Hells Angels accused of racketeering as trial opens in Las Vegas

A federal prosecutor said Hells Angels motorcycle gang members plotted a deadly attack on a rival gang, showing jurors a security video of leather-clad bikers wielding guns, knives, hammers and chairs in the bloody brawl at a southern Nevada casino.

Defense lawyers for the 11 Hells Angels have said their client were attacked first in the April 27, 2002, melee that left three people dead and at least a dozen injured. Each has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the brawl, which was recorded from at least a half-dozen angles by the Harrah's Laughlin hotel-casino's surveillance cameras.

They are the first of 42 men from California, Washington, Arizona, Alaska and Nevada, and ranging in age from 28 to 63 to stand trial in the brawl. All face the possibility of life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge, racketeering-attempted murder.

"This wasn't self-defense," Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Johnson told the jury Tuesday, the first day of the trial. "Tensions were high. The Hells Angels, as a group, brought the fight to (the Mongols) at the hotel."

Johnson promised a broad prosecution of what he called "essentially a cult," with a disciplined and merciless gang structure based on drug-running, turf warfare and violence.

The prosecutor relied heavily on repeated loops of video enhanced by zooming in and other special effects. Arrows were superimposed to follow individuals through the seething mass of leather vests who battled amid rows of glittering casino slot machines. Technical glitches interrupted him several times.

Gang members on both sides are shown pointing and firing guns. Others punch, stab and kick each other. One Hells Angels member wearing a black helmet and sunglasses clobbers a passing Mongols member in the head with a wrench.

Each of the 11 Hells Angels sat quietly in court, most wearing shirts and ties and subtle gang markers. Some wore long hair in ponytails. One wore a belt bearing the words "Hells Angels." Another wore an earring with the club's trademark death's head wing, reports AP.

"Openings are one-sided," said defense lawyer, Tom Pitaro, who showed colleagues outside court a poster-sized photo of a Hells Angel from Stockton, Calif., who was shot and killed in the casino brawl.

"In the next couple of days, we'll answer," Pitaro said. "We'll explain everything."