A city police tactical team marches away from a house they raided on Government Avenue Friday as part of Operation Flatlined.
They have spent the past year dodging bullets and firebombs while locked in a violent street war with an emerging new rival.
But a more familiar foe has struck again, dealing the depleted Hells Angels another blow in their quest for organized-crime dominance.
More than 150 Winnipeg police officers capped off a 10-month investigation Friday by arresting 11 prominent gang members and associates. The biggest was Hells Angels president Dale Sweeney, whose lavish home in a new Waverley West development was raided by heavily armed tactical unit members. His brother, Rod, a full-patch member, was also arrested. Other properties in North Kildonan, East Kildonan, Elmwood, Transcona and Linden Woods were searched.
Organized crime Insp. Rick Guyader said there are only four local members of the Hells Angels not in custody — putting them in violation of the biker gang’s own charter, which requires at least seven active members to function.
“They’ll have to shut down until they can recruit some other people,” Guyader said Friday. “It’s a very big deal.”
Police seized an estimated two kilograms of cocaine and an undisclosed amount of cash and will lay various charges, including trafficking, proceeds of crime, money laundering and participating in a criminal organization. Further arrests are expected.
Operation Flatlined is the fourth major bust of the Manitoba Hells Angels since 2006. The three previous projects — Defence (2006), Drill (2007) and Divide (2009) — led to 62 biker arrests, including former presidents Ernie Dew and Dale Donovan. Unlike those previous projects, police did not use a paid informant in Flatlined. Sources told the Free Press the undercover probe relied on court-ordered wiretaps that allowed police to gain insight and evidence.
“This is the first time this type of investigation has been used in this type of crime across the country. We’re very pleased. I can say from my experience, this is one of the best projects that has come together,” Guyader said.
The Flatlined code name is a direct reference to the Redlined Support Crew, which is serving as a puppet club of the Hells Angels. The Hells Angels created the Redlined gang in 2010 to stand up to other criminal networks that might muscle in on their former drug turf after many of their members were arrested and jailed following the other police stings.
At the top of that list was the Rock Machine, which waged war with the Hells Angels in Quebec during the 1990s but has never had much of a presence in Manitoba until recently.
Tensions escalated last summer with more than a dozen reported incidents, including drive-by shootings and firebombings between Redlined and Rock Machine members, which prompted police to canvass neighbourhoods where well-known bike gang members lived, to warn residents an active gang war was underway.
Activity quieted down during the winter, but sources say tensions were still high and the battle over lucrative drug turf was expected to heat up as spring arrives.
Guyader confirmed Friday the ongoing biker battle was the impetus for Flatlined. The Hells Angels are once again left picking up the pieces of their gang while others will likely try to fill the void.
“And we’ll be on top of that,” he said. Guyader admitted that doesn’t mean an end to organized-crime violence. History has shown other less stable groups, including street gangs, will try to flex their muscle when the Hells are weakened.
Police were seen removing two vehicles from Sweeney’s Autumnview Drive home. Police will likely move to take control of such goods as part of the Criminal Property Forfeiture Act.
At another raid on Government Avenue in East Kildonan, seven police cars established a perimeter around a home while an ambulance sat nearby. Police monitored traffic flow in the area and turned vehicles and pedestrians away. Residents said they never guessed their neighbours were part of the city’s underworld.
They identified the home as belonging to a couple with three kids: a teenage boy about 17, a girl about 12 and another girl, about 8. The mother is a teacher in the city, one neighbour reported. All appeared to be taken in by police, witnesses told the Free Press.