President of Bandidos motorcycle gang sentenced to 20 months
The Associated Press
SEATTLE – The president of the Bandidos motorcycle club was sentenced to 20 months in prison Friday in a deal that will allow him to retain his position in the organization.
George Wegers, 54, was one of 32 people in Washington, Montana and South Dakota who were indicted in U.S. District Court last year as federal officials raided the Bellingham-based gang.
Members were accused of conspiracy to commit murder, witness tampering, violent crime in aid of racketeering, and drug and weapons offenses, but Wegers pleaded guilty in May to just one count of conspiracy to engage in racketeering. In the agreement, which saved the government an expensive trial, he acknowledged encouraging his co-defendants to tamper with a witness and traffick in stolen motorcycles.
U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour handed down the sentence, splitting the difference between the 24 months requested by the U.S. attorney's office and the 15 months requested by Wegers' lawyers. Several heavyset and bearded bikers attended the hearing.
Wegers has already served 15 months since his arrest in June 2005. When he is released, he will face a $10,000 fine and three years of supervised release — during which he will be allowed to attend Bandidos events, but cannot live or work in Whatcom County. He also cannot have contact with any co-defendants, and standard supervised release conditions require that he not consort with other known felons.
Following the sentencing, one of Wegers' attorneys, Jeffery P. Robinson, argued with Ye-Ting Woo, a federal prosecutor, outside the courtroom about whether the government waived that release condition when it wrote in the plea agreement that Wegers could attend Bandidos events. Woo said the government did not waive the condition, but the matter was expected to be the subject of later court filings.
Wegers' lawyers said the sentence and plea agreement showed that the original charges were overblown.
"He was looking at life in prison. Today, he's looking at a sentence of 20 months," said attorney Jeffrey Lustick of Bellingham.
Eighteen of the Bandidos defendants have pleaded guilty, with sentences ranging from probation to 30 months in prison. One is scheduled to be sentenced later this month to a term of four to six years.
Lustick said Wegers had tried to transform the Bandidos into "a workingman's club."
"He did his best to change things, and he'll continue to do that after he gets out," he said.
In asking for the maximum sentence under Wegers' plea agreement, Woo disputed that. She cited an incident involving a dispute over club regalia, in which Wegers was recorded, in an intercepted phone conversation, as saying he wanted his rival — described in expletives — dropped "to his knees."
"We hoped at this sentencing hearing we would hear remorse and responsibility," Woo said. "Instead we hear excuses, blame and defensiveness. This is not a man who deserves to go home today."
Woo suggested that part of the reason for Wegers' "arrogance" was that he had a powerful defense team, including Robinson, a prominent Seattle attorney; Lustick, who does legal commentary on the radio; and Amanda Lee, a former law clerk for Coughenour.
The implication was that Wegers thought he would get a lighter sentence because of Lee's connection to the judge, and Coughenour did not take the comment kindly.
"I can't let pass the reference to my former law clerk," he said, noting that he's been on the bench for 25 years and many lawyers in the state are his former clerks. "I don't think that's a card that should have been played."
At the time of the bust, the Bandidos had about 170 chapters in 14 countries, including 90 in the U.S. and 14 in Washington state. Membership was estimated at 2,400 bikers, all of whom must ride Harley-Davidson bikes.
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