In March, two months before explosives experts blew open two Woonsocket motorcycle clubs, state police detectives say they listened in on a phone call between the clubs’ leaders. One talked of killing Christine DeSpain — the woman who made guns in her basement.
“I expected her to show up today,” an angry Rodney P. Lambert, head of the Kryptmen club, is quoted in an affidavit as saying, ”…and I would shoot her in the head.”
Obviously, relations between Lambert and a once ally who investigators say played an important role in the clubs’ illicit activities had dangerously soured.
DeSpain, 47, was a regular at the Kryptmen’s clubhouse, an old, fenced-in industrial building on Second Avenue that backed up to a wooded lot. There she rubbed elbows with who she calls “some of the last real men” and discussed shared hobbies: cars, motorcycles — and guns.
DeSpain knew more about manufacturing firearms and how to use them, investigators say, than any biker.
“I like to make things,” DeSpain said during a recent interview, the orange Bradley kit car she rebuilt parked outside the coffee shop. “I hope to have a firearms patent soon — it’s an accessory, like a loading device — whether they make me a felon or not.”
Starting next month, central figures in the Kryptmen and Pagans motorcycle clubs and their associates are scheduled to be arraigned on various drug and gun-running charges. Their arrests in May (along with dozens of others) stemmed from a year-long undercover state police investigation into a potentially violent turf battle brewing between biker gangs.
DeSpain, who says she holds degrees in elementary education and systems engineering (“it’s like computer science”) from two Caribbean schools — and who also serves as tax accountant for the Kryptmen — will be among them.
She faces 34 felony counts, including conspiracy, carrying guns without a license, possession of silencers and illegally selling firearms.
Detectives have told her she’s facing prison time, a realization that has her speaking at times with resignation: “I hope it doesn’t come before the end of tax season, for my clients’ sake.”
Other times she sounds more hopeful: “There’s nothing wrong with me buying [gun] parts and telling you how to do it,” she says, noting that manufacturing weapons in your home is not illegal.
Selling them, however, usually is.
In the predawn hours of May 23, more than 150 state and federal investigators swarmed through Northern Rhode Island making 29 raids of homes and businesses and eventually arresting more than 60 people in the biker investigation the state police called Operation Patched Out.
When investigators raided the three-story house on Arnold Street, in Woonsocket, where DeSpain lives, they found her tax prep business, ExPat Tax Service, on the first floor and, they say, a weapons-manufacturing operation in the basement, complete with a target range.
Among the items they reported seizing: a drill press; two firearm silencers in a priority mail envelope; eight handguns of various makes and calibers; and two rifles, including an AR-15.
Police allege DeSpain made weapons from parts ordered online and then conspired with members of both motorcycle clubs to sell the guns, including to some people under the age of 21.
“She was pushing out 10 or 12 guns a week,” said State Police Lt. Col. Joseph Philbin at the time of DeSpain’s arrest. “And if the demand was more, she’d work more.”
It wasn’t the first time DeSpain’s long-time interest in weapons had landed her in trouble.
On March 5, 2008, agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms knocked on DeSpain’s door at 111 Pulaski Blvd., in Bellingham, Massachusetts, after receiving reports she had purchased “numerous firearms from Rhode Island,” says a police report.
DeSpain led the agents upstairs to her lockbox, where police said they found five pistols of various makes and calibers, from a Ruger .45 caliber to a Walther .22. She also gave them the pistol in her purse, a vintage French military rifle she kept in the rear parlor of the home, and a rifle stored under a bed upstairs.
Agents also found two green ammunition cans “full of assorted calibers of ammunition.”
Records show DeSpain pleaded guilty to nine counts of possession of a firearm without a firearm identification card. A judge placed her on concurrent, five-year terms of probation.
In May of this year, shortly after the police raids and arrests, DeSpain opened a Twitter account.
For her Twitter page background picture DeSpain chose the organizational chart of suspects that the state police created from their biker investigation.
The mugshot of Deric “Tuna” McGuire, the alleged leader of the Pagans, tops the chart. He faces more than 220 counts of narcotics and weapons charges, including that he ran a marijuana and cocaine operation out of the Pagans clubhouse at 91 Mason St., Woonsocket.
DeSpain’s mugshot shares the top row below him with ten other suspects.
DeSpain said she opened the Twitter account simply to correct a reporter’s erroneous comment, attributed to Philbin, that she could push out a new gun in an hour after it was ordered.
“Longer,” was all that DeSpain wrote in her Twitter reply.
But the reason she replied, she says, was because she was angered by the insinuation. “It was the whole idea of being already found guilty, and that I was just making them on demand. It’s all BS.”
Besides, she says, not only does it take time to order parts, but the actual making of a gun “takes two hours.”
That day in March, when the state police wiretap allegedly caught Rodney Lambert telling McGuire he wanted to shoot DeSpain, the issue wasn’t guns.
It was DeSpain’s recent eviction of Lambert’s girlfriend; she rented an apartment from DeSpain and hadn’t paid her rent.
“You throw her out to move somebody else in that you already took rent from to move into that apartment?” Lambert said, according to the affidavit transcript of the conversation. “Ya know what I mean? I was like, what the [expletive]. The rent is four days late?”
In the affidavit, detectives describe Lambert as acting irrationally and note how he told McGuire that he had “done this three times and I’ve gotten away with it.”
Hearing his threats on the phone, state police acted immediately to head off a possible shooting.
Three state police detectives and an ATF agent drove to Woonsocket to watch Lambert. They found him at the Kryptmen clubhouse. As Lambert left, driving a friend’s pickup truck, a detective reported seeing him place something behind the passenger seat.
Minutes later police stopped the pickup truck and reported finding “a loaded 9mm Ruger pistol … wrapped in a towel, behind the passenger seat …”
Lambert was charged with possession of a firearm after being convicted of a crime of violence, carrying a pistol without a license and possessing a gun with altered identification marks.
He remains held without bail and faces additional charges stemming from the state police biker raid.
Reading a copy of the affidavit and Lambert’s apparent desire to kill her, DeSpain appears unphased by the potential danger she faced.
“Yeah, well. I wasn’t afraid of him. I can take care of myself.”