Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

February 3, 2013

3rd person in motorcycle theft ring to plead

LONDON — Another of the defendants in a federal case involving an alleged multistate motorcycle theft and money-laundering ring has agreed to plead guilty.

Also, recently released court documents shed additional light on how the ring functioned.

Robert Jason Chapman, 31, of Cleves, Ohio, on Friday filed a motion in U.S. District Court in London to be re-arraigned for the purpose of changing his plea from not guilty to guilty. Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove scheduled the proceeding for Thursday.

Earlier this month, two of the other 10 defendants, Christina Bannigan, 31, of Cleves, Ohio, and Shon Fields, 33, of Cincinnati, formally entered their guilty pleas. Both had earlier indicated their intentions to do so. Each pleaded guilty to a single count of money-laundering. Van Tatenhove scheduled their sentencings for May 23.

Trial is scheduled for Feb. 19 for the remaining defendants: Mark Justice, 52, Richard “Dickie” Meade, 64, and George Ferguson, 53, all of Ashland; John C. Slusher, 58, of Pineville; and Robert “Trader Bob” Harris, 61, Margaret “Peggy” Harris, 60, and Matthew Harris, 38, all of Newport. Robert and Matthew Harris are the husband and son, respectively, of Peggy Harris.

The government alleges the defendants participated in a money-laundering conspiracy related to the interstate shipment of stolen motorcycles. Some of the defendants also are charged with money laundering and possessing stolen vehicle parts with the intent to sell them. Additionally, Robert Harris is charged with making false statements to a federal law enforcement agency and Slusher and Chapman are charged with threatening witnesses to try to keep them from testifying before the federal grand jury investigating the alleged conspiracy.

According to Fields’ and Banningan’s plea areements, several of the defendants agreed to transfer the titles of motorcycles that had been stolen from biker events in various states, including Florida, South Carolina and South Dakota. Fields acted as a mechanic for the group, as well as an agent for TCB Customs, Chapman’s company, and also signed vehicle transaction documents from TCB Customs to “innocent purchasers.”

Chapman, Fields and others would remove parts displaying vehicle identification numbers, including frames, forks, engines and transmission cases, and replace them with aftermarket parts with new numbers, records state. The bikes would then be registered in other states, including Kentucky and West Virginia, as “kit bikes” or “assembled bikes” to conceal the fact they were stolen.

In September 2006, Chapman, Fields and Bannigan titled and sold for $10,000 a 2004 Harley-Davidson that had been stolen from Daytona Beach, Fla., in Boyd County, according to records. The on Oct. 1 of that year, Fields, Meade and another man, Greg Chapman, allegedly obtained a new Kentucky for a Thunder Mountain custom motorcycle stolen from Myrtle Beach, S.C., and sold it through Meade’s business, Hertz Car Sales, for $15,000.

The defendants’ “relevant conduct” included 13 bikes valued at approximately $318,403, according to records.

An investigation by the Boyd County Sheriff’s Department into a March 7, 2007, shooting on Ky. 5 led to the discovery of a motorcycle “chop shop” on Meade Springer Road believed to have been part of the operation. Greg Chapman was killed in the shooting, which was initially thought to have occurred during a home invasion, but turned out to be the result of a drug deal.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.

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