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Outlaws gang leader demands his day in U.S. court after 30 years

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Many criminals have fled South Florida to avoid being brought to justice, but maybe none has fought as hard as Thor Hansen did to come back to the U.S. last week — deliberately to be arrested.

It's just another chapter in an extraordinarily colorful life that spans everything from leading the notorious Outlaws motorcycle gang to dealing drugs when he lived in Lighthouse Point and training a "broomstick army" of refugees in Lantana to try to overthrow the Haitian government.

Then there's his criminal record, stretching back to 1965; his claim that he was a freelance CIA agent; his marriage to a Maxwell House coffee heiress; the novel he penned, "Outlaw Biker"; and his country folk music albums, including one titled "Wanted Man."

Hansen, now 68, simply walked out of the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale during his cocaine distribution trial in 1981 and went to his native Norway.

He was convicted in his absence, but it took 16 years until he slipped up in 1997, was arrested in Belgium and extradited back to South Florida, where he served seven years in federal prison for the drug convictions.

Because of a quirk in the terms of the international extradition, Hansen wasn't put on trial for the bond-jumping felony charge filed against him when he disappeared during the trial. He was sent back to Norway when he was freed from prison in 2004.

But in a series of escalating attempts in recent years — all of which failed — Hansen tried to persuade a judge to overturn his drug convictions and drop the bond-jumping allegation.

Eventually, Hansen decided to take a flight from Cancun, Mexico, to Miami on Oct. 8 of this year and turn himself in to federal authorities.

Passport and immigration officials had a different idea. They interviewed him, discovered his criminal past and the fact there was no active arrest warrant, refused him entry to the country and put him on the next available plane back to Mexico.

Hansen then spent weeks trying to negotiate with prosecutors and U.S. embassy officials in Belize. He pestered the court with requests to dismiss the charge or have him arrested and brought to Fort Lauderdale to face it.

He finally got his wish when he received special permission to return to the U.S. for the sole purpose of dealing with the criminal case against him. He was arrested on Nov. 15 and booked into the Broward County Main Jail.

In federal court in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Hansen asked to be freed on a bond of $50,000 to $100,000 with an electronic ankle monitor while he fights the case.

Prosecutor Strider Dickson urged the judge to keep Hansen locked up, saying there's no guarantee he'd show up for trial and that he could pose a danger to the community.

U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas noted that Hansen's rap sheet included at least one deportation and convictions for a couple of escapes, some assaults, carrying a concealed weapon, and being an accessory after the fact to a homicide in 1977.

"I'm no danger to this community," Hansen said in court. "That was 30-something years ago, I'm 68."

Hansen, a towering 6-foot-4 man who sports spectacles, long gray hair, a drooping mustache and the Outlaws' trademark skull-and-crossed-pistons tattoo peeking out from the left arm of his jail scrubs, could be overheard cheerfully prompting and interrupting his assistant federal public defender, Tim Day, in court.

Hansen, who smiled, chatted and joked with court officials before and during the hearing, described himself as a retired businessman and inventor.

Hansen repeatedly insisted that his only motivation is to clear up the criminal case in the hope that he'd be allowed to travel freely to the U.S. to visit his adult children, including a daughter who lives in Ohio and is willing to let him live with her. He also has somewhere to stay in South Florida and has family in Wisconsin and California, according to court records.

While many defendants have to convince the judge they won't flee if they're released on bond, Day told the judge that Hansen's situation is the exact opposite: "Mr. Hansen was out of the country and voluntarily came back ... [he wants to overturn] the convictions he believes were improperly imposed against him."

The judge ruled late Tuesday that Hansen should remain locked up because he is a flight risk and a potential danger to the community. The judge also found that the weight of the evidence against Hansen is "significant." Even if he had been granted a bond, he likely would have been detained by immigration authorities because of his history, the judge said.

If convicted, Hansen faces a maximum of five years in prison but could get a significant amount of time off because the charge dates back to a time when prisoners still qualified for parole.

Hansen had a supporter in court on Tuesday. Country singer Mark Scheibert, who was born in Atlanta, Ga., but lives in Norway, said he has spent the past four years and several thousand dollars working with Hansen on a screenplay about the biker's life called "Journey for Justice."

Scheibert, who was dressed colorfully in a western-style poncho, cowboy hat and boots, certainly has plenty of material to work with in court records and newspaper clippings.

Hansen tried to raise a mercenary army to invade Haiti and overthrow the Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier administration there in the early 1980s and has claimed that he was set up by U.S. operatives. Newspaper reports from the time said he directed a team of about two dozen men, called the Haitian National Liberation Army, who did training drills with broomsticks in a field on Western Way Road in Lantana. People involved in the training effort told locals they were making a documentary called "Swamp Rat."

He was arrested soon after on charges that he sold cocaine to undercover federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents at a pancake house in Pompano Beach.

Hansen had leased Hog Cay, a small island near the Bahamas, to use as supply base for the invasion – though agents said they thought it was intended to help his drug smuggling efforts, according to newspaper reports.

When Hansen was arrested in 1997 at an airport in Brussels, which led to his extradition, authorities said he was lured from Norway with a promise that he'd be paid to pick up $20,000 in cash and a passport for another biker.

During his time in Florida, he ran successful auto and motorcycle mechanic shops in Pompano Beach and Daytona, rode Harley-Davidsons and drove a Lincoln.

The Sun Sentinel reported at the time that he kept seven female partners — or "old ladies" — but dropped four of them when his newest wife, Ritchey Cheek Farrell, a Maxwell House Coffee heiress, gave birth to a child.

He led Outlaws chapters in South Florida in the '70s and '80s. In Europe, according to media reports, he was shot in the foot at a clubhouse in Oslo in 1997 in an attack authorities said was part of a biker war. His bodyguard was critically injured in the same attack, police said.

Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.

pmcmahon@tribune.com, 954-356-4533 or Twitter @SentinelPaula

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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