Source: Palestine Herald Press
- NOMAAN MERCHANT, Associated Press DAVID WARREN, Associated Press
WACO — About 170 members of rival motorcycle gangs were charged with engaging in organized crime Monday, a day after a shootout at a Texas restaurant that killed nine people and wounded 18.
The crowd of suspects was so large that authorities opened a convention center to hold them all before they were arrested, police said.
Sunday’s melee at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco drew a broad police response that included placing officers atop buildings and highway overpasses to watch for other bikers rushing to the scene to retaliate.
But locally, the Cossacks say they are not as they have been portrayed.
During Monday’s Palestine City Council meeting, local Cossack Motorcycle Club president, Cossack Scoot, addressed the council about the local club members’ thoughts about how the media is portraying the club. He stated he wanted to make the record clear and said the club is not in any way a “gang” as reported in stories about the Waco incident.
“On our side, we are not a gang,” Scoot said. “We are an organization that is Texas-wide. None of us are one-percenters.”
Scoot explained about the fee the Bandidos are trying to collect from other clubs to ride their motorcycles in Texas. He said the media has the information about why the Bandidos keep attacking the Cossacks.
“There are things that they (the Bandidos) are involved in that we have no interest in,” Scoot said. “We are businessmen, family men, and veterans and are in no way affiliated with them. We won’t be pressured into paying them dues, and that’s where their anger is coming from. Just because other clubs have given in, doesn’t mean we are going to.”
Scoot said there is a rumor about the club, as a whole, having an issue with police. However, he ensured that the local club does not have an issue with the police and is, in fact, in favor of keeping the community safe. He said that the local club does not support issues they do not agree with and will stand alone.
He did explain that the issues between the clubs in Waco had been going on for months. But, stated again that it was not the local clubs’ intent to join in the problems at Waco and the plan is to keep Anderson and Cherokee counties quiet. He asked for the community’s understanding in the meantime.
The council members do not respond to Scoot’s speech, but listened to his words intently as he spoke.
Back in Waco, McLennan County Justice of the Peace W.H. Peterson set bond at $1 million for each suspect. He defended the high amount, citing the violence that quickly unfolded in a shopping market busy with a lunchtime crowd.
“We have nine people dead, because these people wanted to come down and what? Drink? Party?” Peterson said. “I thought it was appropriate.”
Peterson also performed inquests on the nine dead bikers but declined to identify them pending notification of family. Peterson says all nine were from Texas.
Police acknowledged firing on armed bikers. But it was unclear how many of the dead were shot by gang members and how many had been shot by officers.
Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said the Waco Convention Center was used to hold the suspects temporarily as police rushed to secure many parts of the city amid reports of rival bikers going elsewhere to continue the fight. Those at the convention center were later taken to jail.
It’s too early to determine how many motorcycle gang members will face murder charges, Swanton said.
Five gangs had gathered at the restaurant as part of a meeting to settle differences over turf and recruitment. Prior meetings had been held at the restaurant, and managers there had dismissed police concerns over the gatherings, he said.
“They were not here to drink and eat barbecue,” Swanton said. “They came here with violence in mind.”
Twin Peaks — a national chain that features waitresses in revealing uniforms — on Monday revoked the franchise rights to the restaurant, which opened in August.
Company spokesman Rick Van Warner said in a statement that the management team chose to ignore warnings and advice from the company, and did not establish the “high security standards” that the company requires.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission on Monday issued a seven-day suspension of the restaurant’s liquor license, but owners had the option of reopening to serve meals.
Police and the restaurant operators were aware of Sunday’s meeting in advance, and 18 Waco officers in addition to state troopers were outside the restaurant when the fight began, Swanton said.
Swanton has repeatedly declined to identify which gangs were involved in a fight that began with punches then grew to include chains, knives and then guns.
“I am not about to give them the respect of mentioning their names,” he said.
However, many men detained in the hours after the shooting were seen wearing leather vests that read Bandidos or Cossacks.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara, whose office is involved in the investigation, said the nine dead were members of those gangs.
More than 100 motorcycles were in the parking lots around the restaurant Monday, along with another 50 to 75 vehicles that probably belong to gang members, Swanton said.
All were scheduled to be towed from the scene, 95 miles south of Dallas.
Swanton said authorities had received threats against law enforcement “throughout the night” from biker groups and stood ready to confront any more violence. Officials stopped and questioned motorcycle riders. Agents from the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were assisting local and state authorities.
In a 2014 gang-threat assessment, the Texas Department of Public Safety classified the Bandidos as a “Tier 2” threat, the second highest. Other groups in that tier included the Bloods, Crips and Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.
The Bandidos, formed in the 1960s, are involved in trafficking cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Bandidos conduct their activities as covertly as possible to avoid publicity, according to the DPS assessment. Members are not covert, however, about making their presence known by wearing their colors and insignia, and riding in large groups.
The Texas assessment does not mention the Cossacks.
There’s at least one previously documented instance of violence between the two groups. In November 2013, a 46-year-old from Abilene who police say was the leader of a West Texas Bandidos chapter was charged in the stabbings of two members of the Cossacks club.
An accused drug dealer with “known links to organised crime figures” in the Illawarra has been refused bail in court.
John Balatsos is facing five drug-related charges, including ongoing supply of an illicit substance, stemming from a police operation, codenamed Strike Force Nunki.
Balatsos, a mechanical engineer from Mt Warrigal who only recently started in a new job, was allegedly secretly recorded selling cocaine at popular North Wollongong bar and cafe Pepe’s on the Beach twice in less than 10 days.
Documents tendered to Wollongong Local Court last week said officers attached to the Wollongong drug unit set up the strike force in February, targeting the sale of drugs in the region.
Detectives used known undercover operatives to negotiate and purchase drugs, which were then passed on to police for testing.
It is alleged Balatsos was monitored selling $300 worth of cocaine to an undercover agent on February 24, and again on March 2.
Both lots of cocaine were seized and tested. They were found to have a purity of about 55 per cent.
Police allege Balatsos was recorded selling a third batch of cocaine on March 21 to a known person on Cliff Road.
The father-of-four was arrested last Thursday and remanded in custody overnight to face court on Friday.
Prosecutors opposed his release on bail, noting he had criminal associations which could include possible links to the Hells Angels through an upline supplier.
However, defence lawyer Stewart Holt asked Magistrate Cate Follent to place little weight on the alleged bikie association.
He said Balatsos had a limited criminal history, strong community ties and was not a flight risk.
“He will report daily to police if needed,” Mr Holt said.
However, Magistrate Follent refused to release Balatsos, saying the case against him appeared very strong.
“These offences before me are serious and they are prevalent in the community,” she said.
“A custodial sentence is likely if he is ultimately convicted.”
The case will return to court in June for mention.
Balatsos is the second man to be arrested by Strike Force Nunki detectives in a week: Bellambi soccer player Klaus Rauker is also behind bars amid allegations he was recorded supplying MDMA to undercover operatives on multiple occasions between March 17 and April 12.
Rauker was apprehended earlier last week and charged with seven drug supply offences.
His case has also been adjourned to June.
Source: Your Central Valley News
VISALIA, California – Visalia Police arrested two Fresno-area motorcycle gang members after finding drugs and guns on them.
VPD Special Enforcement Unit officers pulled over Thomas Qualls and Matthew Spray for traffic violations. Once stopped, they found no motorcycle endorsements on their driver’s licenses.
A search of Qualls and Spray found several weapons, drugs and even a stolen motorcycle engine.
Qualls and Spray are both members of the Fresno chapter of the Screamin’ Demons motorcycle club. They’ve been booked into the Tulare County Jail and are facing a number of charges.