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They probably never saw it coming.
The Hells Angels in Quebec had reached the peak of criminal arrogance by the freezing cold afternoon of December 29, 2000. As police watched, more than 300 men sporting leather jackets with gang patches were converging at a relaxed pace on an imposing, white, three-storey building on Prince Street in Sorel, a city less than a hour's drive from Montreal. The building had served for years as a hangout and secure bunker for the first chapter of the already notorious gang, chartered in Canada on December 5, 1977.
Inside the building, members of the Hells Angels from all over Quebec were enjoying one of the biggest parties they had ever thrown. The gang that had developed a remarkable ability to dodge the police while it conducted million-dollar drug deals was doing nothing to camouflage this gathering. Anyone looking at the building from the street could tell it was no ordinary clubhouse. A flag bearing the gang's menacing insignia of a bare skull with wings flapped in the frigid air. Surveillance cameras were visible on several parts of the building and on the land surrounding it. The one thing about the party that resembled any other that might have been going during that holiday week in Canada was that someone had taken advantage of the cold weather and stacked several cases of beer outdoors on a balcony to keep them cool.
But this was no ordinary party. It was the beginning of an unprecedented initiation that months earlier could not have been foreseen, if only because its purpose broke entirely with the Hells Angels' longstanding traditions. The gang was using their fortified bunker in Sorel for a mass, overnight conversion of new members. Dozens of members of biker gangs from Ontario with names like Satan's Choice and ParaDice Riders, were ready to participate in a ceremony that would see them pledge allegiance to the most powerful outlaw motorcycle gang in the world.
For years, the Hells Angels had toyed with the idea of setting up a chapter in Ontario but had held back for various reasons, including an inability to find members they felt stacked up to the level of criminal organization and discipline the Hells Angels had achieved in Quebec. It was apparent to police that influential Hells Angels from Quebec had long been calling the shots on possible expansion into Ontario. Minutes from a Hells Angels' meeting seized in 1994 indicated the gang had already begun courting the ParaDice Riders. But minutes from another meeting held in 1997 instructed Hells Angels' members to maintain a calm approach toward eventually setting up a chapter in Ontario. The Montreal chapter was the gang's beachhead in Canada. As it grew in influence and notoriety, its members spearheaded expansion in parts of British Colombia, Nova Scotia and Manitoba.
The members of the Nomads chapter in particular appeared keen on expansion. It was put together in the mid-1990s, near the start of the biker war, by Maurice (Mom) Boucher, who by then, at the age of 41, had been a Hells Angel for seven years. Through informants, the police learned that Boucher had grown frustrated with the passive attitude many of his fellow members in the Montreal chapter were taking during his violent conflict with other drug dealers in the east end of Montreal. Dispatches from informant Dany Kane made it clear to police that Boucher only wanted gang members for his Nomads chapter who were willing to participate in the war. He later planned to use a gang of underlings called the Rockers, which he had created years earlier, as a proving ground, like a sort of minor league "farm team," for anyone else who wanted into the Nomads chapter.
In an extremely rare move, the Hells Angels allowed members of the long-established Ontario outlaw gangs to join them without having to go through the traditional initiation process. Normally, those eager to join would go through distinct and often lengthy stages before earning the coveted status of the full-patch member. This "prospect" system set up by the gang in the United States was a decades-old tradition that determined a potential member's loyalty and dependability. In some cases, it could take years to earn the right to wear a Death Head patch. But now, in a move showcasing their arrogance and criminal influence, the Hells Angels in Quebec obtained the blessing from other chapters around the world to allow more than 160 people to join the gang in one day. Before the sun set that day, a truck carrying two industrial-sized sewing machines pulled up to the Sorel bunker. Some of the gang's underlings hoisted them up a stairway into the bunker, away from prying eyes.
Outside, members of the Sûreté du Québec and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) watched, many cursing the cold and the fact they had had to cut their holidays short to monitor the party. Confirmation that the massive "patchover" was going to take place had come days earlier in a box searched at the Canadian border. It contained dozens of patches ordered from Austria, where they are made exclusively for the gang. The police had also listened in on wiretaps as longtime Hells Angels like Donald (Pup) Stockford and Richard (Dick) Mayrand prepared for the expansion throughout most of December. Now, police videotaped as gang members drove up to the bunker's gates in flashy sport-utility vehicles and minivans. The police took careful note of every biker member who showed up for the party, but they were also keen to record who among the Hells Angels' underlings were working guard duty. The young men who stood at the gate that afternoon were likely unaware that what they were doing could be used against them later in court. Because of changes to Canada's anti-gang legislation, prosecutors could now argue that by doing guard duty the underlings were facilitating the loftier objectives of a criminal gang.
To those police investigators who had probed the Hells Angels in Quebec for years, the "patchover" of Ontario gangs was not a surprise, although the scale and the rapidity of the event was. Only weeks earlier, the gang's main rival in the bloody biker war, the Rock Machine, had been informed that it had been accepted into the fold of the Bandidos, the only outlaw motorcycle gang with an international membership comparable to that of the Hells Angels. Six years of war had taken a huge toll on the members of the Rock Machine, and on the Alliance, a collection of gangs and influential drug dealers who battled with the Hells Angels. But now they had the Bandidos as allies in Quebec and the new chapters they had created over the previous summer in Ontario. The Hells Angels in Quebec were forced to react, especially to the fact the Bandidos would be in Ontario, and react in a way that would reflect their modus operandi—unambiguous intimidation backed by huge numbers.
In a typical show of the gang's force, dozens of men who were part of the Hells Angels' now vast underling network worked security outside the Sorel bunker. Boxes of brand-new walkie-talkies were distributed to those working guard duty, or "the watch," while one prospect lectured his colleagues on how to operate them. At a small Sorel hotel a few kilometres from the bunker, full-fledged (or full-patch) members of the Hells Angels from chapters all over Canada were being escorted to the party in minivans under heavy guard. Despite the party atmosphere, the war with the Rock Machine and the Alliance was still on, a drug-turf war that had, to that point, seen 150 people killed over claims to lucrative areas in cities like Montreal and Quebec City, where street-level drug dealers peddled drugs like cocaine and hashish. The Quebec Hells Angels knew their rivals might be looking for targets.
Standing outside the Sorel hotel was 29-year-old Paul (Schtroumpf) Brisebois, a prospective member of Boucher's Montreal-based Nomads chapter. A squat, chubby man who slightly resembled his nickname (Schtroumpf is French for Smurf), Brisebois appeared nervous as he arranged for the guarded transport of his superiors. The aggressive underling, who had quickly climbed the ladder to prospect, had only seven months earlier taken part in the murder of a drug dealer who was selling for the Rock Machine. On May 1, 2000, 25-year-old Patrick Turcotte was shot dead after leaving a video store in Verdun, a working-class suburb of Montreal. Weeks after the murder, Brisebois graduated from the level of "striker" in the Rockers to full-fledged membership. It was yet another sign to the police that the quickest way to graduate in the network was through murder. Seven months later, Brisebois took yet another step by graduating from the Rockers and was made a prospect in the Nomads chapter. By comparison, some former Rockers had been members of the Hells Angels' underling gang for more than five years without yet being promoted. Being a Hells Angel was a far cry from how Brisebois had started his career as a drug dealer. At the age of 18, he had sold tiny bags of cocaine and marijuana out of rented apartments. Now, at 29, he appeared headed for full membership in the Nomads, making him a partner in a multi-million dollar drug network.
Brisebois was not supposed to be at this party. There was a court order forbidding him from associating with known criminals, and yet here he was, arranging for several of them to be chauffeured to the party. The local police grabbed Brisebois, spread him out on a car, searched him for weapons and handcuffed him. It was perhaps the only hitch for the Hells Angels that day. Even though their leader Maurice (Mom) Boucher, the architect of the Nomads chapter, was behind bars awaiting his second trial on charges that he had ordered the murders of two prison guards, other members of the Nomads like Denis Houle, Walter Stadnick and René Charlebois partied inside with their new Ontario brothers. They had even invited a photographer from the crime tabloid Allô Police, to take pictures and get the word out that the Hells Angels had once again expanded. All the while, a seamstress busily sewed the winged-skull patches onto the jackets of the new members.
As day became night, the members of the Nomads chapter likely felt they were unstoppable. Even with Boucher in prison, the gang was clearly dominating the war. It was a conflict like no other in Quebec, with one side so fixated on supremacy over a major metropolitan city that murder was epidemic. By that point, the Hells Angels had more than 100 members spread across Quebec in six chapters, including the elite Nomads chapter based in Montreal. What would soon become public knowledge was that the Nomads very nearly achieved their desired monopoly on the cocaine market in Montreal. Now, through the contacts they had established over several years and the eight new Ontario chapters they had created overnight, the members of the aggressive Hells Angels' chapter were planning to increase their share of markets in cities like Toronto, Hamilton and Oshawa. Everything seemed to be going as the Hells Angels willed it.
Scott Robertson, a member of one of the now-defunct Ontario gangs, walked out of the Sorel bunker sporting his new Hells Angels' patch, and when police asked him to pose for a picture with his leather jacket, he obliged. Mayrand, who only months earlier had moved from the relative peace and quiet of the Hells Angels' Montreal chapter apparently to replace Boucher and assist the Nomads when it came to diplomatic issues, walked out of the bunker looking bushed. Guy Ouellette, a Sûreté du Québec sergeant who had probed the Hells Angels for more than a decade, managed to talk to him. Mayrand said he had had a long day. Sergeant Ouellette replied that his was going to be longer — he had to record how many new members the gang had. Mayrand shrugged his shoulders and informed Ouellette there were 168 new Hells Angels for the police to deal with.
The day after the party, Maurice (Mom) Boucher searched for news on what had transpired in Sorel. From his cell in a special wing of a women's provincial detention center, where he had been placed for security reasons, Boucher called Pierre Provencher, a trusted member of the Rockers. As the police listened in, Provencher gushed about the party. He told Boucher about being amazed by the enormity of it all. Then their thoughts turned westward, toward Ontario and the possibilities that came with creating 168 new brothers.
"Hey that's some province," Provencher said of the Hells Angels' newly acquired territory.
"Oh yeah, it's a big province," Boucher replied.
What Boucher and Provencher didn't know was that the final preparation of years of work was underway in a special office for prosecutors at the Montreal courthouse. Their recorded conversation was going to be one small part of the evidence. Transcripts of hours of wiretaps were already being carefully read and reread. Secretly recorded videotapes of meetings the Rockers had held were being scrutinized carefully. It was all in preparation for a well-kept secret; the network Boucher and the rest of the Nomads had built over the years was about to crumble.
Only three months later, before the sun emerged on March 28, 2001, more than 2,000 cops from all over Quebec began pounding on doors and arresting dozens of people, including any members of the Nomads chapter who could be found. The roundup was dubbed "Opération Printemps (or Springtime) 2001"
All of those arrested were named in warrants on charges that ranged from drug trafficking to first-degree murder. Of those charged, 42 were singled out for an indictment accusing them of 23 of the most serious crimes, including a failed plot to level an entire building in Verdun with a bomb, and 13 specific counts of first-degree murder. Those charges stemmed from the Project Rush investigation. Another 49 were named in another warrant, generated by the Project Ocean investigation, accusing them of either supplying or dealing the drugs that fueled the network.
Paul (Schtroumpf) Brisebois
Brisebois, the short man who had worked security at the Sorel party only weeks before, was among the 42 gang members included in the Project Rush indictment, including the Turcotte murder in Verdun. By now Brisebois knew the drill. During the spring of 1990, when he was 18, the RCMP had received a complaint from someone living on the same street where Brisebois was selling. Too many people were coming and going to the apartment. The Mounties asked an undercover officer from the Montreal Urban Community Police to buy drugs from Brisebois. The officer knocked on a door and was greeted by Brisebois. He only asked who had referred him to his illicit pharmacy. Then he walked through the apartment to a living room table where the officer watched as he pulled out a little bag of cocaine from a margarine container that had been shoved inside an empty beer pitcher.
With the purchase made, the RCMP got a warrant to search the apartment. Inside, they found several more of the little bags along with a small quantity of hashish. Brisebois was arrested, charged and released on bail to await a possible trial. But while his case was still at the preliminary stage, Brisebois was caught again, selling quarter-gram bags of cocaine, just a few doors down from where the RCMP had nabbed him a year earlier. He eventually served a combined 13 months in prison for the two busts.
Ten years later, Brisebois was rising quickly through the Hells Angels' ranks. But to the investigators who had spent years targeting the biker gangs, the real coup that day were the arrests of almost all the full-patch members of the Nomads, including some who had been Hells Angels for more than a decade.
At 47 years old, Denis Houle, whose nickname was once Pas Fiable (Not Reliable), had 20 years as a Hells Angel under his belt and had already done serious jail time while wearing the gang's patch. Years before the March 2001 roundup, Houle made it clear to authorities he was committed to the gang.
Excerpted from The Biker Trials by PAUL CHERRY, Emily Schultz. Copyright © 2005 Paul Cherry. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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