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    Outlaw chieftain guilty on 8 charges

    The jury hears tales of drugs, rape and murder in the federal conspiracy trial of Harry "Taco'' Bowman.

    By GRAHAM BRINK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2001


    TAMPA -- As stony faced as the row of deputy U.S. marshals lined up behind him, Harry "Taco" Bowman took the news that he was about to spend the rest of his life behind bars with the casual cool that he has displayed throughout his monthlong trial.

    Even as one of his daughters bolted from the courtroom, tears streaming down her face, Bowman simply exhaled once and looked straight ahead.

    The 12 jurors found Bowman, the president of the Outlaws motorcycle club, guilty of eight federal charges Tuesday including racketeering and conspiracy. They acquitted him on an arson charge.

    As leader of the Outlaws for 15 years, Bowman, 51, controlled one of the largest motorcycle clubs with chapters across the country, including several in Florida.

    When he was indicted in 1997, Bowman eluded authorities for 18 months despite his inclusion on the FBI's Most Wanted list. Authorities caught up to him when he visited his family in upscale Grosse Point Farms, Mich., where he had lived for years, putting his girls in private school and driving an armor-plated Cadillac.

    The case against Bowman hinged on testimony from former Outlaws. Most came to the courthouse from prison cells having cut deals to have their sentences reduced for helping put Bowman away. They wore long goatees reaching to their chests, hair pulled back in pony tails, tattoos running up under their shirt sleeves.

    At times, the admitted drug dealers, rapists and hit men charmed with a mix of morbid humor and stories worthy of an R-rated Hollywood script. One talked of stabbing 13 men to extricate himself from the bottom of a bar fight. Another told of how he shot a man multiple times and then finished him off with a screwdriver.

    They threw delinquent Outlaws off of motel balconies and raped and beat women, who they spoke of as "property." Others targeted rival clubs like the Hell's Angels, blowing up their clubhouses. And there were drugs. Lots of drugs, often dealt by Bowman, they said.

    And the witnesses testified that Bowman ordered or was involved in a series of murders, as well.

    Bowman's attorneys put on a handful of witnesses over a day and half who backed up their theory that Bowman was the leader of a club, not a malicious gang of thugs. Bowman was the victim of rogue members who acted on their own without his knowledge or consent, the attorneys argued.

    But they could not counter the devasting impact of the former Outlaws exposing the club's business.

    "These are not people you'd want to take home to meet mom," said federal prosecutor Terry Furr. "But they told the truth."

    Bowman's attorney Henry Gonzalez did not want to comment except to say there would be an appeal. Bowman will be sentenced July 27.

    For Furr and his fellow prosecutor, Steven Kunz, this is just the latest triumph over the Outlaws motorcycle club. They convicted more than two dozen Outlaws in the 1990s on various charges including racketeering.

    Furr said Bowman's conviction was a blow to the club, but he quickly added that the Outlaws learn from their defeats. The club should not be underestimated, for it has survived for years as a well-run criminal organization, he said.

    "People should not make the mistake of thinking these are stupid people," he said. "This is an organization that continues to evolve."

    - Contact Graham Brink at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com.

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