Sacramento trial part of nationwide prosecution of motorcycle gang

Published: Saturday, May. 11, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, May. 12, 2013 - 2:54 pm

A remnant of a federal investigation into a Philadelphia motorcycle gang with a national reach has washed up at the Sacramento County courthouse.

The subject of the investigation was a group called the Wheels of Soul, which is now running a little flatter after a federal prosecution in St. Louis wiped out most of its top leadership.

Sacramento became involved through the arrest of a man who flashed a North American Arms mini-revolver to an undercover federal agent two years ago and was arrested three months later in possession of the same gun.

Sherone Bradley, 31, is awaiting trial next week in Sacramento Superior Court for possession of the gun at a July 22, 2011, barbecue at which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives played host. The undercover operation, videotaped by ATF agents, took place at a tobacco shop on Power Inn Road as part of a weapons-trafficking investigation into outlaw biker groups.

The convergence of the investigations has provided a glimpse into the world of the "one-percenters." That's the term biker gangs use to separate themselves from the country's law-abiding motorcycle clubs.

In a hearing this week before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Peter Mering, Bradley admitted under oath that he showed the gun at the barbecue to ATF agent Erik Crowder, who was posing as a member of a New York City outlaw biker gang called the Ching-a-lings.

Bradley testified that he was originally from Philadelphia but now lives in Northern California. He said he had once been a member of Wheels of Soul, but he dropped out – along with his father – when a friend came under threat for refusing to carry out "a hit" for the club.

Once the three dropped out, and when they made moves to join the Ching-a-lings, all were threatened with death, Bradley said in a sworn declaration.

"You're not allowed to leave a one-percenter club and join another one," he testified this week at a pretrial hearing.

The case out of St. Louis suggests Bradley's fear may not have been unfounded.

In a 40-page indictment, federal officials charged 22 Wheels of Soul members from seven states with a variety of crimes – racketeering conspiracy, murder, attempted murder, discharge of a firearm, evidence tampering, sale of a firearm to a felon, kidnapping and conspiracy to distribute drugs. In most instances, their victims were members of other biker organizations.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in St. Louis said the defendants all have been convicted or pleaded guilty. One of them, Anthony Robinson, 26, of Chicago, murdered four people and was sentenced to two life terms.

Federal law enforcement officials say Wheels of Soul is the largest mixed-race outlaw motorcycle club in the country, with about 400 members riding out of 25 states, including a handful of members who wear the group's colors in California and Oregon.

Besides Robinson, the St. Louis prosecution obtained convictions against club president James C. Smith of Philadelphia and regional vice presidents Allan Hunter of Chicago, Frederick Morgan of Youngstown, Ohio, and Dominic Henley of St. Louis.

In Sacramento, Bradley identified a Wheels of Soul official nicknamed "Low Rider" as the person who threatened him and his father as well as the third gang dropout.

The St. Louis indictment identified defendant Morgan as having the moniker of "Low Rider." His St. Louis attorney, Peter M. Cohen, said he knew nothing about Bradley's allegations.

The club's violence, according to the federal complaints, almost exclusively was directed at rival motorcycle clubs, the attorney said. "Maybe a gang had a beef with them, or they had a beef with a gang over different things," Cohen said.

Sacramento's ATF office got a piece of the national case during a weapons-trafficking investigation that focused on the Ching-a-lings.

At the July 2011 ATF barbecue, Bradley rode up with his father. According to the prosecution's statement of the case, Bradley showed the .22-caliber gun to the ATF undercover agent. Bradley also showed the agent his parolee identification card and prosecutors learned he had been "convicted of numerous felonies, making it unlawful for him to carry a firearm," according to the statement filed by Deputy District Attorney Patrick Foster.

The same gun turned up again when Walnut Creek police stopped Bradley on Oct. 18, 2011, prosecutors said.

A year ago in April – six months after the Walnut Creek arrest – Sacramento prosecutors filed a single-count complaint against Bradley on charges of being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm. The complaint listed only one prior adult felony conviction for petty theft with a prior in Solano County.

Bradley's case was assigned to Judge Mering on Tuesday and jury selection was supposed to begin Wednesday.

The process was delayed, however, when defense attorney Robert D. Byers of Oakland filed a motion to force the prosecution to identify an ATF informant who attended the barbecue.

Byers argued that the informant is a material witness and said he wants to call him to testify about a possible entrapment defense.

The defense lawyer said in court papers that the informant also knew about the threats Bradley faced from Wheels of Soul.

Deputy DA Foster opposed identifying "a valuable confidential informant." It would put the operative at risk and also jeopardize a nationwide investigation into outlaw motorcycle gangs, Foster told the judge.

Pretrial skirmishing is expected to continue Monday.

Call The Bee's Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.

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