LAS VEGAS (AP) — In what federal prosecutors characterized as an effort to dismantle a far-reaching outlaw biker gang with roots in Nevada and California, officials said Friday that 23 Vagos motorcycle club leaders, members or associates had been arrested in three states on charges including racketeering, murder, kidnapping, robbery and assault.
“Today, the rule of law dealt a serious blow to the Vagos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang,” Acting U.S. Justice Department Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco declared.
Blanco characterized an indictment filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Nevada as a coordinated takedown of the leadership of a biker organization he blamed for “drug addiction, death and mayhem in … California, Arizona, Hawaii, Oregon and Nevada.”
A Justice Department statement identified eight of the people charged as being responsible for the September 2011 killing of a top boss of the rival Hells Angels Motorcycle Club at a northern Nevada casino.
One is Pastor Fausto “TaTa” Palafox of Beaumont, California, who has been identified by prosecutors in Nevada’s Washoe County as the Vagos international president who approved the killing by Ernesto Gonzalez of the Hells Angels San Jose, California, chapter president, Jeff Pettigrew.
Gonzalez was the president of the Vagos chapter in Nicaragua who was living in San Francisco. He was convicted of murder in Nevada state court, but his conviction was overturned. He is currently scheduled for a retrial Aug. 28 in Reno.
Efforts to identify a lawyer for Palafox weren’t immediately successful. Gonzalez’s attorney, David Houston of Reno, didn’t immediately respond to messages.
Washoe County District Attorney Christopher Hicks said the slaying of Pettigrew “was always a part of a larger criminal conspiracy, which has been made even more clear today. The county prosecutor said he welcomed a federal racketeering case “that not only seeks to hold Gonzales accountable but the entire involved Vagos criminal enterprise.”
Officials said all 23 men were in custody after arrests were made in and around Las Vegas, Reno, Los Angeles, San Jose, California, and Kailua, Hawaii.
Prosecutors said they had help in California from authorities in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and San Diego counties. At least nine arrests were made in northern and southern Nevada, and one defendant lives in Kailua, Hawaii.
The 12-count indictment alleges the club is a racketeering enterprise with nearly 90 chapters in at least seven countries, including about 50 chapters in California and Nevada.
Associated Press writers Scott Sonner in Reno and Brian Melley in Los Angeles contributed to this report.