Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 26, 2013

Trial begins in motorcycle theft ring case

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

London — Trial began on Monday in U.S. District Court in London for three defendants accused of being involved with what authorities say was an interstate motorcycle theft and money-laundering operation.

All three of the defendants Mark Justice, 52, Richard “Dickie” Meade, 64, and George Ferguson, 53, are from Ashland. The trial could last several weeks, according to prosecutors.

Ten defendants were originally charged in the case. Six have either pleaded guilty or indicated their intention to do so.

John C. Slusher, 68, of Pineville, last week became the latest defendant to admit involvement in the conspiracy. Also, as expected, another defendant Robert W. “Trader Bob” Harris, 61, of Newport, was rearraigned last week in federal court for the purpose of changing his plea from not guilty to guilty.

Harris’ son, Mathew Harris, 38, also has indicated his intention to enter a guilty plea. His rearraignment is set for March 7.

Margaret “Peggy” Harris, 60, wife of Robert Harris and mother of Matthew Harris, also is charged in the conspiracy. The status her case was not immediately clear Monday.

Others who have pleaded guilty in the case are Robert Jason Chapman, 31, and Christina Bannigan, 31, both of Cleves, Ohio; and Shon Fields, 22, of Cincinnati.

The defendants who have pleaded guilty are scheduled to be sentenced on June 6 by Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove.

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.

According to court records, several of the defendants agreed to transfer the titles of motorcycles 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 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 title 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.

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.