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Originally published Tuesday, October 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Undercover probe targets motorcycle gang members in Washington and five other states

Dozens of motorcycle gang members were arrested today by federal agents in six states, including Washington, on warrants ranging from drug sales to murder after a three-year undercover investigation in which four agents successfully infiltrated the group.

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Dozens of motorcycle gang members were arrested today by federal agents in six states, including Washington, on warrants ranging from drug sales to murder after a three-year undercover investigation in which four agents successfully infiltrated the group.

At least 38 members of the Southern California-based Mongol Motorcycle Club were arrested under a federal racketeering indictment that included charges of murder, attempted murder, assault, as well as gun and drug violations, said Mike Hoffman, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Federal and local agents had 110 federal arrest warrants and 160 search warrants that were being served across Southern California and in Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Ohio.

The sweep, dubbed Operation Black Rain, was to continue throughout the day Tuesday, agents said.

In Seattle, a U.S. District Court clerk said one man had been arrested on charges of racketeering and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine. He's identified in the court docket as William Shawley. He's scheduled to appear this afternoon before a magistrate judge, who will determine whether he will be sent to Los Angeles to face the charges.

During some arrests, sharpshooters stood guard on surrounding rooftops and motorcycles were lined up and confiscated.

"It's going to be a large hit to their organization, we are arresting many of their top members," Hoffman said.

Among those arrested were the gang's former national president Ruben Cavazos.

Hoffman said the Mongols had been recruiting members of Los Angeles street gangs to assist in their operations. The Mongols are primarily Latino and formed because the Hells Angels refused to allow Hispanic members.

Four ATF agents infiltrated the gang and were accepted as full members, a difficult process that requires winning the trust of the gang's top leaders over a period of months, Hoffman said.

The agents were required to live away from their families in homes set up to make it look like they lived a Mongols lifestyle, Hoffman said. Four undercover women ATF agents also were involved in the operation, pretending to be biker girlfriends and attending parties with the agents. Women are not allowed to become full members of the gang.

"If you go to a party all the time and you don't ever bring a girl around, it's kind of weird," Hoffman said. "Someone might get suspicious."

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To be accepted in the gang, the ATF agents had to run errands and were subject to a background check by private detectives.

The undercover agents observed a changing dynamic within the Mongols. As the gang recruited more Los Angeles street gang members — many of whom didn't have motorcycles and came from Latino gangs — tensions grew.

The new members remained loyal to the powerful Mexican Mafia gang, which operates within the state's prison system, Hoffman said.

"That caused kind of a friction between the other guys with bikes," Hoffman said. "It's supposed to be a motorcycle club and they were just gangster thugs involved in the narcotics trafficking."

Cavazos authored a memoir of his life called "Honor Few, Fear None: The Life and Times of a Mongol," published by HarperCollins in June.

HarperCollins publicist Sarah Burningham in New York City said she only handles book-related issues for Cavazos, but would forward an e-mail from The Associated Press requesting comment.

In 2002, a Mongols motorcycle club member was sentenced to two to five years in a Nevada state prison for his part in a deadly casino brawl with rival Hells Angels during a biker rally in 2002. Pedro Martinez Jr. became the first of six current and former Mongols members to be sentenced after all took plea deals to avoid trial in the fight that left three dead.

Las Vegas police reported serving several warrants at homes in southern Nevada, where five men were arrested and were being held in federal custody pending an initial appearance before a federal magistrate, said Natalie Collins, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Las Vegas. Collins said she expected the hearing would be later Tuesday.

In recent years, federal prosecutors in Washington have used racketeering laws to prosecute dozens of members of the Washington Nomads chapter of the Hells Angels and the Bandidos Motorcycle Club.

Information from Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter is included in this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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