WASHINGTON — More than 125 bikers and their associates, most of them members of the Hells Angels motorcycle club, were arrested Thursday on drug trafficking and racketeering charges in an 11-state roundup by federal, state and local law enforcement authorities.
The pre-dawn arrests and searches at 50 sites--including San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento and Phoenix--resulted from a three-year FBI undercover operation code-named Roughrider, Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III and FBI Director William H. Webster said in a joint statement.
The drugs seized--cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, hashish, PCP and LSD--had a total street value of $2 million, Webster said. The names of those arrested were not disclosed.
4th Crackdown on Gangs
The roundup was the fourth crackdown since February on motorcycle gangs suspected of being part of "an ongoing criminal enterprise," Meese told reporters. Previous mass arrests have involved members of the Bandidos, the Diablos and the Pagans.
The gangs represent a major transportation and distribution network for narcotics, particularly stimulants such as methamphetamines, also known as "speed" and "crank," officials said. Law enforcement authorities have described motorcycle gangs as new forms of organized crime that are mainly responsible for distributing PCP, or "angel dust."
Meese told reporters that "there is no question this is a dangerous group," noting that, in one of the raids Thursday, a state trooper was shot twice at the Hells Angels headquarters in Stratford, Conn. An FBI agent was attacked with a sledgehammer.
Webster, meanwhile, credited the undercover operation with preventing "five potential murders," although he did not elaborate. During the course of the investigation, an FBI agent engaged in "extensive travel in several states and had transactions with numerous Hells Angels officers," he said.
Points to Rival Gangs
But Mike (Irish) O'Farrell, president of the Hells Angels Oakland chapter, said he believed that most of those taken into custody Thursday were not Hells Angels or their associates but members of rival outlaw motorcycle clubs. He said that four members of the club were arrested in Oakland, but mostly on gun charges arising from earlier raids of their homes.
"It seems the M.O. (modus operandi) of the feds is to accumulate enough cases to make a big headline," he said.
O'Farrell acknowledged that it is possible that individual club members engage in criminal conduct, but he insisted that it is not part of official club business. Federal law enforcement agents are wrong in accusing the club of being "an organized criminal enterprise," he asserted.
In Ventura County, George Christie, a member of the Hells Angels, said of the arrests: "It may look good on paper; but, two years down the road, let's see whether this isn't a futile waste of the taxpayers' money. They're trying to drain us spiritually and financially."
Probe Began in 1981
The FBI began investigating illegal activities of so-called "outlaw" motorcycle gangs in 1981 under its organized crime program after an investigation showed that biker gangs had increased in size and expanded to other countries, Webster said.
Meese said that the arrests "required extraordinary cooperation" among law enforcement agencies at all levels. Besides the FBI, other federal agencies taking part in the raids included the Drug Enforcement Administration, several organized crime drug enforcement task forces, the offices of several U.S. attorneys and the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. State and local police officers also gave "invaluable assistance," Meese said.
Staff writer Claire Spiegel in Los Angeles contributed to this story.