Feds target 'Wheels of Soul' gang, including W. Philly chapter

Federal agents and Philadelphia police raiding the clubhouse of the Wheels of Soul on Tuesday, July 12, 2011. The clubhouse is on Market Street in West Philadelphia. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)
Federal agents and Philadelphia police raiding the clubhouse of the Wheels of Soul on Tuesday, July 12, 2011. The clubhouse is on Market Street in West Philadelphia. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer) (Philadelphia Daily News)
Posted: July 12, 2011

A raid of two clubhouses under the Market-Frankford El this morning was part of a federal crackdown today on a motorcycle gang whose "Mother Chapter" is alleged to be based in Philadelphia.

About 6 a.m., agents of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms entered two Wheels of Soul buildings that sit across from each other in the 6100 block of Market Street.

A federal indictment unsealed in St Louis this morning alleged that 18 Wheels of Soul associates from seven states - Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, Wisconsin and Kentucky - are suspected of involvement in murder, kidnapping, drug distribution and racketeering.

James C. Smith, 64, described as the lead defendant, appeared in federal court in Philadelphia this afternoon and was ordered held for three days to await an extradition hearing to Missouri to face conspiracy and racketeering charges.

Known as "Animal," Smith is the Wheels of Soul national vice president, according to the indictment.

Bearded and with a long, braided ponytail, Smith appeared in court in a blue T-shirt emblazoned with an eagle and jeans.

Defense attorney William Brennan said Smith, who has not prior arrests, works 55 hours a week repairing and reconditioning equipment for an unspecified company.

Gang members are accused of three fatal shootings - in St. Louis, Chicago and Marion, Ohio.

One member allegedly stabbed one person in the head, then shot another in the stomach at a Chicago motorcycle club.

In West Philadelphia, two women and a man were taken into custody, said a man who identified himself as a clubhouse caretaker as he sat on a padded swivel chair under the El.

The bearded caretaker, who had skull designs on a couple of his big metal rings, said he awoke to find "a big gun . . . no handgun" in his face after agents entered the building.

When an agent said, "Don't move," he replied, "I'm not gonna move," the caretaker recalled.

After saying he was "very rattled," he added, "I'm thinking about finding me a lawyer."

A design on the north side clubhouse identified the Wheels of Soul as a 1 percenter, or outlaw, gang.

Letters on a black door on the south side unit spelled out, "Death to the KKK."

George Butler, who said he's been a Wheels of Soul member for 36 years, said group has about 150 members citywide, with about 30 belonging to the West Philadelphia Chapter.

He said the northside place was mostly a social club, with up to 50 people at times. Inside are pool tables, a bar, a video game area and upstairs rooms for members-only, he said.

"Ain't no guns in there," he said. " . . . If they get anything, they'll get it from somewhere else in the country. They won't get it here."

In 2005, the Wheels of Soul helped the Brotherhood of Black Bikers organize a fund-raising effort to established an Underground Railroad Museum at Fairmount Park's Belmont Mansion.

More details were expected later.


Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

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