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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Bike Shop Fights ‘Sons of Anarchy’ Persecution

NEENAH, Wis. (CN) - Delusions of a "Sons of Anarchy"-style motorcycle gang led to the wrongful raid of a Wisconsin bike shop, a federal complaint alleges.

Eagle Nation Cycles and its owner, Steve Erato, filed suit Tuesday alongside others present at a 2012 police raid pursuant to search warrant on multiple businesses housed in the shop's Neenah headquarters.

"The warrant laid out claims against 'Eagle Nation,' claiming the facility was being used in a complex drug manufacturing and distribution operation in conjunction with the Hells Lovers motorcycle gang and suggested activities and persons in the facility as if it were an episode of the television series, 'Sons of Anarchy,'" the complaint states, referencing the popular drama about a fictional California biker gang.

In an interview and his complaint, Erato attributes the alleged persecution of his business to a judgment he won nearly a decade ago against Winnebago County Judge Scott Woldt.

Back in 2005, the Crime Victim's Rights Board penalized Woldt and the then-district attorney for denying Erato's right to speak when his then-girlfriend, Merica Kabke, was on trial for a fatal auto accident in which she was high on marijuana, according to the complaint.

Though Erato and Kabke's son, Vincent, was the victim of this crash, the court prevented Erato from making a plea for leniency on Kabke's behalf, the complaint alleges.

Erato says he had intended to point out that Woldt had killed a woman while driving drunk on a motorcycle when he was 18, and that the district attorney had admitted to using cocaine.

"Erato's desire to make statement was not to shame or harm the judge or the district attorney, but rather, to illustrate that we all make mistakes - even judges and prosecutors - and that punishing Kabke harshly would be hypocritical for both of these men," the complaint states.

Woldt is the brother of a Winnebago County deputy sheriff, who happens to be the second commanding officer of its local drug unit, the Lake Winnebago Area Metropolitan Enforcement Group, according to the complaint.

Erato blames the prejudices against him for Woldt's lack of hesitation when it came to signing a warrant against his bike shop in 2012. The complaint describes the request as "rife with inaccuracies, misstatements and unsubstantiated supposition."

It described an alleged heroin sale that officers claimed to have witnessed behind Eagle Nation, according to the complaint.

Though the "officers claimed that the target went into Eagle Nation," the complaint calls it "a physical impossibility to see the rear entrance of Eagle Nation" from the position where the officer who signed the affidavit was standing.

Erato, a "combat veteran," says the raid exacerbated his diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The hyper-militarized force parked an armored tank-like vehicle outside of Eagle Nation, stormed the building, bombarding the occupants with assault weapons drawn, screaming profanities and abuse, all while wearing plain clothes (ununiformed) and facemasks," the complaint states (parentheses in original). "None of the initial officers that entered the building were wearing marked police uniforms."

Though officers found a "small amount marijuana" in one of the Eagle Nation offices, the camera in that office "suspiciously ... cuts out following the police entry into the room and then resumes only after the alleged discovery," according to the complaint.

The "facial invalidity of the warrant" allegedly led prosecutors to drop other drug charges brought against tenants of a condominium in the same building as the bike shop.

Police meanwhile brought 14 felony counts against Erato, but 13 of these charges were "erroneous ... because Erato did not have possession of any firearms," the complaint states.

Claiming in an interview that the raid turned him into a "basket case," Erato says his wife has since filed for a divorce.

The other plaintiffs who witnessed the raid have also undergone psychological trauma, and Eagle Nation lost business as a result of the raid, the complaint states.

Erato suspects that Eagle Nation's Main Street location, one of the few remaining undeveloped parts of Neenah, may also account for the raid.

"Defendant's actions were done in an attempt to force Eagle Nation Cycles out of business," the complaint states. "Eagle Nation Cycles is located on a prime piece of property located in a developmental district of downtown. Finding a large cache of drugs would have resulted in an easy acquisition of property for the city."

Neenah City Attorney James Godlewski declined to comment on the case, but denied the assertion that the raid was a means to acquire the property for development.

The plaintiffs are suing for civil rights violations, unreasonable search and seizure, personal injury and judicial impropriety. They seek $50 million in punitive damages, plus $400,000 for loss of income and compensatory damages.

They are represented by Cole White of White Law Offices in Green Bay, who did not immediately return a request for comment.

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