Iron Range Hells Angels president charged with kidnapping, assault

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VIRGINIA, Minn. — The president of the Iron Range Hells Angels motorcycle club has now been charged with kidnapping and beating a man, whom he reportedly planned to hold at the group’s clubhouse for a “few months.”

Jerand Paul French, 38, of Eveleth, was arraigned Wednesday in St. Louis County District Court on charges of kidnapping, false imprisonment and fifth-degree assault in the late November incident that also allegedly involved the rape of a woman by other members.

Court documents allege that French initiated the attack after the male victim refused his command to stop associating with the female victim.

A prospective member of the group, Paul Anthony Debelak, 37, of Eveleth, was charged Tuesday with the rape and other related crimes. A third man was released from jail without immediate charges, but the investigation remains ongoing.

The male victim was found limping and shaking in apparent fear near the Eveleth Police Department by Chief Jesse Linde on the evening of Nov. 28. A criminal complaint says he broke down crying but denied medical attention. He indicated he lived out of town, and Linde dropped him off with another person.

Police went on to view city cameras in the area, finding that the victim apparently left the Hells Angels clubhouse, 413 Grant Ave., on crutches around 6 p.m. Two men gave chase before he was able to make it to the area of the police station, about two blocks away.

Paul Anthony Debelak, 37, of Eveleth

Both victims went on to meet with investigators on Dec. 1. The complaint says the man, who still had bruising on his leg, expressed fear that the Hells Angels could find them and disclosed that the president had been upset about his association with the woman.

Investigators said both victims were visiting a residence on Summit Street in Eveleth on Nov. 27 when French, Debelak and two other men arrived. The president allegedly dragged the man downstairs, repeatedly punching and kicking him, while Debelak forced the woman into a bathroom. She told investigators that both Debelak and another man raped her.

The complaint says the man was then brought to the clubhouse, where French continued to assault him as other members recorded video. He reportedly informed the victim he would remain there “for the next few months and could not leave.”

The man, however, escaped to the police department the next day when a prospect escorted him to a gas station. He told police he “decided to make a run for it,” ditching the crutches as he hurried toward the safety of the police chief.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension executed a search warrant at the Summit Street residence last Friday, finding the home “extremely filthy” with the exception of the “spotless” bathroom, which had a bleach jug sitting near the sink.

Two men at the house acknowledged that the Hells Angels president and others had showed up on Nov. 27, assaulting the male victim and taking him out to a van, according to the complaint. Asked about the rape, one reportedly started crying and denied that it had occurred.

Police said street cameras near the Grant Avenue clubhouse also confirmed the group arriving with the kidnap victim around 12:55 p.m. that day.

French has prior convictions, including first-degree burglary, third-degree assault and several disorderly conduct offenses in Minnesota, along with misdemeanor battery in Florida. His leadership of the local Hells Angels chapter was openly discussed as he unsuccessfully sought the restoration of his firearm rights last year.

His attorney argued the group has been involved in charitable causes such as holiday toy drives, maintaining a working relationship with police without “one criminal incident or act of violence.” But prosecutors warned of the notorious club’s “history and reputation for violence.”

“Disagreements and confrontations with members of other local motorcycle clubs, law enforcement and even the general public often lead to heated and emotionally charged situations,” Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Bonnie Norlander wrote at the time.

Debelak, meanwhile, is charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, false imprisonment and fifth-degree assault. He also has prior convictions, including domestic assault, reckless handling of a dangerous weapon, theft, and several alcohol-related driving offenses.

Judge Robert Friday set bail at $500,000 with conditions or $750,000 without for Debelak, and $300,000 conditional or $500,000 unconditional for French.

Both could face significant prison time if convicted, with St. Louis County prosecutor Chris Florey indicating he will seek aggravated sentences.

The BCA said the investigation is “active and ongoing,” and additional charges could still be filed.

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