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Originally published Saturday, October 7, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Bandidos president gets 20-month sentence

The national president of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club faces three more weeks in jail after a federal judge Friday sentenced him to a 20-month...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The national president of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club faces three more weeks in jail after a federal judge Friday sentenced him to a 20-month prison term that includes credit for time served.

The penalty is a far cry from what George Wegers, 53, was facing when the government charged him and 25 other Bandidos in June 2005 with a long list of crimes that included kidnapping, drug trafficking, extortion and witness-tampering.

The charges were brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which was created to prosecute organized crime syndicates such as the Mafia.

The government alleged that the Bandidos club is a corrupt enterprise and that Wegers, as its president, had ultimate authority over its criminal activity.

Wegers in May pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering. The government dropped five other charges, including extortion, witness-tampering and assault.

The government also agreed to seek a prison term of no more than 24 months.

Jeffrey Robinson, Wegers' attorney, said the sentence delivered by U.S. District Judge John Coughenour, which includes three years of probation, was a victory.

"I think it really does put the lie to what the government claimed at the beginning of this case, that this was a criminal organization, that the only reason for them to exist was to commit crimes," Robinson said.

The government saw things differently.

The U.S. Attorney in Seattle said in a statement that Wegers admitted he encouraged his co-defendants to commit the crimes of witness-tampering and trafficking in stolen vehicles.

So far, 18 defendants have pleaded guilty in connection with the Bandidos criminal activity, with sentences ranging from probation to five years in prison, the statement said.

Still, Wegers and his family smiled when the verdict was read and they realized he would be home by the end of the month. He had been behind bars since his arrest last year.

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The conditions of Wegers' probation remain a point of contention.

Robinson and representatives of the U.S. Probation Office engaged in a heated debate just outside the courtroom immediately after the sentencing.

Robinson asserted that the plea agreement allows Wegers to travel to and attend Bandidos gatherings.

Probation officers argued, however, that the standard conditions of supervised release, which prohibit convicted felons from gathering with other convicted felons, still apply.

Thus, they said, Wegers could not attend Bandidos functions if anyone in attendance was a convicted felon.

"We'll exchange language [to clarify the agreement], and I'm sure we'll come to language we agree on," Robinson said later.

Wegers addressed the court before Judge Coughenour delivered his sentence. Wegers, his long, gray hair pulled back in a ponytail, did not disavow the Bandidos.

"I'm very proud to be president of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club," Wegers said. "I've been a member for 31 years."

But he rejected the government's claims about the nature and purpose of the Bandidos.

"The club is not a criminal organization," he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ye Ting Woo said that instead of expressing remorse for his actions, Wegers provided only "excuses, blame and arrogance."

Wegers displayed his arrogance, Woo said, by packing up his belongings in expectation that he would be released from prison Friday because of the strength of his legal team.

She specifically cited Robinson's reputation as one of Seattle's best-known defense attorneys and noted that co-defense attorney Amanda Lee is a former clerk for Coughenour.

The strategy did not sit well with the judge.

"I can't let pass the reference to my former law clerk," Coughenour told Woo from the bench. "That's a card that shouldn't have been played."

Woo told Coughenour she did not mean to imply that the judge would be biased, only that Wegers did not expect a harsh punishment because Lee was working on his behalf.

David Bowermaster: 206-464-2724 or dbowermaster@seattletimes.com

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