A yearlong drug investigation in Bonner County has led to the arrests of members of a local motorcycle gang and could result in the seizure of a houseboat and closure of a restaurant near Sandpoint’s landmark Long Bridge.
More than 20 people, including five members of the biker gang, face charges in what investigators describe as an unprecedented case that began with an undercover drug probe last fall and led to infiltration of the Hermanos motorcycle gang, a chapter of the international Bandidos outlaw biker gang.
Undercover detectives developed relationships with area drug dealers to build credibility with the bikers. They learned of extensive criminal activity involving the Bandidos.
Bonner County sheriff’s Sgt. Marty Ryan called the Hermanos the “foot soldiers” for a larger operation.
“We understand that biker mentality, that brotherhood,” Ryan said. “If they are foot soldiers for the Bandidos, that means Bandidos are now in our community, and I don’t want that in our community.”
A four-man team worked for nearly a year building a case against the men under anti-gang laws passed by the 2006 Legislature that make recruiting gang members a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
“It had to be kept extremely secret,” Ryan said. “To be able to pull this off in a community where people talk is extremely difficult.”
A grand jury began issuing indictments in August. Arrests began last week with a series of raids in the Sandpoint and Ponderay areas.
Bryan M. Lukezich, president of the Hermanos local chapter, faces a felony charge of recruiting gang members.
Hermanos sergeant at arms James Ray Smith, road captain Steven Jay Beal and Hermanos members Dale Michael Champine and Jonathan B. Bates also are charged.Beal and Champine also are charged with grand theft.
Paul Leslie Spencer, described by Ryan as very close to the Hermanos gang, is wanted on five counts of delivery of methamphetamine. Investigators searched his home on Rapid Lightning Road last week.
Indictments are sealed; Ryan said more charges are expected.
Ryan emphasized that the biker gang is one of several groups targeted in the investigation, which the Sheriff’s Office calls Operation New Hight.
“There was so much more to this operation,” Ryan said. Of the 26 indictments, 19 are for drug-related offenses.
“Everything from coke to (Ecstasy) to marijuana to hash to prescription pills,” Ryan said.
Daniel J. Maddux, owner of the Long Bridge Bar and Grill, called the case a “witch hunt.”
“They spend the money setting this task force up, and they needed to make some arrests,” said Maddux, who is out of jail on bond.
Maddux, 54, was arrested at his home in Sagle last Thursday. He and two waitresses at the restaurant, which he’s owned for 14 years, face drug dealing charges for what Ryan described as a large-scale drug operation that authorities have long tried to dismantle.
The Sheriff’s Office also is seeking Maddux’s restaurant through civil forfeiture.
But Maddux said he’s never sold drugs before and is a victim of circumstance because gang suspects frequented his bar.
“I own a bar. People come and go. You don’t get the best people in here all the time, but we are trying to make a living, and what they do is what they do,” Maddux said.
He said a man who turned out to be an undercover investigator “drank massive amounts of alcohol at different bars … and became friends with several people in my building.”
“I can’t really talk about my part of it, but I’ll have you know it’s very minor, and I really can’t understand why I’m involved at all,” Maddux said.
Restaurant waitresses Karen Leann Medland and Elizabeth Goldberg were arrested on drug dealing charges over the weekend and remain in jail on bond.
Ryan expects more arrests and said detectives still are examining drug connections between Bonner County and California.
Also arrested were suspected cocaine and Ecstasy dealer Morgan Kenney and Matthew Harold Johnson, who was arrested as he walked off his houseboat on Garfield Bay in Lake Pend Oreille; Johnson is charged with two counts of delivery of a controlled substance. Investigators are seeking his houseboat through civil forfeiture.
Johnson is not considered a Hermanos member, Ryan said.
Also indicted on drug charges were Bree Church, Margaret Sand-ridge, Chuck Mack, Ron Lee Anderson, Aaron Martin, Christopher Greene, Lacey Greene, Daniel Ferguson, Lydia Ferguson, Robert Daniels, Nathan Perez, Stormy Riech and Steven DeHart.