Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 9, 2013

Pleas coming in theft ring

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

LONDON — Two more defendants in a federal criminal case involving an alleged motorcycle theft ring have indicated their intentions to plead guilty.

Attorneys for Robert W. “Trader Bob” Harris, 61, and his son, Matthew Harris, 38, filed motions Thursday for their clients to be rearraigned so their clients can chance their pleas from not guilty to guilty.

Meanwhile, another defendant, Robert Jason Chapman, 31, of Cleves, Ohio, who had earlier indicated he planned to plead guilty, did so in U.S. District Court in London. Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove scheduled his sentencing for June 6. He pleaded guilty to a charge of money laundering.

The Harrises’ guilty pleas will bring to five the number of defendants who have admitted their involvement in the ring. A total of 10 were charged.

Earlier this month, Christina Bannigan, 31, of Cleves, and Shon Fields, 33, of Cincinnati, formally entered their guilty pleas. Each pleaded guilty to a single count of money laundering. Van Tatenhove also scheduled their sentencings for June 6.

Trial is scheduled for Feb. 25 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 Margaret “Peggy” Harris, 60, and Matthew Harris, 38, of Newport. Peggy Harris is Robert Harris’ wife and Matthew Harris’ mother.

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 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.

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.