigation by the ALERT outlaw motorcycle gang enforcement team and the RCMP’s Federal Serious and Organized Crime team into an alleged cocaine trafficking network across Alberta linked to the Hells Angels and its support club Dirty Few.

Daly’s arrest was the opening salvo from five police arrest teams that had unfurled across Spruce Grove under the morning sun that day.

Within the next week, 10 people were arrested across the province as part of the complex covert operation involving wire taps, GPS vehicle tracking, intercepted phone calls, encrypted messages and dozens of undercover cocaine buys.

Shane Daly stands, arms handcuffed behind his back, on the shoulder of Spruce Grove’s Highway 16A on July 25 after being arrested in the first of a series of coordinated apprehensions by the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team. Police allege Daly is a full-patch member of the Dirty Few motorcycle club and charged him in connection with a provincewide cocaine trafficking network. Juris Graney / Postmedia

Police keeping their ‘foot on the gas’

Disrupting and dismantling outlaw biker gangs and organized crime in Alberta was one of the founding principles of ALERT when it formed in 2006. And operations like Project Entry are part of the sledgehammer they use against serious crime.

It is the approach ALERT chief executive officer Supt. Chad Coles said is necessary.

“You have to maintain the course and not take the foot off the gas,” he told Postmedia in January.

“To really see results you can’t just make one arrest and say that we are done.”

When it comes to outlaw biker gangs and organized crime, the most notorious is the Hells Angels.

While Project Entry did involve Alberta’s largest outlaw motorcycle gang, police say the operation did not specifically target them.

The story of organized crime in Alberta, however, can’t be told without understanding the Hells Angels and how they came to dominate the province.

Based on research compiled by independent experts on law enforcement and interviews with police, this is how the biker gang took control.

As the infamous Quebec biker war between the Hells Angels and their rivals Rock Machine was leaving a trail of dead bodies (more than 160 people were killed between 1994 and 2002), the most feared biker group in the world was eyeing the Prairies.

Three dominant clubs — Grim Reapers, Rebels and Kings Crew — had been fighting a very public and bloody war for supremacy in oil country since the 1970s. That reached a crescendo in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Shootings, beatings, booby-trapped vehicles, clubhouse bombings, stabbings, kidnappings and missing bodies were chum in the water for an apex predator like the Hells Angels. The chaos provided a perfect path for the group to force themselves onto the canola-covered Alberta landscape.

In 1997, they patched-over the Grim Reapers, while the remaining clubs were disbanded. Of the 29 Grim Reapers members, 23 became Hells Angels.

A small number of Kings Crew and Rebels members were absorbed into the brotherhood and the Hells Angels’ 13th and 14th Canadian chapters were established in Edmonton and Calgary. At the time they were the 109th and 110th chapters in the world.

Bad blood within the ranks however forced a split and led to the 1999 creation of the Nomads chapter in Red Deer. Since central Alberta alone didn’t have the drug market to sustain the club, members were allowed to roam the province, as its name suggests.

By 2000, there was about 50 Hells Angels members in Alberta.

The gang muzzled public acts of violence, but they never came to a complete stop.

“The Hells Angels are very knowledgeable when it comes to how they orchestrate their organized crime business so they want to keep it out of the public eye as much as possible,” said Calgary Police Service Sgt. Dave Mills, a leading expert in Canadian outlaw motorcycle gangs.

“There was still a lot of acts of violence but they were going unreported.”

Longtime Hells Angels nemeses and blood rivals the Bandidos saw an opening in 2002 and tried to muscle in from the east. Their foray into wild rose country was chaotic and short-lived.

Within a year, a probationary Bandidos member was gunned down outside an Edmonton nightclub (the case remains unsolved) and a Hells Angels support club member who was courting the Bandidos disappeared.

The Bandidos shut down and a majority of the remaining members patched over into the Hells Angels Nomad chapter in Red Deer in October 2004, tripling their numbers and cementing their spot in the top echelon of organized crime in the province.

Absorbing a rival whom they had fought bloody wars against in the U.S. and Europe was a bold move and one that didn’t sit well with some Hells Angels; a faction saw it as a way for former members who fled to the Bandidos to return to the fold.

“It’s like the Hatfields and McCoys joining forces. It just does not happen,” said investigative journalist and author of books about the Hells Angels, Julian Sher.

The bad blood and infighting continued.

In 2007 the Bandidos tried again to push its way into Alberta but that ended in a Calgary bar with a violent assault at the hands of the Hells Angels.

In 2009 another split occurred, this time in Calgary where Nomads and Calgary members formed the Southland chapter. Two years later, the Westridge chapter formed in Edmonton, bolstered by members of the Nomads.

Then in June 2016 there was one final split and Edmonton had its third chapter — Hellside.

“The Hells Angels really want control of the province,” Mills said.

With six chapters in Alberta (three in Edmonton, two in Calgary and one in Red Deer), the Hells Angels are the undisputed heavyweights on the prairies.

In fact, Alberta has the third highest number of Hells Angels chapters in Canada behind British Columbia (10) and Ontario (16). In total there are 42 chapters scattered from Vancouver to Fredericton, N.B.

While membership fluctuates, police estimate the number of full patch, prospects and Hells Angels hang-a-rounds in Alberta is about 85. On top of that are anywhere between 170 and 175 members of support clubs.

Mills said the province is experiencing “explosive growth” in support clubs and club members, with the Edmonton area at the epicentre.

And the growth shows little sign of stalling.

Police said this vest, shown to media on Aug. 30, belonged to Shane Daly and was seized as part of its investigation into a cocaine ring in Alberta. Larry Wong / Postmedia

A takedown

The day before Daly’s July 25 arrest, at a standing-room only meeting of at least a dozen officers in a top-floor boardroom of the integrated policing agency’s headquarters, each ALERT arrest team received their “mark.”

One by one, each of the suspects that were to be arrested had their photographs projected onto a screen as the lead investigator outlined the plan.

The next morning, five arrest teams fanned out to take down their targets.

As Daly’s carefully coordinated apprehension in Spruce Grove unfolded, almost simultaneously police arrested each of the remaining suspects one-by-one.

Theresa Marie Acker, 42, received a visit from two RCMP officers who rolled up to her well-kept bungalow in a quiet Spruce Grove residential area in a black unmarked car.

In similar operations, Larissa Sharon Lynn Ausmus, 31, was also arrested. Clinton Allen “Birdie” Thomas, 33, turned himself in after police couldn’t immediately locate him. And finally 47-year-old William James McCabe — who police say is a full patch member of the Hells Angels — was also arrested.

McCabe and Daly are both listed on social media as owners of Three Monkeys Tattoo and Lifestyle Apparel, a small shop in a strip mall toward the western edge of Spruce Grove.

By the end of the morning, all the suspects, including Daly, were transported across Edmonton to Strathcona County’s RCMP detachment.

Challenging the Angels

The arrests made through Project Entry were part of ALERT’s ongoing efforts to fight organized crime in Alberta.

Law enforcement have identified eight Hells Angels support clubs or “puppet clubs” in Alberta. Among them are enough members to support as many as 16 chapters from Fort McMurray in the north and Lethbridge in the south, to Grande Prairie in the west and Lloydminster in the east. This includes Dirty Few, of which police say Daly is a member.

Police are also aware of new clubs trying to move in.

The Mongols, with whom the Hells Angels have fought violently in the past, are trying to establish a chapter in Edmonton.

And police have also confirmed that a chapter of the Rebels motorcycle club exists in Edmonton and there are unconfirmed reports that Loners, another gang, have moved in, which would bring the total number of outlaw motorcycle groups in the city and surrounding areas to nine.

Sher, who has reported on the Hells Angels for years, said Canada and particularly Alberta is unique because one of the most powerful outlaw motorcycle gangs in the world has very little, if any, competition.

“What few people realize is that Canada is the only place that I know where the Hells Angels, for the longest time and more or less today, still have a virtual monopoly on the outlaw motorcycle gang world,” Sher said.

“We are definitely seeing a resurgence both in the Hells Angels and some of their competitors.”

Take for instance the friction in Fort McMurray where the Warlocks motorcycle club is pushing for control over Hells Angels support club Syndicate. In 2016, members of the Warlocks beat and robbed a Syndicate member of his vest.

The Warlocks have also begun wearing a bottom rocker — a patch that signifies a club’s territory — on their own vests in defiance of the Hells Angels who control its exclusive use in the province.

This is a direct challenge to the Hells Angels’ superiority.

“The Hells Angels do not want another Quebec biker war. As much as it established their reputation of violence and intimidation it also hurt them as well,” Mills said.

“They have to be strategic in how they deal with their rivals.”

So while the Hells Angels’ power in the province remains largely unfettered and their influence in the world of outlaw motorcycle gangs unmatched, it may not stay that way forever.

Between emboldened rivals and sophisticated police work by units such as ALERT, things could change.

Police displayed a seized death head necklace they say was worn by William McCabe, one of the 10 people arrested as part of Project Entry. These medallions can only be worn by Hells Angels members, according to police. Larry Wong / Postmedia

The arrests continue

After being transported from Spruce Grove to Sherwood Park, the five suspects arrested in July were readied for questioning.

Rather than scatter the interviews across several sites, ALERT decided to use the freshly renovated detachment because it is one of the few facilities around Edmonton that could comfortably accommodate the number of suspects and the dozen or so officers taking part in the interview process.

The first of the interviews began at around 11 a.m.

The two bland, nondescript interview rooms sat adjacent to each other, not far from the holding cells. In each of them two plastic chairs were arranged around a rectangular table bolted to the wall.

Cameras mounted on the ceiling and unseen microphones transmitted images and sound to a nearby room where a bank of monitors sat on top of microwave-sized black computers with keyboards.

The whirring of the computers was drowned out by the noise of a single black fan on the floor that pushed the stale air around the small square room.

Pecking away at the keyboards, a team of headphone-wearing joint task force officers took notes to be used as part of the early court proceedings before the full transcripts are prepared. Postmedia agreed not to reveal details of the interrogations and the techniques to protect the integrity of the police investigation.

The questioning of the suspects stretched throughout the afternoon and into the early hours of the following day. The last of the interviews wrapped up just before 2 a.m.

In the following days, ALERT spread out across the province between Calgary, Cold Lake and Grande Prairie arresting Pascal Jacques, 40, Anton Frederick Petrowitz, 36, and Joseph Gordon Collicutt, 32.

Nicholas Alexander Delibasic, 46, and Nicholas Stovell, 38, were arrested on charges related to trafficking a firearm.

More than half of those arrested are facing charges related to organized crime.

A slow takedown

Taking down outlaw motorcycle gangs and fighting organized crime can be a slow process.

In 2017-18, the ALERT organized crime unit — which doesn’t just focus on motorcycle gangs — seized close to $10 million worth of drugs including $3.9 million worth of amphetamines, $3.1 million in cocaine and just over $1 million of the deadly opioid fentanyl.

Investigations by the unit also led to the arrest of more than 330 people resulting in more than 1,700 charges. Goods confiscated under civil forfeiture laws topped $300,000; $1.4 million in cash considered proceeds of crime also was seized.

Since 2014, a series of short- and long-term investigations has resulted in charges against 17 Hells Angels members and associates, ALERT says. Most of those arrests were members from the Westridge chapter (one of three chapters in Edmonton) but members of the Southland chapter in Calgary and the Nomads chapter in Red Deer also were charged.

Members of Warlocks, Tribal and Syndicate motorcycle gangs have also been arrested.

The RCMP have also made some progress in Alberta including the June arrest of four people with ties to Syndicate.

The four men were charged with kidnapping, forcible confinement and drug charges after an alleged home invasion and kidnapping, which eventually led to Mounties raiding the Syndicate club house.

“Combating outlaw motorcycle gang members and their related organized criminal activities remains a top national priority for the RCMP,” Didsbury RCMP Staff Sgt. Chad Fournier said at the time of the arrest.

“Outlaw motorcycle gangs represent a threat to the safety and well-being of Canadians.”

While it may appear that police are just nipping at the collective heels of bikers like a cantankerous cattle dog, ALERT and the RCMP are making strides.

“Edmonton law enforcement seems to be ahead of the game compared to what we are seeing in other jurisdictions,” Sher said.

In some countries, such as Australia, law enforcement officials are trying to negate the “power of the patch.” Laws designed to ban biker gangs from wearing the patch or club colours in public as well as stopping gang members from associating with each other have been introduced.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance, however, has complained the measures are a human rights violation.

While such drastic measures haven’t passed in Canada, earlier this year, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces banned members from associating with a variety of groups, including outlaw biker gangs.

“The Hells Angels are at the top echelon of organized crime in Canada,” Mills said.

“All the stuff that trickles down into society from the drug addiction and the property crime stems from the high level crimes that the Hells Angels are committing.”

The case of Project Entry

Supt. Chad Coles of ALERT (left) and RCMP Supt. Ian Lawson spoke at an Aug. 30 news conference detailing 10 arrests that stretched across northern Alberta. Larry Wong / POSTMEDIA NETWORK

In a media availability held on Aug. 30, ALERT outlined its case against those arrested in Project Entry.

They are alleging the 10, who have been charged with 45 criminal offences, “fulfilled various roles within a cocaine distribution network” in Edmonton, Spruce Grove, Cold Lake, Whitecourt and Grande Prairie.

Police displayed five kilograms of cocaine, half a kilogram of buffing agent phenacetin, cannabis resin, and a handgun seized along with multiple vehicles, motorcycles and $13,000 in cash deemed proceeds of crime.

Also collected in the haul was a Dirty Few vest said to be Daly’s and a death head necklace belonging to McCabe.

ALERT’s Supt. Coles explained that police believe McCabe was the “primary facilitator” in the cocaine distribution network and that Daly and Jacques carried out “lower-level, dirty work for the benefit of the Hells Angels.”

Daly and Jacques were not only used to traffic cocaine but to expand their territory into secondary markets like Grande Prairie and Cold Lake, Coles said.

“While ALERT is thankful to get five kilograms of cocaine off the street, the true success of this investigation is the complete disruption of this network’s reach and the tentacles it had spread into so many communities across this province,” he said.

“During the course of this investigation this group demonstrated the capacity to move wholesale quantities of cocaine on a regular basis.”

At the same news conference, RCMP Chief Supt. Ian Lawson said the rise of outlaw motorcycle gangs in Alberta has led to increased violence, illicit drug trafficking and money laundering.

“These are just some of the many illegal activities that ruin lives and kill Canadians every day,” he said.

While the policing aspect of Project Entry has now concluded, the court proceedings are just beginning.

Since their arrests, the suspects have all appeared in courtrooms either in person or via CCTV from the Edmonton Remand Centre as lawyers wrangle over bail and release conditions. None of the allegations have yet to be proven in court.

ALERT has already moved on to its next investigation.

“You can destabilize them,” Sher said about the work to dismantle motorcycle gangs.

“But it’s a never-ending war.”

jgraney@postmedia.com

 

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