The Roar to the Shore event, held every September in Wildwood, is now a "mandatory run" for Pagan's Motorcycle Club members in New Jersey. This year, it was on law enforcement's radar.
State investigators cited the event in a state hearing Wednesday — which included heightened security — on the growth of the club in the state, its spread to the north and its increased criminality and visibility throughout New Jersey.
In September, Mayor Ernie Troiano said the city would be weighing whether or not to continue holding the motorcycle enthusiast gathering, citing an "element" taking over the rally in recent years.
Commissioner Pete Byron was more blunt in early October.
“It’s morphed into something that it never really started as,” Byron said. “It’s become a heavy dose of the outlaw-type of bike guys, and it’s been a little intimidating to the family-oriented biker.”
Byron and Troiano did immediately return requests for comment Wednesday.
The hearing was part of an investigative effort called Organized Crime Spotlight active since late 2018. The growth and infringement on other gangs' territory have been a concerted effort by the club's new purported national president Keith Richter, known as Conan, to create a "Blue Wave" — the club's color — on the East Coast in a show of dominance, Torres said. Their attempts to display strength to rival clubs is evident at Wildwood's Roar to the Shore, which now has representatives from every state chapter.
"With the rapid expansion of the Pagans came violence, of course, that was associated with it. And there's no evidence of it slowing down," said SCI Special Agent Edwin Torres. "The violence that we saw involved assaults against civilians, against rival biker gangs, and also amongst their own members."
The alleged Vice President of the Pagans' Mother Club, or national organization, is Hugo "Zorro" Nieves, a New Jersey resident. He was "acting president" at this year's Roar to the Shore, in place of Richter, who was absent.
Nieves, like the two other suspected Pagan's Motorcycle Club members that were called as witnesses Wednesday, invoked his fifth amendment rights to almost every question, including one asking him to state his age or if he owned a motorcycle. Nieves would also not identify himself in a picture from Roar to the Shore wearing Pagan "cuts," or colors.
Typically a South Jersey fixture, the Pagans have been growing in numbers and expanding north into territory traditionally held by the Hell's Angels and other clubs, according to investigators with the State Commission of Investigation. An increase in crime has followed in its wake, investigators said Wednesday.
The group is undergoing a major resurgence, said SCI's Executive Director Lee Seglem. There were 10 chapters in the state in 2013 and there are at least 17 now, said SCI Special Agent Edwin Torres. There are roughly 900 Pagans nationwide, which includes anywhere from 150-350 in New Jersey, Torres said. Law enforcement officials have already seen confrontations as the Pagans infringe on Hell's Angel turf, and they expect more in the future, Torres said.
The expansion into North Jersey has included recruitment of members of street gangs like the Bloods, the Crips and the Latin Kings, he said. White supremacist factions in the club have expressed discontent at their inclusion, Torres said. Another example of those ties: Pagan members were hired by Atlantic City Skinheads to extort local businesses for "protection money," investigators said.
"It is not a pretty picture: Increased violence, including documented incidents of assaults, shootings and weapons possession all across the State," Seglem said.
Wildwood paid about $40,000 this year for police overtime at this September's event, Commissioner Byron said. In a Facebook post, Wildwood police listed 26 arrests during Roar to the Shore. Multiple people were charged with possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and were found with handguns, knives and brass knuckles. Multiple people were charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance and were found with hydrocodone, methamphetamine and marijuana. Other charges included driving under the influence, theft of movable property and conspiracy to commit robbery. It was unclear whether all the charges listed were filed against Roar participants.
The Pagans set up headquarters outside a hotel in the city where they sell merchandise, Torres said. There, they also hold a "public patching-in ceremony" of new members by established figures in the club, Torres said. A video of the event played at the hearing showed they conclude with a call and response of "Who are we?" and "Pagan Nation." A leader tells members to smile for the camera, "referring to law enforcement," Torres said.
Torres said only Pagans and their associates are allowed in this area, and security is on site to enforce the rule.
The purported Vice President Nieves was tight-lipped except when asked if any of the witnesses would like to correct the record of anything said during the hearing.
"All I will say is that it is not the policy of this club for anyone to engage in any criminal activity," Nieves said. "And that is all I will say about that, sir."