Former police agent Micheal Plante met with Vancouver Sun crime reporter Kim Bolan in late 2012 to tell his incredible story about infiltrating the East End chapter of the Hells Angels and helping police put 12 men behind bars. He did not disclose his new name or residence.
In part five, Plante described the challenge of preparing for a series of trials and how he felt when it was all over. In part six, the RCMP’s top cop — Commissioner Bob Paulson, pictured above — reflects on his role as a leader of the E-Pandora investigation and its significance in taking on the Hells Angels in B.C.
Almost a decade after police launched a massive undercover operation targeting the East End Hells Angels, the notorious biker gang is no longer immune from arrest and prosecution, Canada’s top Mountie says.
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, who as an inspector led the B.C. investigation dubbed E-Pandora, said the case rattled the Hells Angels and destroyed their illusion of impenetrability.
Twelve Hells Angels and associates were convicted in E-Pandora, in which police agent Micheal Plante infiltrated the End End chapter and collected evidence of their crimes for months.
The investigation also showed police that “these guys could be gotten,” Paulson said.
“There had been other efforts to get them — you get one here and you get one there. And so, by using the agent approach, it had a couple of effects. It got us a lot of evidence. It also destabilized them and it sort of made everybody look around the corner a little bit more and have less confidence in their ability to operate outside of the law with that confidence in their solidarity.”
Since Pandora, which formally ended Oct. 30, 2012 when a final charge was stayed, the Hells Angels’ power has waned.
“They’re vulnerable,” Paulson said. “And I think many of the experiences across Canada have demonstrated that. Really, this idea that ‘We’re solid bad guys sticking together,’ the biker version of omerta, is a bit of an illusion.”
Paulson praised Plante for the risky and valuable work he did on the investigation.
“I have got a lot of respect for him, for what he did and how he did it,” Paulson said. “It was very stressful for him. It was very dangerous for him.”
His only regret is that Plante couldn’t have stayed undercover a little longer, but he recognizes “there was an awful lot of pressure on Mike.
“There was an awful lot of pressure on the team,” he added. “We were getting an awful lot of evidence.”
Efforts paid off
Paulson developed the protocol for the maverick investigation, which relied on Criminal Code exemptions allowing a police agent to participate in crimes such as drug trafficking during an undercover probe like E-Pandora.
Plante worked with several bikers and associates in the drug trade for months in order to collect evidence of the Hells Angels’ trafficking.
Everything Plante did with the gang was carefully documented.
He wore a wire to record conversations. Police made surveillance videos of meetings. If Plante picked up a load of meth or a bag of guns, he would take them to the police safe house so they could be photographed. The flashy Mustang police provided to Plante had a video camera in the trunk and more recording devices.
Paulson said it was tough for police to allow drug transactions to be completed, but it was the only way to prove the bigger conspiracies involving several bikers.
“It did pay off in court. It demonstrated the resolve and the capability of the police to convince the courts that this was an honourable strategy to track those transactions to allow under certain conditions drugs to remain in circulation while we demonstrated advancement in the evidence chain,” he said.
“It is a tough idea to explain to people that don’t take the time to dive into the issues. Allowing drugs to remain in circulation while the police are there looking at them — it is almost counterintuitive. It’s hard to overlook that. That’s why I think this documenting and fairly onerous logistical element to the evidence collection was so vital there.”
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Victor Curtis commented on the dilemma in his watershed ruling upholding the police tactics in E-Pandora.
“Large quantities of drugs were released into the community – drugs which could cause death or serious injury in their consumption and trafficking,” Curtis said.
“However, significant quantities of drugs were removed from the community during the investigation and it would appear that the investigation, by reasonable inference, has seriously disrupted and prevented the distribution of much larger quantities of drugs.”
Despite all the convictions, three attempts to get the Hells Angels declared a criminal organization were unsuccessful in E-Pandora, something Paulson regrets.
While judges in Ontario and Quebec have declared the gang a criminal organization, resulting in longer sentences for members who are convicted, the same order has yet to be made about the Hells Angels in B.C.
“It was disappointing, but the outcome was very rewarding. An objective of the project was to bring a criminal-organization prosecution, and for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. But it doesn’t detract from the lengthy list of bad guys that we got.”
The longest E-Pandora prosecution was a jury trial that ended in July 2009 when East End members John Punko, Jean Violette, Randy Potts and Ronaldo Lising were convicted on a series of charges, but acquitted of belonging to a criminal organization.
The jury simply listed guilty or not guilty to the various counts, providing no insight into their reasons for acquitting on the organized crime count.
The Hells Angels today remain a priority for the RCMP and other law-enforcement agencies across the country, Paulson said. “Where the Hells Angels present themselves as criminal threat, we go after them.”
He said police prioritize organized-crime investigations based on “validated intelligence and evidence.
“So we continue to target them, as do our policing partners, where that intelligence is demonstrating active criminality. Let’s not kid ourselves, they are a criminal organization. That’s what they do for a living.”
Court battles loom
In B.C., the Hells Angels have been hit particularly hard. There are several continuing prosecutions, including another attempt to get the Hells Angels declared a criminal organization.
In that case, Kelowna chapter vice-president David Giles — formerly a member of the targeted East End chapter — and sergeant-at-arms Bryan Oldham, as well as several associates, are facing a series of charges, including conspiracy to traffic cocaine and committing crimes for the Hells Angels as a criminal organization.
Two other Kelowna chapter members — Norman Cocks and Robert Thomas — and five associates are facing second-degree murder charges in the June 2011 beating death of Okanagan man Dain Phillips.
Both Cocks and Thomas were also in the East End chapter when Plante infiltrated the Hells Angels. And high-profile B.C. HA member Larry Amero, who is part of the new West Point chapter, is facing cocaine conspiracy charges in Quebec.
There are also several civil forfeiture cases against the Hells Angels in this province. B.C.’s director of civil forfeiture wants to seize both the East End and Kelowna clubhouses, worth more than $1.2 million in total, because of their connections to criminal activity.
In the last two weeks alone, the director has filed two more cases in B.C. Supreme Court against men convicted in E-Pandora, in an attempt to keep more than $245,000 seized by police during the investigation.
And the Hells Angels have yet to go to trial against the director to challenge the government’s 2007 seizure of the Nanaimo clubhouse.
Giles and Kelowna member Hans Frederick Kurth are also battling the Canada Revenue Agency, which claims they owe back taxes.
There are also allegations in several Washington state drug cases that B.C. Hells Angels are behind cross-border cocaine and marijuana smuggling.
Several Hells Angels have quit the gang in the last several years as police have stepped up enforcement.
Among those no longer with the club are Lloyd (Louie) Robinson, who was a senior East End member, and Potts, one of the 12 convicted in E-Pandora. Both men were befriended by Plante in his efforts to infiltrate the East End chapter.
Last year, full-patch Hells Angel Mike Robatzek was kicked out of the biker gang’s White Rock chapter after running into money troubles. Other B.C. Hells Angels have faced a worse fate than expulsion.
Former East End enforcer Juel Stanton was executed at his Vancouver heritage house near city hall on Aug. 12, 2010 as he prepared to leave for work. He had been booted from the club just three months earlier.
Founding Vancouver chapter Angel Cedric Baxter Smith went missing from Langley in May 2008 and is presumed dead.
Smith had inadvertently brought another police agent to the Hells Angels, which led to other charges and convictions.
Across Canada, there are 29 active Hells Angels chapters and six “frozen” ones, meaning their membership has fallen below the six necessary in their rules to be an official chapter.
East End club decimated
Vancouver Det. Brad Stephen, one of Plante’s handlers throughout E-Pandora, said the investigation was a critical turning point for the East End chapter.
“East End has never been the same. East End was at that time the most powerful chapter in Canada. And now they are absolutely decimated,” he said. “The clubhouse is falling apart. Most of the members are well into their 50s and 60s.”
Membership has fallen from 21 in 2004 to just nine today, though some former East End members have transferred to the Nomads and Kelowna chapters.
There are no prospects or hangarounds waiting in the wings to become full-patch East End members.
RCMP Insp. Gary Shinkaruk, who oversaw Plante’s mission, said that at one point in B.C., the Hells Angels’ patch was “a criminal gold card” that signified undying loyalty among members and generated so much public terror that no one would help police fight them.
That isn’t the case anymore.
“Certainly if you look at the East End specifically, they were viewed as one of the elite chapters,” Shinkaruk said. “Now if you look at them in 2012, they are a broken-down chapter. We have certainly disrupted where they sit in the pecking order of criminal organizations.”
Both the Kelowna and the Burnaby-based Nomads’ chapters were also affected by Pandora, Shinkaruk said.
“You look at a number of senior influential Hells Angels who have quit the club – the infighting within those clubs and those members. They steal from one another. They talk about one another. There isn’t really the loyalty that they purport to have.”
Insidetheangels.com is part of Vancouver Sun Sites, A division of Postmedia Newspapers 2013.