By Bruce Olson
ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - Some 18 Wheels of Soul motorcycle gang leaders face racketeering, murder and kidnapping charges in a wide-ranging indictment aimed at a nationwide takedown, federal authorities said on Tuesday.
Gang members allegedly murdered a rival gang member in St. Louis in August 2009, committed murders in Illinois and Ohio, and were involved in extensive drug dealing in at least seven states, according to the 40-page federal indictment.
"The significance of today's arrests is not just the fact that these members are considered the most violent of the group," FBI Special Agent in Charge Dennis Baker said.
"Today's nationwide takedown has disrupted and dismantled the Wheels of Soul by targeting the senior leaders."
Among the long list of crimes authorities accused gang members of committing were a drive-by shooting in Colorado and a stabbing during a gang fight in Chicago. The indictment also said gang members used high explosives, committed arson, and were ordered to carry guns, hammers and knives.
It said this activity added up to a racketeering enterprise, involving a federal law often used against Mafia members.
The indictment handed up June 9 and unsealed in U.S. District Court also brought gun violations charges against three other members.
Eighteen of 21 indicted gang members were in custody on Tuesday, with three members from the Denver area at large, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in St. Louis said.
The federal investigation targeted the gang's leadership, a small percentage of members who attained the status of "One Percenter" or "Diamond" level and were considered "particularly criminal and violent," authorities said.
Those members wore special patches reflecting their status in addition to the Wheels of Soul colors that consist of a black vest adorned with several patches worn on the back, according to the indictment.
The gang is governed by a "Mother Chapter" in Philadelphia, with regional chapters around the country, according to the indictment. Federal agents raided two Wheels of Soul clubhouses in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Some of those identified as leaders in the group included James "Animal" Smith in Philadelphia, Allen "Dog" Hunter in Chicago and Dominic "Bishop" in St. Louis.
The indicted members were from seven states: Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, Wisconsin and Kentucky.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)