A federal judge in Detroit on Wednesday ordered the release of Aref “Scarface” Nagi, a former vice president of the Highwaymen Motorcycle Club who was the lead defendant in a huge federal racketeering case alleging conspiracy to murder, assault, theft and drug trafficking.
In ordering Nagi’s compassionate release, U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds cited Nagi’s health in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and what she described as extraordinary steps he has taken to rehabilitate himself while in federal prison.
Federal prosecutors oppose the release of Nagi, who was not due to be let out of a federal prison in Minnesota until 2024. They say neither Nagi’s health issues nor his prison record, or the serious crimes he committed, justify early release.
Nagi, 58, was convicted by a federal jury in Detroit in 2011 of racketeering, conspiracy, assault with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to transport stolen motorcycles across state lines, conspiracy to remove vehicle identification numbers, conspiracy to traffic illegal drugs, and use of a firearm during a crime of violence. The firearm charge was later overturned on appeal. He was initially sentenced to 37 years in prison, though his sentence was later reduced to 20 years.
Nagi was one of more than 30 defendants sent to prison in a case that targeted 91 club members and associates, including police officers and an attorney.
Edmunds said Wednesday that Nagi’s sentence should be reduced to time served and he should be placed on supervised release for five years.
Nagi’s “prison records show an astounding effort towards rehabilitation,” she said in a written order. “Defendant has participated in well over 100 educational courses ranging from basic math and history classes to business, wellness, problem solving, and law classes. He has also completed multiple vocational apprenticeships in trades, including culinary arts, automotive technology and industrial housekeeping.”
Edmunds also cited Nagi’s community service work and said his longtime use of steroids could leave him with a compromised immune system as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread in federal prisons. Further, he is needed as a caregiver for his elderly mother, she said.
Federal prosecutors disagreed, saying Nagi’s health issues are not extraordinary, he has already had COVID-19 and recovered, and he initially refused to take the Moderna vaccine while in prison, though he later agreed to take the Pfizer vaccine after it received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
“Nagi was convicted of being part of a criminal RICO enterprise, the Detroit Highwaymen outlaw motorcycle gang — an extremely dangerous group that was involved in murder, extortion, arson and drug trafficking, and was often in hostile territorial conflict with other outlaw motorcycle gangs,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Straus said in a court filing opposing Nagi’s release.
Nagi was “significantly involved” in an incident at a Detroit-area bar “which included the discharge of a firearm and defendant Nagi bringing at least a half dozen fellow Highwaymen … to exact revenge on the victim for disrespecting the gang.”
The Highwaymen, founded in Detroit in 1954, gained infamy in the 1970s when some members were convicted of bombing and raiding homes and clubhouses of rivals. The outlaw motorcycle gang, which at least until the indictments was Detroit’s largest, was seen by many as an outlaw among outlaws — banned from a federation of Detroit clubs founded by a former Outlaws president.
Nagi was a restaurant and bar owner prior to his indictment and a graduate of Wayne State University.
It was not clear Wednesday whether prosecutors might appeal Edmund’s order or when Nagi’s release might take place.