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This article was published 23/3/2012 (3032 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Sneaking into a drug lab in the middle of the night. Listening in on hundreds of phone calls. Intercepting thousands of texts. And making a series of undercover cocaine buys with marked bills while secretly videotaping the action.
Winnipeg police relied on some old-fashioned detective work -- rather than utilizing the services of a sneaky snitch -- in their latest attack against the Hells Angels. Court documents obtained by the Free Press provide a detailed look inside Project Flatlined, which ended last week with the arrests of 11 prominent gang members and associates.
One of the major revelations is the ongoing conflict between the Hells Angels and their rivals, the Rock Machine, is much worse than what has been made public. Tensions escalated last year with more than a dozen reported incidents, including drive-by shootings and firebombings between feuding bikers, which prompted police to canvass neighbourhoods where well-known gang members lived to warn residents an active gang war was underway.
"There have been almost as many unreported incidents of violence between them," police wrote in an affidavit earlier this month, which was filed with the courts as part of their application for arrest warrants. "The war has been quiet the past few months, but the rivalry is still existent. More violence is predicted between these two groups."
Police cite several examples in their materials, including an attempted recent firebombing at the home of Hells Angels member Rod Sweeney. Police only learned of the attack while listening in on a wiretapped phone conversation last winter between Sweeney and his brother, Dale, who is the president of the Manitoba chapter.
"I guess somebody tried blowing up my house last night," Rod Sweeney says, adding his kids and "old lady" heard a commotion while he was not home. He claims video cameras on his property captured the masked culprits in the act of throwing a Molotov cocktail that failed to ignite. Police then observed as the Hells Angels made a series of phone calls to recruit up to six lower-level associates to go looking for revenge. Later that night, a vehicle parked on an Elmwood street was smashed.
"This is an example of how the Hells Angels take care of their own business, as they like to say," police wrote. On other occasions, police overheard conversations about playing "Knock Knock Ginger Man" against their rivals -- which they say was code for a violent home invasion. There was also talk of "convoys" conducting counter-surveillance on the Rock Machine and showing up at bars they frequented wearing Hells Angels colours in order to send a message.
"Let's go out and (expletive) terrorize the city," one member said during a wiretapped phone call last year.
Police also learned the Hells Angels were operating a "drug stash and cook house" in an apartment suite on Moncton Avenue, in which members of their "puppet club," the Redlined Support Crew, were running an operation. Police obtained a warrant last winter that allowed them to sneak into the property on 12 separate occasions and take photos and video of cocaine found inside.
Police obtained a court authorization last September to intercept phone calls between several targets. It was through these calls police learned of three mobile-device phone numbers that were being used to arrange drug deals. Police obtained warrants to search these numbers and learned more than 155,000 text messages were sent between May 2011 and February 2012.
Officers also began posing as prospective drug users and made 37 crack cocaine purchases from Hells Angels associates between September 2011 and January 2012. A total of 262 piece of crack were purchased for $5,140 of marked money.
Through telephone intercepts, police learned of weekly meetings between Hells Angels members and Redlined members in which drug profits were exchanged. Police monitored one of these meetings in January and arrested one of the accused as he left, seizing nearly $20,000 in bundled cash. Nearly $1,000 of that were the marked police bills. Police also seized a kilogram of cocaine in February 2012 they say caused a "supply hiccup" for the Hells Angels. They then monitored a series of frantic phone calls made in an attempt to fix the problem.
Project Flatlined is the fourth major bust of the Manitoba Hells Angels since 2006, but the first that hasn't used an undercover informant to infiltrate the gang.
Dale Sweeney and eight other Hells associates remain in custody facing a litany of charges.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
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