Over the past 10 years, Richard "Blue" Knudsen, president of the Salt Lake Chapter of the Sundowners Motorcycle Club, never held a job and only paid income taxes on several hundred dollars he won at a slot machine, prosecutors say.
Still, he managed to maintain "a lifestyle of his choosing supported solely from the distribution of controlled substances" centered around the Sundowners clubhouse, 17 S. 800 West, U.S. Attorney Richard McKelvie said during his opening statement at the beginning of Knudsen's federal court trial Friday."The Salt Lake Chapter of the Sundowners Club was an organization that was completely permeated by drug distribution activities," McKelvie told a 14-member jury, that included two alternates. "Knudsen used his influence over that organization and members of that organization to carry that activity out."
Knudsen, 46, two fellow club members and two other acquaintances are on trial for a 62-count indictment of drug-related charges ranging from distributing a controlled substance to continuing a criminal enterprise, a charge usually tagged on individuals who have managed large drug rings or cartels, according to defense attorneys.
The four men and one woman being tried this month are part of 39 club members or associates facing numerous drug, firearms, extortion, kidnapping robbery and assault charges in state and federal courts filed since January 1999 as a result of a joint effort between federal agents and Salt Lake City police that targeted gang and drug problems on the city's west side.
Some of those cases have resulted in prison time, and others are still pending.
Officials allege that Sundowners used their clubhouse as a distribution point for meth or at least as a meeting place for those interested in purchasing meth. Taped phone calls of some of those indicted talk about "hooking up," a phrase commonly used as a euphemism for obtaining drugs, court documents state.
But defense attorneys for Knudsen and his four co-defendants said prosecutors are trying to read too much into some of those phone calls and therefore sweeping innocent people into the club's activities.
The trial "is not about their association in a group," said defense attorney Michael Sikora during his opening statement, urging jurors to pay close attention to what is said and not said during those phone conversations.
While summarizing Knudsen's life story, defense attorney Charles Lloyd said his client has been a member of the Sundowners club since 1978 and has served as its president several times. As such, he lived at the clubhouse and made a living mainly from selling and trading spare parts for Harley Davidson motorcycles.
"He was not as steadily employed as the others in the clubhouse," Lloyd said. But his client has never been convicted of a felony, and he did not exert control over the other members who Lloyd described as "highly independent" and "financially secure."
Lloyd said Knudsen will testify at the trial, which is expected to last two weeks.