VENTURA — Newly released Ventura County Grand Jury indictments reveal that investigators used electronic eavesdropping to penetrate the Hells Angels' tight code of silence, even taping conversations inside the gang's fortified clubhouse in west Ventura.
The indictments, unsealed this week at the request of The Times, also point up the key role of confidential informants in building a case against 28 suspects in a four-year drug and racketeering inquiry capped last Friday with charges on 132 criminal counts.
Prosecutors charge that national Hells Angels spokesman George Christie Jr., operating out of a Main Street tattoo parlor and the Angels' clubhouse, oversaw a criminal gang that peddled drugs at schools in Ventura and Ojai, evaded employee taxes and hid large amounts of money in secret bank accounts.
Christie, 53, is also charged with fraud, grand theft, tax evasion and the use of a street gang in organized crime.
Christie's lawyer, Barry Tarlow of Los Angeles, declined to comment.
But on Thursday, Ventura lawyer James Farley, who represents Hells Angel William "Gunner" Wolf, said there's nothing in the indictments to justify his client's $1-million bail.
"There's absolutely no indication anywhere that Mr. Wolf is any kind of threat to public safety," Farley told Superior Court Judge Arturo Gutierrez.
But the judge, who has refused to reduce other high bails, said he is particularly troubled by charges that Wolf and the Angels sold drugs to middle and high school students, and even made sales near a Ventura elementary school.
"If that doesn't give a good reason to set high bail," he said, "nothing else will. . . . Assuming it to be true, it's awful."
Prosecutors maintain that they have broken an organized crime syndicate that operated behind the scenes for years, selling Vicodin, Valium and other drugs.
The indictments show how law enforcement was finally able to build a case against Christie, the target of several state and federal probes since he helped found the Ventura chapter in 1978. Nine local Angels, out of about 20 members, are indicted in this case.
Two years into the government's probe, in March 1999, investigators allegedly recorded two Monday night meetings, which the Angels call "church," at the clubhouse, capturing exchanges between Christie and member Michael Kapp.
At the first meeting, Christie is allegedly heard telling Kapp he looks "burned out."
"How many Vicodins you take today?" Christie asks.
"Just one," Kapp says. "I think that's part of the problem."
"Oh you need more, huh?" Christie responds. "Gee."
Two weeks later, Kapp allegedly tells Christie he has been arrested for interfering with a police officer during his arrest and on another criminal charge he does not identify.
"Vicodin," one Angel says, and others erupt in laughter.
A key charge in the case is that the Angels used their clubhouse to store and sell drugs. Authorities have moved to seize the building from Christie, the legal owner, if he is convicted of drug dealing.
The indictment lists 18 criminal acts allegedly tied to the clubhouse, several documented by sales or comments made to confidential informants.
* In July 1998, Hells Angel Kenneth Collins, 48, allegedly told a government informant he was going to the clubhouse to get more Vicodin. Later, Collins allegedly told the same informant that the Angels set the price and controlled the Vicodin and methamphetamine market in Ventura.
* In October 1998, Angel associate Roglio Botello, 24, allegedly told the same informant that the Angels were the only ones selling Vicodin locally and the cheapest price was $700 a bottle.
* The next day, in a recorded telephone conversation, Botello apparently seemed ready to cut a special side deal for the informant: "I could probably do one or two for seven . . . but, uh, like I said, that would have to be down low, with nobody knowing. . . . There's one person, one big person, and then everybody goes to him."
* In January 1999, Angel Robert "Thumper" Hill, 28, allegedly kept drugs obtained illegally under the name of an unsuspecting Ventura physician at the clubhouse.
* In February 1999, club member Wolf, 30, sold to another informant five tablets of Ecstasy for $100 while at the clubhouse, one of several deals made there, according to the indictment.
But it was straight-up detective work that helped break open the case, the indictment indicates.
In May 1998, after seizing 75 bottles of Vicodin at Christie's home, the Ink House tattoo parlor and the hillside condominium of Christie's wife, Cheryl, district attorney's investigator David Saunders traced the drug's lot numbers back to its manufacturer.
That led to the Los Angeles Air Force Base clerk Joshua Adams, 23, who is charged with stealing more than 700,000 pills and funneling them to a Hells Angels contact.
The Air Force had been unaware of the thefts, the indictment says.