Rock Machine Become Bandidosâ"Bikers United Against the Hells Angels
By Edward Winterhalder, Wil De Clercq
ECW PRESS Copyright © 2008 Edward Winterhalder and Wil De Clercq
All rights reserved.
WELCOME TO THE GREAT WHITE NORTH
It was Saturday, January 6, 2001, a day that would go down in Canadian and world biker history as the day the Rock Machine officially ceased to exist: they were now part of the Bandidos Nation. To mark the occasion, a huge patchover party was held in Kingston, Ontario. Kingston, which traces its roots to a French settlement established on Mississauga First Nation land in 1673, lies at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, where the lake turns into the St. Lawrence River, and the picturesque Thousand Islands begin. The town, renowned for its myriad century-old limestone buildings, was chosen for the party because it was strategically located, more or less, in the geographical center of the Rock Machine's territory, which stretched from Quebec City, Quebec, to Toronto, Ontario, with members living as far west as London, Ontario. Ironically, Kingston is also home to one of the most notorious penitentiaries in North America, a prison known as the "toughest ten acres" in Ontario.
It was crucial for me to attend the patchover party and meet my new Canadian brothers. I had been assigned the task of overseeing the new national chapter of Bandidos Canada by George Wegers, who at the time was the international president of the Bandidos, as well as the president of the American Bandidos. In Bandidos terminology, he was simply known as El Presidente George.
In essence, I was to teach the Canadians how to organize and function as a Bandidos Motorcycle Club. In addition to establishing lines of communication, I was to compile and verify the entire membership roster for Bandidos Canada, including telephone number and e-mail address lists, and advise them on any necessary issues. While at first glance this may seem like a relatively easy assignment, as I actually believed it was going to be, it would prove to be anything but. I would soon discover that the Canadian Bandidos had inherited from their precursor, the Rock Machine, a disorganized mess. They had few internal records, no clearly defined mandate, and weren't even sure who was in the club.
The reason I had been given the assignment of overseeing the new addition to the Bandidos Nation had nothing to do with my pretty face. I was born with a knack for diplomacy, along with finely tuned organizational and administrative skills. I also possessed a basic knowledge of law and legalese, which I had acquired in a prison's law library while incarcerated during the early 1980s. None of my talents had escaped the notice of Bandidos El Presidente George, who had enlisted me to perform all kinds of managerial duties for the national chapter. Tasks I regularly performed for the club included coordinating the development of a Web site, assisting with putting together the monthly American Bandidos newsletter, arranging airplane flights for national officers, conducting public relations campaigns, and administering the U.S. membership phone list, e-mail list, and Bandidos support club chapter and membership lists. It wasn't like I needed any more club responsibilities heaped upon me, but I had been a vocal proponent of expanding the Bandidos into Canada, and I felt the least I could do was help make the process a success.
* * *
I had been in Canada for only two days, and all it seemed to do was snow—and it was cold as hell! But then, who in their right mind goes to Canada in January unless it's for winter-related activities, something I avoid like the plague. I do not like cold weather. I hate snow! I don't ski; I don't skate; I don't snowmobile; I don't ice-fish. And now it looked like I had made the long journey from Tulsa, Oklahoma, for nothing. After much deliberation, I had decided not to go to the patchover party even though that was my sole reason for being in the Great White North.
I had been told there were some seventy-five police officers around the former Rock Machine's clubhouse, and they would certainly be looking for me. The men in blue were engaged in their favorite outlaw biker–related pastimes: harassing people, snapping pictures, shooting video footage, checking ids, and arresting or detaining whoever they could.
Eight fellow American Bandidos had already been detained; what would save them from incarceration and deportation proceedings was the fact that they had legally been allowed into the country. The point-of-entry stamps on their passports were proof enough. But my passport did not have a stamp. Technically, I was in the country illegally and somehow the authorities got wind of it.
A few days earlier, on a dreary and blustery afternoon, I had successfully entered Canada disguised as a construction worker in a car driven by my sister Kitty. I had contemplated a number of different border-crossing scenarios and going overland seemed like my best bet. I had been allowed into Canada in recent years but due to my criminal record and membership in the Bandidos had also been denied access at times. It all depended on who was in the customs booth at the border and how diligent they were in performing their duty.
Most of the American Bandidos who were going to the patchover party had opted to fly into Toronto's Pearson International Airport. I thought that under those circumstances, with Bandidos streaming into the city from all over the world, it would be much harder to gain entry through the airport. I had heard too many stories of Immigration Canada turning members of any motorcycle club around at the airport, even if they weren't convicted felons.
Despite the fact that it had been almost twenty years since I had last been convicted, I had little doubt I would be caught and turned around if I tried to enter at Pearson. I decided to enter Canada through the Detroit–Windsor checkpoint. Kitty lived in Michigan not far from the border and made the crossing on a regular basis.
Windsor, the southernmost city in Canada, is an automotive town like Detroit, but on a much smaller scale. The two cities are separated by the Detroit River and linked together by the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit–Windsor Tunnel. Windsor is the western terminus of Highway 401—Canada's busiest highway—and sees a lot of traffic flow. I assumed that if I entered the country during peak hours, border officials would be a bit more lax checking documents. My line of thinking proved to be correct: the Canadian customs officer, looking bored and cold in his booth, didn't ask for our ids. I had my passport in hand, which he took a glance at, but all he did was ask Kitty a few questions about where we were going and how long we intended to stay.
"We're just going to the casino for a few hours," Kitty told him.
Without further ado, we were told to proceed, and I found myself in Canada, three hundred and fifty miles from Kingston, my ultimate destination. I noticed that most vehicles were entering Canada as quickly as we were. I was wondering if maybe it was too easy. Kitty mentioned that crossing into either country was usually a hassle-free procedure.
In the days before 9/11, no passports were required. If id was asked for at all, a driver's license sufficed. After Kitty dropped me off, I made my way from Windsor to Kingston via London and Toronto, where I briefly stopped at the Outlaws' and Bandidos' clubhouses respectively. I finally arrived in Kingston late Friday afternoon and settled into a local Travelodge, where the other out-of-town Bandidos were staying as guests of the Kingston chapter.
After eating breakfast at the Travelodge on Saturday morning, I grabbed my laptop and went online to peruse various newspaper articles from around the world. One article caught my attention and really set my mind racing. It detailed how the police at Pearson International had caught a few Bandidos trying to get into the country for the patchover party. It went on to state that some outlaw bikers had actually gotten into the country, including an American Bandido from Oklahoma.
Although my name hadn't been mentioned, this hit me like a bombshell. I was the only Bandido from Oklahoma in Canada. Somehow I had "been made" and the authorities were on the lookout for me. Arresting an American Bandido for illegal entry into the country presented them with the perfect opportunity to score some points and have a media field day.
Obviously, I was quite concerned, since it meant there was a leak somewhere. I had used no credit cards since entering Canada; I hadn't made or received any cell phone calls; and I hadn't registered at the motel. I pieced together a mental list of everyone who knew I had made it into the country. I at once ruled out my sister, because I knew she would never betray me; this left a number of Outlaws members I'd had contact with after entering the country and, of course, my Bandidos brothers. As hard as it was to believe, somebody from that list had reported me to the authorities. The fact it had made the newspapers really amazed me. I wondered if this was the authorities' way of toying with my mind, letting me know they knew I was on their turf.
As much as I hated not going to the patchover party, I opted for a quiet dinner with Robert "Tout" Leger. Tout was a former Montreal Rock Machine member who was now a member of the new Canadian Bandidos. I had met him earlier in the day and discovered we had a lot in common. I had also heard of his exploits a number of years earlier, when he had gone to Texas in a bid to establish contact with the American Bandidos on behalf of the Rock Machine.
Bandido Tout had a dynamic personality you couldn't help but be drawn to. Like me, the French Canadian enjoyed working on Harleys and had owned his own motorcycle shop for many years. This in itself at once produced a common bond between us. Due to an ongoing court case, Tout was under a legal injunction that prevented him from fraternizing with any members of the Rock Machine. Although most of the Rock Machine were now Bandidos, and Tout would technically not have been breaching the injunction, he felt there was no need to delve into semantics and had decided not to go to the clubhouse either. Over dinner at the motel restaurant, he invited me to his house near Montreal to hang out for a day and then return to the United States via train through northern Vermont.
"It will probably be the easiest way to get home," he said in fluent English. "They'll never expect you to cross at the Quebec border."
Although I never underestimate the police, his suggestion made sense, and I agreed to accompany him. Hanging around Kingston and retracing my steps out of the country didn't seem like an attractive proposition. We planned to leave Kingston by 8:00 p.m. for the three-hour drive to Montreal. At about 7:00 p.m., Bandido Tout and I returned to our rooms to pack. Not wanting to use a phone, we sent a runner to the clubhouse to let everyone know we were leaving town. I threw the few belongings I had with me into my overnight bag and then went online to check e-mail. As usual, there were at least a dozen or so business-related messages, a few from my then-fiancée Caroline, and about half a dozen from fellow Bandidos club members. I answered the most important ones while I waited for Tout.
Tout joined me about five minutes later, and we hung around the room to give the Bandidos at the clubhouse time to respond. As the clubhouse was only about a five-minute motorcycle ride from the motel, we didn't expect a long wait. In anticipation, I cracked the motel room door open an inch or two using the night latch as a prop.
Moments later, the door flew open, and Tout and I were confronted by members of the Kingston Police Department and the Ontario Provincial Police Biker Enforcement Unit.
"Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt!" one of the officers screamed. "Put your fucking hands on your heads. Now!"
We did what we were told and when all was deemed safe, two officers from Immigration Canada, who had waited outside the door, sauntered into the room like a couple of cats who ate the canary.
"Are you guys members of the Bandidos?" one of the Kingston cops asked.
This was a rather pointless question, as Tout and I were both sporting Bandidos logos on our belts and our shirts. We were also in a section of the motel totally occupied by out-of-town Bandidos. When we acknowledged that we were indeed members of the Bandidos, we were asked to state our names and places of residence. When I told them my full name, and that I lived in Oklahoma, the immigration officers stepped to the front of the pack—it was obviously their moment to shine.
"Is your street name Connecticut Ed?" one of them asked. I told him it was.
"If you're from Oklahoma, then how come they call you Connecticut Ed?" the other immigration officer chimed in, as if this was actually relevant.
I explained that I was originally from Connecticut and got the nickname to distinguish me from other Bandidos named Ed.
As soon as they looked at my passport to verify my identity, I was arrested for violating Canadian immigration laws, handcuffed, and shuffled out into the hallway. The Kingston police spoke with Bandido Tout inside the room and quickly established he was who he said he was, that he was not violating his bond conditions by associating with me, and that there were no illegal substances or weapons in the room. Tout was free to go, and I was now a guest of the Canadian authorities.
No one at the patchover party was surprised to hear I had been arrested. They were, however, shocked to hear I had been arrested by Immigration Canada. Local law enforcement authorities had just released a number of other American Bandidos due to the failure of the immigration authorities to arrive and take custody of them. When I learned about this, I wondered why Immigration Canada had such an interest in me. I could only guess it was due to the fact my fellow American Bandidos were rank-and-file members, whereas I had ties to the national chapter and was therefore a person of extreme interest to them. How the immigration officials knew who I was, however, was something that totally escaped me.
* * *
From Kingston, I was transported about forty-five miles east to an Immigration Canada holding cell in Lansdowne for my initial booking. So here I was, back behind bars. It wasn't an alien environment to me, but it wasn't one I particularly cared to be in either, especially in a foreign country where I didn't know the ramifications of the law—where I didn't know what to expect at all!
Ironically, Lansdowne is located less than a quarter-mile across the St. Lawrence River from the United States. I could have thrown a rock and hit the U.S. Customs Office on Wellesley Island, which is part of the Thousand Islands chain that dots the St. Lawrence like so many stars in the sky.
"Don't get too comfortable. You won't be here long. You're going to Ottawa," one of the immigration officers said as I settled into my cell, waiting for the other shoe to drop. He explained that the higher-ups had requested my transfer to Canada's capital city, where my case would receive "proper" attention. Apparently Immigration Canada was all abuzz, convinced I was a big fish and a prize catch, something the media would adore. I was soon to learn that Canadian newspapers, like their counterparts everywhere else, loved to run front-page stories about outlaw bikers—the more sensational the better.
I have to admit that the immigration officers assigned to book me were unusually respectful. I was not quite used to being treated in such a dignified manner by the authorities. Maybe it was because they really believed I was some kind of major player in the world of 1%ers. While awaiting my transfer to Ottawa, another immigration officer asked me if there was anything he could get for me. To his surprise, I requested the Canadian Immigration Statutes.
"We've got a lot better reading material than that," he said. I told him the statutes would do—I didn't bother to explain I had a knowledge of the law approximating that of a paralegal—and he was kind enough to supply me with the complete manual. I was contemplating waiving my deportation hearing, but by the time I read through the manual, I decided that I wanted to stay and fight. Why I chose to go this route, which obviously was not the path of least resistance, I'm not quite sure. Perhaps it was because it's in my nature never to back away from a confrontation. Maybe it was because I wanted to be able to return to Canada so I would be better able to do my job with the Canadian Bandidos. Maybe it was because I needed my head examined. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Assimilation by Edward Winterhalder, Wil De Clercq. Copyright © 2008 Edward Winterhalder and Wil De Clercq. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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