Twenty-seven people who were part of a major drug network were rounded up by police last week, and charged with trafficking and a variety of other offences. Notable among the accused were five members of the Hells Angels: one of them owned two businesses and was well regarded for his charitable donations in the small Ontario city that he calls home. He's the modern face of the old outlaw motorcycle gang, which over the past 20 years has transformed itself from a club for violent goons who ride Harley-Davidsons to an impressively well-organised and sophisticated criminal syndicate. Many members still own Harleys and all are violent, but they are no longer in it just for the parties. According to Julien Sher and William Marsden, investigative journalists whose recent book, The Road to Hell, which chronicles the operations of the gang, there are now about 600 official members of the Angels in 37 chapters spread across Canada. The gang, says Sher and Marsden, is stronger here than in any other country in the world, including the United States, where it was founded in 1948 in San Bernardino, California. And it has managed to do what no other criminal gang has ever done before in Canada: create a nationwide organisation. The Angels knit together a coast-to-coast operation by a programme of aggressive expansion into new markets. In cities with rival motorcycle gangs, they either negotiated mergers or simply killed those who threatened their dominance. They are classic monopolists; in a market with no competitors, they set citywide prices for drugs, which is their principal business activity. Police now acknowledge that for many years after the Angels established their first chapter in Canada in 1977, they were written off as little more than drunken thugs. Then, in 1985, five bodies were fished from the St Lawrence River, chained to concrete blocks. They turned out to be members of an Angels chapter in Quebec who had been executed for snorting more drugs than they were selling. They had been invited to a party by another chapter, and shot. As the Angels have grown, they have become ever more violent and ruthless. Those that have been sentenced to prison rule those institutions by fear. In one, they assassinated two prison guards; in another, they had the warden's home torched. Many police forces across Canada now have biker investigation units, but they continue to have great difficulty infiltrating the gang. In the latest arrests, police were able to plant an informer inside by having him pose as a trucker with his own vehicle. 'They needed a truck,' said one of the investigators. So the police gave them one.