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Motorcycle gang leader gets life

Former Outlaws chief Harry "Taco'' Bowman was convicted in April of racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder.

By GRAHAM BRINK

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 28, 2001


TAMPA -- As stoic as ever, former motorcycle gang leader Harry "Taco" Bowman said little as a federal judge sentenced him Friday to life in prison.

After the 25-minute hearing, Bowman smiled to his lawyer, shook his hand and walked slowly out of the courtroom, with deputy U.S. marshals leading the way. Neither his family nor any Outlaws came for the sentencing.

U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. also ordered Bowman, leader of the Outlaws gang for 15 years, to pay $18,000 in restitution to the widow of one of the men he ordered killed. In April, a jury convicted Bowman of racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder.

At his trial, Bowman looked like a bespectacled businessman, decked out in a dark suit with his hair nicely styled. On Friday, he had on an orange jail jumpsuit, exposing his tattooed forearms. His hair was combed back and he sported a variation on a goatee, letting facial hair grow on his chin and the sides of his mouth.

When Moody asked if he wanted to say anything on his own behalf before being sentenced, Bowman declined.

As leader of the Outlaws, Bowman controlled one of the largest motorcycle clubs in the country. When 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 Michigan, where he had enrolled his girls in private school and drove 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 the courtroom 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 from motel balconies and raped and beat women, whom 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.

Witnesses testified that Bowman ordered, or was involved in, a series of murders.

For prosecutors Terry Furr and Stephen 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.

Despite the successes, the Outlaws remain Florida's largest motorcycle gang, with about 65 members in eight chapters, including one opened last year in Panama City. For every member, experts estimate five to 10 others work closely with the gang.

National estimates are more difficult to make, but some experts put Outlaw membership at about 400, compared to more than 1,000 for the Hell's Angels. The Outlaws have also opened chapters in several countries, including Canada, England, Australia and Ireland.

Bowman's conviction is not expected to weaken the gang.

"Sadly, there is always someone to take their place," said FBI special agent Tim Donovan, who helped investigate the case. "The gang is still going strong."

According to law enforcement, gang members deal drugs and stolen motorbike parts, prostitute women and strippers, run numbers and extort businesses, among other illegal activities.

"The gang uses intimidation and violence to get a lot of what it needs," said Daytona Beach police Detective Mickey Powers, who investigated cases with Donovan. "It is not a good idea to call their bluff."

Powers said he doubted Bowman had much influence over the gang anymore. Gang members will send him care packages of cigarettes and candy bars, but his days of "ruling the roost" are over, he said. Some members were likely keeping a close watch on Bowman's case to see if he would cooperate with law enforcement and help make cases against other members.

Law enforcement will wait to see who rises to take Bowman's place, although given the violence within the gang, the new leader won't necessarily last very long. Powers did not tip his hand about what future investigations might yield. As long as the gangs keep committing crimes, law enforcement will keep after them, he said.

"Suffice it to say, we are not done," he said.

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

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