A several monthlong investigation into the worldwide battle for supremacy between the Hells Angels and their rival gangs. After publication, Julian was briefly put under the protection of the Canadian intelligence agency.
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From Details: Highway to Hell
When legendary Hells Angles leader “Mom” Boucher goes on trial this month, a seven-year reign of terror in Canada may finally end. But can anything stop the bloodshed from spreading to the States?
By Julian Rubinstein
The air still smelled of wet paint and new carpet when the guest of honor arrived, smartly turned out in a black turtleneck, cream sport jacket, wire-frame glasses, and steel ankle shackles. Maurice “Mom” Boucher’s grand entrance brought an abrupt hush over the newly built courtroom. For months, newspapers had described his condition as dire: Some said he was clinically depressed, a result of his isolation as the sole occupant of an entire wing of a women’s prison in northern Montreal; others said he was malnourished because he was eating nothing but packaged potato chips for fear of being poisoned.
But at this preliminary hearing in Montreal, the 48-year-old leader of the Canadian Hells Angels appeared to be neither. Flashing a smile fit for a presidential candidate, he waved to his battery of lawyers and supporters before playfully hop-stepping into his seat in the bulletproof-glass box guards call the aquarium. Life in a fishbowl, after all, isn’t so bad when you’re the piranha.
Since 1994, Boucher and the Hells Angels have waged a brutal war with a rival biker gang called the Rock Machine for control of Quebec’s billion-dollar drug trade, according to investigators. Considering how little attention the story has attracted outside Canada, the toll is staggering: 162 dead, scores wounded. The victims include an 11-year-old boy killed by shrapnel from one of the more than 80 bombs bikers have planted around the province. Even the New York Mafia in its heyday never produced such carnage, or so terrorized civilians.
“It’s an embarrassment,” says Helene Brunet, who was waiting tables in a diner last year when a Hells Angels biker used her as a human shield in a machine-gun battle that left her clinging to life over a plate of pancakes. “The police and the courts do nothing. They’re incapable of stopping them.”
Boucher has looked untouchable since his last tour through the criminal-justice system, on charges of ordering the executions of two prison guards in 1997. Just before his arraignment, at Montreal’s Palais de Justice, a Pontiac Trans Am crashed through the plate-glass doors, scattering the crowd in the lobby like bowling pins. When the trial got under way, Hells Angels members reportedly paid spectators to give up their seats so that bikers could fill the first several rows and glare menacingly at the jury. One juror broke down in tears when the judge denied her request to be excused. Near the end of the trial, Boucher was so confident he’d get off that he leaked word that he’d be at Montreal’s Molson Centre that Friday night for the middleweight boxing championship. Sure enough, the jury acquitted him; two hours later, he accepted an ovation from the stadium crowd before taking his ringside seat.
This time, the Quebec authorities are taking no chances. Last March, 2,000 police officers fanned out and arrested 125 Hells Angels and associates, capping the largest investigation in the country’s history. Then, at a cost of $16.5 million, the province constructed a state-of-the-art courthouse especially for the Hells Angels trials. It sits right next to the jail where Boucher currently resides and is linked to it by a secured underground tunnel. A one-way mirror shields the jury from view.
Yet despite his maximum-security confinement, Boucher appears to have had a hand in rebuilding his gang and annexing new turf in the neighboring province of Ontario. This expansion has unleashed a new wave of violence and ratcheted up already dangerous tensions with rival biker clubs in the United States and abroad, police say. If they are right, then the bloodshed in Canada may be only a dress rehearsal for a coming world war.
Boucher made no formal statement during the two-hour hearing last October, but one gesture seemed to sum up his feelings about the government’s latest attempt to put him out of business. During a break in the proceedings, he stood up, turned around, and stuck out his ass at the spectators. Even the Anglophones in this French-speaking courtroom needed no translation.
Canada’s Hells Angels are the offspring of the infamous gang that came to prominence in Northern California in the fifties under Sonny Barger. Barger proudly referred to his troops as the “one-percenters”-a response to the American Motorcycle Association’s claim that 99 percent of bikers were law-abiding citizens. But if an outlaw identity has been a constant for the Hells Angels, its methods and goals have changed since the early days. “It’s no longer like the old Hollywood movie where the gang comes riding into town on their Harleys,” says biker-gang expert Allan Jenson, a police investigator in Bellingham, Washington. “Today these clubs are purely a business venture.” Currently, the Hells Angels claim about 2,200 full-fledged, dues-paying members in 194 chapters based in 27 countries.
According to law-enforcement officials, its actual strength is even greater than the numbers suggest because each member is allowed to run his own “puppet club,” typically made up of younger bikers eager to prove their valor in return for a shot at full membership. “People don’t realize how powerful that makes them,” says Tim McKinley, an FBI agent who began investigating biker gangs in the eighties, when the bureau reclassified them as organized-crime groups. “Each of these guys has 9 to 30 criminal minions out there working for him all the time.”
No one embodies the modern, corporate Hells Angel better than Mom Boucher, who is often described as the “John Gotti of the bikers.” Like Gotti, Boucher cultivated a bourgeois image and distanced himself from the dirty work carried out by his underlings. Until his latest arrest, he lived in the Montreal suburb Contrecoeur in a quaint country-style house with his wife and his son, Francis. (At age 17, in 1992, Francis organized Quebec’s first-ever neo-Nazi festival; he now stands accused of eight counts of murder in the same case as his father’s.) Boucher spent most of his time in a nondescript office building from which he ran several legitimate businesses: real-estate investment, air-duct cleaning, and used-car sales.
“He looked like a regular guy, like a businessman,” says a Montreal policeman who worked the beat. “He didn’t even ride his bike very often.” Instead, he was usually driven to his office in a Suburban-chauffeured at one point by a former Montreal cop. “You can’t be fooled by the image,” McKinley says. “The Hells Angels are very savvy today. They do things like Toys for Tots rides to counter their reputation, but they’re into everything from drugs to extortion to money laundering. We put a lot of them away every year, but it’s certainly a growth industry.”
If the Hells Angels’ transition from random mayhem to more purposeful violence went unnoticed by most Americans, it may be because years of undisputed dominance in the United States made open warfare unnecessary. At first, the group enjoyed a similar preeminence among bikers north of the border. The Hells Angels set up its first Canadian chapter in 1977, in Montreal, during its first wave of international expansion. By 1985, it had added two more chapters in Quebec and taken over about 75 percent of the Montreal drug trade. “They had little resistance,” says a Quebec police officer on the biker squad. “They quickly had their people set up in a lot of the bars in town.”
At the time, Mom Boucher-a 28-year-old high-school dropout and son of a longshoreman-was making a name for himself on the streets of Montreal. He and his friend Salvatore Cazzetta were leaders of a small white-supremacist biker gang known as the SS. They were obvious Hells Angels candidates until a notorious incident known as the Lennoxville Massacre set them on separate paths. In March, 1985…
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