Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

March 20, 2013

2 convicted in motorcycle theft ring trial

LONDON — A federal court jury in London on Tuesday convicted two of three defendants in a trial involving an interstate motorcycle theft and money-laundering conspiracy.

Jurors deliberated about 3 1/2 hours before returning guilty verdicts against Mark Justice and Richard “Dickie” Meade, both of Ashland.

A third defendant, George Ferguson, 53, also of Ashland, was found not guilty.

Meade, 64, was found guilty of two counts of money-laundering and one count each of conspiracy and possessing a motor vehicle with an obscured identification number with intent to sell. He was acquitted of a third money-laundering count.

Justice, 52, was convicted of money-laundering, conspiracy and possessing a vehicle with an obscured ID number with intent to sell.

Meade and Ferguson could be sentenced up to 20 years in prison, but application of federal sentencing guidelines is likely to result in them receiving far shorter terms. U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove allowed the defendants to remain free on bond pending sentencing, which he scheduled for July 24 in London.

The convictions of Justice and Meade brought to eight the number of individuals who are facing prison time in connection with the theft ring, which authorities said trafficked in motorcycles that were stolen from biker events in places such as Myrtle Beach, S.C., Sturgis, S.D. and Daytona Beach, Fla., disassembled, rebuilt and retitled as “kit” bikes. Of the 10 defendants who were indicted, six have pleaded guilty. Charges against one defendant were dismissed.

The case against Justice, Meade and Ferguson went to trial on Feb. 25.

Meade’s attorney, Michael Curtis, said Wednesday his client’s conviction would be appealed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

“We believe we’ve got some very appealable issues and a very good shot at getting the conviction overturned,” he said.

Curtis said the government never introduced any evidence indicating his client knew the 15 stolen bikes he sold through his business, Hertz Car Sales, were stolen and that prosecutors introduced a piece of evidence during the rebuttal phase of the trial that he said should have been brought out earlier “to convict an innocent man.”

Ferguson was charged with money-laundering and conspiracy, but the former charge was dismissed before the case went to the jury, said his attorney, Jeremy Clark of Catlettsburg. That meant the jury deliberated only the conspiracy charge, of which it found Ferguson not guilty.

Clark said he and his client were both “extremely happy” with the acquittal, but that he was also saddened by Meade’s conviction. He said he agreed with Curtis’ contention that Meade was an innocent man.

Justice’s attorney, Garis Pruitt of Catlettsburg, could not be reached for comment.

Defendants who have pleaded guilty in the case are John C. Slusher, 68, of Pineville; Robert W. “Trader Bob” Harris, 61, of Newport; his son, Matthew Harris, 38, also of Newport; Robert Jason Chapman, 31, and Christina Bannigan, 31, both of Cleves, Ohio; and Shon Fields, 22, of Cincinnati.

Margaret “Peggy” Harris, 60, wife of Robert Harris and mother of Matthew Harris, also was indicted in the conspiracy, but the case against her was dismissed.

According to court records, several of the defendants agreed to transfer the titles of motorcycles stolen from biker events in various states. 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.

Greg Chapman was killed March 7 2007, in a shooting at a home Ky. 5 that was originally thought to have occurred during a home invasion, but turned out to be drug-related.

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

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