Seven months after wrecking crews erased it from existence, Ontario Provincial announced Wednesday the former Niagara headquarters of the world’s most notorious biker gang has been destroyed.
However, the OPP biker enforcement unit said the Hells Angels have reformed themselves in the region, and while it may not wield the influence it once did the gang is still an underworld force.
“They are still very much active in the Niagara area,” said Det. Staff Sgt. Wade Scott. “There was a period when they basically were just limping along, but in the last few years they have recovered.”
The OPP had the Hell Angels’ Darby Road clubhouse in rural east Welland demolished in January, 14 years after a joint-forces operation resulted in the building being seized and key gang members incarcerated.
In 2006 the OPP and Niagara Regional Police operation, dubbed Project Tandem, resulted in arrests of Hells Angels members across the province, including local club president and then Niagara drug kingpin Gerald (Skinny) Ward along with his lieutenants.
Ward pleaded guilty in Toronto in September 2008 to trafficking four kilograms of cocaine and possessing more than $304,000 in proceeds of crime. He was also found guilty in December 2008 of a criminal organization charge.
He was sentenced to nine years in prison and in 2015 was released to a half-way house.
The fortified building — which featured an array of surveillance cameras, high fences and protective barriers — was seized by police as part of Project Tandem.
Scott said the building was seized under civil forfeiture legislation that can eventually lead to an order to have it destroyed. But that process does not happen quickly.
“The civil remedies are an efficient tool for law enforcement to use but they are complicated and they take time,” he said.
The fate of the clubhouse was tied up in civil courts for more than a decade as the owners attempted to have the building returned to them.
However, in January 2019 the courts found the building’s mortgage had been paid for with proceeds of crime and was itself “an instrument of unlawful activity” and rejected the Hells Angels bid to reclaim it.
Scott said even after that ruling, it took more time to get approval to destroy the clubhouse, a former machine shop.
Although it was torn down on Jan. 20 of this year, Scott said the OPP were slow to notify the public and press because it took time to get internal approvals and then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, further delaying the issue.
Project Tandem effectively crippled the Hells Angels locally but the Niagara chapter was kept alive by bikers from out-of-town chapters. However, the chapter was no longer viable and the Hells Angels eventually abandoned it, until more recently, Scott said.
Slowly, the gang has established itself in Niagara, albeit with a lower profile. Scott would not say how many members are currently part of the Niagara chapter, but said the gang’s internal rules stipulate a chapter needs at least six members.
“I can tell you there are more than that,” he said.
The gang also has not established a new clubhouse in a traditional manner, he said.
There is a McLeod Road clubhouse in Niagara Falls that belongs to an affiliated gang that Hells Angels visit, Scott said. However, it does not display the gang’s logos or its Hells Angels affiliation publicly.
He also said while the gang is called the Niagara chapter, its members “operate across the province and the country.”
“They are not limited to a single geographic area,” he said.