SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge on Monday unsealed the indictment of 11 members of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang on charges ranging from murder, racketeering, conspiracy and a bevy of other related crimes.
A federal grand jury indicted the 11 gang members, eight of whom belong to the Hells Angels Sonoma County chapter, on numerous Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, charges including murder, assault, maiming, narcotics trafficking, robbery and witness intimidation.
Passed by Congress in 1970, the RICO Act targets criminal organizations by allowing law enforcement to charge the leaders of syndicate for ordering crimes rather than just the underlings who commit them.
“This week we have taken a significant step toward bringing to justice an alleged conspiracy whose aim has been to commit violent crimes,” U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch said in a statement.
According to the indictment, the main orchestrator of the conspiracy is Johnathan Joseph “Jon Jon” Nelson, the president of the Sonoma County chapter of the Hells Angels. Nelson ordered an unnamed murder victim to meet members of the Hells Angels at the Fresno Hells Angels clubhouse in 2014, where he was killed, prosecutors say.
Defendant Brian Wendt, the president of the Fresno chapter, carried out the murder after the victim was accompanied to Fresno by defendant Russell Ott, a member and former president of the Sonoma County chapter, according to prosecutors.
Christopher Ranieri, a representative from the Salem/Boston chapter of the Hells Angels, is also named as a co-conspirator in the murder plot, according to the indictment.
While murder is the most serious charge in the indictment, there are a slew of other crimes listed, mostly revolving around the growing, stealing, cultivation and sale of marijuana.
The racketeering dates back to 2007, when defendant Raymond Foakes of the Sonoma County chapter concocted an elaborate mortgage ruse that included bank fraud and money laundering so he could obtain a house to grow marijuana, the indictment says.
Prosecutors say defendants Damien Cesena and Jeremy Greer broke into a home with guns and stole a large amount of marijuana in 2015. In December 2016, the pair – along with others from the Sonoma County chapter – stole marijuana and cash from an unnamed victim and then repeatedly intimidated him, including one incident where gang members followed him in a vehicle stocked with guns, handcuffs, a homemade club with nails driven into it, bolt cutters and clown masks, the indictment says.
Witness intimidation is mentioned repeatedly in the indictment, with defendant Brian Allen Burke being arrested on suspicion of threatening to shoot a witness that was prepared to provide evidence against him in a separate federal case.
“The indictment unsealed this morning describes an array of serious offenses allegedly committed by the defendants including conspiracy to commit murder, assault, maiming, home invasion robbery, extortion, and witness intimidation,” Stretch said.
Most of the defendants were arrested Saturday in Santa Rosa, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Monday afternoon.
The FBI investigated the case with help from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department, the Santa Rosa Police Department and the California Highway Patrol.
“This operation proves once again the value of pooling the resources of the federal government with those of our state and local law enforcement partners – it is only through this coordination that we are able to stamp out violence in our communities,” Stretch said.
Founded in California in 1948, the Hells Angels have a strong national and international presence.
The Sonoma County chapter of the outlaw motorcycle gang was formed in the early 1970s. Much like the national gang, the chapter is reputed to use acts of violence to enhance and protect the reputation of the gang – particularly during altercations with other gang members.
Law enforcement agencies classify the Hells Angels as one of the Big Four motorcycle gangs, which includes the Pagans, the Outlaws and the Bandidos. Law enforcement agencies and international intelligence agencies contend the gangs routinely carry out violent crime and drug dealing, trafficking in stolen goods, extortion and prostitution.