Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A violent biker gang that is involved in illegal drug trafficking and considers women to be "below dogs" is growing in New Jersey at an alarming rate, state investigators said Wednesday at a public hearing.
Pagan's Motorcycle Club, or the Pagans, which now has about 300 members statewide and roughly 900 countrywide, has grown from 10 to at least 17 chapters in New Jersey since 2016 and is aiming at becoming dominant along the East Coast, according to testimony from the State Commission on Investigation.
The commission outlined detailed allegations against the gang — including showing surveillance video depicting an attack on a rival biker gang member at a gas station in full daylight — during a more than two-hour public hearing.
Investigators said the gang is involved in illegal drug trafficking, particularly of meth, as well as extortion of local businesses.
"It's alarming to see such a drastic change in such a short amount of time," said commission Agent Edwin Torres.
Three men the commission identified as club members were called as witnesses but declined to answer questions, citing their Fifth Amendment right. Hugo Nieves, identified as club vice president, added it's not the club's policy to "engage in criminal activity."
Investigators said the growth coincides with new national leadership of the club, as well as the ability of prospective members to simply pay to join the gang. Previously, members were required to go through what could be a lengthy initiation period that included going on a number of rides with members.
Audio recordings of unidentified witnesses said to be former members detailed some of the inner workings of the club, specifically, that only men could join, and that black people were excluded along with women. They said the group allows Puerto Ricans to join as the club has started chapters on the U.S. island territory.
The witnesses also said that if members were imprisoned they could seek out the Aryan Brotherhood for protection while behind bars.
Though excluded, women do play a role carrying information and sometimes drugs for the organization, according to investigators.
Investigators said they obtained a copy of group's bylaws, which included a hierarchy chart. At the top were "brothers," then the members' cutoff jackets with patches, then their motorcycles, followed by their dogs. Last on the list was women.
Asked by the commission's counsel, Marian Galietta, whether women had a place in the hierarchy, an analyst answered in the affirmative.
"Women are below dogs," commission analyst Nicole McCann said. At events, women sometimes wear patches that indicate they are the "property of" a particular member, the investigators said.
The group, which dates to 1959, has traditionally been concentrated in southern New Jersey but is expanding north, with chapters in Elizabeth in Union County, as well as in Bergen County, not far from New York City.
Investigators said the push north means the group is clashing more with members of the better-known Hells Angels, which has a presence in northern New Jersey.
The Commission on Investigation is a quasi-law enforcement agency that was established in 1968 with the aim of investigating organized crime. It also conducts other investigations, publishes reports and refers findings to police and prosecutors.