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‘Witness issues’ spur hearing in Highwaymen Motorcycle Club case

December 9, 2009

‘Witness issues’ spur hearing in Highwaymen Motorcycle Club case

Detroit — Dozens of bikers and their attorneys have been summoned to the federal courthouse this morning for an unusual emergency conference in the federal racketeering case against the Highwaymen Motorcycle Club.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane Marion would say only that the hearing is related to “witness issues.”

Lawyers speculated the government believes witnesses have been contacted or possibly threatened, an issue that has arisen in the case before. That view was strengthened by the fact that only defendants who are free on bond were ordered to attend.

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“Maybe the judge will read the riot act that there’s to be no contact with anybody testifying in the case,” said John Brusstar, one of the lawyers in the case.

Allegations include murder conspiracy, assault, drug dealing, interstate theft and weapons offenses. Defendants include former police officers and an attorney, as well as club members.

U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds called the emergency pretrial conference Tuesday and said failure to appear “may result in an immediate bench warrant.”

James C. Thomas, who represents lead defendant Aref “Scarface” Nagi, a former Highwaymen vice president, said he has received no official word about the reason for the emergency hearing. Nagi is in custody.

“I understand it relates to a matter of importance to the court,” Thomas said. “To be called in in such a situation, in my view, is highly unusual, and it must be very important.”

More than 70 Highwaymen members and associates are indicted in the case, making it one of the largest ever brought in the Eastern District of Michigan. Edmunds’ courtroom is expected to be overflowing. There was standing room only at a recent motion hearing, where attendance by the defendants was not required.

“It’s unusual that lawyers would receive such short notice,” said attorney Michael Rataj, who was attempting Tuesday to reschedule a proceeding in Macomb County.

pegan@detnews.com (313) 222-2069

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