Charles Falco was a successful meth dealer until he was caught and given a choice: spend 20 years in prison or go undercover for the ATF with a notorious biker gang. He wrote about his experience in his 2013 memoir, Vagos, Mongols, and Outlaws: My Infiltration of America’s Deadliest Biker Gangs. Now it’s the subject of a chilling History Channel drama series called Gangland Undercover (Tuesdays at 10/9c beginning this week).
Its six episodes cover the three years Falco (played by Damon Runyan) spent with the California-based Vagos, a gang involved in drug trafficking, arms smuggling, money laundering and murder. His efforts resulted in the arrests of 25 gang members, and the cases are now closed.
But Falco, who served as a consultant to the series, knows his former biker buddies might seek revenge, which is why we can’t show his face. When it comes to the truth about the biker gang life, however, he has nothing to hide.
“Hearing them joke about killing somebody was just so surreal and it made me sick. But I couldn’t show fear or react. I had to sit there and laugh back about them coldheartedly killing someone.”
Are you still living in fear that these people might find you?
Yeah. I’ll always be looking over my back for the rest of my life.
What’s that like?
I spent so many years as a criminal and as a criminal, you’re always looking out for the enemy. So it’s something that I’m used to, but it can impact your life. When I enter a restaurant or when I go to church, or anywhere I go, I’m assessing people, reading people’s body language. I’m looking to see if they recognize me. I’m looking to see how the crowd looks. Does anyone look like a biker? It can definitely create anxiety.
How did you get into trouble in the first place?
I started out as a small-time drug dealer, early nineties. I started selling marijuana, quickly escalated to selling coke. I was an evil entrepreneur. I saw in the mid-nineties that methamphetamine was starting to take over, so I thought, Well, if I can learn how to make meth, I can cut out the middle man and make a lot more profit. It took about a year, but I trained myself to make meth and it just took off from there. But I got betrayed by everybody I worked with. Then I hit rock bottom myself, became addicted to my own drugs, and then I got busted.
Why did you agree to go undercover?
At first I pretty much told them to take a hike—I’ll go ahead and do the time. But I had some close relatives that were going to be charged and faced a lot of time if I didn’t turn.
While you were with the Vagos, did you think, What did I get myself into, this is some deep shit?
About once a week. I attended these weekly “church meetings” out in the desert wearing a recorder, and I knew that if they found out what I was doing they would kill me. If they searched me, they might find it. So I was always second-guessing why I was doing what I was doing.
Did you have close calls?
There were times where they started searching some of the other members while I was wearing a wire. I say I was blessed because I’m a religious man. God saved my neck all the time. I used to wear the recorder in my crotch area because you think, No one’s going to touch me there. I was at this run with 250 Vagos, I’m wearing this recorder and I heard a voice in my head say, “Move the recorder.” So I snuck off into the bathroom and put it in my wallet. Right after that one of the members, who had just committed a murder about two weeks before that, walked up to me, gave me a hug, and grabbed me right in the crotch.
Not the friendliest barbershop quartet out there, but boy can they sing!
You also had to be very careful what you said.
Yeah, they’re always suspicious of you. They used to call me an ATF agent, a cop or a snitch. I had to learn to stand up to them to make sure they’d know I’m not going to be pushed around. Someone they thought was an informant had been killed several months before, so it was very scary all the time. In the Victorville chapter I was in, about 15 members, there were two members who had killed somebody in a home invasion. Even when I was a criminal, I wasn’t a murderer. I never seriously hurt anyone. Hearing them joke about killing somebody was just so surreal and it made me sick. But I couldn’t show fear or react. I had to sit there and laugh back about them coldheartedly killing someone.
Even so, when you were riding with them, did you feel like a badass?
Yeah. There’s definitely a sense of power being around them. People show respect when they fear you. So you do feel that power when you put on that kutte. It’s intoxicating and you think you deserve that respect. Everyone should respect us, move out of our way, let us cut up front in a line. Riding in a big pack of 60 motorcycles, wearing our kuttes, it sounds like a freight train coming. That’s very intoxicating and romantic. But at the same time, I knew who I was. I tried to keep a level head.
How did you manage to rise through the ranks without getting caught?
God helped me out a lot. Second thing was my ability to understand the streets. I grew up around gang members. I grew up in a rough neighborhood so I knew their mentality. Of course, bikers are more organized than the normal street gang.
Are there any misconceptions about biker gangs?
We think of bikers as free spirited, the “hit the road when we want to, party, drink beers’, kind of living, that anarchy lifestyle, kind of cool rebel without a cause. The biker gangs aren’t like that. They’re gang members that ride motorcycles. There’s no anarchy or freedom in their structure. It’s more like a military unit. You have to show up at this time. You have to follow these rules. They’re more criminally organized, like a mob. These motorcycle gangs want the public to think they’re just a brotherhood of beer-drinking bikers and that is not true. They’re a criminal organization that bullies our society.
Did Sons of Anarchy get it right or wrong?
It was a very interesting, soap opera-ish view of the biker gangs, which was the part that was real for me because the backstabbing, constantly manipulating each other, constantly slamming, or creating this chaos in society is pretty true. It showed that they’re not really a true brotherhood. The part that wasn’t accurate is they made them like kingpins and it gave them more respect than they actually get in the criminal world.
So what’s your life like now? Do you still ride? Do you have a job? Are you married?
I do ride. I have to be in hiding and my name is secret. I’m married and I have a child too, but in keeping other people close to me like friends, other family members and stuff like that, I don’t. I’m definitely a loner. I do training for a company called Serrato Associates. We hold eight- hour classes on outlaw motorcycle gangs, educating law enforcement and the public. It’s my service—I help our society by keeping up-to-date on what activities outlaw motorcycle gangs are involved in across the country. I got a masters degree in criminal justice. I lectured at one of the top colleges last week. I mean, I love doing that kind of stuff. I feel it’s like redemption for me. Since 2001, I’ve done nothing but positive things for our society. I believe now that I can say I’ve helped our society more than I’ve damaged it. It feels good to be doing something that, to me, feels important.
So no regrets? Or would you change anything?
Obviously, I wish I’d never been involved in the criminal activity I was involved in. But all the stuff I did since I got busted? I wouldn’t take back any of it.