RENO — A former Vagos motorcycle gang leader turned federal informant testifying at a murder trial for an ex-colleague accused of killing a rival Hells Angel in a Nevada casino shootout said Thursday the melee stemmed from a misunderstanding about the victim’s offer to buy another Vagos a drink.
Washoe District Judge Connie Steinheimer forbade media from photographing the prosecution witness — the ex-president of the Vagos Southern California Riverside chapter who said he goes by the name Jimmy Evanson, a pseudonym.
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 busy Sparks casino floor on Sept. 23, 2011.
Evanson had testified anonymously as a confidential source 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 fight at John Ascuaga’s Nugget on Interstate 80 just east of Reno.
Prosecutors say it was part of an orchestrated assassination plot, but the defense says Gonzalez will testify that he shot Pettigrew in self-defense because he feared Pettigrew was kicking another Vagos to death.
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, a short, heavy-set bald man wearing a black pin-striped suit, testified for more than two hours on Thursday. He said 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.
“My opinion is he is the one who started it,” he said.
Evanson said the disagreement that night apparently began when Pettigrew slapped Rudnick on the back and offered to buy him a beer. He said Rudnick wrongly interpreted it as a sign of disrespect and kept demanding an apology from Pettigrew, who kept telling Rudnick he just wanted to have a good time and buy him a drink.
Evanson said Pettigrew eventually had enough, and that he saw him throw the first punch at Rudnick.
“All the sudden gunshots start going off. It sounded like 20 or 30 rounds,” Evanson said. “... At that point, it was about rivalry and they didn’t care about anything else.”
Evanson said he did not see Gonzalez shoot Pettigrew and knew nothing of a meeting prosecutors say Rudnick will testify that he had in an upstairs hallway with a number of Vagos, including international president Pastor “Tata” Palafox, who Rudnick says approved the hit.
“I did not know anything about an assassination,” Evanson said.
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.
He said he worked with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a special task force on organized crime.
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.