Christian bikers glad pastor is out of jail

Orange County Register/August 10, 2008

Anaheim - The pastor of the Set Free motorcycle ministry, out of jail on $50,000 bail, spoke about his arrest to more than 100 of his parishioners over the weekend.

Pastor Phillip Aguilar, 60, founder of the Set Free church, told the congregation he was not angry about 150 police officers raiding his properties on Wednesday. Officers from police departments throughout Orange County got warrants to search and seize properties from several Set Free homes.

He said he knows the image his organization portrays -- one of heavily tattooed motorcyclists who drive fancy bikes and cars -- played a role in how officers reacted to the barroom brawl in which he and six other members of the church were arrested on attempted murder charges.

"The people I work with are a rugged-looking crew," Aguilar said.

A crew of the Set Free Soldiers is accused of fighting with members of the Hells Angels at Blackies by the Sea in Newport Beach late last month. The attempted murder charge against Aguilar was dropped, and prosecutors have charged him and two other members with weapons violations and street terrorism.

One Set Free member, Jeremy Gaither, 28, was reportedly hit in the head with a pool ball. Two Hells Angels members were stabbed, authorities said.

To help change the church's image, often referred to as a Christian biker gang by authorities, Aguilar told parishioners to stop loitering outside the Archer Street properties, and for his friends to stop parking their Bentleys and Mercedes Benzes in front of his home.

"When people go by and they see these cars, there's this perception about who you are," Aguilar said. "Even the mail man comes by and says, 'Hey, what's up, Trump?'"

Parishioners say the Set Free family is dedicated to helping others.

Gaither's parents, Jay, 50, and Marrianne, 47, were at their wit's end with their kids, who were both involved in heavy drugs, Marrianne Gaither said.

Jeremy, 28, and sister Jennifer Gaither, 26, moved into one of the group's sober-living homes last year and have since changed for the better, Marrianne Gaither said.

Father, Jay Gaither, 50, said he was uneasy about his son and daughter entering into Set Free's rehab at first because of his perception of the group.

"Before my kids started coming here, I was skeptical, but this was the only thing that straightened them out," Gaither said. "We tried everything. For Jennifer, she went to the Salvation Army. For Jeremy, he went to other rehabs, and he went to prison."

Jeremy Gaither remains in Orange County jail on a parole violation.

Thirty years ago, Aguilar was addicted to heroin. He also has spent time in jail for child abuse.

Aguilar now preaches to a mix of recovering drug addicts like Jeremy and Jennifer Gaither on Saturday nights in the backyard of one of his S. Archer Street properties.

Aguilar said during the raid last week, a legally-registered pistol was discovered in his son's, Phillip Aguilar Jr., room. Another son has brass knuckles that he got in Asia. He hopes once the gun is explained in court, charges will be dropped.

"When I heard that they took all the cars, and they took all the motorcycles - I thought none of that really matters,'' Aguilar said of the vehicles seized by authorities. "What really matters is seeing the people you love."

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