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Racketeering trial resumes against Vagos Motorcycle Club members

Closing arguments resumed Tuesday after a weeklong break in a federal racketeering trial in Las Vegas against eight Vagos Motorcycle Club members accused of a slew of crimes dating to 2005 and spanning more than a decade.

Due to a conflict in presiding U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro’s schedule, the lengthy trial had been put on hold Feb. 6 following four days of closing arguments from the government and the defense.

Jurors on Tuesday heard from the three defense attorneys who had not delivered closing arguments prior to the break — all of whom accused the government of presenting a “dishonest” case against 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 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 the motorcycle club of a broad criminal conspiracy centered around a September 2011 shooting inside a Sparks casino that left rival Hells Angels member Jeffrey Pettigrew dead.

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.

“The government hopes you left your common sense at home, but I know you haven’t. The government has not met their burden of proof in this case — not even close,” said Andrea Lee Luem, who is representing Perez. “They presented to you liars and perjurers. They told you to do the heavy lifting. They told you to look for the corroboration to support their lies. They come in here and ask you to make unreasonable inferences. That is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Arguments from both sides have reiterated two different versions of the 2011 shooting told to the jury throughout the trial, which began in July and initially was expected to wrap up late last year.

The government’s version, which the defense has argued was largely built on lies from ousted Vagos member Gary “Jabbers” Rudnick, could put the men away for life. According to federal prosecutor Daniel Schiess, the shooting was a planned attack authorized by Palafox, then-international president of Vagos.

At the time of the shooting, Vagos and Hells Angels members were in Sparks for Street Vibrations, an annual motorcycle festival.

Rudnick, who received immunity for his testimony against the defendants, admitted in September to lying repeatedly on the witness stand when he testified for three days that his former allies had plotted the killing.

“These prosecutors don’t believe a word Gary Rudnick said,” Luem told jurors Tuesday, glancing at Schiess and his team. “They just hope you will.”

According to defense attorney Michael Kennedy, 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.

“This is either the worst planned assassination of all time, or it’s exactly what it looks like: a justified killing of an active shooter who would likely have shot more people if Ernesto Gonzalez had not stopped him,” Luem said Tuesday.

The jury is expected to hear rebuttal on Wednesday from prosecutor John Han, who delivered the government’s opening statement in August.

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

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