Five of 15 bikers connected to the Rock Hill Hells Angels will be sentenced Thursday in federal court after an investigation into drug sales, gun running and conspiracy to commit widespread crimes.
The Hells Angels were a gang, federal prosecutors proved at trial earlier this year in U.S. District Court in Columbia.
A gang that was no different than black or Hispanic street gangs, the Mafia gangs of Italian whites, that police and courts in America repeatedly prove maim and kill and sell drugs and intimidate those who try to stop them, prosecutors argued.
Wiretaps and surveillance and informants also showed 15 of the bikers sold as much crack and meth as they could grab, laundered the money for more crime, and used assault rifles and other weapons to do it.
Never miss a local story.
Freedom for the Hells Angels convicted of serious federal crimes will end with severe punishments, a former federal prosecutor said Tuesday.
“I would expect stiff sentences,” said Miller Shealy, an associate professor at the Charleston School of Law and a former assistant U.S. attorney who served on the Justice Department’s organized crime and drug enforcement task force.
“The government used RICO against them. RICO is what people remember is used in Mafia trials. RICO is the huge hammer for the prosecution. RICO is about the worst punishment there is.”
RICO is short for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, used to prosecute the worst criminals. Sentences for RICO require the razing of forests of trees to print all the pages of numbers of years in a prison.
The Hells Angels – who referred to their clubhouses filled with drugs and guns and swastikas and rebel flags as “churches” – broke almost all the rules.
Dope-dealing, gun-running, ongoing conspiracy to sell pounds of cocaine and crystal meth and launder the profits. Intimidation, violence.
Prosecutors proved the case against 15 of 20 Hells Angels members and associates of the Rock Hell Nomads chapter and the associated Red Devils who were rounded up last summer.
Charges were dropped against three of the lesser defendants, and two defendants not accused of being ringleaders were found not guilty at trial.
The ruling members of the gang were convicted, though.
The five who will be sentenced Thursday start with three locals: Richard “Rat” Thrower of Lancaster, Frank “Big Frank” Enriquez of Rock Hill, and Johanna Looper of York. Each faces up to 20 years after pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy.
Also to be sentenced Thursday are two from the Columbia area: James “Sonny” Rhodus, who pleaded guilty to money laundering and faces 20 years; and Bruce “Diesel” Wilson, who pleaded guilty to selling guns to a felon and faces up to 10 years.
Another group of Hells Angels will be sentenced in coming weeks.
On May 29, husband and wife Dan and Lisa Bifield are expected to be sentenced. Dan Bifield pleaded guilty to RICO and faces 20 years in prison. Lisa Bifield will get from seven years to life after agreeing to testify against the others, then reneging on that promise.
Dan Bifield’s drug dealing started the ball rolling against the Hells Angels, prosecutors proved. His association with the informant who was a convicted criminal himself started the cavalcade of cops.
Defense lawyers tried to make out the snitch to be the bad guy. But Shealy, the former federal prosecutor, said the association with other nefarious characters is how drug dealers and gun runners are caught.
“There is an old saying,” Shealy said. “If you want to prosecute the devil, you gotta go to hell to get him.
“Any of these defendants, the real question if that informant was so bad, was why were prosecutors showing the defendants were involved in crimes with him?”
Prosecutors proved that the bikers were involved for a simple reason: Greed and selling drugs and guns.
Three other Rock Hill Hells Angels – including chapter president, Mark “Lightning” Baker – who were convicted in March after a six week trial, will be sentenced June 19.
Each faces up to life in prison after multiple convictions under RICO involving pounds of drugs, dozens of guns and more.
Much of the violence, drug-running and gun-peddling was centered on Rock Hill and York County. There were drug deals on Christmas Eve in fast-food restaurant parking lots and exchanges of guns and dope near where kids play.
The investigation started more than two years ago through the efforts of local police, including Detective Tim Ayers of the Rock Hill Police Department. It then mushroomed into a state and federal investigation reaching from Canada to the South.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson, who handled the Hells Angels cases in federal court in Columbia day after day, proved that this “gang” ran a “criminal enterprise” ranging from guns to dope to intimidation. He proved money laundering and more.
Richardson declined to comment on potential sentences to be handed out in court Thursday.
But for months, he has talked in that courtroom, and in 15 cases, he proved what police claimed was true.
Richardson likely will ask Thursday for the toughest sentencing for these convicts, Shealy said.
Lawyers for each of the three local defendants who will be sentenced Thursday have filed motions with the court in the last few days, asking for less time than federal sentencing guidelines usually mandate.
Johanna Looper was a “minor player” in the drug deals, according to court documents filed by her attorney, Debra Chapman. Looper also had previous problems with substance abuse.
Frank Enriquez, a construction worker originally from California, had “naïveté” when interacting with the Hells Angels, his lawyer, Michael Chesser, wrote. Enriquez was corrupted by “bad influences” within the biker gang, according to Chesser’s motion and several letters sent to the court – including from his son, a college graduate.
Richard Thrower took religious courses, and only unemployment and economic hardship led to his becoming a full-patch Hells Angels member’s, his lawyer, Bradley Kirkland, claimed in court documents.
More than a dozen people sent letters to the court saying Thrower, a welder originally from Rock Hill, was a decent man drawn into the crimes after becoming homeless and living for a while at the motorcycle clubhouse.
On Thursday – and later this month and in June – a judge will determine the final outcome that the public demanded and prosecutors delivered.