Former Gary attorney convicted in federal biker gang trial

2012-12-07T19:00:00Z 2012-12-09T00:19:04Z Former Gary attorney convicted in federal biker gang trialSt. Louis Post-Dispatch Report
December 07, 2012 7:00 pm  • 

ST. LOUIS | A former Gary attorney was convicted of attempted murder and conspiracy in connection with his role in what federal prosecutors called a violent "outlaw biker" gang in a trial that netted the conviction of six others Friday.

Jerry Peteet, 49, of Gary, who had the alias "Angel," was among the defendants connected to the Wheels of Soul motorcycle club. Peteet, a former club lawyer, was a trial lawyer for 22 years.

Authorities said Peteet tried to shoot and kill Robert Taylor on May 28, 2009, in a parking lot outside the former Bennigan's Grill and Tavern, 500 E. Fifth Ave. in Gary.

The federal racketeering conspiracy trial, which began Oct. 18 before Chief U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry in St. Louis, lasted more than 30 days. More than 60 witnesses testified about the Wheels of Soul, a nationally prominent mixed-race club boasting about 400 members.

After eight days of deliberations, jurors found all seven defendants — including St. Louis chapter President Dominic Henley — guilty of conspiracy through acts of racketeering. Several of the men also were convicted of other charges, attempted murder and conspiracy to murder. One, Anthony Robinson, of Chicago, was convicted of murder.

Prosecutors did not obtain convictions on seven of the 24 charges brought. Most of those were related to the Aug. 15, 2009, shooting of a rival motorcycle gang member in St. Louis. Lawyers for Henley and the other member involved, Timothy Balle, of St. Louis, claimed self-defense.

Robinson's murder conviction requires a sentence of life in prison without parole. No sentencing date was set. Others convicted Friday are James C. Smith, 66, of Philadelphia; Jerry Elkins, 49, of Aurora Colo.; and Marshall Fry, 34, of Lewisville, Texas.

Most of the two dozen men charged in connection with the case already had pleaded guilty of various charges.

In closing arguments Monday and Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sirena Wissler painted a picture of a gang that was out to control every city in which it operated, targeting rivals with violent acts ranging from drive-by shootings to armed robberies of the leather jackets, vests and patches that mark a motorcycle club member.

Their feuds spilled into restaurants, bars and private parties, where verbal disputes or minor perceived slights would escalate to shootouts and nearly everyone, it seemed, was armed with a handgun.

They collectively faced accusations that they were involved in fatal shootings in St. Louis in 2009, Chicago that same year and Marion, Ohio, in 2011. They also were implicated in other violence, including an aborted plan to attack a rival gang at a party in East St. Louis in January 2011.

Wissler said that despite the gang's concerns about a racketeering investigation, some members and associates were caught on wiretaps — and a confidential informer's hidden recording device — discussing plans to commit for murder and other violent acts.

That informer, cooperating as part of an unrelated 2007 criminal case in Missouri state court, joined Wheels with Henley and others when they formed the St. Louis chapter in 2009. He taped Wheels meetings and private conversations in St. Louis and on the regional and national levels.

During the trial, Wissler and the prosecuting team were flanked by stacks of evidence in banker's boxes, including the black leather vests of Wheels members, sinister-looking clubs, and guns and bullet-resistant vests.

They also were flanked by security officers, as hints of a “contract” to kill them were received during the trial.

U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan said, “Threats to witnesses and informants have been an undercurrent almost from the beginning and it has continued throughout the trial.” Aside from that, he said, “There were specific reports of possible contracts being out on the prosecuting team. They were investigated as thoroughly as you can run something down and in the end we didn't see the need for any greater security than we had provided for in advance of the trial.”

In closing arguments, defense attorneys told jurors their clients did not have the requisite intent or advance knowledge to be guilty of conspiracy. Some said their client were only interested in riding, not crime.

“Tell me what he did, not what he said,” challenged Henley's lawyer, Donnell Smith. Smith suggested that government recordings captured only bluster. “This is a boys club,” he said at one point. “Not a prayer meeting.”

Henley testified he fired in self-defense during the 2009 fatal shooting and denied other crimes. “I looked at it sort of like a fraternity,” he said.

Times staff contributed to this report

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