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Man of the Run

 The Big Issue in Scotland 04 June 2019

Alex Caine has spent his life infiltrating criminal gangs like Hells Angels and the Russian Mob. Yet the ex-Vietnam vet – who still has a $1m bounty on his head – has finally blown his cover, writes the Big Issue in Scotland’s Laura Kelly.  - By Laura Kelly

When you've spent your life infiltrating murderous gangs, you can expect a few hairy moments and Alex Caine - a Vietnam veteran who has brought Hells Angels, Bandidos, members of the KKK and Asian Triad gangsters to justice - admits that it takes not only skill but also a fair dollop of luck to come out alive.

Although in his 30 years on the job he became extremely talented at pulling on another skin, he says that when it came to the most dangerous gang of all he only avoided a nasty end through a bit of good timing. Caine, who for safety is speaking through a relay line that bounces my call twice before it hits his Canadian home, says that of all the unpleasant individuals he has met "the hardest, most vicious group of psychopaths that I've ever had to contend with is the Russians".

Caine narrowly escaped being "liquidated" by the Russian mob in California - but not because his cover was rumbled. "I took two weeks off one time with this particular group of Russians in California to go home," he recalls. "Well, during that two weeks the head guy in that area was recalled by his bosses.

"What they do when the high ones go home is that they just liquidate the bottom line. One got a heart attack, another's car blew up, two were shot outright… They don't leave loose ends. I would have been liquidated, not as who I was but for what they thought I was. I just got lucky."

When Caine returned from seeing his family, all his contacts were dead. He and his police handlers started the gruesome task of picking up the bodies. "I don't know of any other group that works that way," says Caine. "Even if you're in good standing, your life's worth nothing."

Now 60 and retired from working as a contracted agent or "kite", infiltrating criminal groups that cops were unable to penetrate themselves, Caine says he's still very aware that one day he might turn a corner, run into the wrong person and end up with a bullet in his head. George Wegers - the international president of notorious biker gang the Bandidos, with whom Caine was friends under one of his identities - still renews a million-dollar contract on his turncoat buddy every year.

Despite the threat, Caine has decided to make his story public. His book Befriend and Betray follows his life from a childhood spent dirt-poor and on the wrong side of the tracks, through  to signing up to fight in Vietnam and a stint in jail for marijuana possession before going on to describe his life as a kite.

It might be a brave front, but Caine is incredibly blasé about the chance that putting all of this into print could bring further wrath upon him. "Everyone wants to shoot me anyway," he says. "I could line them around the block, you know. What are they going to do, hate me more? It doesn't really bother me."

Ironically, since they're the group that retains the most ire towards him, Caine always felt closest to the bikers. He grew to understand how people who've fallen through "that social net that's supposed to catch people" - people who've ended up in foster care or been abused at home, who've come out of the military disillusioned or been raised in abject poverty - could see the Hells Angels, Bandidos and other one-percenter (outlaw) groups as a chance to belong and make big money.

"If you grew up on Kraft dinner [instant macaroni and cheese in a box] and baloney sandwiches and you're told you're stupid and you'll never amount to anything, then all of a sudden these guys have new bikes and new cars and girls all around them, it's a pretty tempting offer," he explains. And, of course, there's the enduring rebel aura that surrounds these outlaws. Caine believes that through our literature, cinema and culture we are programmed to root for "the bad guy with the pearl-handled gun".

Echoing the concerns of Warwickshire Police, who have recently had an application refused to stop biker festival The Bulldog Bash due to fears over escalating tensions between the English Hells Angels and rival gang the Outlaws, Caine says these groups are "so beyond" the ideal of the romantic outlaw.

The year before last, he says, the Hells Angels brought in $5bn from various sources including drugs, extortion and online porn and gambling. "They are now organised crime," he states.

Nonetheless, Caine confesses that years on from when he became a card-carrying member of the Bandidos - mission statement: "We are the people our parents warned us about" - he still keeps his "colours" or clothing depicting the red and gold Bandidos patch. Given his own history - a troubled home life followed by army service in a brutal and unpopular war - Caine describes himself as "tailor made" for the biker gangs.

"Once I fell in with these guys, I fell in with a whole bunch of guys that were just like me but had made some bad choices. I was not ready for that," he says. "It was very, very dangerous for me. Not physically but mentally."

Out of a sense of honour, and in order to make peace with the deception inherent in his work, Caine always visited the people he put in prison. After the Washington Bandido case in 1985 - which ended in the arrest of 93 patched Bandidos, two British Columbia Hells Angels and dozens of gang associates, as well as the seizure of 100 machine guns, 300 other firearms and a bunch of explosives - he went to see his friend Dr Jack who told him, chillingly: "We've changed you more than you've changed us."

He protested at the time, but now admits it was true. The bust was big, but it didn't halt the growth of the Bandidos, whereas it took him "forever" to shake that persona.
It's this element of his job, rather than the threat of violence, that troubles Caine the most. Having been almost constantly undercover since he was in his 20s, he was left without much of a 'true self' to come back to. "If you looked inside my mind, there's a graveyard for all the different people I've been," he says. "I walk around and visit it sometimes. I can never resuscitate these people but I can never forget them."

The solution he's worked out is to look at retirement as just another case. For the moment, he's enjoying creating himself as a writer. He's already written a follow up to Befriend and Betray called The Fat Mexican, which lifts the lid on the Shedden massacre of 2006 in which eight men were killed in a row between rival factions of the Bandidos. Six men are on trial for the murders.

Caine also plans to write the second part of his autobiography, dealing with his national security work, including the fight against terrorism. "I may become this person," laughs the former tough guy. "He's kind of neat, actually."

 

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