by Van Smith
Published in City Paper, Feb. 13, 2013
The FBI has a long, storied history of infiltrating and prosecuting the Outlaws Motorcycle Club (OMC) as an organized-crime gang, including some high-profile cases in recent years. On Jan. 31, a Baltimore man put himself squarely in the middle of one such probe in Philadelphia by allegedly phoning in threats in an effort to collect money owed for about two pounds of methamphetamine, court documents show. What the Baltimore man didn’t know is that the person he allegedly threatened was pretending to be a biker-gang member and was actually working undercover to infiltrate the OMC on behalf of the FBI.
The man who made the alleged phone calls, 42-year-old Michael James Privett of 6600 Gary Ave. in East Baltimore’s O’Donnell Heights neighborhood, was charged with “collection of extensions of credit by extortionate means,” which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Privett appeared in Maryland U.S. District Court on Feb. 5, after his arrest, and his case was transferred to federal court in Philadelphia.
Records in the case also document threats over the meth deal made by a second person calling from Baltimore, but City Paper has been unable to determine whether that person has been arrested and charged too. The assistant U.S. attorneys handling the case, Jason Bologna and Robert Livermore, said in an email that “our investigation is ongoing, so we don’t have any comment at this time.”
The threats were received by the undercover’s phone just after the president of OMC’s Philadelphia chapter, Roland L. “Bugs” Sells of Churchville, Md., was arrested Jan. 31 on federal meth-dealing charges.
Sells, who was paroled in 1978 after a 1972 second-degree murder conviction in Ohio, had been keeping the meth at his Churchville home, near Belair, but was worried that his wife knew about it, so he transferred the drugs to the OMC clubhouse in Philadelphia on Jan. 17. While there, according to court documents, he told other OMC members, including the undercover, that “this shit can’t be in the clubhouse,” and “if the bosses find out, I’m going to be dead and so are you.” In subsequent days, the undercover and Sells spoke repeatedly about how the meth would be sold, and on Jan. 31 they met at the Philadelphia parking lot where Sells was arrested.
Almost immediately after Sells’ arrest, the undercover’s phone started receiving threatening messages. The first, allegedly left by Privett, referred to the undercover’s property being held hostage until payment was made. “I don’t got time for games, man,” the message said, “You want your bikes back, you need to come up with my money. Can’t get a hold of Bugs. Guess I have to start taking people apart, that’s all. See you around.”
The next message came from someone else using a Baltimore-area phone and was more direct: “You can believe one thing. You can fuck with me all you want to, but motherfucker, trust me, your family is in danger. Fuck you.”
The last one included in the court documents, also allegedly left by Privett, starts out by listing two street addresses, then says, “I’ll have the address for your son’s house in Florida this week. I got the tag numbers, I got your bike, I got your trailer. I want my money. Your whole family is going to be in danger if not. You need to pick up the fucking phone. You’re supposed to meet Bugs today; now he’s not answering the phone either. As far as I’m concerned, both you all in the same boat.”
Court documents reflect that Privett has a prior criminal history for second-degree assault and malicious destruction of property, and that he’s 6 foot 3 inches and 240 pounds. A man with the same name was being initiated into the Chosen Sons Motorcycle Club at the Haven Place strip club in Baltimore on April 24, 2008, when a brawl erupted, resulting in the shooting death of Norman Stamp, a 44-year Baltimore police veteran and co-founder of the club, according to press accounts at the time. Attempts to confirm Privett’s association with the Chosen Sons—which, when it was formed in the 1960s, was only open to law enforcers—were unsuccessful. Court documents in Privett’s case in Philadelphia describe him as a “patched” OMC member.
The Philadelphia probe comes on the heels of large FBI-investigated cases brought last year against the OMC in Georgia and Indiana. The Indiana case involves scores of defendants accused of running “an extensive criminal network” that “‘pumped a deadly mixture of drugs, violence, and fraud’” into “Indianapolis and throughout the Midwest,” according to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office there, while using “violence and the threat of force to collect personal debts from individuals.”
In Georgia, for two years, the FBI used undercovers—including one who was exposed while the probe was underway, thanks to a suspected public corruption leak that put the undercover’s identity in the OMC’s hands—to help build a drugs-and-guns case involving meth and cocaine against OMC members and affiliates. The case agent wrote in court documents that the investigation “uncovered 3 law enforcement officials that are maintaining close, unprofessional relationships” with targeted club members, and that through such relationships, “members often gain information that is obstructive to FBI investigations and dangerous to the safety of FBI informants.”
In the Philadelphia case, though, the FBI undercover ended up in danger not due to a public corruption leak or the OMC’s close relationships with law enforcers, but because two guys in Baltimore, allegedly including Privett, were owed money for meth. It’s a risk that comes with the job—and quickly resulted in criminal consequences for Privett.