Pubdate: Mon, 26 May 2003
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Copyright: 2003 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Contact:  http://www.stltoday.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/418
Author: Paul Hampel

"OUTLAW" BIKER CLUBS TAKE ROOT IN BELLEVILLE AND ALTON

The two most notorious biker clubs in the nation have established their 
first footholds in the St. Louis area.

The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, which has ruled the so-called outlaw 
biker world for decades, is transforming an old tavern on the west side of 
Belleville into a headquarters.

Its longtime rival, the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, is renovating a vacant 
commercial building in an industrial area just south of downtown Alton.

Members of both clubs said in interviews that they come to Alton and 
Belleville in peace and will abide by the law. They say that police have an 
unwarranted fear of the clubs, based on overwrought Hollywood portrayals of 
drug-crazed biker gangs.

But the mayors and police in both cities have recoiled at the clubs' 
presence, saying that violence often has erupted wherever the two clubs 
have competed for the same turf.

According to police agencies, the Angels and the Outlaws have expanded 
rapidly in recent years to match challenges from up-and-coming clubs with 
such names as the Mongols, the Pagans and the Bandidos. Police put the 
national memberships of the Angels and Outlaws at 2,000 to 3,000 each, with 
some estimates of the Angels as high as 10,000. Authorities declined to 
speculate on the number of members in the just-formed chapters here.

So far, the city of St. Louis has been home only to a smattering of smaller 
gangs, including the Saddle Tramps and more notably the El Foresteros. That 
gang is friendly with the Hells Angels, police agencies say, and may be a 
reason the Angels are staying out of St. Louis.

The Hells Angels and the Outlaws insist that differences between the former 
bitter enemies have been ironed out. And to prove their good intentions, 
they are prepared to tote toys for tots and hold blood drives.

The clubs - who prefer not to be called gangs - have been busy in recent 
weeks gutting, painting and rewiring their buildings.

The Outlaws' new clubhouse in Alton is a former waterbed store at 2248 
Broadway, across the street from the old Laclede Steel plant. The club 
moved into the place in the past two weeks under a deed of purchase 
contract. The club declined to disclose what it paid for it.

Club member Rory Pfaff said Alton police have given his group a hard time, 
barging into the clubhouse without permission and calling the Outlaws 
criminals.

Pfaff is a construction worker who grew up in Alton, the son of a 
periodontist and an engineer. He greets strangers courteously, but 
cautiously. He's 37, but a stubbly beard can't obscure a boyish face that 
makes him look 10 years younger.

Pfaff acknowledges that he has a felony record that includes drug 
possession but says he's been clean and sober for years.

Pfaff said an Alton police detective "told us that police were going to 
send people in to buy drugs, that they were going to kick our doors in, ban 
us from flying our colors and put people in prison for as long as they 
possibly could."

Pfaff said he asked the detective if he would ban other local motorcycle 
clubs from wearing their colors, including the Back Doorsmen, the 
Bootleggers, the Bush Pilots, the Salty Dogs and the New Attitudes, as well 
as the Red Knights and Blue Knights, two biker clubs for firefighters and 
cops, respectively.

Pfaff said the detective told him: " 'If I have to ban everybody to keep 
you guys from wearing your colors, then I'll do it.' I told him, 'Well, you 
better get going because you've got a lot of civil rights left to violate 
today.'"

Pfaff said his chapter doesn't allow drugs into the clubhouse and won't 
tolerate drug users as members.

The detective cited by Pfaff could not be reached for comment. But Alton 
Police Chief Chris Sullivan said he doesn't buy the Outlaws' claims that 
they are only an association of motorcycle enthusiasts devoted to riding 
hard and living free.

"They can tell you they're not involved in motorcycle and vehicle thefts, 
that they don't operate chop shops or run drugs," Sullivan said. "But 
remember, John Gotti told you that there was no such thing as the Mafia 
either."

Fitting in

The Outlaws and the Hells Angels have moved into economically depressed 
areas of Alton and Belleville, where city officials had encouraged development.

In January, the Hells Angels group bought the old Mitch & Nancy's tavern, 
233 North Sixth Street in Belleville's Franklin neighborhood. It sits at 
the crest of a hill just west of the city center, with a view of downtown 
Belleville's taller buildings.

The property deed lists the purchasers as four members of the Angels' 
Illinois Nomads chapter, a contingent that until now lacked a home base. 
They are Michael Gallagher of Freeburg; Scott Frisby of O'Fallon; Timothy 
Pratt of Millstadt; and Richard Stump of Fairview Heights. Records indicate 
that the four paid about $30,000 for the two-story brick building.

Belleville Mayor Mark Kern has vowed not to give the Hells Angels a 
minute's peace, or any breaks on building permits or zoning easements for 
that matter.

"We sent them a letter informing them that that location is not zoned for a 
clubhouse," Kern said. "Whatever renovation they are doing now can only be 
to bring the building into compliance for a residency, not a clubhouse."

Residents in the racially diverse neighborhood, where many of the homes 
date to the late 19th century, expressed mixed feelings about their new 
neighbors.

Clay Smith, 56, who lives on West C Street, across from the Angels' 
property, said club members have been working regularly on the building, 
going in and out with tools and materials.

Smith said about two dozen bikers, including some sporting Hells Angels 
patches from Illinois, Michigan and Tennessee, assembled at the tavern last 
Sunday morning, before roaring off together on their Harley-Davidsons.

"They had some motorcycle girls with them," said Norma Sullivan, 45, who 
lives with Smith. "I guess those girls know how to handle them."

Smith said he has heard that the Angels tend to keep the peace around their 
roosts and don't tolerate criminal activity from neighbors.

"I think (the Hells Angels) don't want to bring police and will keep 
trouble down," Smith said.

But Sullivan, 45, said she worries about the bikers' reputed animosity 
towards blacks. She and Smith are African-American. The club has no black 
members, and police say many Angels, especially those who have served 
prison time, belong to the Aryan Nation, a white supremacist group.

"That scares me," Sullivan said. "But as long as they keep it on their side 
of the street, I guess it's OK."

Mayor Kern said the Angels aren't welcome on any side of any street in his 
city.

"The Angels' reputation precedes them," Kern said. "I don't want to see 
them in Belleville."

That's tough, said one of the Illinois Nomads.

Mike Gallagher, 44, is lean, with a quick smile, a ruddy complexion and an 
iron-grip handshake, typical of bikers who throttle heavy Harleys year-round.

"I'll tell you straight up, the Hells Angels will not be chased out of 
Belleville by the mayor or anybody else," said Gallagher, one of the 
clubhouse purchasers.

He tugs down the collar of a T-shirt to proudly reveal a fresh Hells Angels 
tattoo. Police say Gallagher has never been convicted of a serious crime. 
He denied that he had to do anything illegal as part of his initiation, 
although police contend that membership typically involves committing some 
crime - anything from stealing a Harley to murdering a rival - to benefit 
the club.

"You got four guys here with no felony record," Gallagher said.

"All four are military veterans. And you have a Gestapo police force at the 
mayor's beckoning who has tried to keep blacks and lower-income individuals 
out of Belleville. They've tried that for years, with housing raids and 
harassment and overlapping and ridiculous building codes, and now the Hells 
Angels are dealing with the same thing."

In Alton, Mayor Don Sandidge said he doesn't welcome the Outlaws anymore 
than Kern cares for Hells Angels. But he says there's little he can do to 
keep them out.

"It was only a matter of time before they found someplace where they fit 
the zoning," Sandidge said.

Turf wars

Special gang unit investigators with the Illinois State Police said they 
are not only concerned that the clubs will engage in criminal enterprises, 
but that turf battles may erupt.

Sgt. Don Yann, with the Illinois State Police's organized criminal activity 
unit, said that the top leadership of the Outlaws suffered a severe blow 
last year after a five-year investigation by the FBI, Internal Revenue 
Service and state police who infiltrated the club with informers.

Federal prosecutors charged dozens of Outlaws, including international 
president James "Frank" Wheeler, with crimes ranging from racketeering to 
murder, extortion, drug dealing and obstruction of justice. The indictment 
included allegations that Wheeler tried to have members of rival gangs, 
including the Hells Angels, killed.

Rumbles between the Hells Angels and members of the Pagans and the Mongols 
left at least five bikers dead last year.

"The Outlaws have declared the Alton area to be their turf, but you've also 
got the Great River Road running through that area, and that's one of the 
most popular motorcycle routes in the area," Yann said. "What happens on 
the day that the Outlaws and the Hells Angels both decide they want to ride 
that road? Judging by past history, it could be a very ugly scene."

Pfaff, with the Outlaws, said he recognizes that his club has itself to 
blame for the image it has engendered since the club formed in 1935.

"We're living down 70 years of a reputation," he said. "But the last time I 
checked this was still America, and I'm still free to go where I want to as 
long as I'm not breaking any laws."

Robert Goodrich of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report. Cathy 
Tierney of the Post-Dispatch provided research assistance.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens