The sentencing of John A. Beal, the former head of the Calvert County Hells Angels motorcycle club, was postponed last week after Beal fired his attorney and filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, alleging he was misinformed about what his sentence would be.
In January, Beal, 38, pleaded guilty in federal court in Greenbelt to possession with intent to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine and to being a felon in possession of a firearm.
But when Beal, who had assumed he would be sentenced to no more than four years in prison, learned he would have to serve closer to 17 years under strict federal sentencing guidelines, he promptly fired his attorney, Joshua R. Treem.
On May 7, Beal filed a motion to withdraw his plea, said his new attorney, Tim Sullivan.
Sullivan said he asked U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. to postpone Thursday's scheduled sentencing so that he could familiarize himself with the case and prepare his argument that Beal was misled about the potential sentence. Prosecutors are expected to respond to the motion, Sullivan said.
Whether to grant such a motion is left almost entirely to the discretion of the judge.
Vickie LeDuc, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore, said a new sentencing date has not been set. Treem, Beal's former attorney, declined to comment.
"[Beal] thought he would get a sentence that would be somewhere between two and four years, and he relied upon that in order to enter his guilty plea because that's what his attorney told him," Sullivan said.
In a standard plea agreement in the federal court system, a defendant's criminal history can increase the length of possible sentences. Federal courts, however, cannot consider crimes that occurred more than 15 years ago.
One of Beal's previous convictions was just inside that time limit by a matter of months, Sullivan said.
"That triggered him being what we call a career offender," Sullivan said.
Treem and federal prosecutors had overlooked the technicality, which in Beal's case could spell at least an extra decade in prison, Sullivan said.
"In federal court, with the mandatory sentencing guidelines, you have to be very careful how you deal with cases, even if you take it to trial, because if you lose, you're going to get crushed," he said.
A spokeswoman with the U.S. attorney's office declined to make the prosecutors, Jane Erisman and Barbara Skalla, available for comment.
The motion is the latest in a series of legal maneuvers that followed Beal's arrest last summer after two undercover agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives infiltrated the biker club, based in North Beach.
On May 3, 2003, the agents accompanied several members of the Warlock Motorcycle Club, who were under investigation, to the clubhouse of the Hells Angels on Route 4 near Owings, according to court documents.
The Warlocks and the agents went to the Hells Angels club to attend a party in honor of the Blessing of the Bikes, a gathering of several biker clubs and other motorcycle enthusiasts that takes place every spring in North Beach.
At the party, the agents say, they saw Beal, the president of the local club, sell a plastic baggie containing one-eighth of an ounce of cocaine to a member of the Warlocks for $180, according to court documents.
The undercover agents also said they saw a semiautomatic pistol on top of a television set in the living room of the Hells Angels clubhouse during the party.
Agents later seized two loaded semiautomatic handguns and a shotgun from the clubhouse, according to court documents.
A spokeswoman for the bureau declined to make the two agents available for an interview, saying that to discuss how the two infiltrated the biker clubs would give away their techniques on how to execute such a sting.
Beal was arrested July 24, and a federal grand jury indicted him soon thereafter on charges of distributing cocaine, distributing and conspiring to distribute methamphetamine, and being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition.
Because he had been convicted in 1988 of battery, resisting arrest and carrying a concealed gun, Beal was forbidden to own a firearm.
After a hearing in January, Williams ordered Beal, who had been free on bond since just before Thanksgiving, taken into custody by U.S. marshals pending sentencing.
He has been at the Prince George's County Correctional Center in Upper Marlboro since then, Sullivan said.
Lewis J. Hall, 35, of Owings, vice president of the same Hells Angels motorcycle club, pleaded guilty in federal court in April to distributing methamphetamine and illegally owning a firearm, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
Prosecutors said Hall also gave a small amount of methamphetamine to one of the undercover agents on May 3, 2003, at the Hells Angels clubhouse in Owings. He was arrested last July along with Beal.
Authorities said they found a loaded handgun in Hall's home, which was illegal because he had a previous felony conviction. Hall faces up to 30 years in prison at his June 23 sentencing in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.
The Calvert Hells Angels no longer use the Owings location as their clubhouse.