QUINCY – Slam enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks of the Pagans, the secretive outlaw motorcycle gang that prided itself on having never been infiltrated by law enforcement. In two years, Slam went from hang-around to full member to leadership in the club.
Slam had a secret of his own. He was Ken Croke, a 20-year veteran of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who was working on building a criminal case against members of the club.
While undercover in the club, all of his answers needed to be right, all of his actions above suspicion. One slipup would mean being beaten with ax handles, or worse.
Croke, a Boston native who was based in Southeastern Massachusetts during the investigation, wrote about his experiences in the new book “Riding with Evil: Taking Down the Notorious Pagan Motorcycle Gang,” written with New York Times bestselling author Dave Wedge.
Skip or stream?: ‘Deep Water,’ ‘Fresh,’ ‘Turning Red,’ ‘Master,’ ‘Adam Project’
Being discovered was not the only danger Croke faced as a member of the club. There was also the potential for a mishap during the club’s long motorcycle runs, his customized Harley-Davidson Electra Glide just a couple of feet away from the bike in front of him at speeds of 110 mph. Or an encounter with members of the Pagans’ archenemies, the Hell’s Angels.
After he left the club, the Pagans placed a $50,000 price on his head.
Croke said the Pagans weren’t motivated so much by money but by violence.
“They are extremely dangerous. They are organized crime,” Croke said in a telephone interview. “They use intimidation, threats of violence to get what they want.”
And they operate according to a pack mentality, he said.
“The minute you do anything to one of them, you do it to all of them,” Croke said.
Croke became a member of the club’s Long Island chapter, whose headquarters was a small tattoo parlor in the North Shore hamlet of Rocky Point.
The club dealt in drugs, guns, bombs and shaking down legitimate businesses. Part of the proceeds from these crimes would be paid to the Pagans headquarters, known as the “mother club.”
A veteran of more than 1,000 undercover operations during his career with the ATF, Croke said the toughest part of the Pagan investigation was keeping his cover story straight, because they would constantly question him on it.
“They were well-orchestrated in what they did and they were good at it,” Croke said.
In one incident, a Pagans member came up to Massachusetts to check up on him, bringing along a bomb.
Sharp-dressed man: Mark Rylance is a perfect fit in mobster movie ‘The Outfit’
Book Smart: 4 new novels you won’t want to put down
Even undercover, Croke remained a federal law enforcement officer, obligated to prevent anyone from getting killed or seriously injured in his presence. And, he had to face opposition within the ranks of law enforcement who wanted to shut down the operation.
When the investigation ended in 2010, 20 Pagans were arrested on charges that included racketeering, murder conspiracy, assault, drug distribution, witness tampering and firearms offences. All pleaded guilty before coming to trial. Seized were 34 firearms and a homemade bomb.
Croke said he wasn’t sure he wanted to write a book about his life with the Pagans, but was urged to do it by his wife, Angela, a fellow ATF agent, and their three daughters. An intermediary set up a meeting with Wedge, a Brockton native whose five earlier books with Casey Sherman included “Hunting Whitey: The Inside Story of the Capture and Killing of America’s Most Wanted Crime Boss.” Wedge and Sherman had a passing acquaintance from playing pickup hockey together.
“The story I heard was pretty incredible. Within 10 minutes, my jaw was on the floor,” Wedge said of the meeting. “I’m amazed by the work he did.”
A veteran investigative reporter, Wedge said what surprised him the most about the Pagans were “how old-school some of their tactics are. They truly fly under the radar of a lot of society and law enforcement.”
Croke remained with the ATF for several years after the investigation, retiring as an assistant director of the agency. He now works as a security consultant.
‘Dream come true’: Weymouth drama instructor stars in comic romp ‘Something Rotten!’
Asked if he thought members of the Pagans would read the book, Croke replied, “I would be surprised if they don’t.”
He said they are big fans of the books of this type.
“They read them to try to detect what law enforcement does. They watch all these shows,” from documentaries to “Sons of Anarchy,” he said.
“Riding with Evil” is published by William Morrow and is on sale now.
‘Riding with Evil’ excerpt
“My brain was working on overdrive balancing the double- and triple-lives I was leading. I juggled lie after lie to Roadblock, J.R., Izzo, and the others. I ran through strategic scenarios in my head at all hours, concocting solutions to keep me safe, to appease ATF supervisors, and to nail down evidence to support criminal charges for the RICO (the federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act) case we were building.”
From: “Riding with Evil: Taking Down the Notorious Pagan Motorcycle Gang” by Ken Croke with Dave Wedge.
He’s got the beat: Foxboro’s Chris Sullivan finds groove with Freestyle Love Supreme
Heroines of history: Weymouth author publishes ‘Fight Like a Girl’
This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: ‘Riding with Evil’ depicts the life of an undercover agent in biker gang