A trial has begun for Ernie Dew in one of the final cases in a massive police operation targeting the drug trade in Manitoba.

Dew, whom police have called theleader of Manitoba's Hells Angels,appeared in Court of Queen's Bench in Winnipeg Tuesday morning to begin defending himself against four charges of trafficking cocaine and four counts of possessing the proceeds of crime.

Dew and 12 others— including three alleged top members of the Hells Angels— were arrested in February 2006 as part of Project Defence, an investigation by the RCMP and police in Winnipeg and Brandon into suspected drug dealers.

Several lawyers have represented Dew since his arrest, but when his trial got underway Tuesday he was alone at the defence table, dressed in an unofficial prison uniform of grey sweat pants and shirt.

His decision to represent himself, is in stark contrast to the last major trial of an accused in the police sting, that of Ian Grant, who was represented by Ian Garber, one of the province's most senior criminal attorneys.

Grant, a member of the Manitoba Hells Angels biker gang, was sentenced in May to 15 years in prison on eight charges, including drug trafficking, extortion and possession of proceeds of crime.

A jury convicted Grant, whereas Justice Brenda Keyser will hear Dew's case.

Much of the evidence intheProject Defence cases centres around Franco Atanasovic, a civilian agent for the police who wore recording devices during meetings with suspected criminal targets.

Atanasovic, who has admitted in court to having a lengthy criminal record, was paid $525,000 for his role and is now under witness protection.

Part of the reason Atanasovic was able to get close to the bikers was his long association with Ernie Dew.

It's not clear if Dew will cross-examine his old acquaintance during his trial; it's possible a lawyer will be at his side when Atanasovic testifies.