CRIME

The war on Hell’s Angels

LENNY GLYNN June 3 1985
CRIME

The war on Hell’s Angels

LENNY GLYNN June 3 1985

The war on Hell’s Angels

CRIME

"They ride, rape and raid like marauding cavalry,” declared Male magazine in 1965, “and they boast that no police force can break up their criminal motorcycle fraternity.” Since Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club was established in Fontana, Calif., in 1950, the sweat-stained bikers with the ominous “colors”—a winged skull in a motorcycle helmet—have unnerved ordinary citizens with their disregard for the law. But the Angels were humbled in the early hours of May 2, when roughly 1,000 heavily armed members of U.S. federal and local police agencies launched raids on Angels’ clubhouses and homes in 50 locations in 11 states. The result: more than 105 Angels were rounded up on drug, weapons and racketeering charges, along with an arsenal of automatic weapons and some $2.6 million worth of methamphetamines (speed), cocaine and other drugs. In an affidavit, Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Kevin P. Bonner, who infiltrated the gang, declared, “The Hell’s Angels is an organization that lives for or lives on drugs.”

Law enforcement authorities have known for about 15 years that motorcycle gangs have been heavily involved in large-scale dtug production and trafficking. Since 1981, when FBI investigators began targeting the “Big Four” U.S. motorcycle clubs under the bureau’s Organized Crime Program, officers have conducted raids against the Outlaws, Pagans and, in February, the Bandidos. But the Angels—with an international network of 64 chapters in 13 countries, including the United States, Canada, Denmark and Japan—proved to be the “most sophisticated,” according to FBI director William Webster. Only after a two-year investigation by undercover agent Bonner, who posed as an “outlaw” biker, was the FBI able to gather enough evidence to initiate the arrests.

Bonner had help from an unnamed informant who had been invited to join the Angels while serving a term in federal prison in Petersburg, Va. The two men, who were involved in drug deals with 11 Angels’ chapters in seven states, discovered that the gang controlled much of the East Coast methamphetamine market. As well, the investigators found evidence that the Angels manufactured the drug in their own clandestine labs and were involved in contract murders, extortion, bribery of public officials, assault and the harboring of fugitives. Even more ominous, added Webster, were indications that the Angels had developed liaisons with traditional organized crime.

Still, the federal sweep, code-named Operation Roughrider, met little resistance. Indeed, there were only two casualties among the law enforcement officials of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and state and local police agencies who took part in the raids. One, a state trooper in Stratford, Conn., was wounded when a suspect fired at him through a door, and a Drug Enforcement official in Bridgeport, Conn., suffered a broken toe while using a sledgehammer to smash through an armored clubhouse door.

FBI officials say that the Angels had evolved a highly efficient drug distribution system and that money from their illicit dealings, as well as regular “tithes” to headquarters from local chapters, have contributed to a hefty legal defence fund. That cash will come in handy this summer when gang members begin to appear in courts across the country on charges under the Controlled Substances Act and the sweeping 1968 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Statutes, aimed at organized crime. Indeed, if found guilty, the fallen Angels could spend as many as 20 years away from their idea of heaven: the open road.

LENNY GLYNN