Tattoo parlors, strip clubs, demolition companies and even clothing shops.
These are a few of the businesses that members of outlaw motorcycle clubs are increasingly operating to keep a low profile, launder money and expand their influence, Ontario’s police chiefs warn.
Bikers are “comfortable” dropping their patches – the three-piece vests that signify their membership in an outlaw motorcycle club – to run businesses that allow them to launder money while expanding their influence in the business sectors and civil society, according to an Ontario Association of The Chiefs of Police (OACP) report on organized crime.
“As the report indicates, the threat of violence associated with motorcycle gangs would be obviously a very big concern to the public and the public’s perception,” said OPP Supt. Karen Gonneau, who chairs the association’s intelligence and organized crime committee.
“This way if they involve themselves. . . with a legitimate business, the public would be not reluctant to necessarily utilize that business. That keeps the avenue open for money laundering through a regular business model, so they can hide in plain sight. ”
Bikers are now commonly involved in the towing industry, clothing retail, tattoo parlors, construction and demolition, and entertainment venues including strip clubs, Gonneau said.
Biker analyst and author Yves Lavigne said outlaw motorcycle club members have always been involved in industries in which they have an interest such as motorcycle repair, scrap yards and tattoo parlors.
“You don’t see these guys running an IT company. They’re running the stuff they like to do, ”Lavigne said.
“Believe it or not, they’re hard-working people. . . They’re working class. ”
Bikers also launder money in real estate, said Lavigne, who has penned three books on the Hells Angels.
But bikers do make an effort to improve their public image, such as charity toy collections, although they’ve scaled back in recent years as they try to keep a lower profile, they added.
The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police report, Out of the Shadows, details how bikers and other organized crime groups, such as street gangs and the Mafia, operate and are evolving.
The report comes on the heels of a recent warning from Ontario’s top biker cop about the swelling ranks of outlaw motorcycle clubs across the province.
Expanding membership in support clubs and the creation of new ones to do the bidding of the main gangs and help insulate them from the law is fueling the “exponential growth,” said Det. Staff Sgt. Scott Wade, head of the OPP’s biker enforcement unit.
Outlaw motorcycle clubs are involved in all aspects of drug trafficking, from importing to production, of cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl. Bikers engage in intimidation, illegal gambling, prostitution, human trafficking and money laundering, the association report said.
The 29-page report warns that the violence associated with outlaw motorcycle clubs will continue as bikers come into conflict with rival clubs and other criminal groups vying for control of illegal markets and turf.
In 2012, London police got a battle between the Hells Angels and a street gang was to blame for a series of arson attacks at biker-owned businesses that led to the shooting of a Hells Angels member near the club’s former Gray Street clubhouse and gunshots fired at a private home owned by a man with ties to the Outlaws.
Escalating violence and property crimes prompted the OPP in 2018 to launch Operation Hobart, a two-year probe into an alleged multimillion-dollar gambling operation that police contend was run by members of the Hells Angels and an alleged Toronto crime family.
During the investigation, the largest into illegal sports betting in Canada, Hells Angels member Michael Deabauta-Schulde, 32, was gunned down outside a Mississauga gym on March 11, 2019, while under police surveillance.
Thirty-two people, including three alleged members of the Hells Angels, were charged with offenses, ranging from money laundering and bookmaking to tax evasion, in the bust that led to the seizure of $ 36 million in assets, including financial assets of three land development companies.
Five Londoners were swept up in the crackdown, including alleged Hells Angels member Robert Barletta, who survived an attempt on his life on March 30, 2020, when two gunmen opened fire on him outside a Toronto home. At least three homes linked to the former strip club owner have been destroyed by suspicious fires since police launched Operation Hobart.
Gonneau said the aim of the organized crime report is to inform the public about what’s happening in their communities.
“Whether it’s the public or police service boards or mayors, it’s an aspect of keeping people in the province safe and (providing) an awareness of this activity,” she said.