I-Team: Uncovering the Tampa Bay firefighters who run with criminal motorcycle gangs

When organized crime groups, civil service collide

TAMPA - The Department of Justice officially lists seven major motorcycle gangs (MCs) as “criminal enterprises” nationwide. The Outlaws and Pagans top that list and frequent national headlines with their involvement in drug trafficking, arson — and even organized murder

Both of these notorious MCs have members who live on salaries paid for by the taxpayers of Tampa Bay. While not suspected of any criminal activity themselves, firefighter captains in Pasco and Hillsborough counties aren’t just members in their local MC chapters — but serve as recognized leaders.

Meet the Tampa Bay fire captains with ties to criminal MCs

- Muddling the lines of loyalty -

While they may hold brave, commendable jobs by day, these two local fire captains moonlight with MCs that have become infamous for their involvement in organized crime.

Both captains are known to law enforcement as members of these notorious criminal motorcycle gangs, and during our investigation, federal agents expressed public safety concerns due to these risky lines of loyalty. 

 

 

What we know about the captains

 

Glen Buzze

Buzze is known to law enforcement as the President of the Pagans Pasco County Chapter. He’s also a fire Captain and Paramedic in Pasco County Fire Rescue.

At time of publishing, Buzze was making $79,488 per year with PCFR. He joined the department in 1996.

Buzze has no criminal record, and maintains mostly positive evaluations in his county personnel file.

We obtained a flyer Buzze made on a taxpayer-funded fire station computer (featured above in the video for Part I) promoting an event for his MC. The I-Team confirmed his supervisors only verbally scolded him and never documented it in his file. You can see an edited version of the flyer here

We contacted Buzze for an interview, but he declined to comment.

 

James Costa

Law enforcement know Mr. Costa as the President of the Outlaws St. Petersburg Chapter. Costa is a Fire Captain and EMT for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue. His base salary in the fire department at time of publishing was $87,507 a year. He joined HCFR in 1981.

Before he was hired, Costa served probation for two felony charges (adjudication withheld) for aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and auto burglary.

He’s had a clean criminal record since becoming a firefighter. In his 35 years with the department, Costa’s evaluations have been above average and positive, per county human resource documents.

There is no evidence that either man used information they got from their position to commit any criminal acts.

When contacted for an interview, Costa declined to comment.

What is a 1%-er?

According to law enforcement, there are two distinct groups within MCs. There is the 99 percent, who believe in following and respecting the law.

Then there are the “1%-ers” — who proudly display a patch that signifies an anti-law abiding lifestyle. Tampa's ATF Agent Keary Hundt says when you're a 1 percenter, "You consider yourself not subject to society's rules and laws."

Agent Hundt investigates criminal motorcycle gangs.  He says they are known for all types of crimes, "Drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, extortion, arson, bombings, you name it."

You can see Pasco firefighter Glen Buzze sporting the “1%” symbol in two places in the above photos — one on his shirt and one his necklace.

A violent reputation; a global presence

Background on the MCs involved

 

The Outlaws Motorcycle Club 

The Outlaws have more than 1,700 members who belong to 176 chapters in the U.S. and in 12 foreign countries. U.S. law enforcement authorities estimate that the Outlaws have more than 86 chapters in 20 U.S. states with over 700 members. 

The Outlaws also identify themselves as the A.O.A. (American Outlaws Association) and the Outlaws Nation. The Outlaws are the dominant MC in the Great Lakes region. 

The Outlaws are involved in the production, transportation and distribution of methamphetamine, the transportation and distribution of cocaine, marijuana and, to a lesser extent, ecstasy

The Outlaws engage in various criminal activities including arson, assault, explosives, extortion, fraud, homicide, intimidation, kidnapping, money laundering, prostitution, robbery, theft and weapons violations

The Outlaws frequently compete with the Hells Angels for both members and territory.

  • Info via the U.S. Department of Justice

 

The Pagans Motorcycle Club 

The Pagans are a violent MC whose members distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and PCP. The Pagans are one of the most prominent MCs in the Mid-Atlantic region. 

The Pagans have an estimated 200 to 250 members among 41 chapters in 11 states. The Pagans have been tied to traditional organized crime groups in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New York and have engaged in criminal activities such as arson, assault, bombing, extortion and murder.

  • Info via the U.S. Department of Justice

No policy on firefighters joining gangs

- The fire chiefs for both counties react -

During the second part of our investigation, we spoke with the fire chiefs for Pasco and Hillsborough counties on the lack of department policy concerning gang affiliation. 

As of our interviews, there were no policies in place preventing gang members from becoming firefighters or vice versa.

Watch Part II below: 

Read a written statement from Pasco Fire Rescue Chief Scott Cassin here.

Florida has infamous ties to criminal MCs

A reel of MC gang member arrests tied to local cases

 

 

Harry “Taco” Bowman

(Former International President of The Outlaws MC)

Following a federal trial in Tampa, Harry “Taco” Bowman was sentenced to life in prison for orchestrating the killing of rival gang members, drug trafficking and fire bombings. The government said Bowman emerged as the top leader in the international Outlaws biker gang during the 1980s and even made the FBI’s most wanted list.

For 20 years, he held absolute power, even ordering executions that were then carried out, according to prosecutors. He’s serving a life sentence at FMC Butner in Butner, NC.

 

John Fusco

(Pasco Pagans MC member)

Fusco just returned to federal prison (April 26, 2016) after being convicted of buying an illegal handgun. He is serving time in Sumterville, Florida at FCI Coleman Low. According to the ATF, Fusco has 10 prior felony convictions between Florida and New York.

He is the owner and operator of Twisted Metal Auto Body Shop in Port Richey, Florida.

 

Kenneth Difranco

(Pasco Pagans MC member)

Difranco was known to law enforcement as the Florida “Enforcer” for the Pagan’s MC. He will be released from federal prison in Sumterville, Florida at FCI Coleman Medium on 1/26/2017. He was convicted of being a felon in possession of a gun.

Difranco has seven prior felony convictions (some violent), according to the ATF.

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Jarrod Holbrook is an Emmy and AP Award-winning Investigative Reporter for the ABC Action News I-Team. See more of his work here

Do you have a story idea? Contact Jarrod on Facebook, Twitter, or via email at jarrod.holbrook@wfts.com

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