It's the Hells Angels: They want their stuff back

The bikers are asking an Ontario court to return the brand-name goods seized by police in 2006 to the club's U.S. headquarters


From Monday's Globe and Mail

March 16, 2009 at 4:41 AM EDT

The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club goes to great lengths to protect its winged skull logo, and today it will employ lawyers in an effort to gain possession of a treasure trove of death-head-emblazoned items seized in the culmination of an 18-month police investigation called Project Tandem.

With the help of an Oshawa chapter member turned police informant, $3-million worth of drugs were seized and 26 people were arrested, including 15 members of the Hells Angels mostly from the Niagara and Simcoe County chapters in late 2006. Also seized were several volumes of sensitive police documents, an assortment of death-head-motif belt buckles, Christmas cards and jewellery, as well as jackets adorned with Hells Angels patches.

The documents and much of the clothing and jewellery came from the home of Gerald (Skinny) Ward, a leader and founding member of the Niagara chapter, whose sentencing for drug trafficking will begin today before Mr. Justice John McMahon of the Ontario Superior Court.

The judge is also expected to address the club's application to have the items returned to the Hells Angels headquarters in the United States and the Crown's application for the forfeiture of what they deem offence-related property.

"The symbolic force of [the Hells Angels brand] has a very real and practical effect, and as a matter of public interest we're obliged to keep it out of circulation," Crown attorney Tom Andreopoulos said.

The Hells Angels have a long tradition of staunchly defending their brand, but their application to have these items returned appears to be a first.

Calls to the lawyer representing the club, Ryan Naimark, were not returned.

The club made headlines three years ago when it sued Walt Disney, a company also notorious for its vigorous trademark protection, over a movie called Wild Hogs.

The film was then in the planning stages, but lawyers claimed that characters in the script infringed on trademarks of the club's name and logo.

The movie was released in 2007. It starred John Travolta and Martin Lawrence and none of the characters were portrayed as members of the Hells Angels.

Canadian chapters of the Hells Angels make an annual contribution of $200, while members contribute $20, to the club's American headquarters toward trademark protection, transcripts from the trials of other club members show.

A message appeared on the club's website in 2003, according to court documents, warning that the club's name and logo were owned by the club's U.S. headquarters, and "should we find you using any of these, we will hunt you down and hurt you."

A copy of Hells Angels World Rules seized during Project Tandem states that members found selling an item bearing the death head logo or the words "Hells Angels" without written consent from headquarters will be thrown out dishonourably.

And the Project Tandem police informant, Steven Gault, told a Whitby courtroom last year that when members are thrown out, any tattoos bearing the club's name or logo are covered or removed, sometimes with a hot knife or a cheese grater, Mr. Andreopoulos said.

Mr. Gault was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for his efforts, and is now in the witness protection program.

In its application to have the property returned, the Hell's Angels Corporation states that it is the lawful owner of the property and "that the continued detention of this property is no longer required for the purposes of any investigation or a preliminary hearing, trial or other proceeding." (Mr. Ward is the last person arrested during Project Tandem to be sentenced.)

The motorcycle club has struggled with the nuances of trademark law in the past: The Hell's Angels Corporation has trademarked the logo "Hells Angels," without and apostrophe.

But the possibility of a lapse in grammar is dispelled in the FAQ section of the club's website, which explains that an apostrophe is not needed.

"That would be true if there was only one Hell, but life and history has taught us that there are many versions and forms of Hell," it reads.