BUSTING THE BIKERS

YOU'RE A TATTOOED GIANT ON A HARLEY. YOU'RE A MEMBER OF THE DIRTY DOZEN. YOU'RE TOAST.

Because many club members were at work during the raids, members say, it was their families, in many cases, who endured hours of terror as "ninja-suited" police officers searched their houses.

The bikes, weapons and "some" amount of drugs that police heralded after the raids were, in fact, a mere fraction of what they seized.

From a look at the seizure lists that police must provide when they take someone's property, the raid teams were virtual vacuum cleaners.

They took clothes, bank books, photo albums, computers, telephones, flags, jewelry, clocks, suspenders, pens and pencils and at least seven pairs of socks.

Almost 500 tee shirts were seized in the raids, as well as at least 50 baseball caps. Anything that was labeled "Dirty Dozen," "Harley-Davidson" or something else related to motorcycles was fair game.

Many items, members say, were seized simply because they were either black or white, the club's official colors.

"I'm glad my dog wasn't wearing a black-and-white collar or they would have taken him," one member says.

Hundreds and hundreds of pairs of dice--the Dozen's trademark symbol--were taken.

Among the odder items seized were "a piggy bank with the Dirty Dozen emblem," a velvet painting of a Harley-Davidson, three cans of beer, a feather, two Gumby bubble-bath bottles and a rubber Gumby doll and "two poems by Arlene regarding prison/bikers."

And then there was the tombstone for Lonzo Pope, one of the original Dirty Dozen members who founded the club in 1964, and its first charter member to die.

Because Pope is buried in a military cemetery, the club was not allowed to put its customized marker on the grave. Instead, members carry it to the burial ground once a year and hold a brief ceremony. The rest of the year, it is stored at a member's house, which is where police seized it.

Some of the raided homes were virtually stripped clean, members say, leaving them and their families without car registrations, insurance papers, bank records, clothes or much else to continue on with their lives.

"We were held there until they went through every bit of our house and seized everything we owned," says Deana Tucker.

Even the club members' voter-registration forms, which members had filled out to take advantage of a $10 break on club dues for registered voters, were seized from the house of the member responsible for mailing them to the county.

Attorney Joel Thompson has been trying ever since the raids to help club members get their property back. The search warrant issued by Superior Court Judge David Cole, Thompson says, was a flagrantly open-ended affair that allowed police to take pretty much anything they wanted.

Some of the personal property has been returned, although most of it is still in police hands.

The sheer magnitude of the seizures, attorney Thompson and club members say, demonstrates that police will stop at nothing to pin a crime, any crime, on the Dozen.

The raids were, in fact, a gigantic sweep for evidence, Gonzales says. Police hoped to seize anything they needed to prove that the club is a racketeering organization, and who its members are.

So after having eight months to sift through their haul, have they?
"We're still in the middle of this case," Gonzales says.
@rule:

@body:Since the raids, two lawyers in Attorney General Grant Woods' office have been periodically visiting a state grand jury seeking indictments based on evidence from the investigation and the seizures.

So far, the numbers look good on the surface. There have been 184 indictments against more than 40 people on charges such as conspiracy to distribute drugs, drug possession, weapons violations and fraud. Only a handful of the counts deal with actual drug possession, however. More than half, 98, are charges of using the telephone to facilitate a drug deal.

According to the indictments and grand jury testimony, three club members--Kenneth "Norton" Johnston, Douglas "Slut Dog" Wistrom and Dennis "Bubba" Ridenour--have been captured on tape in scores of conversations that allegedly involve drug deals.

They and other defendants, records show, use alleged code words like "menudo," "flywheel" and "tee shirt" to refer to methamphetamine.

"We've heard the gamut of words for drugs over the years. You can tell in the context of how it's used," says Gonzales. Surveillance teams watched the houses that were tapped or bugged, he says, and saw activity--such as people coming and going frequently--that supports the allegations.

Further, he says, police would sometimes perform "street jumps," pulling over and searching suspected customers after they left one of the houses. In some instances, he says, police did find drugs.

Police also say that undercover informants have told them that virtually all of the club's members are involved in drug trafficking to some extent. The prime informant, a former club member named Robert Gonzales, has claimed to have knowledge of rampant drug activity, police affidavits state.

Club members remember Gonzales as "that little prick" who was with the club briefly about three years ago. They say Gonzales quit after club members refused to beat up another member who Gonzales claimed was sleeping with his girlfriend. He turned informant out of spite, they contend, and made up much of the information he provided to police.

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