The sweeping indictment, unsealed Tuesday in a federal court in St. Louis, alleges that 18 Wheels of Soul members from seven states - Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Kentucky - are involved in murder, kidnapping, and the distribution of crack cocaine. None of the alleged murders or assaults were committed in Philadelphia. Across the country, 15 members of the motorcycle club were arrested, officials said.
"Today's nationwide takedown had disrupted and dismantled the Wheels of Soul motorcycle outlaw gang by targeting the senior leaders," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Dennis Baker.
The Philadelphia club is the "mother chapter" of the group, serving as the "governing body of the entire organization," the indictment said.
Several people were arrested Tuesday in the Philadelphia raids on warrants unrelated to the indictment, police said. James "Animal" Smith, 64, the national vice president of the club and highest-ranking club member arrested, was apprehended elsewhere, officials said. He had an initial appearance Tuesday in federal court in Philadelphia and awaits a detention hearing on Friday.
Agents confiscated Smith's Harley-Davidson and trunkloads of bagged evidence from the club. At least a rifle and a shotgun were taken from the club, a police officer said.
All of the violence detailed in the indictment occurred in Midwestern cities, where the Wheels of Soul were involved in turf wars with other biker gangs.
Since 2009, club members shot rivals in St. Louis, Chicago, and Gary, Ind., said the indictment. At a Chicago nightclub, a Wheels of Soul member stabbed a rival in the head.
To build prestige and power, the gang trafficked in illegal narcotics, said the indictment.
The club is highly structured. A constitution lays out the bylaws. Every chapter has ruling officers. Full members get their "colors" - patches bearing the gang's wing and wheels insignia. While wearing the colors, members must carry "kits," or weapons, ranging from a hammer to a gun. Failure to carry weapons can result in a demotion - or a beating.
Members refer to the gang as "the nation."
The club oath reads: "I will defend this nation to the death."
The most violent of the gangs are designated "diamond," or "1%," status.
At a 2009 meeting in St. Louis, Dominic Henley, president of the St. Louis Wheels of Soul chapter, declared "open season" on a rival outlaw gang, the Sin City Disciples. Henley, a main target of the investigation, told members they could earn their colors by killing a rival enforcer, the indictment said.
Smith, of the 1100 block of North 46th Street, is quoted heavily in the court papers.
At one 2009 meeting in Chicago, he described the club as a brotherhood. "We will bleed for you, we will die for you," he said.
At a 2010 Philadelphia meeting, Smith said that Wheels of Soul "is strictly outlaw."
If civilians step out of line, he said, "they will get what's coming to them."
Though not included in the indictment, more than a half-dozen shootings and assaults have been reported at the West Philadelphia clubhouse since 2006, according to police reports.
In 2007, a 25-year-old man told police a group of men wearing Wheels of Soul jackets beat him with baseball bats outside the club. Also that year, a 26-year-old man was shot in the stomach in the club.
In 2010, a man was shot in the ankle.
Fifty club members beat a group of five men outside the club, stealing their leather jackets, according to a June 2010 complaint.
Last month, according to police reports, a 33-year-old man was robbed and beaten by Wheels of Soul members as he left the club, and a 29-year-old man was sent to the hospital for three days with facial injuries after he danced with a club member's girlfriend.
And in 2003, Jerome Robinson, 50, a Wheels of Soul member known as "Wino," was shot and killed inside the club.
On Tuesday, a 62-year-old club member who asked to be identified by his nickname, Clee, watched agents carry off evidence.
"They're looking for guns, drugs, stolen bikes - anything they can put on us," he said.
He was concerned about his five motorcycles inside the club. He said the group was being targeted for the crimes of club members in other parts of the country.
"Somebody out in the world is [messing] up, and they got our colors on," he said.
He did not deny the group employs violence. "We try to act like a family. If there is any kind of threat anywhere, we try to act against it," he said.
A group member would not kill someone, he said, unless it was justified.
He said he had never killed for the group, but had busted heads plenty of times.
"Busting heads is good," he said.
Clee and Pac-Man were back in the clubhouse by early afternoon. Clee showed off the steel protected doors to protect against gunfire, while Pac-Man fielded phone calls from members.
"Everything is falling down on us," he told one caller.
Contact staff writer Mike Newall at 215-854-2759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.