By Alex Napoliello
Two members of the Pagan’s Motorcycle Club were arrested after one of them fired several shots in the air outside an evening wake in Jersey City, NJ Advance Media has learned.
The incident happened outside of Riotto Funeral Home on Oct. 18, police said.
The arrests come amid growing concerns among law enforcement that the Pagan’s Motorcycle Club is undergoing a resurgence in New Jersey, leading to an increase in safety threats to the public. A previous law enforcement memo, obtained by NJ Advance Media, has warned that the club is looking to expand in the Jersey City area.
In the Oct. 18 incident, Thomas Padilla Jr., 35, of Elizabeth, fired off several rounds of a gun into the air in a residential area of Stagg Street as a crowd of onlookers cheered and clapped, according to the criminal complaint.
“Thomas A. Padilla Jr. is then observed coming back into the street in an excited manner yelling while the motorcycles in the street are revving their engines,” the complaint said.
According to the complaint, Padilla was wearing a motorcycle vest with a “Pagan’s” patch on the back — though the complaint said he took off his club jacket and placed it in the front passenger’s seat of a 2007 White Dodge Dakota before police arrived. The complaint said a retired Jersey City police officer witnessed the incident and also saw Padilla put the gun under the seat of the pickup truck.
Padilla was charged with possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, unlawful possession of a weapon and certain persons not to carry weapons, police said. The certain persons not to carry offense carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, while the other offenses carry three- to five-year sentences.
Christopher Kreush, who was also wearing a Pagan’s Motorcycle Club jacket, took the gun from the car and walked away from the scene before police arrived, according to the complaint. Kreush, 30, of North Bergen, was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and hindering apprehension.
The shooting happened just days before the State Commission of Investigation conducted a daylong hearing in Trenton, on Oct. 23, outlining concerns about the growth of the Pagans. At that meeting, officials noted the resurgence of the Pagans in New Jersey has taken place under the direction of a new national president, Keith “Conan” Richter. Richter was present at the Oct. 19 funeral and delivered a speech at the burial at Holy Name Cemetery in Jersey City, according to a video of the speech.
“One of the best of the best, he will be deeply missed and not forgotten,” Richter can be heard saying. He then led the crowd gathered at the burial site in a chant.
“Who are we?” Richter asked.
The crowd responded, “Pagan nation.”
According to the funeral home’s website, the service was being held for Manuel “Noly” Reyes Jr., 41. Reyes’ connection to the Pagans is unclear. A representative for the funeral home did not return a call for comment.
Funerals for Pagan members and associates typically attract large numbers of motorcycles because they are “mandatory runs,” meaning all members in the area, even from out of state, have to attend.
The Pagan’s Motorcycle Club is traditionally a white, male group with loose connections to white supremacy organizations, officials said. As part of its recent expansion, the Pagans have been acquiring Hispanic members and members of traditional street gangs, like the Bloods and the Latin Kings, according to police.
The incident outside the funeral home was briefly mentioned by law enforcement officials at the SCI hearing as an example of how violence among Pagan members puts the public at risk. The club now has 17 chapters throughout New Jersey, which is a 50% increase since 2016, officials said.
Prior to the hearing, law enforcement officials have shared information that the Pagan’s Motorcycle Club is looking to “establish a stronger presence in the Jersey City area,” according to a March 15 memo from the New Jersey State Police.
The memo was issued to warn law enforcement that there could potentially be a clash between the Pagans and a motorcycle club associated with the Hell’s Angels, The Lost Boyz, at a March 16 party held at The Lost Boyz clubhouse on Harrison Avenue. The memo said Pagan club members were at the time recently seen near O’Abbey’s Corner Grill and Pub on Fisk Street.
A spokeswoman for the Jersey City Police Department said at the time that there were no arrests associated with this event.