In raids across the Carolinas, law enforcement agents on Thursday rounded up suspected members and associates of a Hells Angels motorcycle gang and accused them of crimes ranging from racketeering and money laundering to drug dealing and firearm violations.
Twenty suspects have been indicted in connection with the governments two-year investigation into what court documents describe as the Rock Hell City Nomad Chapter of the Hells Angels, based in York County. The announcement came on the same day law enforcement authorities executed 23 search warrants in both Carolinas.
The indictment offers a rare glimpse into the secret workings of the Hells Angels, described as a highly organized criminal enterprise that dealt drugs and promoted a climate of fear through intimidation, violence and threats of violence.
Agents raided a Gaston County motorcycle club headquarters as part of the crackdown. Authorities said that during the searches across both Carolinas, they seized cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, pills and about 100 firearms, including two machine guns.
It is important to note that guns are off the street, drugs are off the street and dangerous people are off the street, Rock Hill Police Chief John Gregory said. Those are the things we think are significant.
FBI special agent in charge David Thomas said that by working together, law enforcement agencies send a clear message that such pervasive criminal activities will not be tolerated.
Biker gangs have a long history in Charlotte. In 1979, five members of the Outlaws gang were slain at a house in the Derita neighborhood. Two years ago, 10 men from the Charlotte region were charged in a federal probe of the Outlaws. The indictment in that case said the Outlaws met to plan war against the Hells Angels, their chief rivals.
Tom Barker, a sociologist at Eastern Kentucky University who studies biker gangs, said the Hells Angels have about 60 chapters across the country. Criminal activity by such groups is on the rise, he added, with some even joining forces with Mexican drug cartels.
The general public doesnt notice it, but these guys are really dangerous, he said.
S.C.-based task force
Thursdays 91-count indictment alleges that the members and associates of the York County-based Hells Angels group engaged in narcotics distribution, arson, trafficking in stolen property, money laundering, extortion, prostitution and firearms violations.
Federal prosecutors identified Mark William Baker, known as Lightning, of Lancaster as president of the Rock Hell City Nomads. David Allen Pryor, known as Yard Owl, of York was president of the Red Devils Motorcycle Club in Rock Hill. Authorities believe Pryors group worked with the Nomads.
Two years ago, the FBI partnered with local agencies to create the South Carolina Hells Angels Task Force, which has been investigating the group ever since.
Todays arrests and seizures are an important step in our ongoing fight against criminal gangs operating in South Carolina, U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said. This investigation is also another example of what can be accomplished through a close partnership among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Inside the Hells Angels
The indictment outlined the inner workings of the Hells Angels. Among the details:
• Chapter meetings are held regularly and referred to as church. Only members can attend.
• Membership is limited to white males. Members also have to own one or more American-made motorcycles mostly Harley Davidsons.
• The chapter president has ultimate decision-making authority over activities and reports directly to regional officers of the Hells Angels. Representatives of Hells Angels chapters on the East Coast meet periodically in different states.
• Full members are called full patch a reference to the members ability to wear the full Hells Angels three-piece patch on jackets and vests. The full patch includes the club emblem a winged death head.
It also includes the words Hells Angels and identifies the territory claimed by the club.
• Members also wear a diamond-shaped one-percenter patch reflecting the Hells Angels contention that its members are among the one percent of motorcyclists who are non-law-abiding outlaws.
Prosecutors said one of the clubhouses used by gang members was on Linda Drive at the intersection South Anderson Road (U.S. 21) in Rock Hill.
Its a small brown building on a lot bordered by a chain link fence with a no trespassing sign. On Thursday afternoon, a light outside the building was still on, just above a sign that says Red Devils South Carolina.
Bob Wells lives next door, about 150 yards away. He can see the clubhouse through the tree line at the edge of his property.
Wells said the club usually hosted loud parties with a live band around the Fourth of July. In years past, hes walked over and asked them to quiet down. He said they were polite.
Overall, he said, they were decent neighbors. But he had become concerned about apparent target shooting happening just behind the club, not far from busy South Anderson Road and other homes. Wells said a man and woman had been living in a travel trailer behind the club and that the man occasionally shot guns during the day.
Neighbor noticed cycles
For the past few years, he said, the club apparently hosted meetings regularly on Wednesdays. As Wells headed to prayer meetings on Wednesday evenings, he normally saw 10 to 15 motorcycles at the club. But this Wednesday, he said, there was a huge meeting with about 90 motorcycles parked at the club.
I had no idea it was as bad as it was, Wells said.
Wells said he suspected the club might be linked to the gang after he saw a man riding a motorcycle wearing a jacket emblazoned with Hells Angels.
According to the indictment, prospective Hells Angels members go through a lengthy process designed to measure their commitment to the Hells Angels and to guard against law enforcement infiltration. After associating with the Hells Angels for a period of time, an individual may be identified as a hang-around and may do menial tasks and other duties to gain the respect of the members.
Hang-arounds may be sponsored by a Hells Angel member to become a prospective member. A prospective member must follow the orders of full-patch members and run errands, which can include illegal activities, the indictment says.
If a prospective member receives the unanimous vote of all chapter members, he is allowed to become a full member of the Hells Angels.
One of the suspects indicted in the crackdown on the Hells Angels is from Charlotte; two are from Gastonia; four from Lancaster County; and five from York County. The others were from elsewhere in South Carolina.
Most of the suspects had nicknames, according to the indictment. Among them: Rat, Lightning, Yard Owl, Gravel Dave, Diamond Dan and Diesel.
Harvey Mayhill, a member of the Patriot Guard motorcycle group which accompanies families during soldier funerals, cautioned the public to not lump all riders in with a proportionately small criminal faction.
Predominantly the people that ride are not down and out and destitute or gang members out to hurt the public, he said. If you see a guy with a leather jacket and a beard (on a motorcycle), the leather jacket is to protect his body and the beard is to protect his face.
Staff writers Steve Lyttle and Eric Frazier, staff researcher Maria David, the Rock Hill Herald and WCNC contributed.