The Austin Chronicle
The Republic of Texas biker rally and Texas Heat Wave car show will return to the Travis County Expo Center next summer, forcing the Travis Central Appraisal District to find another location for its property tax hearings. A 3-2 vote at the Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday rejected TCAD’s request to rent the Eastside facility and directed county staff to negotiate contracts with the motorcycle and car events.
TCAD was set to rent the venue from May to August of 2019, when it expects to hear from more than 140,000 county residents protesting their property tax bills. After success at the Expo Center last year, TCAD Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler said she and her staff were looking forward to returning in 2019. They submitted a signed contract to the county and only needed approval from county commissioners, but ROT and Heat Wave, which have both been held in the county for over two decades, objected; TCAD’s three-month occupancy would interfere with their 2019 event dates. The ROT rally is set for June and Texas Heat Wave for July.
Last week, commissioners briefly took up the rental issue, but punted it a week so they could try to sort through the situation. The vote followed a tense debate in which commissioners offered a glimpse into how they each expect staff to work with business partners in renting out the Expo Center. On one side, Commissioners Brigid Shea and Gerald Daugherty argued that the county should work to maintain relationships with “longstanding partners,” as Daugherty put it. On the other end, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Commissioner Margaret Gómez suggested that staff should rent out the 128-acre site on a first-come, first-served basis. In the middle was Jeff Travillion, commissioner in Precinct 1, where the Expo Center is located. He hoped for a compromise in which all three entities would be able to use the facility. Eckhardt and Gómez were the two votes against continuing negotiations with ROT and Heat Wave.
Increased facility rental fees and miscommunication between county staff and the event organizers were at the heart of the dispute. Texas Heat Wave Promotions Director Chris Schneider said rental fees for his event rose from around $27,000 in previous agreements to over $40,000 in the new contract offered by the county. Schneider said Heat Wave was prepared to cut the check, but that he and the event’s accounting team needed more time to consider “such a big decision.” ROT President Jerry Bragg, however, was less comfortable with the price; it would have been a bigger stretch for his event to afford the increased rental fees. Meanwhile, TCAD was ready to sign a contract for its three-month rental, which would net the county nearly $150,000.
In addition to the increased rental fees, Bragg and Schneider expressed frustration with how county staff communicated with them about contract negotiations. Bragg said it was unclear whom he was supposed to work with to negotiate a contract, and Schneider said he was misled on how long his event would have to make a decision on agreeing to the raised rent. Travis County Director of Facilities Management Roger A. El Khoury refuted ROT’s characterization at the Tuesday hearing. “I talked to ROT,” he said. “I did everything I can. … I’m not trying to dump them completely, but ROT did not come to the table and [another] opportunity came.”
Now, that opportunity is lost. Crigler said TCAD will likely have to find an alternative venue, which could prove difficult for the appraisal district. “Time is a considerable obstacle for us at this time,” Crigler said. “There were competing needs and desires from all parties, we’re not going to pass judgment on anybody. … We’re going to respect the decision of the Commissioners Court.”
Three full-patch members of the Hells Angels, including one of the biker gang’s founding members in Canada, and a member of the Repentigny police pleaded guilty to various drug trafficking charges at the Montreal courthouse on Wednesday.
Twenty people in all appeared before Quebec Court Judge Daniel Bédard inside a fifth floor courtroom that was humming with activity throughout the day as almost every remaining case in Project Objection, a major investigation into three drug trafficking networks run by the Hells Angels, came to end only six months after arrests were made in April.
“I’m very impressed,” Bédard remarked at one point as several drug dealers pleaded guilty to charges that will result in them serving time inside federal penitentiaries.
The person who ended up with the longest sentence, a six-year prison term, was Stéphane Maheu, 47, a member of the gang’s South chapter. He had been sought by members of the Escouade nationale de répression contre le crime organisé (ENRCO) since April, but suddenly emerged at the Montreal courthouse on Wednesday.
Despite having been a wanted man for months, Maheu was able to walk around the courthouse freely before he appeared before Bédard and admitted he led a network that sold cocaine and methamphetamine in different parts of Quebec.
He pleaded guilty to three counts of drug trafficking, two counts of conspiracy, and a gangsterism charge. According to a joint statement of facts read into the court record, a group run by Maheu also sold nearly 300,000 methamphetamine pills in the Outaouais region while under investigation. The Hells Angel also assigned two men to run a drug trafficking ring in Cowansville and Granby, but one of the men turned out to be a civilian undercover agent who was working for ENRCO. Maheu received “a tax” on the 42,000 meth pills and 177 ounces of cocaine that were sold in the Eastern Townships.
Maheu was taken into custody as soon as Bédard accepted the guilty plea.
“Everything is perfectly clear,” Maheu said when Bédard asked him if he understood what he was admitting to.
Michel (Sky) Langlois, 72, one of the first men to ever wear the Hells Angels logo in Canada when he became a founding member of the Montreal chapter in 1977, was also done in by the same undercover agent. On Aug. 9, 2017, Langlois and Maheu met with the agent at La Medusa, a restaurant on Drummond St., to discuss the distribution of drugs in the Outaouais region. The agent learned that Langlois claimed to have title over drug trafficking in Petite Nation, a regional county municipality in the Outaouais region and was partners in the nearly 300,000 meth pills Maheu sold as well as six kilograms of hashish.
Langlois was sentenced to an overall prison term of 58 months.
When Bédard asked him if he understood what he was admitting to the septuagenarian biker said “yes” in a long and drawn-out way that left Bédard unimpressed.
“Yeah, yeah,” Langlois said when the judge asked him a second time.
The same undercover agent met with Louis Matte, 52, the other Hells Angel who pleaded guilty on Wednesday, on Oct. 17, 2017 to discuss drug trafficking in Ontario near the Quebec border. Matte gave the agent a sketch of the territory he controlled in Ontario and the agent agreed to pay him a tax on all the meth pills he sold on Matte’s turf. The agent ended up paying Matte $22,000 over the course of four meetings.
Prosecutor Marjorie Delagrave and defence lawyer Gilles Doré made a common suggestion that Matte should be sentenced to a 22-month prison term. Doré asked Bédard to delay sentencing the biker until January because a close relative of Matte’s is very ill.
The last person to plead guilty on Wednesday was Carl Ranger, a member of the Repentigny police who was suspended following his arrest this year. Ranger met with the undercover agent in August 2017 and asked if he could borrow $6,000. The agent said the loan came with a cost and asked Ranger to look up a licence plate number for him in a police database. While on duty, on Oct. 3, 2017, Ranger handed the agent the information he was looking for in exchange for $1,100. Later on, in February, Ranger offered to transport 10,000 meth pills from Lachenaie to Boucherville and returned with $10,000 from a drug dealer. He was paid $1,000 for his work.
Prosecutor Françis Pilotte asked that Ranger be sentenced to an 18-month prison term. His defence lawyer asked that Bédard delay his decision on the sentence until January as well.
Included among the people who pleaded guilty on Wednesday was Carmelo Sacco, a 36-year-old resident of Ste-Adèle who admitted to being the leader of a methamphetamine trafficking ring that operated in eastern Montreal and the southern part of the Lanaudière region.
Prosecutor Juliana Côté described how accounting records seized in Project Objection revealed the group led by Sacco sold more than 2.5 million meth pills and seven kilos of cocaine between Oct. 7, 2017 and Feb. 18 of this year. The group is estimated to have made $1.7 million in sales during the same period. Sacco was sentenced to an overall prison term of 53 months.