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Probe of Bikers Nets 12 Arrests

Crime: A Vagos club member secretly helped investigators build drug, weapons cases against his associates. The paid informant reportedly wanted 'out of the life.'

June 19, 2002|STUART PFEIFER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federal and state authorities capped a two-year investigation into an international motorcycle club Tuesday by arresting 12 people in four counties on suspicion of drug and weapons charges, officials said.

The investigation centered on a member of the Vagos motorcycle club who secretly cooperated with authorities, using government money to buy illegal firearms and drugs, said Jeffrey Ferguson, an Orange County deputy district attorney.

The informant gave authorities unusual insight into the club's plans to traffic methamphetamine and firearms, Ferguson said.

In September, for example, authorities learned that club members halted plans to transport drugs on commercial airplanes because of heightened security after the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, Ferguson said.

Authorities paid the informant a small amount of money for his work, Ferguson said. The unidentified man had an extensive criminal record and came forward more than two years ago. "He was really tired of going to prison and wanted to get out of the life," Ferguson said.

In recent weeks, federal officials obtained grand jury indictments and state criminal complaints against 12 people, officials said.

Teams of law enforcement officers fanned out across Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties Tuesday to serve federal and state arrest warrants on the suspects, Ferguson said.

Among those arrested were officers of several Vagos chapters, said Letice Baker, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Authorities seized 85 firearms and an unspecified quantity of narcotics, Baker said.

The investigation was conducted by several agencies, including the state Department of Justice, the ATF, the Orange County district attorney's office, Santa Ana police and Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties' sheriff's departments.

Officials identified two suspects: Dennis Lee Watlington, 59, of Rialto and Richard Garcia Jr., 43, of Westminster. They were held at the Orange County Jail on $500,000 bail.

Watlington is charged with conspiring to sell an illegal assault rifle and belonging to a criminal street gang. Because he was convicted of assaulting a sheriff's deputy in Los Angeles County in 1999, he faces more than 20 years in prison, Ferguson said.

Garcia is accused of selling an automatic weapon and a sawed-off shotgun, Ferguson said.

He too faces more than 20 years in prison, if convicted, Ferguson said.

The Vagos were formed in the 1960s to "survive the wars between the rival clubs and the constant harassment of police," according to a Vagos Web site.

The group, with chapters throughout the United States and Mexico, has issued press releases denying allegations of criminal activities.

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