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Jurors in lengthy Vagos Motorcycle Club trial begin deliberations

Updated February 19, 2020 - 6:20 pm

A jury in a federal racketeering trial has begun deliberating verdicts on charges that could put eight Vagos Motorcycle Club members away for life.

Jurors, who sat through months of testimony and witnessed an unforeseen trial disruption, headed into the deliberation room Wednesday afternoon following roughly five hours of rebuttal from federal prosecutor John Han, who delivered the government’s opening statements in August. Deliberations will resume Thursday.

Han’s remarks concluded six days of closing arguments, which began Feb. 3.

On trial in Las Vegas are Vagos members Pastor Fausto Palafox, Albert Lopez, Albert Benjamin Perez, James Patrick Gillespie, Ernesto Manuel Gonzalez, Bradley Michael Campos, Cesar Vaquera Morales and Diego Chavez Garcia.

They were indicted in 2017 on various charges, including conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise, murder, and using a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime.

The indictment covered a slew of alleged crimes characterized as a broad criminal conspiracy dating to 2005 and spanning more than a decade, including the fatal September 2011 shooting of rival Hells Angels member Jeffrey Pettigrew inside a Sparks casino during Street Vibrations, an annual motorcycle festival.

“These are grown men with twisted and distorted notions of camaraderie and brotherhood,” Han said Wednesday. “They’re grown men who derive pleasure in instilling fear in people through intimidation and violence.”

Throughout the trial, jurors heard two different versions of the 2011 shooting from the government and the defense.

According to federal prosecutor Daniel Schiess, the defendants had plotted to kill the rival Hells Angels member after getting the “green light” from Palafox, then-international president of Vagos.

“They live by these words: ‘We give what we get,’” Han said of the defendants. “And it’s not just a patch. It’s how they live their lives as Vagos, by retaliating against disrespect through acts of violence.”

But defense attorney Michael Kennedy has said that Gonzalez, the shooting suspect, was “acting in the defense of others” when he fired at Pettigrew, who after picking a fight with Vagos members began “actively shooting” on the casino floor alongside another Hells Angels member. Garcia, one of the eight men on trial, was shot in the leg and had to undergo at least two surgeries to save the limb.

The trial began with jury selection in July and was expected to wrap up late last year until ousted Vagos member Gary “Jabbers” Rudnick admitted in September to lying under oath when he said the killing was a planned attack. Rudnick, who received immunity for his testimony against his former allies, was the government’s key witness.

“Now what Mr. Rudnick did on the witness stand is absolutely reprehensible,” Schiess said earlier this month in his closing argument. “You have the right to reject all of the testimony, or you can look to the testimony and see if there is any truth to some of it.”

Attorneys for the defendants tried and failed to have the conspiracy and murder charges thrown out, and the trial resumed in late November.

“These prosecutors don’t believe a word Gary Rudnick said,” defense attorney Andrea Lee Luem said Tuesday. “They just hope you will.”

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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