William "Billy Wadd" Smith, a former boss of the Devils Diciples bike club, was so horrified by the killings of the jeweler, his three children and their grandmother that he testified in state court against his own nephew, John Wolfenbarger, who was one of the shooters. But Smith also owned a west side bar called the Copa Lounge that was a popular biker hangout. What's never been revealed before is that after the Livonia killings, Smith allowed federal agents to secretly wire for sound and video the back room of the Copa, where prosecutors say members of the Outlaws, Highwaymen, and other alleged bike gangs openly discussed past and future crimes.
"Everybody hung out there," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane Marion, who prosecuted the Outlaws and who begins a six- to eight-week racketeering trial today for six alleged Highwaymen leaders. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had the Copa's back room under electronic surveillance in 2003 and 2004, Marion said. Though the evidence gathered at the Copa proved most helpful in the Outlaws case, in which 16 members and associates were indicted, it was an early starting point for both the Outlaws and Highwaymen investigations and led to the conviction of one Highwaymen member in state court, she said.
The six alleged Highwaymen leaders whose trial begins today are among more than 80 alleged Highwaymen defendants and associates charged after a lengthy FBI investigation in one of the largest cases ever brought in federal court in Detroit. Defendants include attorneys and former police officers accused of corruption. Charges include conspiracy to commit murder, assault, drug dealing, and interstate transport of stolen goods.
John Wolfenbarger of Detroit and Dennis D. Lincoln of Flint, the two men convicted in the Dec. 21, 2002, home invasion and execution-style slayings of Livonia jeweler Marco Pesce, his mother, and his three pre-teen children, were not associated with the Highwaymen or the Outlaws.But Wolfenbarger, 38, now serving a life sentence for murder, went to the Copa Lounge after the killings and made comments suggesting he was involved, Wolfenbarger's jury was told. The next day, he showed his uncle, Billy "Wadd" Smith, who owned the bar, a bag of jewelry, prompting the longtime Devils Diciple, whose members intentionally misspell "disciple," to call a Dearborn police officer he knew. Smith later testified at the murder trial. Smith, who keeps his whereabouts a secret, made no mention of allowing federal agents to wire the Copa in a recent episode of Gangland, in which he was featured on cable television's History Channel. He would not discuss the issue for this article because federal law enforcement officials advised him not to, said Smith's spokesman Bill Flowers. Donald Dawkins, a spokesman for the ATF, said Friday he would seek information about the electronic surveillance at the bar but later did not return phone calls. Today, the long-vacant Copa on Schoolcraft is a burned-out hulk of a building, just past the Outer Drive exit from westbound Interstate 96. None of the videos that federal agents secretly recorded there have appeared in court and it's not clear they will ever be made public. All but one or two of the defendants in the Outlaws case have pleaded guilty to racketeering, drug dealing or other charges, and none has gone to trial. The videos aren't directly relevant to the charges in the Highwaymen trial, Marion said. U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds, who will preside over the Highwaymen trial, said in a March 1 opinion and order that Smith was "a longtime, 'old school' member of several different motorcycle clubs," who allowed the ATF and the FBI to wire his bar. "Numerous conversations about gun and drug deals were taped," Edmunds said in an order that denied a defense motion to suppress certain wiretap evidence. "Smith dealt primarily with the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, but his friendships extended to members of other clubs as well. Smith provided information on various members of these clubs and participated in controlled purchases of narcotics and firearms."
Marion said that because Smith owned the Copa, federal officials did not need a judge's permission to wire the bar, as they would to tap a telephone. But under a restriction that must have been nerve-wracking for the informant Smith, the video and audio recorders could only operate at times when Smith was present with the bikers discussing their deals. Spokesmen for the Highwaymen have said some members may have committed crimes but have denied the club is a criminal organization. In fact, they say the club is known for raising money for charities such as the Make a Wish Foundation. "There seems to be this perception out there that the Highwaymen are this massive, violent, uncontrollable organization, when that's not the case," then-Highwaymen president David "Ike" Simon, who is not a defendant in the case, told The Detroit News in 2007.
But the Highwaymen, founded in Detroit in 1954, is still seen by many as an outlaw among outlaw clubs -- banned from a federation of Detroit clubs founded by a former Outlaws president.
The club, Detroit's largest, gained infamy in the 1970s when some members were convicted of bombing and raiding the homes and clubhouses of rivals. Until the indictments, the Highwaymen had upwards of 100 members. It has chapters outside of Michigan in Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Indiana.
Today, alleged current or former leaders Aref "Steve" Nagi; Joseph "Little Joe" Whiting; Michael "Cocoa" Cicchetti; Leonard "Dad" Moore; Gary Ball Jr.; and Anthony "Mad Anthony" Clark are to stand trial in racketeering and other alleged crimes. Whiting, who has been held at Milan, is the only defendant still in custody.
Ronald Hatmaker, a former Detroit president of the club, was also to stand trial before he pleaded guilty to racketeering last week. He has not agreed to testify against his co-defendants