was left with rather inconclusive, and in some instances, scanty and highly unreliable evidence tying the Building, as opposed to the individuals, to the felony narcotics violations alleged. The Government ostensibly believes that the confessed criminality of the individual members of the HAMC group, and perhaps even their unorthodox lifestyle, should have enveloped the Building in a cloud of criminality in the jurors' mind. Such, however, was not the case. Based on the evidence presented at trial, viewed in the light most favorable to the claimants, I can not conclude that the jury's decision was unreasonable in the least and find no reason in the record to grant the Government's motion for judgment as a matter of law, or its alternative motion for a new trial.
THE EVIDENCE AT TRIAL
I. The Government's Direct Case
In order to assess the Government's motion, and the sufficiency of the evidence in this case, it is necessary to carefully and accurately set forth the evidence, or lack of evidence, presented at the trial of this action. At a forfeiture trial, the government bears the initial burden of demonstrating probable cause to believe that the real property at issue was used or was intended to be used to commit or facilitate the commission of felony narcotics violations. To meet its burden in this case, the Government presented three experts, an undercover agent and a cooperating witness to establish the requisite nexus between the Building and (1) Sandy Alexander's admitted cocaine sales, and (2) the alleged club-wide conspiracy to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine.
A. The Government's Expert Witnesses
1. State Investigator Louis Barbaria
The Government's first witness was New York State Police Investigator Louis G. Barbaria, Jr., a self-styled expert on outlaw motorcycle gangs, including the HAMC. His opinions about the structure and practices of HAMC and the NYC Chapter were based, in part, on intelligence gathered during the nationwide investigation known as "Operation Roughrider," and his debriefings of former HAMC members and cooperating witnesses, including William "Wild Bill" Medeiros, a founding member of the NYC Chapter of HAMC and Robert Banning, a member of the Bridgeport HAMC Chapter.
The parties to this action had stipulated that from the NYC Chapter's inception in 1969 until March 25, 1984, Sandy Alexander was the president of the Chapter. Stipulated Facts ("Stip. Facts") P 6. He was succeeded by William Medeiros, who left the post four months later. Id. at P 53. Paul Casey then assumed the presidency. Id. at P 24. Barbaria testified that the other officers of the NYC Chapter of HAMC were the vice-president, secretary, treasurer, road captain and security officer.
"Socially [and] business-wise," the clubhouse, according to Barbaria, "was basically the hub of [HAMC] activity." Tr.
at 228. "Church meetings," mandatory weekly club meetings of HAMC members, were, according to Barbaria, the "center of Hells Angels activities." Tr. at 172. The NYC Chapter of HAMC held its weekly church meetings in the clubhouse located on the first floor of the Building. Minutes of the meetings were kept (Tr. at 172-73), and attendance was noted therein. Tr. at 176. The actual minutes of meetings from July 1982 to March 1985 were seized during the May 2, 1985 raid and were admitted into evidence. Tr. at 173.
Barbaria also testified about the "lifestyle" of NYC Chapter HAMC members, and described it as consisting mainly of motorcycle runs, parties and drugs. Tr. at 206-07, 465-66. According to Barbaria, very few of the members held steady jobs, and many simply loitered around the clubhouse. Tr. at 207-08. He further described the travel by members all over the country, and indeed, the world, to attend anniversary parties of HAMC chapters. Tr. at 210-11. He further testified that methamphetamine, also referred to as "crank" or "speed," was the "fiber" of the NYC Chapter of HAMC during the period October 12, 1984 to May 2, 1985, and would be passed freely at parties. Tr. at 465-66.
To finance this lifestyle of constant partying and drugs, the NYC Chapter, according to Barbaria, manufactured and distributed methamphetamine. Barbaria described the NYC Chapter's methamphetamine enterprise as follows:
A. Well, basically, there were three people within the New York City Chapter of the Hells Angels that controlled the acquisition of, the obtaining of, the drugs and the distribution within the membership, and those three people were Mr. Sandy Alexander, who was basically the head of this drug organization, Mr. Howie Weisbrod, the vice president at the time -- he distributed the drugs primarily to other members of the Hells Angels -- and the third individual was Mr. Paul Casey, who is in the courtroom here also, and he was primarily the manufacturer.
Tr. at 215. The other members of the NYC Chapter, according to Barbaria, participated in the methamphetamine conspiracy "by obtaining the drugs from this organization and then [going] out and doing their own distribution." Id.
Barbaria stated that the Weisbrod-Alexander-Casey run methamphetamine project began to breakdown in 1983, and "by the end of 1984, . . . wasn't effective anymore . . . [and] didn't operate along [the same] lines." Tr. at 216. He further testified that some members became frustrated with restrictions on methamphetamine distribution imposed by the Weisbrod-Alexander-Casey control group, and formed a "Nomad" chapter in October 1984, to distribute greater quantities of methamphetamine than was permitted in the NYC Chapter. Tr. at 451-53.
According to Barbaria, the NYC Chapter's methamphetamine manufacturing and distribution activities continued up until the time of the May 2, 1985 raid, albeit in a different manner. After the breakdown of the Weisbrod-Alexander-Casey control group, individual members distributed methamphetamine obtained from other sources. Tr. at 216. Barbaria based his conclusion that the methamphetamine conspiracy continued until the date of the raid on several factors: (1) information derived during Operation Roughrider; (2) drug purchases made by an FBI undercover agent from various members during that period; and (3) certain physical evidence seized from apartments in the Building during the May 2, 1985 raid. With respect to the physical evidence, Barbaria deemed the high purity of the .39 grams of methamphetamine found in HAMC club member Brendan Manning's apartment especially telling. Barbaria opined that the purity of those narcotics was "consistent with someone who's in the distribution end of an enterprise." Tr. at 218. He also stated that the lifestyle of parties, travel and motorcycle runs did not end with the breakdown of the Weisbrod-Alexander-Casey enterprise, and thus, the members "had to make their money from some source." Tr. at 218.
On cross-examination, Barbaria admitted that there was a "drought" in methamphetamine during the fall of 1984 to spring 1985 because Paul Casey had stopped manufacturing (Tr. at 459); that there was a club rule against discussing illegal activities during church meetings (Tr. at 337); that several members and their spouses or live-in girlfriends were employed (Tr. at 373-98); that generally a representative of a chapter, not the entire chapter, traveled to out-of-state HAMC anniversary parties or events; that the Building was not "a lap of luxury" (Tr. at 348, 418); that he could not tell when the alleged cutting agents found in Sandy Alexander's apartment had last been used (Tr. at 286-87); and that the grinder found there was not in itself indicative of a methamphetamine conspiracy. Tr. at 288.
2. Sergeant Terry Katz
Maryland State Police Sergeant Terry Katz, an expert on drug conspiracies, offered testimony on the significance of the physical evidence seized from the Building during the May 2, 1985 raid. In the apartments of Paul Casey, Sandy Alexander, Brendan Manning and Michael Manfredonio, FBI agents found small amounts of high purity methamphetamine, and substances, such as mannitol, inositol and dextrose, which are commonly used as drug dilutants or "cut." Stipulated Facts PP 9, 26, 46, 50. The agents also retrieved from those apartments (1) small amounts of cocaine; (2) clean vials; (3) a small grinder; (4) two small spiral notebooks with handwritten notations; (5) a Bearcat scanner; (6) two telephone wire testers; (7) a hand held bug detector; and (8) a bug sweeper. In addition, FBI agents found two Ohaus triple beam balances and an Ohaus dial-a-gram balance from the third floor apartment of Martha "Marty" Grabe, a tenant in the Building who was not an HAMC member.
At trial, based on stipulated facts, the Government offered a chart listing the items seized from the various apartments, but presented no evidence as to where in the apartments the items were found. Moreover, the Government did not introduce the actual seized items into evidence. Near the end of the trial, the parties realized that certain items had been returned to the claimants after the criminal trials, and the claimants introduced some of these into evidence during Paul Casey's testimony.
Sergeant Katz testified as follows about the seized items:
(1) highly pure methamphetamine such as that found in Brendan Manning's apartment strongly suggests that the possessor is very close to the original source of the drug's manufacture (Tr. 1044, 1053);
(2) cutting agents are used by drug distributors to increase profits by increasing the weight of the drugs sold (Tr. at 1044-45);