ST. LOUIS — A federal jury on Friday convicted seven members of what prosecutors said was a dangerous, violent nationwide motorcycle gang linked to killings, robberies, drug dealing and other mayhem.
Jurors, after a seven-week trial involving testimony from more than 60 witnesses, returned guilty verdicts on charges ranging from racketeering conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and evidence tampering by the Wheels of Soul, a mixed-race club with some 400 members.
James “Animal” Smith, the group’s 66-year-old national vice president from Philadelphia, and Dominic Henley, a lawyer who served as president of the Wheels of Soul’s St. Louis chapter, were convicted of racketeering conspiracy.
Jurors also found Henley, 34, guilty of plotting to commit murder in January of last year, when prosecutors say he and five other members of the club traveled to a nightclub in nearby East St. Louis, Ill., bent on killing members of the rival Outkast OMG gang. That plan was aborted because several police officers were seen near the club.
Anthony Robinson, a 26-year-old Chicagoan, was convicted in two fatal shootings just two months apart. Jurors concluded that in January 2011, Robinson killed a person in Chicago during an altercation with the rival Street Soldiers gang, then shot three victims in the back in March of that year as they fled from a party in Marion, Ohio, killing one and seriously wounding another.
Others defendants were from Colorado and Texas, and all of them were ordered to remain jailed pending a sentencing date that was not immediately set Friday.
After an investigation spanning more than a year, an indictment returned in June of last year cast the motorcycle club as an outlaw biker gang that orchestrated violence and mayhem, including at least three killings.
The indictment described a well-organized but extraordinarily violent organization, based in Philadelphia but with branches throughout the country. A select few members of the gang achieved “1%er,” or “Diamond” status for particularly violent activity, the indictment alleged.
In 2009, according to the indictment, members allegedly shot and killed a member of the rival Sin City Titans gang in St. Louis, just weeks after a meeting in which they were told that Wheels of Soul’s “Mother Chapter” in Philadelphia had declared “open season” on the Titans.
Other accusations were breathtaking: One member allegedly stabbed another person in the head during a fight at a Chicago motorcycle club, then shot another in the stomach. The indictment said gang members were required to carry weapons, mostly guns but also hammers, knives and others.
Gang members raised money through robberies and by distributing drugs, especially crack cocaine, but also heroin, the indictment alleges.
Wheels of Soul gang members wear black vests adorned with patches on the back and commonly refer to the gang as “the Nation.” The indictment accused gang members from St. Louis of planning to extort smaller gangs by requiring them to purchase a “support patch” that demonstrates subservience to the Wheels of Soul.