Angels In Arizona
The Worldwide, Kill-Happy Crime Machine Known As Hells Angels Is About To Roll Into Arizona.
By Karen Brandel
WILLIAM IVAN GRONDALSKI had grown weary of the drugs, but he especially wanted to stop the killing.
He had a wife, a 16-year-old stepson and a 5-year-old daughter. In truth, his loyalty to Hells Angels had fizzled out long ago. He never informed on them; he just wanted to take his family away from the whole ugly scene.
Accounts of what he did vary--did he ask permission, or did he just up and move his family farther north of San Francisco? The questions just double back on other questions, but apparently he knew too much, and maybe the Angels figured his 5-year-old daughter would remember the faces of the men who forced their way in, because Grondalski's entire family was shot execution-style before their house was set ablaze.
It was not an unusual hit for the Hells Angels. That was 1986 and two Hells Angels--Charles Diaz and Gerald Lester--are just now going to trial for those murders in Fort Brag, California. "Don't be surprised," says one California source, "if the jury gets intimidated and lets them off. I've seen cases where several Angels sit in the courtroom and just stare the jury down."
Could it happen here? "Oh, count on it," asserts Anthony Tait, who spent seven years undercover in the upper ranks of Hells Angels. "They bribe a lot of influential people, but when that doesn't work, they resort to all kinds of intimidation. They like to kill, and they kill in the most violent, disgusting way possible."
Tait, who now lives overseas, has predicted Hells Angels would extend their turf into Arizona. At the close of July, a very secret meeting was held at the Hells Angels' Oakland, California, clubhouse. A vote was taken that caused a flurry of faxes, phone conferences and strategy meetings among intelligence agencies in Arizona and California. The Angels voted to take on Arizona.
IN THE COUNTERCULTURE of outlaw motorcycle clubs, the very wealthy Hells Angels have been closely associated with Arizona's formerly dominant Dirty Dozen motorcycle club, but now the Dirty Dozen will go through a "prospect" phase, whereby each of the Dozen proves himself worthy of belonging to the Angels. They must commit felonies in the presence of the Angels, which won't be the hard part for the 130-odd members of the Dirty Dozen, many of whom have served time on state or federal charges.
Intelligence experts agree with Tait's claim that many of the Dirty Dozen will not make the grade--that some will be cast off as "slickbacks," or bikers without a club, and others will end up dead because they know too much.
"The Dirty Dozen was the dominant motorcycle club here in Arizona and they were very violent," says one source, "but they've been bought. You can talk about the biker tradition, the Harley, the patch (identifying logo) that they've killed for, but in the end, what's most important is money. Hells Angels is represented in 18 countries now. They're probably the largest organized crime family that we export from the U.S."
At the center of this global expansion is Oakland-based International President Ralph "Sonny" Barger, who's had his hand on the throttle of Hells Angels' money and mayhem machine since the late '50s, despite occasional prison stints. When Barger was released from prison in 1992, an estimated 3,000 people attended his party. "Do you think (Joseph) Bonanno could command that much influence?" demands one law enforcement source.
The Hells Angels that many remember as a motorcycle club scandalized by drug and murder indictments and the shoot 'n' loot mentality has gradually accomplished remarkable feats, and they've done so completely unnoticed by everyone except those in law enforcement who monitor them. The only exception is overseas, where the public more often gets victimized by the Angels' retaliation against rival clubs. Hells Angels has grown into a multi-billion dollar crime syndicate with no boundaries. They're incorporated, their death's head patch is copyrighted, they have expensive superlawyers on retainer, and they're very, very organized.
The main reason nearly all intelligence sources demand anonymity is because the Angels' countersurveillance is so sophisticated. Complains one source, "They're one organization with no rules to restrain them in their information-gathering. We're a myriad number of large and small agencies hampered by so many legal restrictions. They have unlimited funds, so they have the best technology, such as electronic eavesdropping."
An Arizona source who's monitoring the Angels' expansion into the state shakes his head and points to stacks of photos and files that detail the murders, bombings, and shootings.
"Look at the big RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) cases that've been done around the country against Hells Angels. Nobody has ever been successful in putting them down. The organization is so vast--the feds can do the country, but what happens when you get outside the country? The only agency that has international jurisdiction is Interpol, but I don't think they're equipped for these investigations. I don't think there's anything big enough to handle Hells Angels."
The Angels are mainly into the drug business, and they take pride in their product: They manufacture and transport 100 percent pure methamphetamine. They also make big bucks through prostitution. With so much money available, Hells Angels has bought off cops and regulators, thereby evading prosecution, according to Tait and other intelligence sources. They invest their laundered money in legitimate businesses, such as a lush resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and ski resorts in British Columbia. They were close to buying a seat on the Vancouver Stock Exchange before the embarrassed Canadian authorities managed to halt the deal.
Tait and others who monitor the Angels know that what is happening overseas might occur here. "They don't care," says Tait sarcastically, "if innocent people get killed in their capers."
Innocents were definitely injured in two airports in Copenhagen and Norway, where Hells Angels opened fire on members of a rival motorcycle club called the Bandidos. In Finland, club members used rocket-propelled grenades on a local police station.
In Arizona, the influx of Hells Angels will first be evidenced by the potent methamphetamine flooding the street-drug market. According to another California source, the proceeds will go to front men who'll buy local real estate, bars, and restaurants. "They'll also buy motorcycle shops, engine shops, paint shops and tattoo shops. They buy the kinds of places they use," he explains. A competent local attorney or two might be hired to file cases for them.
Tenacious law enforcement agencies can expect to be tied up in court with civil rights actions slapped against them by the Angels' lawyers.
Some influential people might get bought. "I can't tell you that Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell received any money," says a California source. "I do know that he used his influence to try to get Sonny Barger out of prison. Remember that the amount of money is staggering, and I do know that some influential people forgot the difference between right and wrong because of it."
WHAT DOES IT take to become a member of Hells Angels? First, the aspiring member actually fills out an application form. The Angels' own "security" members verify who the applicant's parents were, where he's lived and where he went to school. The background check includes perusing the applicant's prior W-2 forms. They also run a credit check. This particular part of the background check makes it difficult to infiltrate the club, because Congress won't allow law enforcement to use a false Social Security number to establish a fake credit history.
The aspiring member must also commit felonies in the presence of other Angels.
This was not a requirement when Tait joined the Angels in 1980. His membership was the result of a cocky bet he made with his cop pals in Anchorage, Alaska--that he'd be able to infiltrate the notorious motorcycle club. What his wagering pals didn't anticipate was that Tait and the Angels would click. He was a natural--his lies were smooth, and he had expertise the Angels liked: explosives.
Tait's friends watched with astonishment as he rapidly made his way up the ranks. By the time he became a sergeant at arms, the feds had elbowed their way in, pressing him to stay longer than he ever intended. The feds must have been laughing their asses off when Hells Angels International President Sonny Barger admiringly told Tait he represented the Hells Angel of the '90s--clean-cut, articulate and able to get club business done--because Tait was wearing a wire and a transmitting device at the time.
Although he helped put Barger in prison, the undercover assignment wasn't a load of laughs for Tait. The Angels put a hefty contract on his head. Ironically, he's the only source who allowed his name to be used for this article. While Tait has stayed on the move in other countries, Barger eventually got out of prison. More like a homing pigeon than an Angel, Barger returned to Oakland, resuming club business as usual. With Hells Angels chapters all over the world and no one able to conduct worldwide investigations, what more could he have wanted?
AS THE DIRTY Dozen club members go through the "prospect" phase toward becoming full patch-wearing members of Hells Angels, they'll lose some "brothers" (fellow members) along the way.
Some just won't cut it. One long-time member who is a former cop has already been turned away. Long-term friendships will be uprooted, and if intelligence sources are correct, some members will be killed.
But it's too late to slam into reverse now. As prospects, they'll be assigned to wash the motorcycles and other grunt work as they learn more about Hells Angels. As they learn, the Angels will be sizing them up.
According to Robert "Chico" Mora, who's been president of the Dirty Dozen's Tucson chapter, there's always been a close association between the two motorcycle clubs: "There's always been some members who would urge the rest to trade patches with Hells Angels. What I mean is our jackets would say Hells Angels/Arizona instead of Dirty Dozen/Arizona. Personally, I've been for it forever. They're the only guys that have the legal machine to fight the cops. I mean, the feds and the cops wouldn't even try with the Angels what they do to us. The Angels have the money to fight the cops. They own property, movie and other entertainment businesses, they put on concerts--yeah, it'd be great. I know and admire Sonny Barger."
So why, throughout the years, have some members been opposed to joining the Angels?
Mora smiles ruefully. "I'll tell you why. Trading patches means you also take on Hells Angels responsibilities and their enemies. It means we're a Hells Angels chapter in Arizona, but we'd still be concerned with the world. They have shooting wars everywhere--they're shooting each other to ragdolls and blowing each other up. That's a lot of responsibility."
For the women who've been with the Dirty Dozen--their "old ladies"--the future is more uncertain. Life is cheap for women who become involved with the outlaw motorcycle clubs.
According to Mora: "They're not the important thing at all. They don't have a say at all about anything." Gesturing toward his wife Tracy, he remarks, "She's not allowed to go to my clubhouse unless I take her. And I can throw her out."
Women often wear jackets that have the words "PROPERTY OF" sewn on the back, with the man's name sewn below. "She only gets to wear the property patch if I let her wear it," explains Mora. "The property jacket is just so that some brother of mine, in a drunken fit, doesn't go beat on my woman. He sees that and knows I'll twist his head off. But if we're in a bar and she says, 'Fuck you,' I'll say, 'Fuck who?' Pow! Yeah, I'd hit her in public. Citizens (those not affiliated with outlaw bikers) have a hard time understanding that, because America is becoming acclimated to being sensitive--real men can cry and all that. Well we say, 'Wanna bet?' "
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