Hells Angels’ trial begins
SEATTLE – The federal racketeering case against the Spokane-based chapter of the Hells Angels and four of its members is nothing more than “grand theater” conjured up by two informants, one of whom was just arrested, defense attorneys said Monday.
Michael “Welder Mike” Kordash, scheduled to be a key prosecution witness, was arrested Friday on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and possessing marijuana, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Miyake told the court after his fellow federal prosecutor, Tessa Gorman, spent the morning outlining the government’s case.
“He’s going to get no breaks from the government,” Miyake told the judge after defense attorneys raised the issue that Kordash, already paid $20,000 by the government, will color his testimony to get out of his latest jam.
The judge said Kordash can testify for the prosecution as early as today, and defense attorneys can refer to his recent arrest, but not press him for details because he has the right to avoid self-incrimination.
It was a 911 call from Kordash on Jan. 22, 2004, to report a death threat, that triggered the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and Monroe Police Department to launch an investigation into the Hells Angels’ Washington Nomad Chapter, based in Spokane, the jury was told.
Kordash, facing the barrel of a .45-caliber handgun wielded by co-defendants Josh Binder and Rodney Rollness, called police after he was told he was “being taxed” and must pay the Hells Angels for motorcycles he owned, Gorman said.
“They told him they would cut his body up in little pieces and put them in trash bags” if he didn’t comply with the Hells Angels’ extortion demands, Gorman told the jury. As he made the alleged threat, Binder showed Kordash plastic bags.
Kordash had helped his friend Rollness transport various stolen Harley-Davidson motorcycles from Washington to Oregon, where they were retitled because the registration process is less rigorous, the prosecutor said in outlining various crimes committed as part of the racketeering conspiracy.
In an indictment returned in February 2006, Richard “Smilin’ Rick” Fabel, of Spokane, the president of the Washington Nomad Chapter of the Hells Angels, is accused of leading the “racketeering enterprise” over the past decade.
Wearing black-rimmed glasses and a white, long-sleeved shirt with the Hells Angels logo over the pocket, Fabel waved to people in the packed courtroom as he was led in by a team of federal marshals. Spectators in the courtroom included patch-wearing Hells Angels from Denver, Chicago and the Washington Nomad Chapter.
His attorneys didn’t tell the jury whether Fabel will testify in his own defense.
The Hells Angels exists strictly for “enrichment and punishment,” affecting many corners of the Spokane community, including a North Division tavern, a powder coating business and a motorcycle shop that became nothing more than a front for motorcycle thefts and alterations, Gorman said.
The fourth defendant, Ricky Jenks, was involved in extorting money from a heavy metal band that played weekly for a mosh-pit crowd at Ichabod’s North Tavern before it burned in an arson fire, Gorman told the jury. Its former owner and bartender are scheduled to testify in the 10-week racketeering trial.
“We dispute, point-by-point, everything she said,” Kristine Costello, one of two court-appointed defense attorneys for Fabel, told the jury as the defense team began its opening statements.
There is no physical evidence, wiretap recording, videotape, fingerprint or other proof linking her 49-year-old client to a series of crimes alleged under the broad racketeering conspiracy indictment, Costello told the jury. The defense attorney said Fabel is proud to be a Hells Angel and makes his living by buying and selling cars and operating a business that sells T-shirts and other memorabilia. Costello said Fabel, who moved to Spokane from Alaska in 1995, lives a “modest lifestyle” in a home in northwest Spokane owned by his parents.
The other key prosecution witness will be Kordash’s former friend, Jonathan “Thunder” Yates, who was granted full immunity from prosecution in exchange for his cooperation with investigators, Costello told the jury.
Defense attorney Barry Flegenheimer, representing Jenks, said it was Yates, a former stripper and self-described porn star, who told Spokane police about the alleged kidnapping of Forrest Heaton, who was beaten in a van after being lured out of the former North Division nightspot. Yates told police that the assailant used welder’s gloves that were “dripping with blood” from the attack, but there is no evidence to support that, Flegenheimer said, calling the government’s case “grand theater.”
Yates tried to “shop his story” about the Hells Angels to officers with the Spokane Police Department and Spokane County Sheriff’s Office before signing a cooperation agreement with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Flegenheimer said. But after promising not to participate in any unlawful activities, Yates participated in a kidnapping in which the victim was tied up and wrapped in duct tape before he was stuck with needles and “caustic chemicals were doused on his genitals,” the defense attorney said.
In another case, Yates threatened to staple another man’s penis to a wood bench, promising to douse it with lighter fluid and set it afire as he handed the man a knife. “He would let him decide whether to cut it off or let it burn,” Flegenheimer told the jurors.
“This is who they’re relying on,” the defense attorney said of the government’s star witnesses.