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Ottawa to keep genuine Hells Angels paraphernalia

JOSH WINGROVE From Wednesday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2009 03:01AM EDT

The Canadian government will hold onto some genuine Hells Angels gear, after an Ontario Superior Court ruled yesterday that paraphernalia seized in a sprawling criminal investigation three years ago was forfeited by the bikers.

The ruling rejected the argument of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation - the criminal organization's California-based corporate entity - that items bearing its closely guarded, trademarked death skull logo belong to the group, not its accused members, and should be returned.

The Crown considers it the final major step in the prosecution of Project Tandem, an 18-month probe that led to the raid of clubhouses in Toronto, Oshawa, Windsor and Niagara in late 2006, producing 26 arrests and a series of convictions.

"It was a fitting end to the case, and the final fall of the Tandem Titans, as we call them," Crown prosecutor Tom Andreopoulos said.

Madam Justice Gladys Pardu considered whether clothing, jewellery and other seized items bearing the logos can be considered "offence-related property" and be forfeited to the federal Crown. The Criminal Code defines offence-related property as anything used in connection with, or intended to be used in, the commission of a crime.

The corporation argued that anything with the trademarked Hells Angels badge is borrowed by a member from the organization, and thereby had no tie with criminal offences committed by its members.

The judge rejected that argument. She ruled that while the items may not have been worn during offences, such as drug deals with an undercover officer, they were nevertheless intended to be used in criminal activity. The Hells Angels were classified as a criminal organization in Canada last year.

"The use of these items is intended to further the organizational purposes. It is used to intimidate and extort, and to serve as a badge of trustworthiness in the conduct of drug deals. It matters not ... that the person actually handling drugs does not wear the item," she wrote.

The judge also said findings of fact at earlier criminal trials applied at the property hearing.

Hells Angels lawyer Ryan Naimark said his clients have not decided whether to appeal.