You may not have realized it, but the Hell’s Angels passed through town here not too long ago.

You may not have realized it, but the Hell’s Angels passed through town here not too long ago.

Flooding issues in the Midwest dictated that they had to – otherwise, they would have taken another route.

Steve Cook, a detective with the Independence Police Department, considered the recent Interstate 70 traffic stop of the infamous motorcycle gang more of a cursory check than a bust. No arrests were made, but a point was made – one that gang members have felt reverberate through members and leaders.

“They’ve been told by leaders not to go through this area,” Cook said. “Members are told we’re too aggressive.”

The description may have some weight. Since 2006, the Independence Police Department, specifically its Criminal Investigative Unit, has netted at least 23 arrests and convictions of motorcycle gang members from well-known groups like El Forastero and Galloping Goose.

While the investigations were performed locally, the charges later came from the federal level, a development that Cook and others on his team were proud of. Those charges include conspiracy, drug possession and distribution, specifically methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana.

Those charged came from a variety of locations – Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. Some were living here; others were passing through what Sgt. Carl Perry, the supervisor over the gang investigation, called “the alleyway for outlaw gangs.”

In 2009, Perry and his team, which includes motorcycle gang expert Cook, saw to the eventual arrest and prosecution of five members of the Galloping Goose gang and its affiliate, El Forastero. While most of those arrested had unknown addresses, one man, Gary Mickiewicz, also known as “New Yorker,” lived in Blue Springs. They admitted that, as active members, they participated in the distribution of between 500 and 1,500 grams of methamphetamine, an amount based on 20 runs over a five-year period.

Two years later and all their work would appear complete. In August, Cook, Perry, officer Jeff Seever and Sgt. Phil Hininger received their second award from the Midwest Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Investigators Association: the Tom Billings Memorial Award for Outstanding Investigation, specifically for work surrounding the El Forastero and Galloping Goose Outlaw motorcycle gangs.

“This is the largest and most successful prosecution of the El Forastero Outlaw motorcycle gang in history,” said Chris Omodt, chairman of the association’s award committee. ”It’s an outstanding investigation worthy of recognition as we work to eliminate more of these criminal gangs city by city.”

Both Perry and Cook list the El Forastero gang as “dead.”

Until the mid-2000s, no other metro agency had done anything about the gang problem.

“They’ve been around since about 1965,” Cook said about El Forastero, which was chartered as a group that year. “But no one had done anything about them. They let them run amok.”

In the ’90s, Cook was a member of the Jackson County Drug Task Force and wanted to make “a run at them,” but little success followed. When he entered the Crime Investigative Unit in the early 2000s, they were able to prosecute three gang members through the federal court.

“It wasn’t enough to break their backs, though,” Cook said.

In 2006, the unit secured an informant, who started making controlled buys. Witnesses started cooperating, Perry said. As the buys increased, so did their understanding of how the gangs worked.

“We found that dues paid help pay for drugs as they traveled from city to city,” Perry said. “There was an intricate system in place for how they did their business.”

For Cook, his understanding led to a specialty in gangs, one that would lead him into teaching classes on the subject and an appearance on the History Channel’s “Gangland” show.

“He loves it,” Perry said. “You look at him in the office and he’s a totally different person from when he’s investigating gangs. He can hold his own with gang members.”

As the gangs frequented and passed through towns, members garnered little attention. That’s their mission, Perry said: attract as little attention as possible. Their background existence, however, was there for people to see. Tattoos, jackets with gang patches – symbols for all the world to see, if it just looked. Perry said he wouldn’t be surprised if more people admitted to not even realizing that the dozens of motorcycles pulled over on I-70 recently were Hell’s Angels.

From informant work and controlled buys, through witness testimony, the unit made six arrests during its first round of indictments; 11 arrests in its second round; and six in the last round, Cook said.

“And others – people connected to the gangs,” Cook said.

Consequently, the El Forastero gang has been knocked out and the Galloping Goose gang is weak, Perry said.

With awards in their pockets, the unit’s members aren’t resting. Perry said the unit is now focused on the Vagos Motorcycle Club, or Green Nation, an organized crime gang formed in the ’60s. Perry and Cook said the group is steadily moving into the Midwest, and Missouri has its own flagship control based in Springfield.

“Husband and wife,” Perry said, lifting his eyebrows. “Why Springfield, we don’t know…”

For Cook, one gets the feeling that his work on motorcycle gangs – their sociology, their psychology, their overall culture – isn’t finished. In addition to his gang work, his specialty, he has completed assignments with the Drug Enforcement Administation’s Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement Team and investigative work with the FBI. More involvement, it would appear, is to come.

“I’m still going strong,” he said.