ODESSA — Detectives arrested three motorcycle gang members on charges that they executed the leader of a rival gang, saying they fatally shot him in his truck as he sat at a red light in the middle of rush hour traffic.
Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said he fears that Thursday's public burst of violence could ignite a war between local chapters of two infamous motorcycle gangs: the Outlaws and the 69ers Motorcycle Club.
Nocco announced the arrests Friday. He said both gangs have national footprints, and investigators believe members from around the country may come to Florida because of the shooting. The sheriff anticipates more trouble.
"There's no doubt in my mind there's going to be more violence because of this," Nocco said.
TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: MOTORCYCLE GANGS
Outlaw motorcycle gangs still prevalent in Florida, Tampa Bay area (May 24, 2015)
Hillsborough firefighter wanted in bar fight is suspected motorcycle gang member (Nov. 17, 2016)
Hillsborough bans workers from biker gangs after fight warrant issued (Nov. 18, 2016)
The sheriff said the shooting took place at 4:55 p.m. Thursday in front of other drivers waiting at the red light where the Suncoast Parkway exits onto State Road 54.
Paul Anderson, 44, was at the red light idling in a truck. He was the president of the Cross Bayou chapter of the Outlaws, according to the sheriff.
Three members of the 69ers Motorcycle Club were on his trail, Nocco said, describing their roles: Allan "Big Bee" Guinto, was tracking Anderson in a "scout" vehicle. Two others, Christopher Brian "Durty" Cosimano and Michael Dominick "Pumpkin" Mencher, pulled up to the intersection on their motorcycles.
Cosimano is the president of a local branch of the 69ers, according to investigators. He walked up to the window of the truck and knocked, getting Anderson's attention, the sheriff said, before opening fire.
"It was probably like a television show or a movie scene," Nocco said.
He described the Outlaws and 69ers as rivals and said tensions between them have risen of late.
"That's a big deal when you take out a president," Nocco said. "And these groups don't take it lightly."
Cosimano, 29; Mencher, 51; and Guinto, 26, all face charges of first-degree murder, the Sheriff's Office said.
Cosimano, of Riverview, and Mencher, of Tarpon Springs, were both booked into the Hillsborough County jail. Guinto, of Brandon, was booked into the Pinellas jail. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assisted in the investigation. All three men are being held without bail and will be returned to Pasco to stand trial there.
Detectives zeroed in on the suspects quickly because they were familiar with them through past investigations of gang activity, Nocco said.
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The motorcyclists concealed their faces, according to surveillance photos released Thursday. Mencher also flipped up the license plate on his motorcycle, but investigators said they still recognized the bike.
Deputies revealed little information about the simmering feud that may have preceded the shooting but said they will keep monitoring the groups' activities.
"Conflict is inherent with these gangs," said Pasco sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll. "That's what they pretty much live for."
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said his detectives, just south of Pasco County, have not seen a recent surge in motorcycle gang issues. Neither have Tampa police officers, according to department spokesman Steve Hegarty.
Groups like the Outlaws and 69ers exist in Tampa Bay, Gualtieri said, but for years "the stereotypical and traditional motorcycle gang activity has been nominal." Generally, he said, any violence happens between groups and does not involve the public.
"They don't wreak the havoc in the community and engage in criminal activity against others the way they did a long time ago," Gualtieri said.
That's because motorcycle gangs have wised up since they gained notoriety in the 80s and 90s, an investigator who specializes in such groups told the Tampa Bay Times in 2015. They have become more secretive and generally operate out of public view.
The Outlaws have a large presence in South Florida but also chapters in Tampa and St. Petersburg, the Times reported in 2015. Groups such as the Warlocks, the Pagans and the Mongols have also been known to operate locally and across the state.
Such gangs refer to themselves as "1-percenters." The American Motorcycle Association once declared that 99 percent of bikers followed the law, and the criminal gangs latched onto that description.
Hillsborough County dealt with a motorcycle gang issue last year when a firefighter who authorities said was associated with the Outlaws was accused of fighting in a Key West bar. The county then banned employees from certain biker organizations.
Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8804. Follow @ZackSampson. Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or email@example.com. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.