In August, 43-year-old Dax Shephard pleaded guilty to a single charge of racketeering in connection with a massive federal indictment of members of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club issued in mid-2012.
Alongside admitting the Outlaws Motorcycle Club was a racket when Shephard signed his plea agreement, he also forfeited his interest in the hulking black building at West Main and Cherry streets. On Sept. 30 and Oct. 3, U.S. marshals tacked notices on the doors to the property, according to court papers.
But the members of the organization are fighting the pending government seizure of the property, asking a federal judge in Indianapolis to rule Shephard had no financial interest in the property and it wasn’t his to give away.
Shephard also forfeited his interest in a clubhouse in Indianapolis, according to court documents.
Along with fellow Fort Wayne resident Steve Reynolds, Shephard was named in a massive federal indictment of more than 40 people related to the Outlaws motorcycle gang.
The initial indictment was issued in the summer of 2012 in the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis and accused a variety of people inside the gang and out, including a business owner and a hospital employee, of racketeering.
Drug trafficking, insurance fraud schemes and running illegal gambling were among the rackets outlined in court documents.
Shephard was indicted last November of participating in a pair of robberies in August and September 2011.
The August 2011 robbery involved a group of Outlaws leaving a party in Fort Wayne and heading to Butler to confront members of the Iron Coffins Motorcycle Club, who had allegedly made “disparaging remarks about the OMC,” according to court documents.
They beat up Iron Coffins Motorcycle Club members and stole a vest, according to court documents.
In September 2011, Shephard and other members of the group expelled another member for misappropriating $17,000 from the club’s treasury.
They took all of his jewelry, clothing and other items that bore the insignia of the club, and then summoned a tattoo artist to the Main Street clubhouse to “black out” his Outlaw tattoos, causing him to bleed significantly, according to court documents.
Shephard was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison and will spend five years on federal probation. He must also pay a $5,000 fine, according to court documents.
In late October, Bob Henson, J.T. Collett and Officers of the (American Outlaw Association) Black Region asked U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton-Pratt not to give the government the properties.
“Our position on (the properties) is that first of all, the defendants in the case were charged under RICO,” said their attorney from Indianapolis, Loren Comstock. “The government is not in a position to show that (the properties) were purchased by illegal funds, make them subject to forfeiture under RICO.
“Everybody deserves representation,” Comstock said. “We live under due process of law ... fair hearing and fair notice. Everyone is entitled to their day in court, whether it involves freedom or property.”
Court documents also list Thomas and Carol Offerle as interested parties since they legally own the building in question, according to Allen County property tax records.
Henson, Collett and the others are “unindicted members and trustees of The American Outlaw Association” and they represent the true owners of the property.
They contend that Shephard’s illegal activities took place after the Outlaws acquired the building, and any money he made through his criminal activity provided no funds for the group to get the building, according to court documents.
“Beside the fact that the funds were not illegally obtained, the properties were deeded to the Outlaw groups before any of the defendants in this case were indicted or much less pleaded,” Comstock said. “There’s an issue of timeliness here. You have to tie the funds and the properties to illegal activities under RICO.”
The next step is for the judge to schedule a hearing, Comstock said.
He recognizes it is an uphill fight against the federal government.
“We can put the gravel down here, and we have a shot at beating it,” he said.
Another part of the issue for the group concerns free speech and free association, Comstock said.
“These people are an organization,” Comstock said. “And you have an underlining argument there that freedom of speech comes through organization.
“These people are doing a lot of good things in the communities … from what they’ve demonstrated to me,” he continued. “The Outlaws get a bad a name sometimes. I’m not saying they don’t always deserve it, but I don’t think the ‘bad apples’ have a title (to the property).”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Indianapolis filed a motion in response, asking the judge to deny the Outlaws’ request because Henson and Collett did not sign the paperwork, “under penalty of perjury.”