Officials say Pagans throttling up in New Jersey over rivalry with Hells Angels

Motorcyclists swarm Ocean Avenue in Wildwood during a past biker weekend. This weekend's Roar to the Shore will draw more than 100,000 visitors, including, law officials say, some outlaw clubs.
Motorcyclists swarm Ocean Avenue in Wildwood during a past biker weekend. This weekend's Roar to the Shore will draw more than 100,000 visitors, including, law officials say, some outlaw clubs.
Posted: September 11, 2010

IT TAKES only a sewing needle, a patch and a leather or denim vest to instantly transform a motorcyclist into a rolling controversy who elicits fear from the public and scrutiny from law enforcement.

Bikers who choose to patch-in with clubs the FBI considers outlaw motorcycle gangs inherit the baggage that makes them notorious: drug and weapons trafficking, extortion and explosive, deadly violence. They call themselves Hells Angels, Outlaws and Warlocks, and in South Jersey, law-enforcement officials say, more and more bikers are calling themselves Pagans.

"We have seen what we would say is an effort to fill some ranks amongst the Pagans and recruit some new people," said Thomas Garrity, chief of investigators for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office. "We have to pay attention to that."

New Jersey State Police investigators believe the Pagans' recruiting effort is a direct result of a small but significant Hells Angels chapter that opened in North Jersey in recent years. The Angels and Pagans have been rivals for decades.

"The N.J. chapter of Hells Angels is small, but backed by New York City, one of the largest chapters in the world," said Detective Ty Coronato, of the New Jersey State Police Street Gang Unit. "Most of South Jersey is completely under Pagan control, and they don't get along with Hells Angels. There's been a lot of tension."

Authorities in Pennsylvania are still investigating the 2005 shooting death of Thomas "Thinker" Wood, who was president of Philadelphia's Hells Angels chapter when it was actively involved in a turf war with the Pagans. According to reports in the Daily News, Wood's family and law enforcement suspected the Pagans.

Despite the perceived "tension" between Pagans and Hells Angels in New Jersey, there hasn't been any similar bloodshed in the Garden State in recent years.

In Gloucester City, a small, blue-collar town on the Delaware River, Police Chief George Berglund isn't pleased that he has a Pagans chapter in town and is worried that its ranks have grown.

"I'm definitely concerned with the rise of numbers I've seen. They're actively recruiting," he said. "We don't want them in town but constitutionally, people are allowed to be members. They don't like attention and they don't like law enforcement. None of them are saints."

In June, there was a minor incident in Gloucester City when members of the Warlocks allegedly walked into a corner bar wearing their colors. Words were exchanged with Pagans, phone calls were made, and more and more bikers showed up, Berglund said, but nothing really happened.

"We resolved it right then and there," he said of the incident.

There's no clubhouse in Gloucester City, Berglund said, and Pagans don't hang in the city's bars often.

"For the most part, they're not welcome to wear their colors in many establishments. It's not good business practice," he said.

Although the Pagans Motorcycle Club doesn't appear to have a Web site, its members are in plain view all over the Internet on sites like Facebook and MySpace.

Many use their nicknames or their real names with the acronym PMC attached. Several South Jersey Pagans declined to comment when contacted by the Daily News, and others did not return requests for comment.

In Wildwood, more than 100,000 visitors are in town this weekend for the 15th annual Roar to the Shore, a motorcycle-themed event that draws all types of bikers, including outlaw motorcycle clubs. Plenty of undercover local, state and federal investigators also are there looking for new faces, alliances or potential problems.

"That's a Pagan run and you usually don't see too many Hells Angels with their colors on,"Coronato said of the Wildwood event. "If you do, that means there could be trouble."

But Wildwood Mayor Gary DeMarzo, a retired police officer in the city, said there rarely are any problems at the event.

"We always make sure we reach out to the leadership of the gangs to ensure lawfulness. Most of the establishments in town don't allow them to wear their colors and they comply," he said.

One bar owner in Wildwood says Pagans are good customers.

"It has been my impression that these guys and the other clubs don't come to Wildwood to cause trouble - just to be seen and chill. Sometimes I see some colors but not to intimidate anyone," said Dave Stefankiewicz, a lawyer and owner of Good Night Irene's Brew Pub.

But Garrity, of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, said outlaw motorcycle clubs aren't going to wreak havoc in public places unless they're forced to. A motorcycle rider himself, Garrity said he stopped going to the Wildwood event because of the outlaw clubs' presence.

"A lot of the criminal activity they do is really well-hidden, whether it's drugs or weapons," Garrity said. "The main thing with biker groups is usually the problems they have among themselves. They don't usually go out and mess with what we'd call civilians."

Last year, 55 members of the Pagans, including some from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, were charged in West Virginia federal court with kidnapping, racketeering, robbery, extortion and conspiracy to commit murder. Now, almost a year later, an attorney for one of the bikers claims that the government's "sweeping" case turned into a dud. In a letter to the Charleston Gazette, attorney Deirdre Purdy said that federal charges have been or could be dismissed against 30 of the defendants and that others have pleaded to reduced charges.

"They dress up to intimidate, they wear dark clothes and they ride motorcycles. They call themselves outlaws," Purdy told the Daily News. "None of that is illegal. That's your First Amendment right."

Coronato said that some of the outlaw bikers are "great guys," but that the clubs haven't earned the right to shed their reputation.

"They're not the scum of the earth, but most of them are still there for the same old reasons," he said. "They're not together just for nice Sunday drives."

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