RENO, Nev. — A former Vagos motorcycle gang leader turned federal informant testified Thursday at a murder trial for an ex-colleague accused of killing a rival Hells Angel in a Nevada casino shootout as lawyers argued over whether it was an assassination plot or self-defense.
Among other things, he blamed another loud-mouthed Vagos — ex-Los Angeles chapter vice president Gary “Jabbers” Rudnick — for starting the fight that triggered the brawl on a Sparks casino floor on Sept. 23, 2011.
It wasn’t clear if Evanson was his real name. It had been kept secret when he testified confidentially in November 2011 before the grand jury that returned a murder indictment for Ernesto Gonzalez, former president of the Vagos chapter in Nicaragua.
Gonzalez is accused of fatally shooting Hells Angels San Jose, Calif., president Jeffrey “Jethro” Pettigrew during the melee at John Ascuaga’s Nugget on Interstate 80 just east of Reno. The defense said earlier that Gonzalez will testify that he shot Pettigrew because he feared Pettigrew was kicking another Vagos to death during the melee.
Rudnick and Caesar Villagrana, a Hells Angel from San Jose who shot at least one Vagos that night, also were indicted on murder-related charges but both since have pleaded guilty to lesser charges in a deal with prosecutors.
Evanson testified during more than two hours on the witness stand on Thursday that he had tried to intervene and “keep the peace” after a drunken Rudnick repeatedly attempted to provoke Pettigrew into a fight. He said national Vagos leaders also directed Rudnick to back off, but that he defied them as well.
Evanson said he saw Pettigrew eventually throw the first punch at Rudnick, but did not see Gonzalez shoot Pettigrew and knew nothing of the assassination plot that prosecutors say was carried out.
Evanson said he was a Vagos member for 26 years and among the “upper echelon” of leadership before quitting after the shooting. He said he turned both state and federal evidence after he was convicted of securities fraud and money laundering in 2009 and later agreed to “infiltrate the Vagos” to secure intelligence about gang operations for U.S. investigators in exchange for consideration of a lighter sentence.
Washoe County Chief Deputy District Attorney Karl Hall said he wanted to make it clear that Evanson had not worked as an informant in this case and was not being paid for his testimony.
Evanson said that he’d known Pettigrew for years as a “very powerful” leader of the Hells Angels.
“They called him the Godfather of San Jose,” he said. “He was extremely respected. A lot of people loved him.”