This story was corrected on July 29, 2013 to state that Roger Anthony Violano was not a member of the Vagos Motorcycle Club.
Jacob Cancelli, a former member of the Vagos Motorcycle Club, testified today in the Reno, Nevada murder trial of Ernesto Manuel Gonzalez. Gonzalez is accused of murdering San Jose Hells Angel Jeffrey “Jethro” Pettigrew in a Sparks, Nevada casino on September 23, 2011. Gonzalez says he shot Pettigrew to save the life of another Vago who was being stomped by Pettigrew and an Angel named Cesar Villagrana.
Cancelli was a decades long friend of longtime Vagos President Terry “The Tramp” Orendorff. Cancelli was accused of stock manipulation and of defrauding small time stock speculators in 2009. He pled guilty and agreed to cooperate with and be debriefed by representatives of the FBI, ATF and the Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security, which obviously has more agents than it needs, has been investigating international motorcycle clubs since 2006. It has justified those investigations semantically, by declaring all the big clubs with a presence outside the United States to be “transnational gangs.” A Homeland Security Agent named Matthew Neal relied heavily on Cancelli’s knowledge and address book to stage an October 6, 2011 media event called “Operation Simple Green.”
One of the men harassed and questioned during Simple Green was Gary “Jabbers” Rudnick, the former Vago who started the fight in Sparks. Rudnick was later arrested, charged with murder, made a deal and is also expected to testify during this trial.
Prosecutors did not identify Cancelli as Cancelli but as “Jimmy Evanson.” Prosecutors did not explain why they made the strategic choice to call Cancelli “Jimmy Evanson” instead of “Beef Supreme” or “Congressman Ding Dong.” Presumably the ruse is intended to confuse any television reporters who might stumble into the proceedings.
Not Much Damage
Cancelli basically reiterated his grand jury testimony. The Aging Rebel summarized that testimony in a September 26, 2012 story titled “Sparks Grand Jury Testimony.”
He said Rudnick “taunted” Pettigrew until Pettigrew was forced, as a matter of personal honor, to do something about it. Cancelli said that he and several senior Vagos told Rudnick to stop. And, he also testified that he was knocked down early in the fight, lost his glasses and never saw Gonzalez fire a shot.
Prosecutor Karl Hall wanted Cancelli to tell jurors that the gunfight in Sparks was the culmination of a long-simmering feud between the Vagos and the Hells Angels. He invited Cancelli to talk about another fight, allegedly between Hells Angel Michael Pena and prospect Joseph Soto and Vagos associate Roger Anthony Violano and Vagos patch holder Nerl Rinehart, outside a tattoo parlor near Bakersfield in 2010. Violano died in the fight and Rinehart was seriously injured. Pena and Soto were later acquitted but Hall thought the Bakersfield fight would convince jurors that Pettigrew was murdered as an act of revenge.
Cancelli has opinions about the fight. Hall thought those opinions go “directly to motive. It’s the basis for the rivalry which provides motive.” But Judge Connie Steinheimer ruled that Cancelli’s opinions were hearsay and the jury never heard them.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney David Houston, Cancelli agreed that the Vagos included doctors, lawyers, blue collar workers, family men and “good people.” Houston also asked if Vagos patch holders included “accountants.”
Cancelli, who was sitting there as the result of what could be described as an accounting problem answered, “Not sure about that.” His irony was probably lost on Hall.
The trial resumes Monday. So far the defense is winning.