Charles "Chilly" Wilson remembers a time when the Chosen Few Motorcycle Club frisked him before he entered its South Los Angeles national headquarters. The clubhouse, remembers Wilson, hosted a Bible study group — and its black men watched out for the neighborhood.
"Gangbangers feared them," the former heavyweight boxer says, sitting in a cramped room in the Broadway Boxing Gym across the street from the club's tattered stucco headquarters. "They didn't crash their parties."
But things have gone sour — very sour — for the Chosen Few, now allegedly riddled with violent criminals who have put the club in the crosshairs of L.A. law enforcement. The longtime historically black motorcycle club, which allows other races to join, now faces possible seizure of its clubhouse on South Broadway and the forced sale of the building and land by the City of Los Angeles .
The police didn't have to travel far to catch the Chosen Few; its headquarters are little more than a block from the police station.
"The LAPD Southeast Patrol area has six motorcycle clubhouses," says Detective Carter Fenstemacher. "There's violence at all of the motorcycle clubhouses, not only the Chosen Few."
But two shootings in one month at the 10800 S. Broadway location attracted the notice of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and federal Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as LAPD. A joint task force raided the club on July 14 and arrested 11 people for the sale of cocaine, PCP and firearms.
Police say the Chosen Few had inside help from the DMV, where alleged club member and DMV employee Brian Petetan "was forming unusually close relationships" with a select group of motorists — Chosen Few club members who bought fake driver's licenses from him so they could buy weapons without being tracked.
DMV spokesman Jaime Garza, in an email to L.A. Weekly, says an investigative unit discovered Petetan's actions, and he was arrested and placed on leave.
The Chosen Few did not respond to requests by the Weekly for comment. On its website, an old newspaper clipping depicts a far more upbeat and innocent time in the 1980s or early '90s, describing club members as getting their kicks "racing along California's freeways, performing riding tricks in the streets, going on weekend trips and mostly having a ball."
But violence has engulfed the club several times since 2000, according to court documents. In 2000, a club patron was chased, dragged inside, stripped, tied to a patio pole, beaten and slashed in the face with a knife.
In 2006, a 17-year-old girl died of a gunshot wound sustained while standing outside the clubhouse. In April 2010, a man was shot twice in the parking lot, says Detective Carter, and that spring a member of the club allegedly was involved in a murder. Then, in June, a former member of the motorcycle group was shot and killed in the Las Vegas chapter's clubhouse.
Over the summer, documents show, suspects at the clubhouse "enticed" a father to enter the building, then beat him while another suspect terrorized his daughter outside, holding a knife to her face to prevent her from running to her father's aid. The clubhouse is within three blocks of at least 10 churches and an elementary school.
But the signal event that put it in the crosshairs of City Attorney Carmen Trutanich unfolded in May, when police say they caught the clubhouse property owner, Byron Mitchell, driving away from the clubhouse with more than a gallon of PCP inside his car, contained "in a Crystal Geyser water jug."
Police with a search warrant entered the club and found about five grams of cocaine, two scales, measuring spoons, a sifter and packaging, plus 20 rounds of ammunition.
The Chosen Few "sponsored and provided a safe haven for criminal activity," says Deputy City Attorney Jule Bishop. Authorities say the Chosen Few was running guns, with sales organized at the club and completed off-site, including the purchase of a Colt R-15 assault rifle. Bishop says the club also was hosting an illegal nightclub and an illegal tattoo shop operated by club member Raymond Meyer Sullivan.
"We ask the court for a variety of solutions," Bishop says. "We want anyone convicted of a drug-related offense to stay away from the location."
In a press release, Trutanich said the nuisance-abatement lawsuit filed by his office, working in concert with LAPD and the ATF, aims to "remove the bad actors from this community and deny this criminal organization a base for its illegal activity."
In fact, 15 defendants now await criminal proceedings, and several of them face civil proceedings, including owner Mitchell, who faces trial in federal court for PCP distribution, Bishop says. A case-management conference is set for Oct. 11. Bishop says that while criminal cases for various violations are proceeding, four defendants have hired attorneys for the city's civil action.
The city attorney could pursue various actions, including declaring the clubhouse "in violation of health and safety codes, closing the property for a year, selling the property to a non–drug dealer ... banning convicted drug dealers from the clubhouse."
If found a public nuisance in court, the owners and managers may be barred from entering the property and could be forced to sell it. More modestly, the court could ban members from having bonfires and force the club to remove compound-style walls. "The club has a tendency to take 30-gallon oil cans, fill them with stuff and set them on fire," Bishop explains.
Neighbors in the area have mixed views of the longtime institution. Tracy Smith, an area resident for 30 years, says she never had a problem with the club. Smith, drinking a can of malt liquor behind the 108 Motel kitty-corner to the Chosen Few's HQ, says the club's free parties were controlled, involving barbecues and blues music. "I only went on Sundays," she says.
But William Harold, a seven-year resident, says, "I don't deal with them, period." He says the club got more dangerous four years ago, and now, "I don't like going down that way. It ain't safe."
Resident Marques Windom, a member of a local school's safety patrol, says he sees the Chosen Few ride through every so often, but since the arrests, members have been lying low. Before the law cracked down, the club hosted frequent parties, and shady characters entered and left every day.
Wilson, the former heavyweight boxer, says the atmosphere at the clubhouse had already changed when he returned to the Broadway Boxing Gym in the early 2000s.
"I looked out the window and was, like, 'Wow!' " the stocky heavyweight recalls. The Chosen Few members had become younger and more diverse, and "some of the older guys stopped wearing their vests."
To join the Chosen Few in his day, he recalls, applicants had to go through a "prospect" program, with potential members assigned duties, such as cleaning the clubhouse and running errands. No one younger than 25 was allowed, and the club encouraged the local youth to educate themselves and better the community.
But, "The new generation has no laws," he says. "No O.G. [original gangster] presence. It's every man for himself."