ATF: Criminal Biker Gangs Ride Rough In The Carolinas
The web site of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club greets you with the message: "Coming soon to a city near you." And based on a federal indictment last week, that's not a good thing. Federal investigators say the club is really a gang that's at war with the Hell's Angels. Twenty-seven Outlaws members from seven states are charged in a multitude of crimes that include drugs, robbery, assault and the use of explosives. Ten of those charged are from four chapters in the Charlotte area and Asheville. Some crimes have innocent victims. In one example, the indictment says an Outlaw beat up a man in a bar because the man was black. It was just something to do. The ATF is in charge of the Outlaws case. Agent Earl Woodham, spokesman for the agency's Charlotte office, agreed to talk to us in general terms about motorcycle gangs. He says they are often quite organized. Woodham: Some of these organized crime gangs that use motorcycles as an intimidation tool, they actually have a structure. They have presidents, vice presidents, sergeant at arms, treasurers, and then they have the little worker bees, and all different levels of members that are involved in the organized crime which they budget in a structure. Graf: When you hear the word "motorcycle gang," I think automatically you think back to maybe the late 60s or early 70s. Has there been resurgence in them or did they really ever go anywhere? Woodham: No, I don't believe that the concept of the motorcycle gang criminal elements that we are talking about ever went anywhere. Maybe media has backed off a little bit, but there's not been a real decrease in the number of these gangs. Just maybe the attention has not been given them. Graf: Who is drawn to a biker gang? Woodham: It's going to be someone that needs a sense of belonging. They need to belong to something. They need a family. They are actually a good family structure. They take care of their own. So it's going to be someone that has a want or a need for an organized structure to their life. But it's also predisposed for a profit motive, a money motive, or a violent crime motive. Graf: Is this what they do full-time? Do they work? Do they hold down regular jobs and this is kind of a hobby? Woodham: Well, during ATF's investigations in the past we've learned in many instances, especially on your more well-known, well-organized motorcycle type gangs, that the members actually hold real jobs, good jobs. There are lawyers, there are doctors, there are accountants. There have been members of the police profession, not sworn officers, but maybe dispatchers or other people related to a government entity. So it's not like they get up in the morning and they biker gang all day and they go to bed. And the next day they get up and they biker gang all day. A lot of these people have well-established accountant jobs, really high professional jobs. But they are also members of these illegal organized gangs. Graf: So what's the draw? If I'm a doctor or I'm an attorney I would think that a violent motorcycle gang would be one of the last places that I would spend my time. For folks like that, why? Woodham: Well, no profession is immune from a certain element of wanting to stray or wanting to be part of something greater than themselves, whether it's a deity, or a well-organized, well-structured organized crime unit such as a motorcycle gang. Graf: The indictment that we are talking about details biker gang on biker gang crime. Do they ever go outside of that realm? Woodham: Why, of course. Anybody that is believed to be a factor that could impede on the progress of whatever the gang's goal is, if you get in their way, basically, depending upon what their goal is, yeah, absolutely, they will target you and you will pay for it. Graf: Are these gangs ever threats to the general public? Should you, me, our listeners be concerned that this is something that exists here in the area? Woodham: I do not believe that if you are riding down the interstate and you see a group of these headed to the beach or headed to a rally or somewhere and they are sporting their colors and being who they are, there is a threat. Biggest reason is they aren't secret. They are not secret to law enforcement. They are not private. We know what they do. Whether they engage in community activities and providing toys for children at certain times of the year. All of these public, nice things that are planned are a facade. In reality, we know what they do. We have agents and we have undercover with them a lot more than they would like to believe, but I also know they know it. So, they do not generally want to bring all of this attention to themselves. So, if you just see them riding down the road as a private citizen I believe really there is little to no threat just by simply having contact with them. However, if you threaten their business, or if you threaten their turf, or their code, and they all have a code, if you threaten that, it doesn't matter if you are law enforcement, it doesn't matter if you are a private citizen, it doesn't matter if you are a member of another gang, you need to watch for retaliation.