A suspected national leader of the Pagan Motorcycle Club was sentenced to 4 to 8 years in state prison when he pleaded guilty Monday in a deal with Washington County prosecutors.
Michael Thomas “Montana” Barringer, 50, of Morris Township, Washington County, entered the plea before Common Pleas Judge John F. DiSalle, admitting to a charge of conspiracy to commit aggravated assault.
The county detectives who charged Barringer in late September accused him of ordering the April 18 beating of Troy Harris in the Charleroi Slovak Club. He was one of 12 people – most of them members of the Pagans from Washington and surrounding counties – who were charged with attempted homicide and related offenses in the beating that, according to testimony, sent Harris to multiple hospitals and other care facilities for months.
Remaining charges, including a more serious one of conspiracy to commit attempted homicide, were dropped in exchange for Barringer’s plea.
The beating caused Harris – himself a former member of the club who’d joined the Sutars Soldiers, a recent offshoot of the Pagans – with cognitive problems and other injuries, according to police, who have yet to name a specific motive for the beating.
Deputy District Attorney Jason Walsh said he couldn’t speak to the reasons that Barringer and some other defendants had agreed to pleas so quickly, saying the question was better left to their attorneys.
“That’s between them and their client,” Walsh said. “I think the commonwealth has a strong case, and I’m confident in it and ready to go to trial.”
Barringer’s attorney, William Difenderfer, didn’t immediately return a call on Tuesday afternoon.
Days before filing charges against Barringer, county Chief Detective John Tobin interviewed one of the men accused of carrying out the beating, Paul Anthony Cochran of Charleroi. Cochran allegedly confessed to his involvement in what happened to Harris, who resides in Fallowfield Township. Both men are 54.
Tobin claimed in court documents Cochran said “Montana” told him at a gathering at a bar in Perryopolis, Fayette County, to lead a group of club members to Charleroi to “send him a message.” Cochran purportedly admitted that he knew that to mean for them to assault Harris. Police said Montana is Barringer’s nickname.
Court records identified Barringer as the Pagans’ national sergeant at arms. The FBI classifies the group as an outlaw biker gang.
Walsh said that Barringer and some other Pagans who pleaded so far are “not cooperating witnesses” against fellow members who are set to go to trial on Dec. 9.
Cochran, 54, is the only member of the group who is.
Others who are expected to testify for the government if needed are Jamie Granato – who was fiancée to Matthew Vasquez, another of the accused, at the time of the beating – and Zackary Yagnich, a 27-year-old officer of the Slovak Club, which is located at 700 McKean Ave. So is James Baranowski, a retired state police sergeant and former candidate for Fayette County sheriff.
Yagnich took the stand in previous hearings and admitted that he unlocked the door to the club, where Harris was sitting at the bar, on the night of the attack.
Investigators say Baranowski, who was hired as a private investigator for defendants in the case, of offered the victim and his wife, Michele Harris, “guaranteed financial support and protection from harm for the rest of their lives” if they didn’t pursue charges in the case.
He also said that another Pagan leader who wasn’t said to have been present for the attack, Brian Keruskin of Charleroi, had asked him about possibly deleting security footage from the bar. The footage of the beating ultimately wasn’t deleted, and is being used as evidence by the government.
Keruskin, 57, pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit aggravated assault earlier this month. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 to 8 years in prison.
Walsh said on Tuesday that he’d been at a pre-trial conference for the members of the gang who are still expected for trial. They are Jason Huff, 40, of Plum; Vasquez, 31, of Monessen; John Sadvary, 40, of Penn Hills; and Joseph Olinsky, 46, of McKeesport. They are being denied bail pending the outcome of their cases.