Another case involving a bar fight in Colorado Springs was dropped
by federal authorities to let local authorities prosecute it.
"It's very uncommon to see counts dismissed and evidence
suppressed,'' said defense attorney David Lane. "It's
indicative of a very slipshod job on the part of the government.
They know what's solid and what's not. They don't anticipate losing
Uncomfortable in a federal courthouse, the bikers have been
reluctant to speak out. But at a party held Dec. 11 to raise funds
for their legal battles, several bikers said the government was
"We have rights just like anyone else, yet no one seems too
interested in talking about them,'' said one club officer at the
party in an Aurora meeting hall. He stepped outside to point out
members of the Aurora Police Department SWAT team who were
positioned on apartment building rooftops surrounding the party.
But these tactics, in and out of the courtroom, don't surprise
some veteran defense lawyers.
"There's an attitude in the federal government that people
you dislike have fewer constitutional rights than the rest of us,''
said Larry Pozner, former head of the American Criminal Defense Bar.
"They take relatively minor offenses and trumpet them as the
crime of the century. This is garden variety stuff made to sound
like a major law enforcement coup.'' The Sons of Silence is one of
five major outlaw motorcycle clubs in the United States, according
to the ATF. Founded in Niwot in 1967, it has 14 chapters in seven
states. There are roughly 200 members, with 100 in Colorado. It is
the dominant outlaw motorcycle club in Colorado.
Strickland, defense lawyers and other parties to the case are
barred from commenting because of a broad gag order issued by U.S.
District Judge Edward Nottingham.
Twenty-two indictments were handed down, some involving multiple
defendants. Ten cases involving 11 defendants have been resolved.
Five people have pleaded guilty to four gun charges and one assault
charge. Their sentencing will be in February. Charges against three
defendants were dismissed and two people were referred to state
court. One man was acquitted. The largest case, in which 19 people
were indicted for conspiracy to deal drugs, has been declared a
complex case that could take more than a year to settle.
The ATF spent two years getting two undercover agents into the
club as full-fledged members. According to documents filed in U.S.
District Court, the undercover agents, Blake Boteler and Cole
Edwards, began recording conversations about weapons, drugs,
previous murders and other alleged activities by motorcyclists in
Colorado Springs, Adams County and Fort Collins.
But as soon as defense lawyers began to appear in court,
Nottingham ruled that much of the evidence had been illegally seized
and ordered it returned to the owners. Included were eight
In an act that many of the defendants say exemplifies the
government's attitude of invincibility and unaccountability, someone
deliberately scratched the initials "ATF'' into the custom
paint job on the gas tank of Sons of Silence member Charlie
Evan Biteman, 37, of Fort Collins, claimed in court that the ATF
had trashed his house. Every dresser drawer and cabinet was dumped
on the floor, antique bed frames were splintered, an armoire was
tipped over and an elastic cord holding a freezer door shut was cut,
spoiling roughly $800 worth of meat.
His common-law wife, Marsha O'Brien, who was in Iowa during the
raid, had all of her stained glass artwork, by which she makes her
living, smashed on a table. Biteman's plumbing tools were thrown
from his truck into the yard, and the house doors were left wide
open, according to O'Brien.
"This happens all the time, especially when big headlines
are involved,'' said defense attorney Lane. "I've represented a
number of unpopular groups, and the most dangerous gangs in the
country are the DEA, the ATF and the FBI.''
"Those three gangs are frequently out of control, and they
basically ride roughshod over the Constitution of the U.S. on a
The ATF said it could not comment on the vandalism because of the
Charges of illegally possessing a firearm were dropped or
dismissed against Terry Nolde, 46, of Colorado Springs, William
Mason, a retired member of the club, and Charles Corrigan, 48, a
Colorado Springs biker not affiliated with the Sons of Silence. The
charges against Nolde and Corrigan were based on the fact that both
were convicted felons and prohibited from owning firearms. But state
law allowed them to regain their right to possess firearms 10 years
after conviction. Mason had been convicted of domestic violence but
not in a category that kept him from owning a firearm.
In the only case to go to trial so far, a federal jury took less
than two hours to find Andrew Dorrance, 37, of Colorado Springs, not
guilty of assaulting a federal officer. Dorrance, a Sons of Silence
member, was charged with assault for slapping an undercover agent at
a wedding for standing around and not serving club members more
One other case, in which members Doug Luckett, 40, and Robert
Bryant, 44, both of Colorado Springs, were charged with assaulting
federal officers, was dropped and referred to the state for
prosecution. Luckett and Bryant are charged with getting into a
brawl in a Colorado Springs bar with three undercover ATF agents who
came in wearing patches of a rival gang, The Unforgiven, which the
ATF made up. Prosecutors said the case would be easier to try
locally because of the number of witnesses.
Nottingham, known for his lack of patience with unprepared
lawyers, particularly those from the government, erupted in court
last month when an ATF agent failed to show up to testify as a
government witness in a case. Defendant Kevin Eaton, 45, of Bailey,
a member of the High Plains Drifters motorcycle club, was charged
with possession of explosive devices.
When Eaton's attorney questioned the evidence against his client,
the government failed to produce the ATF undercover agent to explain
his case. Nottingham angrily gave the government the rest of the day
to find him. When the agent did not appear, the evidence was ruled
inadmissible. Nottingham erupted again two weeks later when
prosecutors were unable to produce the personnel files of the two
undercover agents, as requested by defense attorneys.
"Every time I listen to the government, I get madder and
madder,'' Nottingham said. With so many indictments and defendants,
he said, "why isn't this their top priority? Why aren't they
jumping on this?''
Copyright 1999 The Denver Post. All rights