When he was a boy growing up on the Lower Mainland, Micheal Plante loved his family’s annual trip to the Pacific National Exhibition.
It wasn’t the thrill of the rides that attracted the only son of a single teacher mom. Every year, Plante would race inside one of the pavilions to see the Vancouver police exhibit.
“My whole life I wanted to be a cop,” he recalled recently.
He worried he would never grow tall enough to reach the minimum height requirement. His tiny mom was under five feet. He never knew his dad.
“In those days you had to be five foot 10. I would also say, ‘Please, please make me five foot 10.’”
While Plante made it to five foot nine, he never made it onto the VPD or any other police force.
But he still managed to take on one of the biggest criminal gangs in B.C.
Beginning a decade ago, he infiltrated the Hells Angels’ East End chapter — one of the richest and most powerful in the world. At first he did it on his own. Then he became a confidential informant and eventually a police agent.
He wore a wire for 10 months in 2004 and 2005 — sometimes 24/7 — secretly recording criminal activities both inside the bikers’ East Georgia clubhouse and beyond its fortified walls.
When it was all over, 12 Hells Angels and associates were convicted for offences including trafficking cocaine and methamphetamine, extortion, conspiracy, possession of firearms and grenades, and contempt of court. The elite chapter of the notorious biker gang was left in tatters.
In a series of exclusive interviews with The Vancouver Sun, Plante, now 46, told his remarkable story publicly for the first time. He was able to finally speak because the long-running RCMP investigation – E-Pandora – formally ended on Oct. 30, 2012, when the last outstanding charge was stayed against full-patch Angel John Punko.
The interviews took place in a North American city that Plante was visiting. For his own safety, Plante lives under a different name in an undisclosed location — which were not revealed to the The Sun — as he moves forward with his post-Pandora life.
Plante has remained silent for years as defence lawyers attacked his reputation during three criminal trials, calling him a rat, a thug, a drug dealer and an opportunist who signed a contract promising him $1 million by the end of the case.
The lawyers also repeatedly claimed he only helped police in order to make an extortion charge go away after he was arrested in downtown Vancouver with an HA member and associate in July 2003.
Plante agreed to talk because he wanted to set the record straight. He told The Sun that he never requested — nor received — assistance with the criminal charge that was eventually stayed for lack of evidence.
“There was never any help,” he said.
RCMP Insp. Gary Shinkaruk, who was in charge of E-Pandora, confirmed that Plante made no deal to get out of his legal troubles and told police he wanted to help them for altruistic reasons.
Plante also revealed to The Sun that he had already begun the process of infiltrating the Hells Angels on his own long before he was arrested. And he said he tried to reach out to police several times from the inside to let them know he could provide information about what he saw going on within the club.
He says his calls to police were not returned.
“I infiltrated them myself and I made phone call after phone call after phone call and nothing happened.”
So why would Plante decide to ingratiate himself with the Hells Angels, hoping to expose the bikers for the criminals he believed they were?
He insisted he didn’t do it expecting a big payday. He took on the dangerous role because he wanted to make a difference. He had been passed over when he applied to several police forces. He had ended up working as a bouncer in rough bars and clubs for years. Now he had the chance to work with police, just as he had always dreamed of as a child.
“I wasn’t a rat. They were not my friends. I wasn’t friends with any of them. I was doing a job,” he said. “I wanted to leave a legacy. I wanted to do something significant in my life. I never bartered or sold myself to the RCMP for money. That was the HA’s angle.”
Micheal Dollard Plante was born in North Vancouver on Jan. 6, 1967.
He and his two sisters moved around a lot as kids as their mother got teaching jobs across B.C. — Vancouver, Revelstoke, Powell River, Chilliwack, New Westminster, Burnaby.
He switched schools often before graduating from Burnaby’s Cariboo Hill secondary in 1986.
“I was the new kid in school 11 times,” he said. “I just went with the flow. And that is how I went through my whole life. I will walk into a room not knowing anybody, but I will leave that room knowing everybody.”
He learned early how to reinvent himself — something that would come in handy later in life. When he moved to Revelstoke, he told other kids he was a kung fu master.
“That was my story. I stuck to it for about a month until they called me on it,” he recalled, laughing. “I said, ‘Actually I can run really fast, but I don’t know kung fu — see you later.’”
He liked sports but couldn’t start playing until 12 or 13 because of Perthes disease, a hip condition that had been treated with casts when he was a preschooler.
As he got older, there were still things he wasn’t supposed to do, like jumping. His mom taught in his school and kept a watchful eye.
“It was only when I could get away from my mom as I got older that I could play sports.”
He took to competitive rugby, weightlifting, soccer and baseball. Money was tight at home, so he paid for everything himself.
“When I was 11 years old, I would go and get up at six o’clock in the morning on a Saturday and I would go to the park with my little wagon and I would collect beer bottles from the kids boozing the night before,” he said. “And that’s how I would make my money. Who else does that?”
His mom always got them a place in a nice neighbourhood, where other kids had many more luxuries than Plante and his sisters.
“We were bare bones, right? My sisters, they ended up stealing. That’s how they dealt with it. I am not a stealer. I am not a thief. That was never my thing,” he said.
“I remember getting mad at my mom one time because we were at a doctor’s office and she took a magazine. I said, ‘That magazine doesn’t belong to you. You try to tell the sisters they shouldn’t be stealing and you are taking a magazine.’”
Plante was athletic, hard-working and outgoing. But he also struggled with anxiety attacks that could paralyze him — making it hard for him to leave the house. It made him so sick when he was 15 that he missed all of Grade 10.
“I felt like I was choking. It was the tension, but to me it felt like I had a ball in my throat. Then I didn’t eat,” he said.
After a while, he couldn’t get out of bed. His doctor thought it was a bad flu bug. But a specialist later suggested it might be stress-related.
He learned to cope with it himself — a skill that he would have to rely on as an adult. “I kind of had to go mind over matter and willed it away.”
Plante is proud of the fact he has worked hard all his life.
As a teen in Powell River, he was thrilled to get a part-time warehouse job at $9 an hour. Back in Burnaby for his last two years of high school, the only work he could find was at McDonald’s for the $2.65 minimum wage.
“Money-wise it was terrible. But I worked every day, so it kind of evened out. I met lots of girls because I worked at the one by Lougheed Mall. It was all of the Centennial High girls,” he said. “It was new. It was actually fun. It was actually the first fun school year in my life.”
After he graduated in 1986 — a year late — Plante was set for “good times,” working at Canadian Tire for $5.75 an hour. His girlfriend had a car.
“I was going to buy a house,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘I don’t need to go back to school.’”
He switched jobs again, eventually returning to work for McDonald’s as a security guard at its downtown Granville location.
“They wanted all the drug addicts to get kicked out of the McDonald’s. I worked there till ’87.”
It was a new phase for Plante — by then a competitive power lifter — that would lead into his work as a bouncer at nightclubs from Surrey to downtown Vancouver.
He enjoyed the life — the clubs all had live bands back then and things would get rowdy. Rock stars would show up unannounced to drink after their own shows.
It was during his years as a doorman at Coconuts, on Kingsway in Burnaby in the late ‘80s, that he first met some of the future Hells Angels he would help put in jail.
“That’s when I met all those guys,” he said.
Louie Robinson, an original East End member, came by occasionally.
Vince Brienza, then a prospect, wore his leather vest into Coconuts with two other bikers the first night Plante worked there.
“I didn’t even know what the hell the vest meant,” Plante said. “I said, ‘Oh you guys have kind of a cool vest with British Columbia on the back of it.’”
There were big fights in the bars and clubs back then and doormen were enforcers who had to break them up. Police were rarely called. And if they did come, it was the bouncers who would get charged.
“That’s just the way it was. Throughout the years, I had 23 assault charges. Zero convictions,” Plante said.
“That’s what you did. You fought. There were no lawsuits back in those days.”
The only charge that stuck came in 1991, when he was still dreaming of being a cop. He was studying criminology at Douglas College and went to work out at North Vancouver’s Empire Fitness.
“The other guy started the fight and he ended up on the losing end,” he said. The victim didn’t show up in court. A sympathetic judge gave Plante a conditional discharge and 100 hours of community service so as not to interfere with his schooling.
While at Douglas, he began applying to various police forces, hoping to land his dream job.
“I applied four different times, and I never got in. I applied to VPD. I applied to New Westminster. I applied twice to the RCMP and I applied once for a sheriff’s job,” he said.
Disappointed and disillusioned, he ended up back working as a bouncer at Surrey’s Dell Hotel, a gritty place in the 10600-block of King George Hwy, where bikers liked to drink. It was there Plante ran into Randy Potts again in 1992.
Potts, one of the 12 people later convicted in E-Pandora, was running kilos of cocaine out of a room there with the Dell’s manager and another man. They were getting the bricks from the Hells Angels, of which Potts was not yet a member.
“They had a room in the hotel where they would stash the kilos and people would come in and grab the stuff,” Plante said. The manager asked him to babysit the cocaine — sitting in the room to make sure no one stole the product.
“I had been turned down to become a cop and I just didn’t care,” Plante said. “I never dealt anything. I was never hands on.”
In fact, he didn’t even see the cocaine — it was hidden in the ceiling of the hotel room. And the extra money was good. He earned about $200 a day.
“Then, typical drug dealers, they got cheap and didn’t want to pay me anymore. Sure enough, after they did this, word got out and a couple of kilos got stolen.”
RCMP was tipped to the trafficking and raided the Dell.
During his stint at the Dell, Plante met a lot of people who would become major players in B.C.’s lucrative drug trade, including Tom Gisby, who was gunned down in Mexico last May.
“I didn’t drink then. I hung with them. We would work out,” he said. “We always did things together. We were friends. You work in a bar, you are going to meet with these kinds of people.”
They liked having Plante around. He could give someone a ride or keep them out of trouble. “They called me the pit bull because I didn’t drink and I wasn’t an idiot.”
Potts asked for Plante’s help to get into shape. Potts confided that he had just kicked a Percocet habit developed because of a bad back.
“He started talking to me and I got to know him,” Plante said. “That guy was a career criminal.”
He said Potts boasted about years of illicit activity, from stealing vehicles and boats in his native Kingston, Ont., to his drug deals at the Dell.
By 1994, Plante was ready for a change of pace and scenery. He moved to Alberta, after an old high school friend promised to help him get hired on the oil rigs.
The job never materialized and Plante was back bouncing in Medicine Hat. He returned to B.C. less than a year later, after breaking up with a girlfriend. His anxiety returned.
“My heart was broken,” he said of losing the relationship. “I didn’t want to go back to the bar. I didn’t want to go back to school even though I should have gone back to school ….my head wasn’t in the right place. I didn’t care.”
He started working at the Surrey Costco in March 1995, driving a forklift on the graveyard shift. He hated the job, but stuck with it for more than five years — his only relief was competing in power lifting in his off-hours, using steroids to increase his strength.
“It is proven fact that people who work graveyard shifts go crazy,” Plante said. “To stay awake, I was drinking like 12 (large coffees) a day. I was taking ephedrine. And I wasn’t eating because I wasn’t sleeping …. It was just self-destruction.”
During a performance review, he was told he didn’t smile enough.
“Smile? Smile at who? What am I happy about? This is a shitty job. There are no windows in here,” he said.
He ended up leaving before he was laid off, qualifying for unemployment insurance because he said he left to take another job that hadn’t materialized.
For the first time since he was a kid, he had time to sit in his small $400-a-month New Westminster apartment, read books and reflect.
He also started reading the paper. In January 2001, he saw articles about some of the people he used to see during his bouncer days — Ronnie Lising and Chico Pires. They had become the first B.C. Hells Angels convicted of trafficking after a doorman at the Marble Arch strip club cooperated with Vancouver police to gather evidence.
“The Hells Angels were all over the news. And that thing about being a cop was still in my head and I actually pondered going back and getting my schooling finished,” he said.
But at 34, he thought he was too old. And another idea started taking root after he read Into the Abyss, a book by Canadian author Yves Lavigne about Tony Tait, an Alaskan Angel who turned on his gang brethren and worked covertly for the FBI.
If Tait could pull it off, Plante thought, why couldn’t he?
“This can’t be too hard,” he said to himself. “I remembered these guys from Coconuts.”
He thought he could maybe write a book too. He thought he could maybe help police. But he decided to wait before reaching out to law enforcement.
“I wanted to see how easy this could be. I am a methodical person. When I put my mind to something, I can do it right,” he said.
“I had come out of this five-year fog. I had such promise back in the early ‘90s. This isn’t how it should have been. Everyone had passed me by.”
But not for long.
Plante began to put his plan into action.
Insidetheangels.com is part of Vancouver Sun Sites, A division of Postmedia Newspapers 2013.