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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Hells Angel Asks Merchants to Vouch for Him

Courts: Gang leader George Christie distributes fliers downtown seeking letters of support in bid to get his bail cut in drug case.

March 14, 2001|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — Indicted Hells Angels leader George Christie Jr. is trying to bail out of Ventura County Jail with a little help from his neighbors.

Christie, 53, proprietor of the Ink House tattoo and body-piercing parlor, is asking other Main Street merchants to vouch for his character Friday when he seeks a cut in his $1-million bail.

"His attorney, Anthony Brooklier, will be going to court . . . to request that bail be set at a reasonable amount," according to a flier distributed by Christie supporters late last week. "And we believe a letter from you about Mr. Christie's character would be helpful."

Christie was indicted Feb. 23 on charges of running a criminal gang that stole drugs from an Air Force clinic in Los Angeles and peddled them to high school students. He is also charged with tax evasion, grand theft and fraud.

But as a longtime downtown Ventura businessman, he thinks he's established himself as a good neighbor. And he wants his neighbors to say so on the record in a letter to Superior Court Judge Arturo Gutierrez.

Up and down Main Street, merchants are wrestling with a dilemma. While the polite, soft-spoken Christie is generally well liked, some shopkeepers said they are leery of formally weighing in on his behalf or against him.

*

They don't want to be seen as endorsing drug sales to kids, even if those charges have not been proved. Nor do they want to anger Christie. Several said they've known and liked Christie, his wife and his two adult children for years. All are now indicted in the broad drug and racketeering case that includes 28 suspects.

"Although some of the merchants say good riddance, most people are pretty much of the same ilk--George hasn't harassed us, he's a customer and I've never had problems with his guys," said Denise Sindelar, 38, co-owner of Natalie's Fine Threads. "But just because he's never done anything to me, if the charges are well-founded, the truth will come out. I haven't judged him yet."

She is undecided about writing a letter on his behalf, despite a solicitation last Friday.

Lawyer Brooklier said Christie was selective in deciding whom he would ask to vouch for him.

"This [flier] wasn't just tacked up on a bulletin board," Brooklier said. "They were given to certain people, those who really know him and deal with him every day. He was born here, and lived here his whole life.

Brooklier said he expects to file a package of information with the court Thursday. "And we expect to present some letters from people around the community."

The "Character Reference Outline" flier distributed to supporters is explicit in the kind information Christie is seeking.

In writing to the judge, supporters are asked to "limit discussion to the subject of George's character and humanitarian issues, such as his health and age." They can discuss whether they think he is a danger to the community or might flee if freed on bail.

The letters might also answer these questions about Christie:

* "Has he been helpful to you or others in the past?"

* "Is he a hard worker?"

* "Does he have a reputation for honesty and for meeting his obligations?"

"Feel free to describe George's history of charitable work," the flier advises. "Feel free to describe his importance in the lives of his family members and close friends."

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In Christie's favor are his family's longtime contacts with central Ventura.

Sindelar said Christie and his family frequently ate at a downtown restaurant where she worked. "They were always a pleasure to wait on."

Leo Arehart, 30, manager of Winchester's bar and grill, next to the tattoo parlor, said he was a friend of Christie's daughter, Moriya, when they attended Ventura High School in the 1980s.

"I absolutely think that $1-million bail is a little excessive for someone who has been in this community as long as he has," Arehart said. "He's a good neighbor."

After a spate of violent activities by young Hells Angels recruits in 1997, and complaints of intimidation by several downtown merchants, Christie cracked down on the new gang members.

And in recent years, their presence has been fairly low-key, as Christie has dispensed sidewalk counseling in front of the Ink House.

"I would agree that [Christie] seems polite, gentle and reserved," said Doug Halter, past president of the Downtown Ventura Community Council. "But that doesn't tell me whether or not he did the crimes he's being accused of. . . . If they did occur, especially since they supported Toys for Tots, we'd be very disappointed."

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