Law enforcers say there’s more to the violent attack on a Hells Angels member at a Newark gas station two years ago. They describe it as evidence of the Pagan’s Outlaw Motorcycle Gang moving into rival Hells Angels territory in northern New Jersey and the gang’s escalating use of violence.
It’s what a new report, based on October 2019 public hearings and new evidence concludes about the Pagans’ quest to become the dominant motorcycle gang on the East Coast.
“There wasn’t only violence between each other and their rivals, but there were also incidents against members of the public,” said Kathy Riley, communications director at the State Commission of Investigation. “This is a group that incites violence against anyone they feel is a threat or has disrespected it in any way.”
At the public hearings last year, alleged Pagans leaders repeatedly pleaded the fifth to the commission’s questions. Then, one surprised the panel.
“All I will say is it is not the policy of this club for anybody to engage in any criminal activity,” said Hugo “Zorro” Nieves, alleged national vice president of the Pagan’s Motorcycle Club.
Law enforcers found the Pagans resurgence and increased recruitment were a direct result of its new national leader, Keith Conan Richter, who rose to power in 2018. At his direction, the Pagans “patches over” making smaller gangs members, violating its own rules to boost membership by allowing prospects to pay cash to join, and it relaxing rules to permit dark-skinned Latinos and some Asians, but no Blacks.
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“The Pagans, while they’re not a specifically white supremacist organization, it would be fair to say that their membership has had white supremacy leanings,” Riley said.
One Pagans’ testimony heard at last year’s hearing said relaxed admissions led to internal strife.
“There was a lot of dissent of the darker Puerto Ricans, they were Black. They may have come from Puerto Rico, or whatever, but they were Black. And a lot of the white members hated it, you know, people quit over it,” they said.
This year, Wildwood said no to the Pagans’ annual “Roar to the Shore.” The gang’s website reads, “The City of Wildwood has determined that the Rally no longer fits the image of the city and has chosen to deny all permits necessary to host event.”
The Pagans was founded in Maryland in 1959. The Federal Bureau of Investigation identifies it as one of four outlaw motorcycle clubs in America. South Jersey has been its stronghold.
“What’s been a little challenging is some of the northern communities are not familiar with the Pagans. This is a new group that’s coming into their areas, so there’s been a little bit of a learning curve,” Riley said.
Among the commission’s recommendations to counter the threat: retraining of law enforcement to recognize motorcycle gang violence; and the state Attorney General’s Office leading a law enforcement working group to identify, investigate and prosecute outlaw motorcycle gangs.
“That was something that we heard from law enforcement professionals who said that would be something that would be very helpful,” Riley said.
There’s an estimated 300 members of the Pagans in New Jersey out of roughly 900 spread across a dozen states. A lawyer for the Pagans did not return NJ Spotlight News’s phone call.