Hamilton Hells Angels want their loot back

The Hamilton Hells Angels want their biker bling back. 

And their vests, leather jackets, T-shirts, signs and any other items emblazoned with the trademarked winged skull that were seized during a massive 2009 biker bust. 

Police arrested seven people and seized more than $1 million in guns, street drugs, vehicles and buildings in Project Manchester raids, including the former Hells Angels clubhouse on Lottridge Street. 

Three years later, a court decision in Toronto has spurred the local club to fight a federal application to force the forfeiture of other seized items — specifically those sporting the “death head” logo, said lawyer Jaime Stephenson. 

“The local members want to make clear the death head logo, the clothing that they wear, is a symbol of their unity,” said Stephenson, who will respond to the forfeiture application on behalf of two individual club members as well as the Hamilton chapter of the Hells Angels. 

“It’s not the clothing that commits the crime.” 

A superior court judge made the same argument recently in ordering all club paraphernalia seized during a 2007 raid returned to the Toronto chapter of the Hells Angels. 

Although several club members have been convicted of drug crimes connected to the 2007 investigation, the judge disagreed with the Crown’s argument that seized items bearing the winged skull constituted “offence-related property.”

“My clients are very pleased with that result (in Toronto),” said Stephenson, who estimated “thousands of dollars” of rings, necklaces, clothing, signs and furniture belonging to the club and to her clients, Andre Watteel and Joseph Cafagna, are sitting in a government warehouse.

Stephenson declined to provide a detailed list of the loot in limbo, but said the club is particularly keen on the return of a series of congratulatory plaques “sent from members all over the world.”

Watteel, the former chapter president in Niagara, and Cafagna, a Hamilton full-patch member, have both served jail time for drug crimes linked to Project Manchester. 

But Hamilton full-patch member Greg Birch, who didn’t lose personal property in the raid, said “it’s about time” police returned the club’s gear.

“Of course we want it back. They never should have taken the building, let alone any of the (items) inside,” he said.

Stephenson said her clients also emphasized the Crown never proved the seized clubhouse — which police raided by blowing a hole in the side of the building — was used for criminal activity.

Nonetheless, the old biker bunker won’t be returned. Rather than pursue forfeiture, the prosecutor allowed the mortgage holder to sell the Lottridge Street property last year. It was reopened as a sub shop serving “club house angel” sandwiches. 

The Hells Angels opened a new chapter house at the corner of Gage Avenue and Beach Road in June of 2011. But members probably won’t see returned items under the Christmas tree this year.

Federal prosecutor Bradley Reitz said he won’t drop the forfeiture application based on the decision in the Toronto case. “There’s obviously a common denominator between them, but they’re still different cases,” he said.

It’s not clear how quickly the courts will rule on the application, which has been on hold since October 2011.

mvandongen@thespec.com

905-526-3241 | @Mattatthespec