Walter Stadnick had a dream.Mr. Stadnick isn't a big man, 5 foot 5 without his biker boots, but he has always had big ambitions.
As a young man riding with local gangs in the streets of Hamilton, he noted the arrival of the Hells Angels in Montreal in 1977, the international club's first Canadian chapter, and he journeyed down the highway to join up.
His fortunes, and those of the Hells Angels, were on the ascent.
Two decades later, having gone from rookie to recruiter, Mr. Stadnick was on a flight to Winnipeg to start up a puppet club for the Angels when he turned to his bodyguard and outlined his dream: to see the Angels entrenched across Canada.
"The Hells Angels only, throughout Canada, with no other biker clubs," Stéphane Sirois recalled Mr. Stadnick saying.
The gang's hold over the country would be so strong that the bikers' "bottom rockers" -- patches on the back bottom of their vests that show which province or city they represent -- would say only "Canada," Mr. Stadnick told him.
At the time of that 1996 conversation, the gang had chapters in Nova Scotia, Quebec and British Columbia. The Prairies and the rich Ontario market remained out of reach.
But less than five years later, local bikers in both areas had "patched over." Ontario alone was suddenly home to one of the world's largest concentrations of Hells Angels.
Mr. Stadnick's dream was reality.
Walter (Nurget) Stadnick, 51, born Wolodumyr Stadnik, is a secretive man little known to the public. But as architect of that great expansion, he is one of Canada's most pivotal organized-crime figures.
His recent trial in Montreal gave a rare look at his life and the gang's inner workings. It showed how he and his Hells Angels sidekick Donald (Pup) Stockford -- two English-speakers in the sea of francophones who formed the gang's power base in Quebec -- were behind the arrival in Ontario of the world's mightiest biker gang.
A dominating presence in the country's wealthiest province was key to the Hells Angels' earning potential. At its peak in neighbouring Quebec, the gang earned $111-million a year from the sale of tonnes of cocaine and hashish.
"More than anyone else in the Hells Angels, Stadnick and Stockford were the ones who worked to bring into the Hells Angels organization other motorcycle clubs in Ontario and Manitoba," prosecutor Randall Richmond told the trial, where Mr. Stockford, 42, also faced charges.
For years Mr. Stadnick travelled tirelessly around the country, paying his respects at funerals, dropping in at strip bars, showing up at motorcycle shows. Sometimes he moved alone; often he was with Mr. Stockford; the two schmoozed unaffiliated bikers relentlessly.
To join a biker gang, one has to go through several probationary levels before reaching full-fledged status. Mr. Stadnick earned his own patch -- the insignia stitched on a biker's vest that denotes full membership -- on May 26, 1982, making him one of the most senior Hells Angels in Quebec at the time.
A vacuum was created in the second half of the 1980s, when the gang was decimated by an internal purge, defections and a police crackdown in Quebec, so Mr. Stadnick rose in the ranks.
The gang doesn't exactly send out press releases outlining its corporate structure. Still, it was widely known among bikers that Mr. Stadnick was at one time the national president of the Hells Angels in Canada, informants said at his trial.
On a Valentine card that police found at Mr. Stadnick's house, written to "Uncle Wally," his 10-year-old niece asked: "Are you still the leader of the Hells Angels?"
It was during this period that police began recording how extensively Mr. Stadnick travelled, with frequent visits to Manitoba and his native Ontario.
In January of 1992, he was caught at Winnipeg International Airport with $81,000 in cash and charged with possession of proceeds of drug sales. The charge was stayed when he agreed to forfeit the money.
The arrest didn't slow him. The summer of 1993, for example, was busy, with police spotting him at a biker run in Wasaga Beach, Ont., then back in Quebec, then leading a rain-soaked biker convoy through Thunder Bay.
By August, he was in Winnipeg, where he and another biker scuffled with off-duty police officers who had taunted them. Charges against the bikers were later dropped.
In November of 1993, Mr. Stadnick landed with other Angels at the Thunder Bay airport in Northern Ontario. They hooked up at a strip bar with members of the Satan's Choice biker gang, including Andre Watteel, a leading Kitchener, Ont., biker. They had a 90-minute meeting behind closed doors at a hotel.
The next day, Mr. Stadnick flew to Winnipeg.
Back in Quebec, a turf war of unparalleled ferocity was about to erupt.
The Hells Angels wanted absolute control over the distribution of illegal drugs in the Montreal area. This didn't sit well with local traffickers and a small biker club, the Rock Machine, who fought furiously to keep their share of the market.
From 1994 to 2001, more than 160 people died as hostilities spread through Quebec. Most were criminals, but the victims included two jail guards and an 11-year-old boy hit by car-bomb shrapnel.
"This was a highly sophisticated war engaging many people, a lot of planning, preparation and money," Mr. Richmond said in court. "The Hells didn't just wait until they happened to run into their enemies on the street. They hunted them down like animals."
To direct the war, the Angels founded a new elite chapter in 1995, the Nomads, headed by a ruthless and rising leader, Maurice (Mom) Boucher. Mr. Stadnick and Mr. Stockford were among the nine founding members. They were also in charge of diplomatic relations with bikers outside Quebec, Mr. Richmond said at their trial.
"They had their own special job to do. Everyone in the Nomads club had a role. But all of those roles were part of the overall picture, which was to take control of the drug market and get rich."
Working under the Nomads were the Rockers, who, in hope of promotion to the top echelon, sold the drugs, beat up unco-operative pushers and bar owners, and assassinated rival criminals.
"Anything the Nomads would say, the Rockers would do," testified Mr. Sirois, a former Rocker who was often assigned to Mr. Stadnick and Mr. Stockford as a bodyguard.
When he and two other junior bikers accompanied Mr. Stadnick to Winnipeg in 1996, it was to set up a Rockers club there.
The local dealers, would-be Rockers, were deferential toward Mr. Stadnick.
"They were already working for him," Mr. Sirois said. "They were good, hard-working guys and they already had their drug runs there."
The plan to set up a Rocker chapter didn't go ahead. But Mr. Stadnick continued to visit Winnipeg, cultivating the local bikers.
In October of 1997, the Rockers and the Nomads were invited from Quebec to the 30th anniversary of a Winnipeg biker gang, Los Brovos. Ontario's Satan's Choice clubs -- one was located in nearby Thunder Bay -- were also invited.
The mood was tense, aspiring Rocker Stéphane Gagné testified at the Stadnick trial.
The Quebec bikers weren't sure how the Choice felt about their overtures. "The merger hadn't taken place at the time, and we didn't know which side they'd be on."
The Rockers were told to snap photos of the Choice members, in case the Angels ever had to target them.
The Rockers were also ordered to make sure that "if there was a fight, no Satan's Choice were to be able to get their hands on a Nomad," Mr. Gagné recalled.
When they all gathered at the Los Brovos clubhouse, a former Filipino church, everyone was on edge. The Rockers and the Choice were about to come to blows.
But then Mr. Stadnick and Mr. Stockford sat down at a table with a few Choice members and the tension eased, thanks either to their rank, or to their willingness to be peacemakers.
The turf war in Quebec was raging more fiercely than ever.
As the Nomads killed off their rivals, they increased business. By the end of 2000, the 10 active Nomads oversaw $111-million a year in earnings.
Mr. Stadnick and Mr. Stockford were among the Nomads' biggest traffickers: The gang's bookkeeping showed the two handled $11.8-million in drugs in 2000.
Outside Quebec, diplomatic overtures continued, according to minutes from Angels meetings seized at the home of Mr. Stockford, the national secretary.
From a meeting July 30, 1998: "Pup & Nurget" were visiting the Para-Dice Riders, a Toronto club. "We will know more at the next meeting."
From the Aug. 21 minutes: "We went to the Para-Dice and were well received."
Feb. 12, 1999: "East Coast is having good communication with the Para-Dice Riders and other Ontario clubs and are going there regularly."
And Mr. Stadnick's long courtship of the Los Brovos was paying off. In May of 2000, wearing his Nomad vest, he guided a motorcycle convoy of the Manitoba bikers between two Angel clubhouses south of Montreal. The Brovos were about to join up, and they were visiting their new brothers.
The "patchover" ceremony took place in July at the Winnipeg clubhouse. Police watched Mr. Stadnick arrive with a hefty Sears bag that they presumed was full of new Angels prospect patches because, moments later, the Manitobans emerged wearing them.
The Satan's Choice had been invited too. Later that night, police saw Mr. Stadnick and Mr. Stockford chatting with them at a strip club.
The Ontario bikers still hadn't said yes, but events would hasten their decision.
That fall, facing public outrage over the growing death toll and the shooting of reporter Michel Auger, the Hells Angels and the Rock Machine announced a ceasefire in their war. But within weeks the Rock Machine obtained probationary membership in a major U.S. biker gang, the Bandidos, historical rivals of the Angels.
The Rock Machine had just started three chapters in Ontario, and the merger handed the Bandidos a toehold in the one major province still eluding the Angels.
The truce was over.
On Nov. 28, police wiretapped David (Wolf) Carroll, a Nomad, calling Mr. Stockford in Ontario. "Listen, I cannot say more but things have changed a little bit, you know, with the RM," Mr. Carroll warned. "I didn't want you to walk into something."
Over the next two days, Mr. Stadnick kept trying to reach Mr. Carroll in Montreal. When they spoke on Nov. 30, Mr. Stadnick said people had to meet within hours at a place he couldn't reveal on the phone. "We'll be on the South Shore at 12. I know where we'll be, but I don't want to tell you verbally."
The Angels had to act quickly to offset the Bandidos' arrival. At a series of meetings in Ontario, they made the unaligned gangs an offer too good to refuse: a "patch-for-patch" swap.
A biker with a patch from an existing Ontario club could trade for an Angel patch, gaining immediate membership in the major leagues, without the usual probationary phase.
On Dec. 7, Mr. Stockford told Richard Mayrand, a Nomad, that Ontario's reaction was "very, very, very positive."
"I ordered a hundred set," Mr. Mayrand said, apparently an allusion to needing 100 new patches.
"You might need another hundred," Mr. Stockford replied.
They spoke again on Dec. 19, when Mr. Mayrand said, "All the Hells Angels here want that Friday."
On Friday, Dec. 29, 2000, an unprecedented switch in allegiances took place at the big clubhouse in Sorel, Que.
Chartered buses brought in scores of bikers from throughout Ontario. Two sewing machines arrived. Seamstresses got working. At 7:30 p.m., a biker from Kitchener came out, a new patch on his vest, the first sighting of Ontario's 179 instant new Hells Angels.
The following day, all Hells Angels' national secretaries received an e-mail to advise members around the world that the club had 10 new chapters in Ontario.
It was a one-time offer. The minutes from a Feb. 3 meeting noted that "patch-for-patch is over tonight. We resume the . . . tradition as of today."
Mr. Stadnick's dream had come true. Independent Ontario gangs had united under the Angels' wings and drowned out the Bandidos threat.
But he wouldn't get to enjoy his success for long.
Wrapping up a three-year investigation in March of 2001, police in Quebec obtained arrest warrants against 91 Nomads, Rockers and associates. Mr. Stadnick was taken into custody as he vacationed at a resort on the white-sand beaches of Montego Bay, Jamaica.
The ensuing trials stretched over three years. Nearly all those bikers have now pleaded guilty or been convicted. Nine years after the Nomad chapter was founded, all 14 survivors -- save one fugitive -- were behind bars.
The entire venture had been an elaborate scam, Mr. Richmond, the prosecutor, argued in court: Many underlings at the bottom risked their lives to get to the top, where a few Nomads profited the most.
The Nomads, he said, "have not only ruined people's lives by feeding them addictive drugs and robbing them of their savings; they have not only caused the death of opposing gang members, two prison guards, and several innocent victims; they are also responsible for ruining the lives of those young men who got caught in this pyramid scheme. . . .
"And these people have the effrontery to use as their motto 'Love and Respect.' That's the ultimate hypocrisy."
Mr. Stadnick and Mr. Stockford were convicted last month of drug trafficking, gangsterism and conspiracy to commit murder. The Crown is expected to ask for jail terms of up to 20 years.
But in his home province, Mr. Stadnick's legacy lives on, with 184 Hells Angels now operating in the country's largest drug market.
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