Trial shines light on `outlaw' biker gang activities in state.
CORRECTION(Ran June 14, 2008): Front Page: The patch insignia of the Free Souls Motorcycle Club is an ankh, the ancient Egyptian symbol for eternal life. The insignia was incorrectly described in a story Friday.
Testimony Thursday in the trial of a man accused of trying to run two investigators off Interstate 5 two months ago opened a door to the inner workings of the six motorcycle gangs in Oregon tagged by the government as "outlaw" organizations.
The incident began when the investigators - Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Special Agent James Packard and Eugene police Detective Dave Burroughs - were searching for the residence of Justin James "Mooch" Deloretto, 26, near Turner.
Deloretto, according to trial testimony, is president of a newly formed Oregon chapter of the Mongols Motorcycle Club - a group the U.S. Department of Justice labels as a 300-member "extremely violent outlaw motorcycle gang" originating in Southern California that is involved in narcotics, assault and murder.
The Mongols moved into Oregon last year without permission from the five other active outlaw motorcycle gangs - a major violation of accepted protocol among the gangs, according to Packard, who has investigated outlaw motorcycle gangs for 25 years, instructs other police agencies and is a recognized expert witness on the topic.
He noted that the vast majority of motorcycle club members are law-abiding. But Packard said outlaw gang members distinguish themselves by wearing a "1 percent" patch on their clothing, indicating that they are the 1 percent of riders who are not law-abiding.
The Mongols' intrusion set up a potential conflict between the Mongols and the other clubs, but particularly with the Gypsy Jokers because the Gypsy Jokers and the Mongols both claim the same colors for their insignia - black and white, Packard testified.
Clubs' insignia are no small matter among members. In fact, insignia are central to each club's identity and are awarded in stages as members work their way up from "hang arounds" to "prospects" to "full-patch members," Packard said.
Potential members are invited to apply, and do so as though looking for a job - divulging family relationships, criminal records, education and personal history that the club then confirms. It may take six weeks to two years to advance from "hang around" to full membership - with insignia awarded as the candidate progresses through the three levels, Packard said.
Most of the gangs display insignia in three parts - an upper patch naming the club, a lower patch identifying their home base and an elaborate central depiction of their mascot or club symbol. The patches are awarded to signify a member's level of advancement toward full membership.
Generally, full membership requires a 100 percent vote of approval by members of a local chapter, Packard said.
The clubs' insignia, or "colors," are so revered that a member who drops his on the ground may be fined or disciplined. Rival clubs often will display colors taken forcibly from an enemy, hanging them upside-down in their clubhouse as a trophy, Packard said.
"That is their pride in possession," Packard told a 12-member jury. "It means everything to a member. It means loyalty and brotherhood to those groups. They will fight and die for those colors."
Oregon had four outlaw motorcycle gangs until the Vagos Motorcycle Club sought permission to operate in the state, and was voted in by the other four, in the mid-1990s, Packard said.
The Mongols' failure to seek permission, and their conflicting colors with the Gypsy Jokers, raised concerns among law enforcement officials around Eugene when the local chapter of the Free Souls Motorcycle Club threw its annual birthday party in February, Packard testified.
The party draws a couple of hundred Free Souls members from other chapters around the country. Contingents from the other Oregon clubs typically are invited to the festivities, usually riding separately to Eugene, Packard said.
However, officers who monitor the event were alarmed this year when they observed a gathering of about 100 motorcyclists from the five established clubs riding together from Salem toward Eugene. Police feared the united approach may signal a joint effort to drive out the Mongols, who were gathered at a Springfield motel, he said.
In order to warn the Mongols of the potential danger and to try to ward off trouble, Packard introduced himself to DeLoretto at a Mongol gathering in the motel parking lot. The meeting was cordial, said Packard, who testified that he frequently talks with club members and leaders to gather information.
"I wanted to give them a heads-up," Packard said. "Mr. Deloretto said they were aware of the bikers coming from Salem, that he had his own eyes and ears out there. He said they weren't looking for trouble, but they wouldn't back down."
Packard contacted Deloretto a few hours later to tell him that police had found firearms when they stopped the presidents of a couple of the gang chapters who had come to Eugene for the Free Souls celebration. He said Deloretto thanked him, but said his club nonetheless would frequent the same bars it had the previous evening.
No violence occurred during the weekend, Packard said.
A few months later, in an effort to find Deloretto's residence, Packard and Burroughs drove up a secluded single-lane driveway near Turner and encountered Deloretto driving out, Packard said.
The officers backed out of the driveway and drove off, and DeLoretto followed them, first north into Salem and then south into Eugene. Just south of the Harlow Road overpass, two associates of Deloretto - Nathan Andrew Cassidy, 22, of Creswell, and Matthew Aaron Weiss, 24, of Eugene - joined in separate vehicles. The menallegedly used their three vehicles to box in the officers' unmarked sport utility vehicle in an attempt to force it off the road.
Packard said he took evasive action, turned on the vehicle's emergency siren and lights, and summoned police patrol units.
In an interview after his arrest, Deloretto told Packard he did not realize the men he followed were police. His lawyer, Kelly Beckley of Eugene, is arguing that Deloretto acted legally in protection of his property.
Cassidy and Weiss have been convicted and sentenced to 90 days and 30 days in jail, respectively.
Deloretto's trial is expected to conclude next week. He is charged with two counts each of conspiring to coerce, coercion, conspiring to unlawful use of a weapon, unlawful use of a weapon, menacing and reckless endangering, and one count of reckless driving. He has been in jail in lieu of a $1 million security deposit.
Law enforcement officials have labeled six motorcycle clubs in Oregon as "outlaws." The clubs frequently complain of police harassment and dispute the "outlaw" label.
Brother Speed: Colors: black and gold. Patch: winged skull with sunglasses.
Free Souls: Colors: blue and white. Patch: hawk with wheel and handlebars.
Gypsy Jokers: Colors: black and white. Patch: the jester
Mongols: Colors: black and white. Patch: Genghis Khan on a motorcycle with a sword
Outsiders: Colors: burgundy and white. Patch: Maltese cross with handlebars
Vagos: Color: green. Patch: Loki, the Viking god of fire
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|Title Annotation:||City/Region; An ATF agent testifies in the trial of a member of the Mongols Motorcycle Club accused of trying to run investigators off the road|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Jun 13, 2008|
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