Federal authorities recruited a person to become a member of the local Outlaw Motorcycle Club with the express intent of infiltrating the bikers' world and taking them down on drug charges.
Lead investigator Lorin Coppock, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testified at a court hearing Monday that their "confidential informant" was indeed a club member. But he declined to answer questions about the person's identity or how the person managed to gain admittance to the tight-knit, secretive club.
Several federal court hearings Monday allowed most of the 16 club members who have been in custody for the past five days to be released on unsecured $20,000 bonds. They are accused of running a cocaine and crack cocaine ring.
Agent Coppock's 2 1/2-year undercover investigation into the local Outlaws' alleged drug trafficking came to a head last week when agents raided their clubhouse at 3014 Campbell St. in Chattanooga.
Fifteen members are named across six federal indictments on charges of participating in the drug ring. A 16th person, Daniel Decker, only is charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
Mr. Decker was the one person denied bail on Monday by a federal judge because of what authorities described as his lengthy criminal history and a propensity for violence.
Kelly Adams, the only woman named in the indictments, is a young mother who still is awaiting word on whether she will be released because of her past history of not showing up for court dates. Court testimony revealed Ms. Adams is not a member of the Outlaws but allegedly was associated with someone who supplied the motorcycle club with its drugs.
The raid and ensuing litigation against the Outlaws has thrust the club into a spotlight, whereas normally they are known to keep to themselves and be very wary of outsiders.
"Do not write us asking how to join!" the Outlaws' Web site states. "Find an Outlaw and ask him!"
Federal agents conceded that many local bikers are law-abiding citizens, but that fact did not keep them from describing the local Outlaws as "a subculture that does not conform to mainstream culture."
"That's a nice way to say they are a criminal organization," said Special ATF Agent Darryl Hill.
Agent Hill said the Outlaws rank among the top motorcycle gangs in the United States along with the Hell's Angels, Pagans and Banditos.
On its Web site, the U.S. Department of Justice describes the Outlaws as an international criminal organization "whose members and associates engage in acts of violence including murder, attempted murder, assault, narcotics distribution and firearms and gambling offenses."