SAN FRANCISCO – Earlier today, a federal jury found Jonathan Nelson, a/k/a Jon Jon; Brian Wayne Wendt; and Russell Taylor Ott, a/k/a Rusty, guilty of murder in aid of racketeering as part of their participation in a criminal enterprise involving their membership in the Sonoma County charter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HASC), announced United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan. The verdicts follow a nine-week trial before the Honorable Edward M. Chen, United States District Judge.
“The jurors found that these members of a violent motorcycle gang killed one of their own and engaged in a conspiracy to commit many other serious criminal acts,” said U.S. Attorney Hinds. “This office is laser-focused on removing from our neighborhoods those elements who use violence to achieve illegal goals. Today’s verdicts are the result of an intense multi-year investigation and should serve as notice to all such criminal enterprises that this office will devote the resources necessary to bring them to justice.”
“Today’s verdict marks a milestone in an investigation that spanned nearly eight years and involved multiple agency partners, including the Santa Rosa Police Department and the California Highway Patrol. Each agency involved in this investigation provided crucial expertise and resources, making a guilty verdict possible,” said Special Agent in Charge Ragan. “Criminal acts perpetrated by the convicted members of the Sonoma County and Fresno County Hells Angels adversely affected our communities, and their presence infested our citizens with worry. Today’s verdict is a step toward removing their violent and criminal ideals from our community.”
On October 10, 2017, a federal grand jury indicted eleven members and associates of the HASC, charging the defendants with being part of a conspiracy whose members furthered the aims of the enterprise by engaging in a broad swath of criminal activity including murder, narcotics distribution, assault, robbery, extortion, illegal firearms possession, and obstruction of justice. As set out in the indictment, the Hells Angels is a transnational violent outlaw motorcycle gang and the HASC is a subset of the gang whose members primarily operate in Sonoma County, Calif. while working cooperatively with other Hells Angels chapters to engage in criminal activity. The trial that led to today’s verdict focused on the activities of Nelson, 46, of Santa Rosa; Wendt, 45, of Tulare; and Ott, 69, of Santa Rosa. In finding all three defendants guilty, the jury concluded that each conspired to further the aims of the criminal conspiracy and each played a role in carrying out the July 15, 2014, murder of former HASC member Joel Silva.
The focus of the trial was the murder of Joel Silva; at trial, the government submitted evidence describing the role of each defendant in the murder. At the relevant time, Nelson was the president of the HASC, Wendt was the president of the Hell’s Angels Fresno chapter, and Ott was a former president and well-respected member of the HASC whom Silva trusted. According to the trial evidence, Nelson, Wendt, and Ott each concluded for varied reasons that Silva had been creating problems for HASC and that he had to be killed. Nelson arranged with Ott, a long-tenured member who lived near Silva and was close with his family, to have Silva killed in Fresno. Nelson arranged for Ott to take Silva to Fresno. Silva understood that he probably would have to fight with Wendt to resolve his problems with the club and agreed to travel with Ott to Fresno. However, after the two arrived at the Fresno Hells Angels clubhouse, Wendt shot Silva in the head. On the morning of July 16, 2014, Silva’s body was delivered to a local crematory and was incinerated.
In addition to the Silva murder, the evidence at trial included proof that HASC engaged in witness intimidation, extortion, drug trafficking, and robbery. For example, witnesses testified that HASC created a reputation for threatening anyone who goes to the police about HASC activity. In addition, testimony was introduced demonstrating that the defendants threatened the lives of witnesses and their families to make clear harm will come to anyone who cooperates with law enforcement.
In sum, the jury convicted all three defendants of participating in a racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d); murder in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(3); and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(5). In addition, Nelson also was convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(2), and use or possession of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A).
The defendants face a mandatory life sentence in prison. Further, additional fines, forfeitures, and restitution may be ordered; however, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
The defendants were remanded to federal custody pending sentencing. Judge Chen scheduled the defendants’ sentencing hearings for October 13, 2022.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lina Peng, Ajay K. Krishnamurthy, and Kevin Barry are prosecuting the case with the assistance of Kevin Costello. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI, the Santa Rosa Police Department, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department, and the California Highway Patrol.