Club puts down roots near Madison

GRAEME ZIELINSKI

Club puts down roots near Madison

Investigators say new branch aims to counter Hell’s Angels incursions

By GRAEME ZIELINSKI gzielinski@journalsentinel.com, Journal Sentinel

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Burke — They used to churn out chocolate bars here.

Then this place, surrounded by undulating farm fields and near a railroad crossing in a tiny Madison suburb, housed an outfit that made commercial signs.

Recently, though, the windows have been boarded up and painted over and the unassuming, one-story tan and brown building has been transformed. Now it’s home of the latest chapter of the Outlaws motorcycle club, which held a rumbling, well-surveilled open house here a few weekends ago.

So what does that mean?

Some neighbors approached in this town of about 3,000 were reluctant to comment.

The Outlaws themselves did not respond. A bald, burly, bearded man at the building, helping three others load Harley-Davidson motorcycles onto a trailer on a recent day, politely, sternly declined to comment. (The Journal Sentinel wasn’t “necessarily batting a thousand” when it came to Outlaws coverage, he said.)

Several federal and local law enforcement officers, most speaking on the condition they not be identified for fear of compromising ongoing investigations, were more wordy.

They said the clubhouse, for what is considered the biggest biker gang in the Midwest, completes a ring of others around the state that help constitute a “border guard.” And it is opening, they say, at a time when the rival Hell’s Angels, a considerably larger outfit based on the West Coast, is once again encroaching on the area, this time from a Rockford, Ill., chapter.

Wisconsin, the investigators said, remains one of the last bastions of the Outlaws, who themselves are recruiting at a rate unheard of in recent times.

“The chapter in Madison is a response to the Hell’s Angel’s being seen in Madison a year ago,” said one investigator. “What concerns me more is what the Hell’s Angels response is going to be.”

This worry arises because it was such a rivalry that led to the wave of executions, beatings, bombings and reprisals that were at the core of two huge rounds of racketeering prosecutions brought by the federal government, the first beginning in 1997 and the second in 2001. All 16 Outlaws indicted in the first round and all six from the second were convicted, comprising leaders from chapters in Wisconsin, Chicago and Indiana. Two of the Outlaws from the second wave of prosecutions still await sentencing.

Charles Berard, president of the Wisconsin chapter of the Midwest Gang Investigators Association, said that in completing a ring of outposts around the state, the new club affords the Outlaws mobility, resources and intelligence about the activities of other motorcycle gangs that may be edging in on its criminal enterprises, including narcotics trafficking, prostitution and auto theft.

Surge in recruiting

At least in theory, a truce is in effect between the Hell’s Angels and other rival biker gangs, including the Outlaws. But public displays of comity among the groups, like that seen at a national convention of motorcycle clubs this spring in Milwaukee, are greeted with skepticism by law enforcement officials.

“I’m sure you can go read a few headstones about that truce,” one said.

Outlaws have reportedly been showing up in large numbers at various social engagements, said one Madison-area investigator, and have grown in number, even after prosecutions of their leadership continue apace.

“Their numbers in the Midwest have tripled, if not quadrupled, in the past 10 years,” said Berard, a Milwaukee police lieutenant who has investigated the Outlaws. He estimated about 150 members in Wisconsin, out of a national total of about 2,500. The Wisconsin region is thought to be run out of La Crosse, though a Madison-area law enforcement official said the Burke facility was initiated and is run by Milwaukee Outlaws.

The owner of the 4,600-square-foot building in Burke, a stone’s throw from the confluence of Interstates 39, 90 and 94, did not return several phone calls seeking comment. Law enforcement sources said they believe the owner was not told during lease negotiations that the business was to become an Outlaws clubhouse.

The lease for the building was sought, they said, after Hell’s Angels were seen last year in Madison and successfully recruited two members of a local motorcycle club to join their Rockford chapter.

That Madison club, the C.C. Riders, has a reputation for being relatively low-key, and never has been associated with the coordinated campaigns of violence or narcotics trafficking of hard- core biker gangs. It has long tried to remain unaffiliated with either the Outlaws, the Hell’s Angels or anybody else.

Some of the C.C. Riders paid their respects to the Outlaws on June 7, during the short open house. Another group in attendance, according to sources who performed surveillance of the event, were members of the Black Pistons Baraboo chapter up the road. That organization, which also has been growing appreciably, is closely affiliated with the Outlaws and, according to one officer, is “like their farm club.”

Berard said that much of the urgency to open new chapters amounts to little more than macho posturing. “Everybody puffs up their chests, blows up their cheeks and tries to be the baddest of the bad,” he said.

Burke officials, at any rate, responded by changing the parking ordinances near the property on Felland Road in a way that would prohibit large groups of motorcyclists from congregating. And the railroad company with tracks nearby has refused to grant use of its right-of-way for the same purpose.

With several large motorcycle events coming up during the rest of the summer, including Harley-Davidson’s 100th birthday bash in Milwaukee in late August, law enforcement officials say they are hoping the peace of the last few years keeps.

Meanwhile, Hell’s Angels again were seen in Madison during the city’s Rhythm and Booms celebration last month, riding with their insignia in an area considered to be the province of a rival gang.

“They’re not afraid of the Outlaws,” a Madison-area investigator said.

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