June arrests of Hells Angels in Modesto are part of crackdown celebrated by feds

Federal officials talked Wednesday about a two-year crackdown that got about 1,600 firearms off California streets and broke up an alleged Hells Angels drug ring in Modesto.

U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott held a news conference in Sacramento highlighting efforts in the inland region from the Oregon border to Kern County.

The seizures come as part of the U.S. Justice Department’s Project Safe Neighborhoods, in which local communities’ law enforcement officers are supplemented with federal resources in a bid to reduce violent crime.

Scott and other federal law enforcement leaders credit the effort with increasing federal indictments for firearms-related offenses by 31 percent in the last two years compared to the previous decade.

The efforts are focused on seven counties — Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Fresno, Kern, Shasta and Solano.

The Modesto arrests started June 25, after investigators served search warrants at seven locations in Stanislaus County believed to be tied to methamphetamine sales. They included the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club headquarters on Seventh Street.

Arrested that day were club president Randy Picchi; his wife, Tina Picchi; Michael Pack, a prospect with the club; and Michael Mize.

A federal grand jury in September indicted three more club members: Michael Shafer, the vice president; Patrick Gonzales, the secretary; and Ricky Blackwell.

Praise from Stockton

Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones credited the efforts with significantly cutting violent crime in his city last summer after 100 federal agents from around the country came to town to target gang members after three different gang wars began.

“It was extreme violence that erupted all at once,” Jones said.

But teams of agents were able to arrest 101 suspected gang members and seize 20 firearms in weeks, said Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Lasha Boyden.

Scott, who previously served as U.S. attorney in Sacramento under President George W. Bush, said the numbers of gun prosecutions have increased dramatically since then.

“It’s off the charts,” he said. “The numbers are infinitely higher. California has the most stringent gun laws in the country, but this state is awash in guns.”

Privately made weapons

One of the greatest concerns is the increasing number of privately made weapons that do not carry serial numbers and are sold illegally, said Jennifer Cicolani, the assistant agent in charge of the San Francisco division of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Several weapons seized by agents were on display at Scott’s offices in downtown Sacramento, along with an auto-sear, a stamp-sized piece of metal that can be inserted into a Glock handgun to essentially turn it into a fully automatic machine gun, ATF Special Agent Brian Hester said.

The devices, which people order by mail from manufacturers in China for as little as $18, are considered a “status symbol” among gang members, he said.

“We are seeing these everywhere in the state of California,” Scott added.

John Holland covers breaking news and has been with The Modesto Bee since 2000. He has covered agriculture for the Bee and at newspapers in Sonora and Visalia. He was born and raised in San Francisco and has a journalism degree from UC Berkeley.