National Hells Angels leader George Christie Jr. was sentenced Wednesday to three years' probation for conspiring to sell drugs after a Ventura judge refused prosecutors' last-minute plea for prison time.
As he left court, the 54-year-old Christie denied he had sold prescription drugs and told reporters he only pleaded guilty to spare his family prosecution.
"I did not sell drugs to anyone," said Christie, a co-founder of the Ventura chapter of the Hells Angels and a national club spokesman for two decades. "I made a deal because they were holding my family hostage."
Christie's sentence came after a tense court hearing in which defense lawyers accused the district attorney of trying to back out of a plea agreement negotiated in the high-profile drug case.
Last month Christie pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell drugs and no contest to filing a false tax return--resolving one of the longest and most expensive criminal cases in Ventura County history.
Christie's ex-wife and their 25-year-old son, who were charged in the same indictment, also pleaded guilty and no contest to felony counts after cutting deals to dismiss most of their charges. The plea bargains ended a five-year investigation into allegations that the elder Christie ran a criminal narcotics ring that stole drugs from an Air Force base and sold them to teens as they left campuses in Ventura and Ojai.
The massive Hells Angels case took eight months to present to the grand jury and included tens of thousands of pages of evidence, seized during raids over the last four years. The Christie family had faced 57 criminal counts--23 against George Christie Jr., 19 against his ex-wife and 13 against their son.
Most of those counts were expected to be dismissed after lawyers reached a plea agreement, which the defense believed excluded prison time.
But at the sentencing hearing, Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeff Bennett urged Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Clark to impose a seven- year prison sentence for George Christie Jr.
"The district attorney's office believes the defendant should be sent to state prison for his conduct," Bennett said, arguing that Christie was involved in large-scale narcotics sales.
Bennett described Christie as a drug dealer who deserved the most severe penalty possible.
But San Francisco defense lawyer William A. Welch minimized George Christie Jr.'s role and said prosecutors tried to renege on a plea deal after being criticized for their handling of a case that cost millions of dollars.
"We believe the district attorney's office has engaged in deceit and duplicity," Welch argued in court. "It is fraud, and it is wrong."
After listening to the arguments, Clark ordered the elder Christie to sit down and asked his son, George Christie III, to come forward.
The son, also a Hells Angels who has no criminal record, had pleaded no contest to two counts of possession of drugs for sale.
Prosecutors did not argue in favor of prison, and Clark placed George Christie III on five years' probation with credit for one year served in County Jail.
Then the judge recalled the father's case.
As the elder Christie stood before a courtroom crowded with lawyers, including Dist. Atty. Michael Bradbury, Clark said evidence in the case showed the son was more culpable than the father of selling drugs and he rejected the request for prison time for George Christie Jr.
Clark further rejected probationary terms that would have prohibited the two Christies from associating with Hells Angels members, finding there was no evidence the group was a street gang as alleged by the prosecution.
Outside the courtroom, defense lawyers accused prosecutors of squandering millions of dollars in a mean-spirited pursuit of the Hells Angels leader.
Los Angeles attorney Robert Sheahen, who formerly represented George Christie Jr., said his client offered to plead guilty to the same charges three years ago, but prosecutors refused.
"Their conduct has been disgraceful," Sheahen said.
Defense attorney Kay Duffy said prosecutors reneged in a deal for her client, ex-wife Cheryl Christie, who was sentenced to three years' probation after pleading guilty to one count of accessory to grand theft after the fact.
Duffy said prosecutors had previously indicated a willingness to dismiss the entire case, but then sought a felony conviction.
"They have not stood by their word in this case," Duffy said. "Their role is to seek justice and the truth, and that was not the case here."
After the sentencing, Bradbury admitted his office did not get everything it wanted but said it exposed George Christie as a drug dealer and helped shut down an epidemic of the prescription drug Vicodin throughout Ventura County schools.
Bradbury attributed his rare court appearance to the high- profile nature of the case and his involvement in the lengthy investigation.
"I came here because this is a case I initiated five years ago," he said. "I was there at the beginning and I wanted to be there at the end."
He dismissed defense claims he had reneged on a plea-bargain agreement.
"You will find no commitment from the district attorney's office against asking for a state prison sentence," he said.
"It is my opinion that what you are hearing are a bunch of lies from a drug dealer's public mouthpieces."
Responding to criticism that millions had been spent on the case only to see the defendants go free, Bradbury said the figures had been inflated by the defense.
The total cost of the prosecution was $1.5 million, he said.
The prosecution has resulted in guilty or no-contest pleas by 16 of the 28 defendants initially indicted.
Most have been released from custody, and many of the most serious charges have been dropped.
Bradbury scoffed at the notion the Hells Angels were a bunch of guys who simply share a love of motorcycles, saying they were in fact a criminal gang. And he accused George Christie Jr. of masquerading as a businessman while selling drugs to children.
"All the king's horses and all the king's men won't put George Christie together again as a businessman in this county," he said.
As he left the courthouse, George Christie Jr. questioned the evidence prosecutors had against him.
He said he has been harassed by law enforcement for years because he hosted the Hells Angels' 50th anniversary celebration in downtown Ventura in 1998. He said he is certain he would have prevailed at trial, but wanted the case to be over.
Now, he said, his focus is on complying with the terms of probation and getting on with his life. He hopes to open up a coffeehouse in downtown Ventura.
"I'm glad it's over," he said. "It's been a long haul."
[Illustration]Caption: PHOTO: (VN)Attorney Robert Sheahen, left, his client George Christie Jr., co-founder of the Hells Angel Ventura chapter, and Angel member Scott Sutton leave the courthouse after Christie was given three years' probation in his no-contest plea that ended a five -year investigation.; PHOTOGRAPHER: MEL MELCON / Los Angeles Times; PHOTO: (VN)Prosecutor Greg Totten, left, and county Dist. Atty. Michael Bradbury, who had made a rare appearance in the case, leave court.; PHOTOGRAPHER: MEL MELCON / Los Angeles Times; PHOTO: (VN)From left, George Christie III, his sister Moriya Christie, mother Cheryl Christie and private investigator Chip Reinhart after sentencing. George Christie III, along with his mother and father, George Christie Jr., received probation terms in the drug case.; PHOTOGRAPHER: MEL MELCON / Los Angeles Times
Credit: TIMES STAFF WRITERS
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