OFFICIALS ARREST 9 IN DRUG PROBE; MEMBERS OF LOCAL HELLS ANGELS CHAPTER ACCUSED OF TRAFFICKING.
Nine local Hells Angels members have been arrested and $350,000 in drugs seized following a 16-month investigation by authorities who said the suspects sold drugs on streets and in schools across Ventura County.
Nearly half of the Ventura chapter's 22 members have been apprehended in the multi-agency probe, with four arrested Monday night as they left the Hells Angels' Ventura clubhouse and five others arrested earlier in the investigation. All face a variety of drug-related charges, officials said.
During a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks displayed a sampling of prescription and illicit drugs, and some of the 15 shotguns, rifles and handguns seized by authorities.
``The Hells Angels like to portray themselves as misunderstood recreational motorcyclists who are harassed by police,'' Brooks said. ``We arrested these suspects not because of their club membership. We arrested them because they deal drugs that end up on our streets, and end up in our schools.
``Their illegal activity is a threat to the safety of this community,'' he said.
FBI agents are investigating possible connections with organized crime, and more arrests are expected, officials said.
The investigation started in January 1998 with the arrest of Edward Jay Gregory of Thousand Oaks. Since then, officials said, they've made 25 undercover drug buys and seized $27,000 in cash.
Officials said the suspects are part of a network that used and distributed drugs on campuses in Ventura County.
``The concern that we have is the scale or the percentage of the members of this particular club involved in this type of activity that extended from one side of the county to the other,'' said sheriff's Cmdr. Richard Purnell. ``And there were children in the schools who were in possession of the drugs.''
Officials said they seized 300,000 tablets of the prescription drug diazepam, which sells on the street for $1 per tablet, and 3,000 tablets of the prescription painkiller Vicodin. They also seized a pound of methamphetamine, two kilograms of cocaine and 800 tablets of the illegal drug ecstasy.
``What this will do is it will dry up one source of illegal drugs, and it'll make it more difficult to obtain these types of drugs - the Vicodin, the diazepam,'' Purnell said. ``Will it stop it entirely? No.''
Sheriff's officials declined to say how the prescription drugs were obtained or whether any other Hells Angels chapters were involved.
George Christie Jr., president of the motorcycle gang's Ventura chapter, said investigators strung together unrelated incidents to create a misleading picture of the organization.
``I think law enforcement has been investigating the Hells Angels for 50 years, and they'll continue to do so,'' said Christie, who was not among those arrested. ``I don't know all the circumstances of the investigation. But we'll wait and see what the outcome is.''
Arrested on suspicion of committing a variety of drug-related offenses are: Gregory, 52, of Thousand Oaks; William ``Gunner'' Wolf, 28, of Oxnard; Kenneth Mark Collins, 46, of Sacramento; Edward Martin Quintanilla, 44, of Oak View; and Ventura residents Jimmy ``Tiny'' Shankles, 42; Gary Alan Wilson, 42; Robert E. Lee Hill Jr.; Timothy Eugene Girardin, 39, and Brian John Applegate, 24.