The Pagan’s Motorcycle Club, one of the major outlaw motorcycle groups in the U.S., is a growing threat to citizens in New Jersey — and every cop in the state should be trained to deal with them, according to a new report issued Wednesday.
Members of the Pagans, who have doubled their chapters statewide in the past three years, have conducted “numerous assaults” against members of the public, some of whom have had no connection to the club, the report from the New Jersey Commission of Investigation said.
“This newfound level of aggression has led to drive-by shootings, savage beat downs of adversaries and unprovoked physical assaults on members of the public across New Jersey,” the report states.
The report was issued following a lengthy investigation focused on the Pagans, which has been identified by the F.B.I. as one of four major outlaw motorcycle gangs. That group includes the Hells Angels, the Outlaws and the Bandidos.
The commission recommended the state Attorney General’s Office create a working group comprised of law enforcement officials at every level devoted to identifying and prosecuting criminal activity conducted by outlaw motorcycle gangs. The agency also said every officer in New Jersey should undergo training in case they encounter these gangs.
In October 2019, the State Commission of Investigation, an independent state watchdog formed in the late 1960s to investigate public corruption and organized crime, held an exhaustive hearing in Trenton detailing how the Pagans are increasing membership in all corners of the state.
The hearing featured testimony from SCI investigators, New Jersey State Police officers and county prosecutors. It included interviews with Pagan members — their voices altered to protect their identities — and video of a brutal attack in 2018 near a Hells Angels clubhouse in Newark.
The most climactic moment came at the hearing’s end when three reputed leaders of the motorcycle club were called to testify. Citing their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, the alleged leaders declined to answer any of the commissioners’ questions.
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Hugo “Zorro” Nieves, the alleged vice president of the Pagans, broke his silence to say, “It is not the policy of this club to engage in any criminal activity, and that’s all I will say about that.”
There are 900 Pagans spread across 12 states and in Puerto Rico, officials said. In New Jersey, Pagans membership — which has always been strong in South Jersey — has grown at an alarming rate in recent years, with 200 members in 17 chapters. There has been a 50% increase in chapters in New Jersey over the past three years, officials said.
“It’s expanding at a rate we’ve never seen before,” Edwin Torres, an SCI investigative agent, said in reference to Pagan membership in New Jersey. “In New Jersey, it’s going to be hard to find a county where there isn’t a Pagan presence.
The uptick in Pagan membership in New Jersey, first reported by NJ Advance Media in May 2018, is indicative of a broader national effort by reputed Pagan President Keith “Conan” Richter to beef up numbers along the East Coast, officials said. Richter, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 1998 for attempted murder and racketeering and released in 2012, took control of the Pagans in 2018, according to officials.
Under the control of Richter, the Pagans have been absorbing smaller, local motorcycle clubs to increase membership, officials said. The Pagans have also started recruiting members from traditional street gangs, like the Bloods, Crips and the Latin Kings, officials said.