WALLA WALLA — A months-long investigation wrapped up with a massive law enforcement operation Thursday, Sept. 9, as two Milton-Freewater, men were arrested for allegedly being involved in violent crimes connected to a nationwide biker gang. One of the men arrested was working as a corrections officer in Walla Walla.
According to the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office and Milton-Freewater Police Chief Doug Boedigheimer, the sting operation was a result of close collaboration and had to be executed with perfect timing because of the many moving parts and people involved.
Ultimately, the two Milton-Freewater men, Charles Montgomery, 29, and Dustin Wendelin, 40, were arrested on a grand jury indictment out of Spalding County, Georgia. They’re alleged to be local leaders of the outlaw motorcycle gang the Pagan’s Motorcycle Club. The Pagen’s is a “1%er” or “One Percenter” club — the 1% of motorcycle clubs that operate outside the bounds of the law.
The gang is known for violent crimes, including bombings, shootings, assaults and homicides, according to the sheriff’s office, which also reported Montgomery and Wendelin hold leadership roles in the gang.
Wendelin, who worked at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, appeared in Walla Walla County Superior Court Sept. 10, and waived extradition to Georgia. Montgomery was arrested in Umatilla County and was slated to appear in Umatilla County Circuit Court. Requests for information on Montgomery’s waiver status were not returned.
Wendelin had few words in the extradition hearing before Judge Brandon L. Johnson.
“Were you aware of that indictment, sir?” Johnson asked Wendelin.
“I was, as of yesterday,” Wendelin answered via webcam from the Walla Walla County Jail.
After waiving extradition, Wendelin waved to the courtroom and said, “Judge, if I may? I don’t think I’ll get a chance to otherwise, so I just want to say I love my fiancée more than life itself.”
Jail staff then led Wendelin away to begin his journey to Griffin, Georgia.
Wendelin and Montgomery each face charges of aggravated assault, aggravated battery and three counts of violating the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act of Georgia, according to a Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office press release.
Officials with the sheriff’s office called the arrests “the first step in a joint investigation” into the West Coast Pagan’s club. Additional charges are pending.
Boedigheimer said the case began with an assault investigation the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia conducted along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He said those two agencies eventually traced the two men to Walla Walla County and recruited the help of the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office.
The investigation began to take shape locally when a training was held in Walla Walla regarding gang enforcement, specifically surrounding the Pagan’s MC, including discussion of a chapter that was operating inside the city limits of Milton-Freewater.
A Milton-Freewater police detective began working with the Georgia-based officials on the investigation. In the meantime, Wendelin was on local law enforcement’s radar.
“A separate, local criminal investigation had been opened ... involving Wendelin,” Boedigheimer said.
The case allowed the detective to write up search warrants and further investigate Wendelin’s property for the Georgia case, too.
The investigators then worked with a Umatilla County deputy district attorney on the complicated legal process in executing a multi-state warrant on three properties in and around Milton-Freewater, Boedigheimer said.
On Sept. 8, about 30 law enforcement officials — including the deputy attorney and members of the FBI and ATF — held a briefing to discuss the operation.
The next morning, just after 5 a.m., the officials sprang into action by first arresting Wendelin at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla. After 7 a.m., the three search warrants in Milton-Freewater were served. After 8 a.m., Montgomery was arrested.
“Numerous items of evidence were found and seized pursuant to the search warrants,” Boedigheimer said.
The police chief said the Oregon Department of Human Services was called to assist any children involved.
Boedigheimer called the operation a “prime example” of a collaborative effort in the criminal justice system.
“Every agency and entity (involved) contributed in a positive way to this mission, which met a positive end,” Boedigheimer said.
Also involved in the investigation and arrests of the two men were: the Georgia Bureau of Investigation; Drug Enforcement Administration; DOC Special Investigations Service; Washington State Patrol; Oregon State Police; Umatilla Tribal Police Department; Morrow County Sheriff’s Office; and police departments in Hermiston, Boardman, Pendleton, Portland, Seattle and Spokane.