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LE arrests 25 Calif. motorcycle gang leaders and associated

The Associated Press

Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.- Twenty-five leaders and associates of the Vagos motorcycle club were arrested following one of the largest coordinated law enforcement probes ever conducted in Southern California, authorities said.

Thursday's operation involved 700 personnel from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and local police and sheriff's departments.

"The Vagos are a ruthless criminal biker gang that virtually held our communities hostage" by dealing in "guns, drugs and death," said John Torres, a special agent in charge with the ATF.

"Operation 22 Green," as it was called, targeted Vagos associates in five Southern California counties. Green is the club's chosen color and 22 corresponds to V, the 22nd letter of the alphabet.

More than 80 search and arrest warrants were issued and 25 people were taken into custody Thursday on federal or state charges that included firearms and drug violations. Another five people already were in custody.

Arrestees Thursday included seven chapter presidents, one vice president, one secretary, one treasurer and seven sergeants-at-arms.

The vice president, Ryan Matteson, 29, was arrested for investigation of murder in connection with a home invasion robbery in Lucerne Valley where three people were robbed and one was killed, authorities said.

In a statement, Torres said investigators seized 95 illegal firearms, some illegal drugs, $6,000 in cash and two stolen motorcycles.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos said the sweep effectively "dismantled" the club, which he estimated has several hundred members.

Torres said he anticipated that many of those arrested will have their cases incorporated into a federal racketeering case against the club.

An e-mail message seeking comment from the club was not immediately returned.

However, leaders in the past have said that Vagos is a social club, not a criminal enterprise, and frequently have complained of being subjected to witch-hunts.

"It's about riding motorcycles together. Spending time as a family, a pack, a club, a tribe," James Cross, 34, former president of the Placer County Vagos told the Sacramento Bee in comments published Wednesday.

"The club frowns on criminal activity," said Cross, who is one of three people accused of conspiring to kill a fellow member.

Vagos (pronounced VAH'-gohs), whose patch includes the Norse god of mischief Loki, was founded in San Bernardino in the 1960s. The Spanish name means "traveling gypsy" or "a street-wise person that's always up to something," according to the club Web site.

In the past decade, there have been several sweeps against members and associates in connection with crimes ranging from marijuana sales to murder.

More than 30 have been convicted of various crimes.

In San Bernardino County, two murder cases and two attempted-murder cases have been filed against Vagos associates or members, Ramos said. He did not provide details.

In September 2004, a state investigation involving the gang led to the arrests of 26 people and the seizure of more than $125,000 in cash, drugs and guns.

In October 1998, a two-year undercover investigation of the gang resulted in the arrests of more than a dozen people for alleged kidnapping, drug and weapons crimes.


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