December 6, 2022

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Pagans motorcycle club national president arrested in N.J. for having a loaded gun, feds said

The national president of the Pagan’s Motorcycle Club was arrested Sunday in New Jersey for having an illegal gun, federal authorities announced Friday.

Keith Richter, known as “Conan,” was charged with one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He’s scheduled to appear virtually before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael A. Hammer in U.S. District Court later Friday.

Richter, 62, attended a party in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, around noon on Feb. 20. According to a criminal complaint, law enforcement learned during the party that Richter had a gun.

The Bay Shore, New York, resident was a passenger in a GMC that left the party around 11 p.m. The vehicle was stopped by police in East Windsor in Mercer County around 1:30 a.m. Feb. 21. Police searched the vehicle and found a loaded Ruger P345 .45-caliber handgun underneath the cupholder of the center console, authorities said.

Richter was arrested by an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, which identified him in the criminal complaint as the national president of the Pagans. An attorney who has represented members of the Pagans in previous hearings did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Richter was previously convicted in 1998 of conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering and two counts of attempted assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison and was released in 2012.

Richter has been the president of the Pagans since at least 2018, overseeing a major expansion of the outlaw motorcycle gang on the East Coast. The FBI identifies the Pagans as one of the four major outlaw motorcycle gangs in the U.S. That group includes the Hells Angels, the Outlaws and the Bandidos.

The turf clash between the Pagans and Hells Angels has been well-documented over the years — especially in northern New Jersey, where the Hells Angels have a clubhouse in Newark.

In 2018, Pagan Robert DeRonde, known as “Hellboy,” brutally beat an associate of the Hells Angels with a baseball bat at a gas station near the Newark clubhouse. DeRonde, 56, was sentenced to four years in prison in 2019 after he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault.

The rise of the Pagans motorcycle club in New Jersey was the focus of an investigation conducted by the State Commission of Investigation, an independent state watchdog group formed in the late 1960s to investigate public corruption and organized crime.

In 2020, the group issued a 20-page report exposing in exhaustive detail how the Pagans have doubled in size in New Jersey, with more than 200 members spread across 17 chapters in the state.

“It’s expanding at a rate we’ve never seen before,” Edwin Torres, an SCI investigative agent, said at an open hearing in 2019. “In New Jersey, it’s going to be hard to find a county where there isn’t a Pagan presence.”

In recent years, the Pagans have been absorbing smaller motorcycle gangs at an alarming rate, officials said. The SCI report warned that the growth of the biker gang could lead to more violent clashes with innocent people.

The Pagans formed in Prince George’s County, Maryland, in 1959. The group, which started with just 13 members, evolved into a formal club in the 1960s and spread to neighboring states. It was around this time it adopted the outlaw motorcycle mentality, collectively known as the “one-percenters.” The theory is most motorcycle riders are law-abiding citizens, except for the 1% who aren’t. Those self-proclaimed members proudly display a “1%” patch on their jackets.

The Pagans are run like a business and are organized as such.

The club earns its proceeds from drug trafficking, the commission said. It sells marijuana and cocaine, but a bulk of its business is from methamphetamine, acquired from a Mexican drug cartel. The club also extorts business owners and relies on members to pay monthly dues of $100.

There are at least 900 Pagans spread across 12 states and in Puerto Rico, officials have said.

The Pagans have historically had a strong presence in South Jersey and neighboring Pennsylvania. A former Pagan chapter president in South Jersey is currently serving a life prison sentence for orchestrating the 2012 murder-for-hire plot of April Kauffman, a well-known radio personality in the Atlantic City area.

In recent years, the group has spread into more northern areas of the state, with a large presence in Elizabeth. Unlike the Hells Angels, the Pagans don’t have clubhouses, and instead have weekly meetings in different locations.

It’s unclear how the arrest of Richter will impact the group. Hugo “Zorro” Nieves, who authorities believe is the vice president of the Pagans, is based in New Jersey.

At the SCI hearing in 2019, Nieves was called to testify, along with other high-ranking members of the Pagans. Richter was not present at the hearing.

Nieves and the members refused to answer any questions from the SCI commissioners, citing their Fifth Amendment rights.

He did, however, break his silence once.

“It is not the policy of this club to engage in any criminal activity, and that’s all I will say about that,” he said.

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Alex Napoliello may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @alexnapoNJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.