Alex Napoliello | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
It was called the Hellraiser Ball.
Roughly1,000 Hells Angels Motorcycle Club members descended on a ritzy ballroom on Long Island in February 2002 for a convention. They mingled, perused motorcycle and tattoo exhibits and ogled a pornographic film star making a paid appearance.
Then the Pagans arrived.
The white-columned catering hall accustomed to hosting lavish weddings turned into a war zone as 10vanloads of bat-wielding Pagans stormed the convention. It was the first public clash between the rival biker gangs since the 1970s — and it was bloody.
One Pagan was killed by gunfire and 10 others were injured. Police confiscated 500 weapons, and73 Pagans were charged with various crimes, including rioting and attempted gang assault.
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The show of force that winter day — the group of Pagan attackerswould be hailed in biker circles as “The 73” in the years to come — would set the stage for two decades of bitter turf clashes between the Pagans Motorcycle Club and the Hells Angels. The lone Pagan killed, Robert “Mailman” Rutherford, is still honored at an annual party in his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Pagans National President Keith “Conan” Richter was attendingthat party last month before his arrest for gun possession in New Jersey by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives,according to two law enforcement sources with knowledge of the club’s activities. The arrest has sent ripples through the Pagans organization.
With Richter’s fate uncertain, the club suffered a potentially serious setback as it undergoes a major expansion, law enforcement officials and organized crime experts told NJ Advance Media.
The extent of that setback is unknown, but the Pagans have immediate issues to confront: Who tipped off the authorities? What will the club’s next move be with its leader temporarily out of commission? And who will run the gang?
Richter — a chiseled and imposing 62-year-old Bay Shore, New York, resident with a raspy voice — is in jail pending the outcome of his case. He was charged with possession of a weapon by a felon. It carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, butitcould be reduced to approximately two years if he takes a plea deal, according to the sentencing advisory document.
Richter has pleaded not guilty. His attorney, James Froccarro, declined to comment when reached by NJ Advance Media.
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Pagans Vice President Hugo “Zorro” Nieves is a logical choice to step in as interim president until Richter’s release, police officials said. The South Jersey native has strong roots in the club, is extremely intelligent and capable of heading the group.