If you ratted out Detroit’s notorious Highwaymen Motorcycle Club, you should know what to expect, members said. Snitches would “wind up in a Dumpster,” one former member testified during a 2010 trial against the club’s leadership.
The club’s leader, Aref “Scarface” Nagi, was obsessed with hunting down the secret informants in their midst when federal investigators infiltrated the Highwaymen in preparation for a massive 2007 racketeering bust. But beneath Nagi’s search for so-called rats was a secret, one former Highwayman now alleges.
Gary Ball Jr., who was convicted alongside Nagi on racketeering charges in 2010 and sentenced to 30 years in federal prison, began investigating his former leader while behind bars, in the hopes of securing a new trial. Ball filed a Freedom of Information Act request for details on Nagi, the Detroit Free Press reported, and the request returned a police file. It revealed that Nagi—the sworn enemy of snitches—had once worked with a federal agency as a secret informant.
Prior to his 2007 arrest on charges including racketeering, assault with a deadly weapon, and conspiracy to commit murder, Nagi had good reason to worry about undercover spies. At the time of his arrest, the Highwaymen Motorcycle Club was Detroit’s most feared motorcycle gang, operating out of an ominous black clubhouse in southwest Detroit, where a winged skeleton sign hung above the door.
The bike club’s history is as dark as its headquarters. The largest motorcycle club in Detroit at the time of Nagi’s arrest, the Highwaymen are known as an “outlaw” or “one-percenter” club. One-percenter clubs take their name from a famous quote attributed to the American Motorcycle Association in the 1940s: that 99 percent of bikers follow the law, while one percent boast of flouting the law. In 1973, multiple Highwaymen were convicted of bombing rival clubhouses throughout the Detroit area. In a federal racketeering case in 1987, Highwaymen were indicted on a range of charges from drug distribution to kidnappings to arson.
And by the mid-2000s, when Nagi led the Highwaymen, the club was living up to its old reputation for violent crime and drug trafficking. Tales of the gang’s beatings and shootings were so widespread that, beginning in 2005, the FBI began taping Nagi’s phone calls, capturing approximately 30,000 conversations over two years. Those tapes, played during court proceedings, revealed Nagi bragging about violent crimes he had allegedly committed against those who had angered him, including a cook at a restaurant he owned in Dearborn, Michigan. In one taped call, Nagi claimed to have stabbed the cook and tossed him a Dumpster. In another recorded conversation, Nagi gave a crony directions by referencing a location as “right down where I shot that guy.”
The FBI also sent an informant to infiltrate the club. But Nagi, growing suspicious of spies, began a campaign to find the rats hidden among the Highwaymen. In court, one former Highwayman testified that he was warned that if he was a snitch he’d “wind up in a Dumpster.” Another testified that the gang had “zero tolerance” for rats and that the punishment for such a betrayal could range from expulsion to death.
“Multiple witnesses testified that, during the summer of 2006, there was a lot of talk at the Detroit Chapter Clubhouse about discovering and punishing the snitch or rat,” a judge wrote in an opinion in Nagi’s case, adding that a picture of the FBI informant “was hanging behind the bar at the Detroit Chapter Clubhouse with ‘rat’ written across it.”
The informant had a bounty on his head, FBI agents testified in court. “They’re going to kill him,” one agent testified at a bond hearing for a Highwayman accused of being tasked with murdering the informant. Nagi was eventually convicted of conspiracy to murder the FBI informant, as well as on racketeering, drug, and firearm charges, and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
But Ball, who was convicted alongside Nagi, claims to have unearthed evidence that the former club leader also snitched when it served him. While in prison, Ball filed a Freedom of Information Act request into Nagi’s history. The file Ball received in return revealed a 1992 operation in which Nagi allegedly worked with federal agents to bust a cocaine sale, according to the Free Press.
Working with Troy, Michigan, police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Nagi allegedly arranged the delivery of 2 kilograms of cocaine to a parking lot outside a shopping center, where law enforcement agents secretly lay in wait. Once the drug deal took place, Nagi allegedly signaled police and DEA agents to move in.
Nagi’s lawyer, who did not return a request for comment Sunday from The Daily Beast, told the Free Press that Nagi had never been a law enforcement informant and that perhaps Ball had accidentally received a file on the wrong Aref Nagi from the Detroit area. But Ball’s FOIA also contained old mugshots of Nagi and listed his birthdate correctly.
Nagi’s alleged history as an undercover informant is more than hypocritical, Ball and his legal team contend. Ball’s lawyer, who is trying to secure a new trial for his client, says Nagi’s alleged secret history raises the question of whether Nagi snitched on his fellow Highwaymen, possibly feeding confidential information on them to law enforcement in exchange for leniency.
Paradoxically, finding and punishing snitches was something of a team-building exercise among the Highwaymen, a judge ruled in Nagi’s case, writing that the club’s leadership controlled members “by directing attacks on persons perceived to have disrespected a fellow member in some manner, those perceived to have squealed, and those suspected of being snitches. Members enhanced and protected their reputation and standing as Highwaymen by using intimidation, threats, violent acts, and possession of weapons while carrying out acts of discipline, punishment, intimidation, and retaliation,” the judge wrote in 2011.
“Defendant Nagi was aware of and actively cultivated this fear of retaliation.”
Now it appears that Nagi’s own secret history may be snitching on him.