By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
Joe Gustafson sat there, handcuffed, in a recliner in his living room, as federal agents rifled through his personal things. They were tearing through the house, taking his guns. He showed them the serial numbers carved onto the sides, but it didn't matter. He was a prisoner in his home and he couldn't stop them.
They'd come in the morning, before sunrise, stealing into the sleepy Victory neighborhood in north Minneapolis where Gustafson ran his bail bonds business and raised his sons. They stormed past the house's steel-plated facade in riot gear, as if they expected a shoot-out, as if he were some big-time gangster waiting with pistol cocked. They tinkered with the security camera, the one he'd installed to watch the front door. They crawled all over his lawn in blue jackets, their backs blazed proud yellow: FBI and IRS.
Gustafson—a 54-year-old former Hell's Angel with a gray ponytail, an Angels tattoo on his chest, and motorcycle boots—was furious. The federal agents descended upon his house, the house of his daughter-in-law, and a third house where a friend of theirs lived, all for no good reason, he says. "To be honest with you, I'm kind of in the dark about it, you know? I believe it's unjust and uncalled for, you know what I mean?"
Gustafson says it's just like the raid several years ago, when the cops came to his house accusing his son of title fraud and tax evasion, or when they investigated him for dealing in stolen Harleys as part of a Hell's Angels chop shop. They couldn't pin him with anything then, he says, and they won't this time, either.
"I'm licensed as a bail bonds business, I do bounty-hunting work, all my guns are legal, I have a license to carry," he says. "Totally, this is some bullshit, you know what I mean?"
A federal grand jury is expected to hand down indictments of Gustafson, his son, and their underlings soon—possibly within weeks. Federal prosecutors are arguing that Gustafson and son are the masterminds of an organized crime ring specializing in arson, fraud, extortion, drugs, and kidnapping. Subpoenas are circulating, even if few people involved in the case are willing to talk publicly.
"I can confirm that we executed a search warrant at that location in support of an ongoing investigation," is all that E.K. Wilson, an FBI spokesman, would offer.
"We aren't really able to comment about an ongoing situation," says Janet Oakes, special agent and spokeswoman for the IRS.
But several Minneapolis police officers confirm that the case is now with federal prosecutors.
"He's been a figure on the North Side for probably 30 years, if not more," says Minneapolis Police Inspector Mike Martin, commander of the Fourth Precinct. "He's one of these guys that wasn't accepted within the biker culture and was therefore excommunicated from the Hell's Angels, and yet wants to still portray this image that he's affiliated with them, and use that to intimidate people."
JOSEPH ROBERT GUSTAFSON got his first serious criminal conviction, for felony aggravated assault, in 1979, when he was 23. A man named Donald Peterson was moving furniture for his ex-wife outside a home in north Minneapolis when Gustafson, accompanied by his older brother James, showed up carrying a heavy pipe.
The beating was so vicious that Peterson was left with a fractured skull and jaw and lost 14 teeth.
When police asked Gustafson about it, he told them he was under the influence of medication and didn't remember anything. Big brother James dummied up as well.
All the Gustafson boys got in trouble, but none more than Joe's younger brother Harold. Like Joe's, Harold's fists could deliver devastating blows. After one night of drinking in 1976, Harold beat a man so badly that he was left mentally incapacitated, unable to speak or feed himself. At 19, Harold was headed to prison for five years.
He'd been out of St. Cloud penitentiary for just over a year when, in October 1982, he put on a mask and stormed the basement pharmacy of a hospital in St. Paul. Harold and two other men tried to rob the cashier. When the security guard, an off-duty Oakdale cop, tried to intervene, someone shot him dead.
The family jumped to Harold's defense. They said that on the evening of the murder, Harold was at his parents' house, eating chili and giving the family tattoos.
The jury didn't buy it. In 1984, Harold got life in prison.
Around the same time, Joe got arrested on felony drug charges. He was sitting on his motorcycle, blocking traffic, jawing away at someone in a parked car near the intersection of 26th Street and Sheridan Avenue North, according to court records. When a Minneapolis cop told him to move along, Gustafson refused.
The officer asked for his name—Joe gave a fake one—and patted him down. Gustafson had six and one-quarter grams of cocaine attached to a beeper in the inner pocket of his black leather jacket.
But Joe had a plan. On March 1, 1985, he took a man named Andrew Carey Beggs for a drive in his pickup truck, according to court records. Gustafson steered past a 1972 Pontiac Ventura parked in a north Minneapolis alleyway, and dangled some keys. If Beggs claimed the blow, the car would be his, Gustafson promised.