In sweeping raids Thursday across two states including York County local and federal agents arrested 19 people accused of running a criminal motorcycle gang involved in racketeering, robbery, money laundering and drug trafficking.
The arrests followed a two-year investigation leading to a 91-count federal indictment that claims 20 suspects are members and associates of the Rock Hell City Nomad Chapter of the Hells Angels motorcycle club. An FBI spokeswoman couldnt say if the 20th person indicted had also been arrested.
FBI agents worked with Rock Hill Police, the York County Sheriffs Office, Lancaster County Sheriffs Office and the State Law Enforcement Division in South Carolina; and the Gastonia Police Department and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina.
Authorities said they seized methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, pills and about 100 firearms including two automatic machine guns in Thursdays raids.
Those arrested face a variety of charges, including arson, narcotics distribution, money laundering, attempted robbery and firearms possession.
Authorities are seeking to confiscate more than $300,000 as well as nine Harley-Davidson motorcycles belonging to the suspects.
Those indicted include men and women from Rock Hill, Clover, York, Lancaster, Charlotte, Gastonia and the Columbia area. Some are believed to be members of the Rock Hell Nomads, while others are associates.
The indictment alleges that Mark William Baker, known as Lightning, of Lancaster was president of the Rock Hell City Nomads and directed criminal activities.
David Allen Pryor, known as Yard Owl, of York was president of the Red Devils Motorcycle Club, which authorities believe worked with the Nomads, according to the indictment.
Todays arrests and seizures are an important step in our ongoing fight against criminal gangs operating in South Carolina, said Bill Nettles, U.S. attorney for South Carolina.
Investigators say the Rock Hell City Nomads, one of several S.C.-based Hells Angels chapters, began operating in 2008 and were most active in Rock Hill and Lexington.
From clubhouses in Rock Hill, Indian Land and West Columbia, the group sold drugs and guns and promoted a climate of fear through intimidation, violence and threats, the indictment reads. The group trafficked in stolen property and engaged in prostitution.
Members and their associates claimed territories for the Hells Angels and barred other motorcycle clubs from operating or displaying colors there without consent, the indictment reads.
Bob Wells lives next door to the Rock Hill clubhouse prosecutors say was used by gang members, on Linda Drive near Anderson Road.
The club hosted loud parties with a live band around the Fourth of July, he said. In years past, hes walked over and asked them to quiet down. He said they were polite, but he had become concerned about apparent target shooting just behind the club.
As Wells headed to prayer meetings on Wednesday evenings, he normally saw 10 to 15 motorcycles at the club. But this Wednesday, he said, there was a huge meeting with about 90 motorcycles parked at the club.
I had no idea it was as bad as it was, Wells said.
Two years ago, the FBI partnered with local agencies to create the South Carolina Hells Angels Task Force, which has been investigating the group ever since.
During a Thursday news conference at the FBIs Columbia headquarters, authorities touted the collaborative effort.
Agents and officers spent a tremendous amount of time and energy over the last two years looking into the activities of these individuals, said David Thomas, special agent in charge of the FBIs Columbia division. They did a tremendous job.
York and Lancaster county officials including Rock Hill Police Chief John Gregory, York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant and Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile echoed the sentiment.
Guns are off the street, Gregory said. Drugs are off the street and dangerous people are off the street. Those are the things we think are significant.
Our goal is to create a safe environment for all of our residents, where they can raise their kids and grandkids, Faile said.
The 80-page indictment offers a glimpse of the way authorities believe the Hells Angels international organization operates:
• Chapters adhere to a hierarchical chain of command with a president in charge. The groups pay dues to the Hells Angels national officers. They call their regular meetings church and only full-patched members can attend.
• Membership is limited to white men who own at least one American-made motorcycle. Members wives and girlfriends are called old ladies.
• Earning membership is a lengthy process, and prospects must prove allegiance to the group.
• Some members wear a patch displaying a red 1% on a white background, signifying theyre among the one percent of motorcyclists who are non-law-abiding outlaws.
Harvey Mayhill, a member of the Patriot Guard motorcycle group that accompanies families during soldier funerals, urged people to not lump all motorcycle riders in with a small criminal faction.
Predominantly, the people that ride are not down-and-out and destitute or gang members out to hurt the public, he said. If you see a guy with a leather jacket and a beard (on a motorcycle), the leather jacket is to protect his body and the beard is to protect his face.
Jay Leno rides a motorcycle.
The Charlotte Observer contributed.
Nicole E. Smith 803-329-4068Shawn Cetrone 803-329-4072