You may have seen them before. The Pagans motorcycle club doesn’t hide away here in Philly — you could have easily walked by members with jean bike jackets emblazoned with patches and the name of their bike gang of choice. History shows this city has been a playground for the Pagans, whether it’s shaking down strip clubs or trafficking meth and heroin through the city.
The Pagans have been around for decades, and the group resurfaced into the public eye this summer when it was connected to a local doctor who is alleged to have been running a “pill mill” drug-dealing operation in connection with the Pagans.
Here’s a look at the Pagans and their history here in Philadelphia:
Who are these guys again?
Ever heard of Hells Angels? Kinda like that, but smaller. The Justice Department reports that this smaller biker gang operates in 11 mid-Atlantic states and probably has somewhere between 300 and 500 members. Complex reported last year that the Pagans are seen by the FBI to be a “very dangerous organization” and have connections to other gangs like the Aryan brotherhood and the Italian mafia.
It’s considered to be one of the “Big 4” gangs by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and members — who often feud with Hells Angels — have been tied to drug dealing, arsons, bombings and murders. Pagans have also been characterized as “the most secretive of the clubs,” however, the group does have a website complete with a list of incarcerated members.
How’d they get started?
The Pagans were started in Virginia in the 1960s by Lou Dobkins, who basically wanted to create a biker gang with a governance structure out of himself and his 12 closest comrades. It started out as a nonviolent group, but that all changed in the 1970s when John “Satan” Marron took over.
The Justice Department says that after that, the group began spreading to other states across the mid-Atlantic region. There were more than 40 members of the group by the mid-1970s, and Marron was soon after convicted of ordering a hit on the leader of a rival biker gang.
The Pagans regrouped in the ’80s and a number of members moved to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and were widely believed to have begun extorting club leaders and trafficking drugs and women through the areas.
Over several decades and a number of regimes, the Pagans grew into one of the more feared biker gangs in the eastern part of the country. They’ve been caught trafficking drugs like methamphetamine, PCP and cocaine, have been tied to hits on rival biker gang members and leaders.
The Pagans also have been reported to have a culture of treating women like property. A 2002 report by the now-defunct National Drug Intelligence Center reported that women don’t have rights within the club and are designated as either “old ladies” or “train honeys.”
From the report: “‘Old ladies’ are the wives or steady girlfriends of chapter members. Old ladies are entitled to wear special patches that designate them as restricted property of a specific member. Club members may have more than one old lady. ‘Honeys’ or ‘Train Honeys’ are women who belong to the chapter as a whole and can be sold, traded, loaned, or given away.”
What happened here in Philly?
Here in Philadelphia, the Pagans are widely known for crimes they’ve been connected to that took place in the early aughts that were part of a multi-state biker gang war. Those tensions were heated when the Hells Angels and the Pagans, based in South Philly, took to retaliation to keep their turf on lock.
In 2002, 73 members of the Pagans were arrested in New York after police said they charged into a bar to attack Hells Angels members with bats — 10 men were wounded and one man was killed in the process.
According to The Inquirer, officials said at the time that the Pagans may have launched the attack on Hells Angels because the gang was attempting to established a presence in Philadelphia. Less than a month later, a Pagan-owned tattoo parlor in South Philly was firebombed.
A few years later in 2005, a Hells Angels vice president was shot and killed while driving his pickup truck on a street adjacent to the westbound lane of the Schuylkill Expressway.
Other huge arrests of Pagans members have taken place over the years, including in 2010, when 19 members in New Jersey and Delaware were arrested for plotting to kill Hells Angels members with grenades.
And these guys are still around?
Seems that way. The president of the Northeast Philadelphia Chapter of the Pagans was shot in the head last year and police didn’t release a motive for why his cousin/neighbor was charged with shooting him. And as we mentioned earlier, their names resurfaced recently in connection with what police say was a massive “pill mill” operation.
Philadelphia doctor William O’Brien, 49, was charged last month with distributing drugs and causing the death of one person after police say he orchestrated the sale of more than $5 million worth of oxycodone and methadone pills. Federal prosecutors allege he worked with the Pagans to meet drug dealers and build his client list.
A 2011 Daily News story about the Pagans’ presence in Philly reported that the biker gang members of today may be smarter than their predecessors: The new members have lawyers and are — generally — peaceful
“If there’s 10 Pagans in a room, there’s only three hard-core Pagans,” Anthony “LT” Menginie, the son of a former Pagans president, told the Daily News. “The rest are there for the power, p—- and drugs.”