Jay Anthony Dobyns (born 1961), alias Jaybird, is a United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) undercover agent who infiltrated the Hells Angels motorcycle club from 2001 to 2003. He was offered membership into the gang after faking the murder of a rival Mongols Motorcycle Club member and providing 'evidence' of the staged murder to Hells Angels leaders.
Dobyns became a New York Times Best Selling Author in 2009 following the release of his book No Angel - My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels (Random House ISBN: 978-0-307-40585-2 (0-307-40585-0).
Dobyns was born in Indiana and was raised in Tucson, Arizona. He graduated from Sahuaro High School in 1980 and the University of Arizona in 1985. He was an All-Pacific 10 conference wide receiver and was named to Arizona's All-Century football team.
Dobyns became an ATF Agent in 1987. After only four days on duty he was taken hostage and shot through the chest. His trauma surgeon was Richard Carmona, who later became the 17th United States Surgeon General.
Dobyns spent the majority of his ATF career working in varied undercover assignments within the U.S. developing undercover expertise in violent crime investigation, narcotics, firearms, gang infiltrations, home invasion robbery cases, and murder-for-hire investigations.
Dobyns' exploits during Operation Black Biscuit are memorialized in the novels Angels of Death, written by authors Julian Sher and William Marsden, Running With The Devil written by author Kerrie Droban.
Dobyns portrays himself in television documentaries produced by The History Channel (Gangland: Behind Enemy Lines) and the National Geographic Channel (Inside: Outlaw Bikers - Hells Angels). Fox Television's America's Most Wanted also produced a segment entitled Operation Black Biscuit that details the work of Dobyns and his partners during the Hells Angels investigation.
Dobyns has appeared on the CNN program Anderson Cooper 360 discussing death threats he has received from the Hells Angels and his agency's failure to respond to or assist him in the defense of those threats.
In February 2009, Dobyns released his own book titled No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of The Hells Angels. Dobyns and co-author Nils Johnson-Shelton tell Dobyns's personal account of how the Hells Angels infiltration assignment changed his life.
No Angel debuted on the New York Times Best Seller List (non-fiction).
Dobyns joins other former undercover agents such as Frank Serpico, Joe Pistone (a.k.a. Donnie Brasco), Bob Delaney (a.k.a. Bobby Covert), William Queen (a.k.a. Billy St. John), and Joaquin Garcia (a.k.a. Jackie Falcone) in becoming mainstream news stories following their undercover assignments.
In 2006, Dobyns was inducted into the Sahuaro High School Alumni Cougar Foundation Hall of Fame.
Dobyns owns and operates the Jay Dobyns Group, LLC, a motivational speaking / consulting business that provides presentations to private industry and business leaders.
Dobyns received death threats from Hells Angels members and associates. Dobyns' threats became public when he claimed that ATF did not sufficiently protect him or his family from the dangers.
Federal agent penetrated Hells Angels, fears for his life
February 5, 2007
- Kelli Arena, Scott Bronstein and Jim Spellman
MESA, Arizona (CNN) -- For nearly two years, Jay Dobyns led a double life. He rode alongside the Hells Angels, becoming a member of one of the nation's most feared criminal gangs. But at the same time, he was working as a federal agent in an effort to bring the Hells Angels down.
Jay Dobyns works for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the federal agency responsible for enforcing the nation's gun laws. His deep undercover work with the Hells Angels from 2001-2003 ultimately helped bring the indictment and trial of 16 gang members and their associates.
As a result, Dobyns was awarded a top cop award by the National Association of Police Organizations. He also was hailed on America's Most Wanted as one of the "Good Guys" who brings down the criminals.
But today, just a few years later, Dobyns says that after risking his life on assignment, he has been left vulnerable by the very agency that he proudly served.
With his undercover work done and his real identity as a law enforcement agent exposed, Dobyns says the Hells Angels and other gangs enlisted by it came after him, issuing death threats. Dobyns claims that the ATF -- rather than protecting him -- abandoned him.
"There was a murder contract on me and there was what was called a green light list, which was circulating in the prison, which was a list of people that various gangs wanted killed," Dobyns told CNN.
In response, Dobyns says, the ATF gave him a routine transfer with no special protection, despite his repeated protests. The ATF could have moved Dobyns and his family under what is known as a "threat policy" -- similar to the kind of protection the government routinely gives witnesses in organized crime cases.
But federal agents who go undercover don't automatically get a high level of protection, according to Dobyns and other ATF agents CNN interviewed.
"In order to save money, I was told it wasn't cost effective," Dobyns says.
Dobyns says he has moved himself and his family several times to elude those who've threatened to kill him. He has filed a claim with the ATF for the emotional stress and financial burden he says he's had to bear as a result.
The ATF responds
In a note to CNN, ATF acting director Michael J. Sullivan wrote that privacy and personnel matters prohibit him from commenting directly on Dobyns' allegations, but he assured CNN that Dobyns' allegations are being fully reviewed by the ATF and the Department of Justice.
"There is nothing more important to ATF and to me than the safety and protection of our employees and their families. We at ATF understand that we have a solemn responsibility to protect the people whom we charge to investigate and arrest the country's most violent criminals," Sullivan wrote.
But more than a dozen former and current ATF agents interviewed by CNN, many of whom have their own lawsuits, claims and serious concerns, said the ATF is failing to protect its agents.
Charlie Fuller is a 23-year retired veteran ATF special agent and a former top trainer of undercover agents, who wrote a manual on undercover work, "The Art of Undercover." He trained Dobyns and many other top ATF undercover agents.
"What happened to Dobyns is not an isolated incident," said Fuller. In many cases, he said, managers don't thoroughly understand the complexity of the undercover work or how to best work with and manage the agents once they're back in the real world.
He said agents are seen as troublemakers or retaliated against if they raise complaints or report problems.
"Threats like what Dobyns faced -- this is the most serious thing an ATF agent can face -- the threats against his family," said Fuller. "How could they ignore something like that?"
Asked about Fuller's claims, the ATF said it would have no further comment for now, saying it would stand on Sullivan's previous statement.
"As ATF executes its mission to prevent terrorism, reduce violent crime and protect the public, we will continue to place the highest value on ensuring the safety of our employees and their families," Sullivan said.
Undercover With Hells Angels
In his new book, "No Angel," ATF agent Jay Dobyns writes about his undercover mission with the Hells Angels -- and the subsequent fallout
By JEFFREY A. TRACHTENBERG
Agent Jay Dobyns, a former star football player at the University of Arizona, had the size, attitude and tattoos to look the part of a Hells Angels member. In the summer of 2001, Mr. Dobyns, then a 14-year veteran at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, was asked to join a task force focused on infiltrating the motorcycle gang and stopping the sale of illegal weapons in Bullhead City, Ariz.
The mission was code-named "Black Biscuit," and Mr. Dobyns left his wife and two children for weeks at a time to create a believable persona that enabled him to successfully penetrate a local Arizona Hells Angels chapter.
But Mr. Dobyns came close to crossing the line. In a bid to amp up his energy level, he developed a dangerous dependence on the weight-loss pill Hydroxycut during the 21 months he spent undercover. It was not the only decision he later regretted, as he describes in his new book, "No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels," written with Nils Johnson-Shelton. The work is now a best seller.
Mr. Dobyns, 47 years old, eventually had a public falling out with the ATF -- he is currently a plaintiff in a $4 million lawsuit against the agency in the U.S. District Court of Arizona, alleging defamation of character and the failure to protect him and his family, according to his attorney, James Reed, a partner in Baird, Williams & Greer, in Phoenix. Yet Mr. Dobyns remains an agency employee, now working in ballistics evidence. "I won't quit," he says.
The ATF declined to comment on the book and lawsuit. The agency said in a statement that it "does not, as a matter of policy, comment on personnel matters or pending litigation."
The Wall Street Journal: The Hells Angels you met seemed to take you at face value. Were you surprised that they weren't more skeptical?
Jay Dobyns: By the time the case started, I had mastered every skill and trick of the trade, the tradecraft of undercover work. In hindsight, they should have been more skeptical, but I'm good at what I do.
WSJ: Outlaw motorcycle gangs are often portrayed as drug couriers. Did you see any evidence of that?
Mr. Dobyns: Narcotics was a big part of our case. I won't say that I was hitting stash house after stash house. A lot of it was street level narcotics. I never got to the giant massive quantity of drugs that I believed were out there and that I expected to get to.
WSJ: You write that eventually warrants were served on 50 defendants, but in the epilogue you note that many received short sentences while others got off entirely. What happened?
Mr. Dobyns: The investigation was a success based on the evidence and testimony. But we lost the prosecution. The good guys couldn't get along. The agency and prosecutors disagreed over how to present evidence, and what evidence to present. The internal bickering got out of hand, and very sweet plea deals were offered and charges were dismissed. The good guys started attacking themselves. Unfortunately the risks I took and the sacrifices I made don't carry weight in the eyes of prosecutors and the court. It's a cold, calculated business.
WSJ: You had a major falling out with the ATF, where you still work, and have filed a lawsuit. Why?
Mr. Dobyns: After the case ended I began to receive death and violence threats against me and my kids. Contracts were being offered to kill me. And the ATF did nothing. The same agency that encouraged and sent me to go toe-to-toe on behalf of their mission of fighting violent crime, ran and hid. In essence, I've been left on my own to figure out how to defend myself. When I blew the whistle on how they handled it, that's when the falling out came. My story isn't unique I was just the first one to stand up and call them out on it.
WSJ: Your house in Tucson burned down. What happened?
Mr. Dobyns: It was a total loss, and everything in it was a total loss. I'm still rebuilding. It was definitely arson, which has become another point of contention. The ATF didn't react to the fire initially. They later sent a single arson investigator, who determined the cause was arson. Agency managers tried to get him to change his conclusion, but he refused. He wouldn't compromise his integrity. He was then removed from the case. Then the ATF named me as a suspect and handed the case to the FBI. The ATF alleged I set my own house on fire. And my family was in the house at the time. They were saying I tried to kill my family.
WSJ: How many times did you and your family have to move, and what is your living situation today?
Mr. Dobyns: Over the course of five years we have lived in 16 different houses. It's a transient lifestyle.
WSJ: Why are the Hells Angels such an iconic organization?
Mr. Dobyns: They are America's bad boys. And America loves bad boys. Not every Hells Angels member I met was a rapist or murderer. Some called me on Thanksgiving or Christmas because they knew I was alone and said, come on over and hang out. Most of them, most of the time, have a smile on their faces. But heaven forbid that you insult them, or get involved crossways with their business.
WSJ: Why did you want to write this book?
Mr. Dobyns: The public was left with the impression that the case failed -- that there had to be something wrong with the undercover guys. I wanted to set the record straight. The undercover case was magnificent. The agency and prosecutors left the undercover operators to be the scapegoats for the prosecution, and that wasn't the case.
WSJ: Any regrets? You seemed to like some of the gang members you met. And you put your family through hell.
Mr. Dobyns: My biggest regret is that I abandoned my family in pursuit of this mission. I take no pride in having turned my back on my wife and kids for the relentless purpose of infiltrating that gang. Do I apologize to the Hells Angels for getting inside their club? Absolutely not. My job is to handle America's business.