WASHINGTON – Federal, state, and local law enforcement officers fanned out across three states early Friday morning to arrest 19 alleged members and associates of the Vagos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang charged in a 12-count federal indictment with conspiracy involving racketeering, murder, robbery, kidnapping and aggravated assault, among other charges.
The federal indictment, which names 23 defendants including some of the gang’s most senior leaders, is the culmination of a more than six-year probe spearheaded by Los Angeles-based special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in close coordination with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office in Nevada.
“Today, the rule of law dealt a serious blow to the Vagos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, a so-called ‘brotherhood’ responsible for drug addiction, death and mayhem in multiple locations, including California, Arizona, Hawaii, Oregon and Nevada,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco. “Today’s coordinated takedown of this biker organization’s leadership is a victory for all of us who respect and love our country, and a testament to the bravery and dedication of federal, state and local law enforcement men and women who to keep our communities safe.”
During carefully coordinated operations in the Los Angeles area, northern California, Nevada, and Hawaii, investigators arrested 19 of the defendants. Three of those named in the indictment were already in custody on unrelated charges. Investigators determined the final defendant had recently died.
The superseding indictment alleges the defendants conspired to participate in the affairs of the Vagos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, a transnational gang with more than 87 chapters in at least seven countries. The gang has 75 chapters in the U.S., including approximately 54 chapters in Nevada and California. The indictment alleges the gang is highly organized, adhering to a hierarchical chain of command. Its members conspire to enrich the gang, preserve, protect and enhance the power of the gang, and keep victims in fear of the gang through acts and threats of violence. Among other crimes, the indictment charges eight leaders and members, including Ernesto Manuel Gonzalez, aka “Romeo,” with the September 2011 murder of a member of the rival Hells Angels gang at the Nugget Hotel and Casino in Sparks, Nevada.
“Today’s indictment charges members and associates of a violent outlaw motorcycle gang with committing racketeering, murder, robbery, kidnapping, aggravated assault and other violent crimes,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Steven W. Myhre for the District of Nevada. “These charges are the result of the outstanding work of multiple state, local and federal law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in our joint effort to combat crime and to address the dangerous threats facing our communities today.”
The superseding indictment also alleges the Vagos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang is a closed society whose members value allegiance to the gang and its fellow members above all else, do not fear authority, and exhibit a complete disdain for the rules of society. According to the allegations in the indictment, witnesses to the gang’s criminal acts are typically victims of acts of obstruction, intimidation, and harassment, and they are afraid to approach law enforcement or testify in court proceedings.
The 22 individuals in law enforcement custody on federal racketeering charges are:
- Pastor Fausto Palafox, “Ta Ta,” 53, of Beaumont, California;
- Albert Lopez, “Al,” 39, of Canyon Country, California;
- Albert Benjamin Perez, “Dragon Man,” 57, of Santa Barbara, California;
- James Patrick Gillespie, “Jimbo,” 68, of Granada Hills, California;
- Andrew Eloy Lozano, “Hulk,” 42, of Fontana, California;
- Ernesto Manuel Gonzalez, “Romeo,” of San Francisco;
- Victor Adam Ramirez, “Slick,” 35, of Las Vegas;
- James Walter Henderson, “CJ,” 64, of Henderson, Nevada;
- Steven Earl Carr, “Big Steve,” 43, of Las Vegas;
- Robert Allen Coleman, “Mayhem,” 59, of Las Vegas;
- Jeremy John Halgat, “Maniak,” 39, of North Las Vegas, Nevada;
- Paul Jeffrey Voll, “Shyster,” 52, of Pasadena, California;
- John Joseph Siemer, “Rocky,” 60, of Baldwin Park, California;
- Bradley Michael Campos, “Candy Man,” 50, of Alhambra, California;
- Cesar Vaquera Morales, “C,” 49, of San Jose, California;
- Diego Chavez Garcia, “Boo,” 34, of San Jose;
- Edward Claridan Chelby, “Recon,” 57, of Kailua, Hawaii;
- Johnny Russell Neddenriep, “Johnny Bolts,” 51, of Reno, Nevada;
- Darin Kieth Grieder, “Midget,” 48, of Sparks;
- Bert Wayne Davisson, “Flash,” 45, of Sparks;
- Mathew Keith Dunlap, “Big Mat,” 46, of Sparks; and
- John Chrispin Juarez, “Quicky,” 69, of Moreno Valley, California.
The charges contained in an indictment are merely accusations and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
“The Vagos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang is a criminal organization which engages in acts of violence. Those acts, which included kidnapping and murder, threaten the safety of the communities in which the Vagos operate,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Jill A. Snyder. “At ATF, our mission is to reduce violent crime within our communities and as a result of today’s arrests our neighborhoods are a safer place.”
“My department remains steadfast in its commitment to work in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies to disrupt and dismantle violent crime and gang activities in Clark County, Nevada,” said Sheriff Joseph Lombardo. “This RICO indictment represents a critical step toward dismantling a violent organization and clearly signals that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and our law enforcement partners have an unwavering commitment to hold those individuals accountable who insist on creating an atmosphere of violence and fear in our communities.”
“The murder committed by Ernesto Gonzalez in the Nugget Casino was always a part of a larger criminal conspiracy, which has been made even more clear today,” said Washoe County District Attorney Christopher Hicks. “Prosecuting Gonzalez for his actions has been a priority for my office. As such, we welcomed the opportunity to work closely with federal authorities in this RICO investigation that not only seeks to hold Gonzales accountable but the entire involved Vagos criminal enterprise.”
This case is being investigated by a multi-agency task force consisting of HSI; ATF; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department; the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department; the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office; the San Bernardino Police Department; the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department; the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office; the California Department of Justice; the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department; the Sparks Police Department; the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department; the Carson City Sheriff’s Department; the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office; the Reno Police Department; the North Las Vegas Police Department; the Long Beach Police Department; the Montebello Police Department; the Henderson Police Department; the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office; the Orange County, California District Attorney’s Office; the Carson City District Attorney’s Office; and the Clark County District Attorney’s Office.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney David Karpel of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Cristina D. Silva of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada.