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Former Hells Angel gets eight years for drug trafficking

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A notorious former Manitoba Hells Angels member is headed back to prison after pleading guilty to his role in a multimillion-dollar drug trafficking network.

Billy Bowden was sentenced to eight years behind bars Friday as part of a joint-recommendation from Crown and defence lawyers. He admitted selling one kilogram of cocaine to a longtime criminal associate and friend who was being paid $500,000 to work undercover as a police agent. The negotiations and transaction were captured on audio and video surveillance.

Bowden, 36, was one of 13 people arrested in February 2012 as part of "Project Deplete." The large-scale takedown by the Manitoba Integrated Organized Crime Task Force -- comprising officers with the Winnipeg Police Service, Brandon Police Service and the RCMP – yielded an impressive haul.

Officers seized about 6.9 kilograms of cocaine, 4.6 kg of crack cocaine, and 2.7 kg of methamphetamine. They also seized more than 9,800 tablets of ecstasy, about 500 tablets of oxycodone and about 900 grams of marijuana. The investigation has been underway since August 2011.

Bowden is no stranger to the justice system. He struck a plea bargain on a charge of manslaughter for his role in the stabbing death of 24-year-old Jeff Engen in a Main Street nightclub in 2007. He was sentenced in August 2010 to two years of time already served, which was given double-time credit of four years, under a joint recommendation from Crown and defence lawyers.

Prosecutor Daniel Chaput admitted at the time that Bowden was getting a major break, as the Crown would have sought a much longer sentence had he gone to trial and been convicted. He said there were several problems with the Crown's case against Bowden that prompted prosecutors to agree to a much lighter sentence than usual. Although there were more than 50 potential witnesses to the killing, Chaput said "surprisingly very few had much to say about what happened." As well, there are no witnesses putting the knife in Bowden's hand and the Crown can only prove he participated in the group attack.

A co-accused, Matt Wegier, was convicted at trial of manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison. Engen, a bodybuilder, was in the basement lounge of the Empire when he got into a dispute with several men about Bowden's ex-girlfriend. Engen was stabbed four times, including one blow that pierced his heart. He climbed the stairs to get help, but collapsed near the dance floor. Despite efforts by a patron of the club to revive him, Engen died.

Bowden joined the Hells Angels in July 2004, but was kicked out of the gang in 2006 following an internal dispute, according to sources. He has a lengthy criminal record that includes being caught by police with a loaded gun just two months after Engen's slaying, but before he was implicated in it. Bowden pleaded guilty to the weapons offence and was given six months of time spent in custody plus a fine. Bowden admitted in court he had been carrying the gun "for his own protection."

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