The two highest-ranking members of the North Beach chapter of the Hells Angels, arrested last year in an undercover federal sting that wasn't meant to target them, are now behind bars after the leader was sentenced to nearly four years in prison Monday.
The sentences against John A. Beal and Lewis J. Hall, imposed in separate proceedings a month apart, were far less than the maximums both were facing, and it's unclear what impact, if any, the incarcerations will have on the active local motorcycle club, which state and county local enforcement officials have long monitored -- some club members say over-monitored -- for unscrupulous activity.
Either way, the sentencings mark the final action locally in a nationwide sting by federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that originally targeted another motorcycle club, the Warlocks Outlaw Motorcycle Organization.
Two agents infiltrated the Warlocks, gained their trust and became "fully patched" members, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Greenbelt. The agents subsequently were invited into the closest circles of the otherwise guarded and closely-knit clubs, where they witnessed activity that resulted in the arrests of Beal and Hall last year.
Beal, the president of the local Hells Angels chapter, was sentenced on cocaine and firearms charges, the U.S. attorney's office said. He is facing a sentence of up to 17 years. His attorney, Tim Sullivan, said Beal may serve his term at the federal correctional institute in Morgantown, W.Va., and be eligible for release in about 21/2 years.
"I think it would be a fair statement to say that if someone was looking at 14 to 17 years and got four years, they'd be happy," Sullivan said of Beal's mood at the sentencing.
Beal, 38, of Dunkirk, was given a 46-month sentence by U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. and ordered not to have any contact with the club for two of the three years of his supervised release after that. He pleaded guilty Jan. 5 to distribution of cocaine and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
On June 23, Hall, 34, of Owings, vice president of the same motorcycle club, was sentenced to five months in prison, followed by five months of home detention and three years of supervised release.
He was also ordered by the same judge to pay a $3,000 fine and not to have any contact with the club during his supervised release. He faced up to 30 years. He pleaded guilty in federal court April 6 to distributing drugs and illegally owning a firearm.
Beal's sentencing was postponed in May after he filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, alleging he was misinformed about what his potential sentence could be.
Beal had assumed he would be sentenced to no more than four years in prison, but when he learned he would have to serve closer to 17 years under strict federal sentencing guidelines, he promptly fired his attorney, Joshua R. Treem.
The motion, which was withdrawn Monday, was the latest in a series of legal maneuvers that followed Beal's arrest.
On May 3, 2003, the undercover agents accompanied several members of the Warlocks to the clubhouse of the Hells Angels, then on Route 4 near Owings, according to court documents.
The undercover agents went with the Warlocks 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 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 agents also said they saw a semiautomatic pistol on top of a television set in the living room of the clubhouse during the party. Agents later seized two loaded semiautomatic handguns and a shotgun from the clubhouse, according to court documents.
Beal later told authorities that the firearms were strategically placed inside the clubhouse so that members would have immediate access to them in case they were attacked, according to the U.S. attorney's office. Because he had been convicted in 1988 of battery, resisting arrest and carrying a concealed gun, Beal was forbidden to own a firearm.
Prosecutors said that at Beal's bidding, Hall gave a small amount of methamphetamine to one of the undercover agents during the sting at the clubhouse in Owings. He was arrested July 24, 2003, along with Beal. Authorities said they found a loaded handgun in Hall's home, which was illegal because he also had a previous felony conviction.
ATF officials have declined to make the two undercover agents available for interviews, saying that although the cases against Beal and Hall are over, they do not want to reveal any secrets about their infiltration tactics.