For a decade, Hells Angels spokesman George Christie Jr. has cultivated the image of an upstanding citizen whose motorcycle gang has been harassed by law enforcement and whose own Ventura chapter is squeaky clean.
Christie ran a leg of the Olympic Torch charity relay in 1984. He hosted a barbecue for jurors after his murder-for-hire acquittal in 1987. He was a guest speaker in Ventura high school and college classes last year on the ethics of journalists and prosecutors.
He has sold his story to Hollywood, and a producer says the movie will portray Christie as a modern-day folk hero whose indomitable spirit withstood an abuse of power by federal authorities.
But even as Christie has become the icon of Hells Angels respectability--married for 24 years to his high school sweetheart and never convicted of a crime--the Angels closest to him have fallen one by one to criminal charges, records show.
David Ortega, 46, vice president of the Angels’ Ventura chapter, is in state prison after pleading guilty this year to possession of methamphetamine. Federal prosecutors have confiscated his Ventura house, concluding that drugs were sold from it before a 1988 raid that netted more than five ounces of methamphetamine and $5,000 in cash.
Jim Clark, 48, a veteran Angel, has been jailed twice since 1988 for alleged possession of methamphetamine, including more than an ounce found strapped inside his sock. A probation report says that he admitted netting about $1,000 a month selling the drug before 1988 and that he said drugs were sold from the Angels’ Ventura clubhouse. Clark insists he never made the last statement.
Daniel Fabricant, 43, identified by Ventura County Sheriff’s Department informants as an Angel “prospect” who sought admission to the Ventura chapter, remains in state prison after being convicted of methamphetamine possession in 1986 and 1990. He was acquitted in 1987, along with Christie, of conspiring to hire the founder of the Mexican Mafia prison gang to kill a government informant who provided details about alleged drug sales by the Ventura chapter.
Angel Tom Heath, 44, was convicted last year of battery after punching a woman at the Top Hat hamburger stand in downtown Ventura. He shot a man in 1982, but an attempted murder charge was dropped.
Christie, Clark, Ortega and Heath are the core of the small Ventura chapter. A local prosecutor says it has just five or six members. A state crime analyst puts membership at between five and 10, including prospects.
Police say the Angels have kept a low profile in Ventura County since Christie, now a 44-year-old martial arts instructor, helped found the local chapter in 1978.
“They’ve taken the position right from the start that if they don’t screw up in Ventura very much, there’ll be no reason for the police to hassle them,” Police Chief Richard Thomas said. “And that has been pretty much the case. The Hells Angels locally have been involved in very few provable criminal incidents.”
But federal agents and sheriff’s investigators repeatedly have maintained that local Angels and their associates were involved in drug distribution during the 1980s, according to search warrants and court records.
“Members of the Hells Angels club were definitely very active in the methamphetamine trade,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Gary Pentis, who investigated Fabricant in 1986 and Ortega and Clark in 1988, when all three were found with substantial quantities of narcotics.
“There’s been a lot of press that has really soured stomachs in the law enforcement community, which knows what’s happening behind the scene,” Pentis said.
Nationwide, the Hells Angels are identified by federal authorities as the country’s principal supplier of methamphetamine, a powerful drug also called speed, crank and ice that is cheap and easily made.
The image-conscious Angels often control drug distribution at arm’s length through prospects and associates, state and federal investigators say. For each of the estimated 800 Angels in the country, there are 10 associates who do their bidding, agents say.
Christie, though refusing to be interviewed by The Times, said: “There are individuals who have done things, and individuals who haven’t. But the club as a whole is not involved in illegal activities.”
His statement summarizes the Hells Angels position for two decades, as numerous members of the nation’s largest motorcycle gang have been convicted on charges of selling drugs.
Christie repeated the point last year when confronted by “60 Minutes” correspondent Mike Wallace about the gang’s role in the spread of illegal methamphetamine nationwide.
At one point, Wallace produced a set of Hells Angels bylaws taken in a 1987 federal raid in Northern California where 30 pounds of methamphetamine and $3 million in cash were found. One bylaw stated that Angels should not “burn” drug buyers and would be expelled if they did.
When the president of the Angels’ Oakland chapter, the club’s other spokesman, stammered a response, Christie said quickly that the bylaws were just a piece of paper whose source was unknown. “The Hells Angels is not involved in narcotics transactions as an organization,” he insisted.
“Christie saved them,” said a state law enforcement analyst. “They know who their speakers are, and Christie is a very well-spoken member. And he is very charismatic. . . . I’ve seen Christie step in and take care of business when members were getting out of control--getting out of line with law enforcement.”
In general, Christie is “very difficult to investigate,” the analyst said. “He’s so clean. He keeps himself removed. He’s not supposed to be doing the dirty business.”
Martial Arts Instructor
George Gus Christie Jr., a Ventura native, has been a flattering example of Angel independence and family virtue since the 1970s.
He was one of six Angel leaders profiled in a 1983 Times story that described the “mellowing” of some members of the motorcycle gang. His wife, two children and soft-spoken manner were all noted prominently.
“Being a Hells Angel,” Christie explained, “means that people listen to you when you talk, and they move out of your way when you walk down the street. There’s a lot of power and you want to make sure that guys that get into the club aren’t going to abuse it.”
Unlike many of his colleagues, Christie not only finished high school but attended college for two years. And, in contrast to other local Angels, he has held permanent jobs for much of his adult life, court records show.
Today Christie, once a high-voltage electrician for the Defense Department and a cable splicer for General Telephone, operates small businesses out of his sprawling hillside home in Oak View. He also runs a martial arts studio in downtown Ventura.
Average-sized but fit, he is a black belt in both Japanese karate and kung fu. In his classes he mixes those disciplines with lethal Filipino martial arts. He teaches students, who have included several area businessmen, how to kill if they are attacked.
“He’s not teaching how to be nice to a guy, he’s teaching how to rip him open,” student Wendell Mortensen said. “I was surprised to see how lethal an art form can be and still be an art form.”
Christie has been the president of the local Angel chapter since its founding 13 years ago. And, court records show, he remains its unchallenged leader.
“I have to get with George first,” Angel Tom Heath responded recently when asked to talk about himself.
After arrest, club members have listed Christie as the person to call in case of emergencies, or as a reference before sentencing.
On a 1989 probation report, Clark listed Christie as his part-time employer. Christie also wrote to Superior Court Judge Steven Z. Perren on Clark’s behalf.
“He has always shown a concern for others while not compromising his own ideals,” Christie wrote of Clark. Christie said he would be available to give the judge “a deeper insight into Jims (sic) lifestyle.”
Christie also has attended the trials of his friends, testifying or lending support, prosecutors say.
“He testified in the (1990) Fabricant case,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Roger A. Inman. “That was the first time I ever saw the mythical George Christie. Let’s face it, in some circles, he seems to be somewhat of a folk hero.”
Christie has been called upon to represent the Angels for at least a decade.
News media interest in him peaked in 1984 and 1985, when the heavily tattooed Hells Angel ran a kilometer with the Olympic Torch. He then sued Kennedy heiress Eunice Shriver, director of the Special Olympics, to make sure the Angels’ $3,000 donation went to mentally handicapped kids, not for program administration.
Claims of Harassment
Christie accused federal firearms agents of being responsible for a grenade that was thrown into the Angels’ Ventura clubhouse in 1985. And he repeatedly told reporters that the FBI’s nationwide crackdown on the Angels was a monumental waste of taxpayers’ money.
In fact, Christie’s defense in 1987, when charged with soliciting a murder, was that media attention had brought him not only acclaim but the enmity of the FBI, which targeted him for prosecution.
In the summer of 1986, federal agents sent Michael Mulhern--a leader of the Mexican Mafia and longtime informant--to talk with Christie at the Ventura clubhouse.
Prosecutors insisted that a taped conversation caught Christie authorizing the murder of Tom Chaney, a former associate of the Ventura Angels who had turned informant before going to prison on drug charges.
“I’d do it myself if he was here,” Christie assured Mulhern, according to a federal transcript of the conversation.
Authorities faked Chaney’s prison murder in September, 1986, and Christie soon showed up at Mulhern’s Ventura motel.
” . . . I’m sure like in a week or so everything will, will be mellowed out again and, uh, I got something else will be real easy for you . . . ,” Christie told Mulhern, according to federal transcripts.
Mulhern testified that Christie then handed him $500 and the pink slip to an old automobile as down payment for the faked murder. Christie left the room, but quickly returned and was arrested as he asked Mulhern for the envelope containing the payoff, Mulhern testified.
Christie claimed entrapment. He noted that his first conversation with Mulhern had not been tape-recorded. His fingerprints were not on the pink slip he supposedly handed Mulhern. And Mulhern, the prosecution’s key witness, was a career criminal and heroin addict who had been on the federal payroll for years.
The jury--impressed by Christie’s demeanor, the support of his family and numerous Hells Angels who faithfully trudged to court--found Christie innocent.
Two weeks later, Christie hosted a barbecue at the Angels’ fortified clubhouse on Fix Way near Ventura Avenue. Five jurors attended.
“George appeared to be very honest and very sincere, and very dedicated not only to his family, but the Hells Angels,” said juror Leon Duty, employment manager at Disneyland. “He was set up.”
Drug Raids and Trials
Even as Christie and Mulhern were preparing for their first conversation in August, 1986, Ventura County sheriff’s investigators raided the Ventura home of Fabricant, a notorious jailhouse lawyer who had spent much of his adult life behind bars or facing theft and drug charges.
At Fabricant’s Pierpont Boulevard residence and in a motorcycle he used, investigators found more than two ounces of cocaine, about an ounce of a powder containing methamphetamine and three grams of methamphetamine, documents say.
Deputies found Fabricant at the Angels’ clubhouse and arrested him after ramming his car during a high-speed chase.
The raid was based, according to a search warrant, on a tip that Fabricant had four pounds of methamphetamine at his house and that the so-called Angel “prospect” was selling it for the motorcycle gang.
About the time of Fabricant’s first conviction in 1988, sheriff’s deputies were also turning up the heat on two veteran Angels, Ortega and Clark.
After spotting a suspected drug dealer at an Oak View restaurant, deputies trailed him to Ortega’s house off Ventura Boulevard near an oil field.
The deputies identified the man as Jimmy Curtis, a Kern County resident and a Hells Angels associate known “to move kilograms of cocaine” from Ventura County to Northern California.
A sheriff’s warrant said Ortega had been repeatedly identified by informants as a drug dealer. A search of his house yielded more than five ounces of methamphetamine and 1 1/2 pounds of a chemical used to make the drug. Clark, who was with Ortega, allegedly agreed to be searched and baggies of methamphetamine were found strapped to his leg.
Judge Perren later dismissed charges of possession of drugs for sale after he concluded that the search of Ortega’s home and of Clark were both illegal.
But federal authorities said the search was legitimate, and confiscated Ortega’s house. Ortega agreed this summer to allow authorities to sell his house and keep half of his estimated $70,000 in equity, court records show.
As the Ortega-Clark case was progressing, Clark was arrested again. Deputies discovered methamphetamine in his van in late 1988 when Clark parked at the sheriff’s honor farm in Ojai.
Clark, a self-employed welder who dropped out of high school after 10th grade, was convicted of drug possession in 1989 despite a novel defense for a Hells Angel. He testified that he often left his van’s keys in the Angels’ Ventura clubhouse, so any club member could have used the vehicle and left methamphetamine in it.
According to Clark’s pre-sentencing report, he also told a probation officer that he opposed a provision that allowed officers to search him for drugs without a warrant. Clark felt the search provision would be used “to harass others who might be involved in drug transactions at the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club,” the report said.
Clark, responding in a sworn statement, said drugs were never sold at the clubhouse and such transactions would result in automatic expulsion. Clark insisted that he told the probation officer only that he could not vouch for out-of-town members who drop by the clubhouse.
But the probation report also stated that Clark admitted selling about an ounce of methamphetamine every two weeks and clearing about $1,000 a month in profit. He said he sold drugs sporadically, when he needed “a quick buck,” and had done so for the three years before his arrest at Ortega’s, the report said.
Clark made a similar admission in a 1989 letter to Perren, shortly after the judge had found him guilty of having drugs in his van. Clark noted that Perren, in another decision that fall, had ruled that Clark was illegally searched in the Ortega raid.
“Sometimes I think that because you cut me lose (sic) the week before and I had the goods in my boot, you just could not see your way clear to find me not guilty this time,” Clark wrote.
Clark has violated probation three times since his 1989 conviction sent him to jail. Methamphetamine was found in his house during one search, he tested positive for methamphetamine use on another occasion and he wore his gang colors to meet his probation officer, records show.
The violations brought three more months in jail. Clark is now free.
Ortega Still in Prison
But Ortega, a self-employed welder and motorcycle parts fabricator, remains in a prison drug rehabilitation program. He pleaded guilty in January to possession of methamphetamine after being arrested while intoxicated in public in October.
Though a judge indicated that he would grant Ortega probation, the Angel refused it.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Peter E. Brown, who prosecuted Ortega, said that happens sometimes in gang cases.
“It’s kind of a general fear, that if they have probation, searches can be exercised at the clubhouse or their homes when others are there,” he said. “They don’t want to involve their brothers.”
Despite the ongoing legal problems of the local Hells Angels, police and sheriff’s investigators say they have not seen enough recent drug activity by club members to conclude that they deserve much attention.
“Individuals have been arrested, but there is no indication of any nationwide conspiracy of any kind,” said Lt. Bill Edwards, head of the sheriff’s intelligence and vice unit. “The bottom line is that they are in Ventura’s jurisdiction, and we don’t monitor them that closely.”
Likewise, Ventura police officials say that most narcotics busts of Angels or their associates have occurred in county territory, so they have not come under the purview of city police.
Police Chief Thomas, though expressing a dislike for Hells Angels, said they are generally cooperative, even calling police before they have a big party.
“If they don’t behave in a criminal fashion in this community, then we have very little to do with them,” Thomas said. " . . . But I don’t see any benefit in the Hells Angels being in this community.”