Joe Gustafson Sr., charged with seven felonies, is on the lam

Have you seen this man? Big Joe is on the lam
Have you seen this man? Big Joe is on the lam
Hennepin County mugshot

Joseph "Big Joe" Gustafson, a former Hell's Angel-turned bail bondsman who terrorized north Minneapolis for years, has been charged with seven felonies -- and he's on the run.

Authorities aren't saying whether they know where Gustafson might be headed, but when they catch him, there will be plenty of evidence to put him in jail for a very long time.

As we documented in our February 2010 cover story, "Fallen Angel," Gustafson is the mastermind of a north criminal organization. The charges against him include felony racketeering, kidnapping, making terroristic threats, aggravated robbery, conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder, and arson.

Last fall and this winter, Gustafson's son, "Little Joe," and several other members of the BDP were charged in connection with the group's activities. But nabbing Big Joe will be a major coup.

As the allegations laid out in this criminal complaint show, the man has devastated many lives.

His "Beat-Down Posse" reigned by inflicting brutal assaults--often with the help of lead- or sand-filled gloves--on anyone Big Joe wished to intimidate. The Gustafsons also recruited for their group, dangling the promise of unlimited women to anyone who joined "the team," according to court documents.

Each member of the group had an individual assignment, based on their skills. Drug dealers were especially prized.  

After the Gustafsons intimidated dealers into coming into their fold, they charged them a 10 percent "tax" on their sales, according to court documents. In return, the dealers got the promise of prestige, all those women, and protection.

Little Joe Gustafson was charged with racketeering earlier this year
Little Joe Gustafson was charged with racketeering earlier this year

Big Joe ran his group with paramilitary discipline, mandating weekly Thursday night meetings that BDP members called "church." ​Anyone stepping out of line was brutally disciplined.

The Gustafson investigation spanned years, led by Minneapolis Police Sgt. Kelly O'Rourke and assisted by the Department of Commerce, the IRS, and the FBI. With so many hands in the mix (plus pesky reporters on the trail), it wasn't long before Big Joe found out he was being investigated.

Once a person joined the BDP, there was no way out. And when Big Joe began suspecting that one of his own was snitching, he hatched a plot to kill the rat.

A BDP member identified in court documents only as "Witness 8" began leaking information to the FBI, even wearing a wiretap in conversations with Big Joe in an attempt to feed investigators information.

Big Joe Gustafson's home in the Victory neighborhood, which he fortified with steel
Big Joe Gustafson's home in the Victory neighborhood, which he fortified with steel

Somehow, Big Joe got suspicious--so he ordered another BDP, identified in court documents as "Witness 10," to plug the leak. Big Joe gave his chosen hit-man a .38-caliber handgun for the job.

On the appointed day in 2009, Big Joe dropped off Witness 8 at his bail bond business, where Witness 10 was supposed to be lying in wait with the handgun.

Only, fate intervened. When Witness 10 arrived at the bail business, he was found a woman working at the computer inside. Realizing that she'd be a witness, he lost his nerve and called off the plan.

That wasn't the only BDP who got punished for lack of loyalty. Another BDP, identified as "Witness 1" in the criminal complaint, was disciplined after trying to distance himself from the Gustafsons.

One night in late fall 2008, Witness 1 awoke to a stabbing sensation. BDP members had just plunged a knife into his hand and his shoulders. When Witness 1 asked why he'd just been stabbed, Little Joe told him he'd been "out of touch" too long. On their way out the door, another BDP member whispered in Witness 1's ear: "Just fuck up once and you're the next one."

The BDP used Big Joe's business, Gustafson Bail Bonds, as excuse to steal money from drug dealers. Big Joe had once lost money when a man named Hector Fonseco skipped town and left the former Hell's Angel footing the bill for a $12,000 bond. That became an excuse to bust down doors, look for "Hector," and steal money and drugs from Mexican families living on Lake Street.

Anyone who tried to resist was pummeled. In one case, BDP members beat a drug dealer bloody, and left him to die in a bathtub.

The criminal complaint confirms that Big Joe ordered this--and virtually every other heinous act that the BDP committed. Cumulatively, the charges against him carry penalties of as much as 100 years in jail.


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