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Lengthy trial nears end for Vagos Motorcycle Club members

Updated February 3, 2020 - 5:33 pm

The end is near in a federal racketeering trial against eight members of the Vagos Motorcycle Club following months of testimony and an unforeseen disruption to a trial that initially was expected to wrap up late last year.

Monday marked the first day of closing arguments in the Las Vegas trial.

Lead federal prosector Daniel Schiess spent about three hours carefully laying out for jurors the most significant evidence presented during the trial, which began in late July, stating that the government had delivered beyond its burden of proof.

“While the defendants have been charged with conspiracy, the essence in what we’re proving is the agreement,” Schiess said as some jurors took notes. “The court has said we don’t have to prove that they actually engaged in interstate commerce — although we did. We don’t have to prove that they robbed or committed racketeering activities against certain people — although we did.”

On trial 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.

The men previously pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise, murder and using a firearm to commit murder during and in retaliation to a crime. The charges stem from a 2017 indictment accusing Vagos members of a slew of crimes dating to 2005 and spanning more than a decade, including the 2011 fatal shooting of a rival Hells Angels gang member in Sparks.

Under the racketeering charge, in addition to the 2011 killing, the defendants are accused of robbery, extortion, kidnapping and possession of narcotics with the intent to sell.

More than once in his closing arguments, Schiess also addressed the major trial disruption that was Gary “Jabbers” Rudnick, an ousted Vagos member who had cooperated with authorities and agreed to testify against his former allies in exchange for immunity.

In September, the government’s star witness admitted to repeatedly lying on the witness stand after spending three days telling jurors that Vagos members had plotted the 2011 killing — a crime that has been described by authorities as part of a broader criminal conspiracy that involved a coordinated cover-up and threats of retaliation against gang members who cooperated with law enforcement.

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

“Now what Mr. Rudnick did on the witness stand is absolutely reprehensible,” Schiess said. “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.”

He also suggested that the jurors “look for evidence that’s corroborating. Is there something that was said that is supported by other evidence that you could rely upon?”

Several times Monday, attorneys for the eight defendants questioned the accuracy of portions of Schiess’ closing arguments. Most were overruled by U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro, who said more than once Monday that it was the jurors’ responsibility to recall the accuracy of the facts.

Closing arguments in the case were expected to last a week.

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

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