SAN FRANCISCO — A longtime member of the Sonoma Hells Angels was sentenced to five years in federal prison after pleading guilty to involvement in a racketeering conspiracy and an assault, court records show.
Russel Lyles Jr. pleaded guilty to a racketeering offense last November, but that doesn’t mean he agrees with the prosecution’s assessment of exactly what crimes he committed. Lyles’ lawyer submitted a 14-page court document filled with objections to a pre-sentencing report, in which Lyles either denies involvement in racketeering crimes, or clarified his motivation for committing various assaults.
“Lyles often used his fists to punish individuals for their behavior or to ‘toughen them up,’” his attorney wrote in a document that denies Lyles committed a particular assault to further the Hells Angels’ interest.
Nor, apparently, did Lyles agree with everything his fellow Hells Angels did. When he learned through a newspaper report that former Sonoma chapter president Ray Foakes had been arrested for sexually assaulting a former member’s wife, he was “deeply disturbed and angered … and reached out to an attorney to consider issuing a public statement” condemning the sexual assault, but ultimately decided against it, his attorney said.
While Lyles pleaded guilty, six other Hells Angels took their case before a jury in two separate trials. Five of those six members were convicted of crimes including multiple assaults, robberies, extortion plots and the murder of a former Hells Angel who’d angered high-ranking members. One was acquitted of witness intimidation.
Lyles’ 63-month sentence was less than what prosecutors asked for, and more than what the defense wanted. Prosecutors claim Lyles was involved in multiple assaults and extortion plots, including the beating of a Ghost Warriors Motorcycle Club member who’d angered the Hells Angels.
The sentence is the longest yet to be handed down in this large scale prosecution of the club, which started in 2017 and included members of chapters in Sonoma, Fresno and Boston. But several more members, including four convicted of murder, are expected to receive life or decades in federal prison. Earlier this year, a judge denied a motion for a new trial by three of them.