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City Sees Hells Angels Arrests as a Godsend

Crime: Ventura officials and merchants hope the drug indictments lead to a change in the town's image as a haven for the motorcycle gang. Some, however, say the group's reputation is exaggerated.


VENTURA — The arrests of nine Hells Angels and 15 associates on drug charges over the weekend has some local officials and merchants hoping that the case helps the city shed its image as a magnet for the notorious motorcycle gang.

"I can't say we've been particularly enamored with the fact that Ventura has been considered a haven for Hells Angels," said Mayor Sandy Smith, adding that City Hall often fields complaints about the bikers.

Hells Angels leader George Gus Christie Jr., his two adult children and 21 others were arrested Friday night in Ventura and Orange counties on charges that include the sale of drugs to high school students.

A four-year investigation of the biker club culminated in grand jury indictments on charges of theft, fraud, tax evasion, firearms possession, drug sales to minors and the use of a street gang in a criminal conspiracy.

Christie and his attorney, Barry Tarlow, declined comment.

In downtown Ventura, where Christie has a tattoo and piercing parlor, The Ink House, and where Hells Angels sometimes cruise Main Street, some shop owners said Sunday they hope the arrests help change the area's reputation.

"We don't want any drug dealing. We want it clean, safe and great for tourists," said gift shop owner Dena Barskin, who added she personally has not had problems with Christie or the Hells Angels. "I don't think the motorcycles are necessarily at fault for that, but if he's really doing it, he should be put away."

One merchant, who declined to give his name, was more blunt about Christie's arrest. "I wouldn't be sad to see him go. He's bad news."

Although some say Christie's influence on downtown may be exaggerated, the Angels' growing presence and their reputation as a rough biker gang may be enough to keep some people away.

Margaret Merryman, president of the city's Westside Community Council, said she recently met a woman who had moved here from Orange County and had been warned away from downtown because it was full of Hells Angels.

"Obviously, if people feel their safety is an issue, they're not going to go where they feel unsafe," Merryman said.

Ventura City Councilwoman Donna DePaola said she hopes the arrests will change that.

"Hopefully, it will curtail a lot of the drug trafficking in Ventura," she said. "The D.A.'s been working hard on this, and we have to put some faith in what they're doing. They're the experts."

Joseph Spirito, superintendent of the Ventura Unified School District, said word of alleged drug sales by the bikers in his district's high schools concern him because he doesn't know the extent of the problem.

"We're going to have to go back now and reassess what we're doing," he said of the district's anti-drug efforts. "I still think we've got some solid programs."

On Saturday, Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury issued a brief statement: "An organized criminal enterprise has been stopped from selling drugs to our children and victimizing other citizens through violence, theft, fraud and intimidation."

But some downtown merchants said they believe Christie has cleaned up his act and that law enforcement officials are more concerned about looking good than serving justice.

Frank Parong, owner of California 66 restaurant, described Christie as "a good guy" who is being singled out for harassment by police and the district attorney.

Madelon Hendel, former president of the Gull Wings Children's Museum in Oxnard who recruited Christie to host a fund-raiser at the Angels' clubhouse in 1997, said she was stunned by his arrest.

"That's not the person that I met or imagined that would do" these things, she said. "It's not the same people I know. The people I know were just so helpful and wonderful and really helped the museum in a time of need."

Meanwhile, at Christie's Ink House on Sunday, it was business as usual, with tattoo seekers coming and going.

Daniel, a parlor employee who declined to give his last name, said he was not aware of any illegal activities on Christie's part, saying only that he was a good boss and a gentleman.

"There's no outlaw activity here," he said. "We're still open."

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