Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/12/2009 (4310 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Now the Hells Angels are in a state of paranoid panic -- and facing an uncertain future -- after an undercover sting operation reached a dramatic end early Wednesday.
Members of Manitoba's Integrated Organized Crime Task Force capped a 13-month investigation by authorizing the arrests of 34 gang members and associates and executing two dozen search warrants. More than 300 RCMP and police from Winnipeg, Brandon, Ste. Anne and British Columbia were involved in one of the biggest drug and gang busts in Manitoba history.
The Free Press has learned Project DIVIDE relied on a familiar trick -- obtaining the services of a longtime criminal to infiltrate the Hells Angels and conduct a series of drug transactions, which were captured on audio and video surveillance. The "secret agent" was paid well for his betrayal -- believed to be at least $500,000 of tax-free money -- and is now in witness protection.
Police used the same method against the same organization in 2006 and 2007 when Projects DEFENCE and DRILL led to 31 combined arrests. Nearly all of the accused, including two former gang presidents, are still behind bars.
Many legal experts believe a subsequent rise in Winnipeg street gang crime over the past two years -- including drive-by shootings and murders -- was triggered by the fall of the Hells Angels and an ongoing battle to fill the void and make lucrative profits from the sale of drugs.
However, sources say the Hells Angels and their puppet club, the Zig Zag Crew, have been quietly regrouping in recent months. Little did they know police were watching their every move.
"We've hit the higher level of... members that are affiliated or prospects with the Zig Zag Crew as well as Hells Angels. And by doing so, we know that that's going to have a trickle-down effect. The impact is huge," Winnipeg police Const. Jason Michalyshen said Wednesday. Searches conducted at 23 locations across Manitoba and one in B.C. resulted in several drug seizures, including 165 ounces of cocaine, 12 ounces of methamphetamine, 12,000 ecstasy tablets, one ounce of heroin and seven pounds of marijuana. An undisclosed quantity of money, firearms and gang paraphernalia was also seized.
"We're going to have less drugs on our streets, we're going to have less firearms and, ultimately, making our community safer. That's really what it boils down to. We've hit the source," said Michalyshen. "These organizations are all making money at the expense of the community."
Police said 26 people were in custody by Wednesday afternoon, including former Winnipeg fashion model turned full-patch biker Sean Sebastian Wolfe. Police were still searching for eight more accused on warrants. Their names have not been released.
RCMP Sgt. Line Karpish said the investigation began in November 2008, targeting organized crime and street-crime activities that threatened public safety.
"We're dealing with guns. We're dealing with drugs. We're dealing with all kinds of criminal activities," she said. "We're not interested in victory. We're interested in impact."
Justice sources say three of the 34 accused will not face criminal charges but will be released on so-called "peace bonds" ordering them to have no contact with fellow gang members. The remaining 31 are facing a variety of charges, including drug trafficking, conspiracy, money laundering, participating in a criminal organization and obstruction of justice. All of those who have been arrested will make their first court appearance this morning in Winnipeg. Manitoba Attorney General Andrew Swan said Wednesday's arrests are just the beginning.
"Certainly, organized crime is a serious, serious issue," said Swan, only appointed AG a month ago. "With so many of these individuals, they become entrenched. We want to do whatever we can to make sure that we're making it uncomfortable for them to be carrying on their operations in Manitoba. The work's going to continue."
Wednesday's raids occurred in various Winnipeg neighbourhoods and left many residents wondering why heavily armed police officers had stormed their streets. The Winnipeg School Division said investigators called Cecil Rhodes School early Wednesday and asked the school to go into lockdown while officers conducted "unspecified activities" in the area.
All of the arrests occurred without incident and there were no injuries.
-- with file from Bruce Owen
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.