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Arrest may dent, not destroy, Pagans

| Friday, July 1, 2011

The dramatic arrest of the national leader of the Pagans outlaw motorcycle gang in his Hempfield home may damage -- but probably won't kill -- the violent group whose numbers have dwindled in recent years, a national gang expert said Thursday.

Dennis "Rooster" Katona, 45, has been held in the Westmoreland County Prison on $750,000 bail since state police stormed his home on Wednesday, discovering 90 grams of cocaine and 107 grams of methamphetamines with a street value of about $20,000, state police Trooper Steve Limani said.

But even with Katona off the streets, there is always someone else willing to lead, said Steve Cook, a police officer who travels the nation lecturing about gang activity.

"There's always somebody waiting in the wings for the opportunity to move up the ranks," Cook said.

Cook, a 16-year veteran of the Independence, Mo., police department, teaches other police officers about biker gangs and has served on the FBI Violent Gang Task Force. He has prosecuted members of the Hells Angels and Sons of Silence.

He said police cannot dismantle a gang "unless you can take out a gang collectively."

Katona's neighbors, who refused to give their names, said they were startled by the sound of troopers smashing the front window of Katona's house and then using a battering ram to enter the residence, which Katona purchased at a sheriff's sale for $8,000, according to county records. Those neighbors said they never noticed any unusual activity at the house during the two years he lived there.

Limani said police were concerned about the potential for violence, so a helicopter and members of the Special Emergency Response Team were used to enter the home, located in the usually quiet, rural Evanstown section of the township.

"The last thing you want to do is jeopardize people in the community or jeopardize officers who are serving the warrant," Limani said.

According to the warrant, troopers found a blue money bag lying on an upstairs bed that contained three plastic bags containing cocaine. A second bag was found inside a briefcase beneath a bed in an upstairs bedroom. It contained two plastic bags that tested positive as methamphetamine, according to a police affidavit.

Investigators also found a digital scale, plastic bags and a document indicating money owed to Katona for drug sales, according to the warrant.

Police said Katona, whose wife, Sherri, was in the home at the time of the raid, did not resist troopers' attempts to arrest him. His wife was not taken into custody.

Katona has worked his way up through the ranks of the Pagans, according to a 2002 federal court indictment. He served as sergeant-at-arms and treasurer before being named president.

In 2002, he was charged with planning an attack against the rival Hell's Angels motorcycle gang on Long Island at the Hells' Angels "Hellraisers Ball." About 75 Pagans crashed the event as part of a turf war with the Hell's Angels. One person was killed and 10 injured in the attack at a hall in Plainview, N.Y.

Katona's arrest is the latest in a string of setbacks for the Pagans, an East Coast gang whose membership has declined from 450 in 2006 to 200 to 250 today, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. During that time, the Hell's Angels numbers have increased.

The State Superior Court earlier this week ordered Allegheny County prosecutors to refile a homicide charge against Pagan Kevin Doolin, 45, of Pittsburgh's Sheraden neighborhood, who is accused of killing Albert Kolano, 33, of the city's Elliott neighborhood, in 2009.

The appellate court reversed a trial judge who dismissed the charge over the credibility of a key witness against Doolin.

Pagan Richard "Big Rick" Speciale of Ross in March pleaded guilty in federal court in West Virginia to drug charges and operating a continuing criminal enterprise for selling five kilograms of cocaine from 2007 until 2010, according to a federal indictment.

He will serve 15 years in prison, according to the plea agreement filed in Clarksburg.

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