SAN FRANCISCO — In the conclusion to the Bay Area’s biggest federal prosecution in recent memory, three Hells Angels have been convicted of murdering one of their own in a plot that centered on a charter of the notorious biker gang located in California’s wine country.
Jonathan “Jon Jon” Nelson, 46, Brian Wendt, 45, and Russell “Rusty” Ott, 69, were all found guilty of racketeering and murder related to their roles in a plot to lure Joel “Dough Boy” Silva to the Hells Angels Fresno clubhouse, shoot him in the back of the head, and dispose of his body through an illegal cremation at a nearby funeral home. The jury deliberated for little more than a day before returning the verdicts.
The verdicts bring to an end a two-month trial that centered on the words of three informants who’d served various roles in the Hells Angels, including two former members who became informants after they were severely beaten by members of the club. A third man infiltrated the club as a prospect, while secretly working for the FBI.
The case was part of a massive FBI probe that targeted 13 Hells Angels — though one died in a motorcycle crash shortly after the indictment was filed in 2017 — including some of the Bay Area’s most prominent members, as well as the president of the club’s Boston chapter. Nine others are still awaiting trial on charges pertaining to Silva’s July 2014 murder as well as unrelated assaults.
Nelson was the Sonoma chapter’s president, and Ott is one of the longest tenured Hells Angels members ever, with a half-century under his belt. Wendt was the Fresno charter president. Most of the defendants belong to the club’s Sonoma charter, including Silva, who authorities say was targeted for murder due to his increasingly erratic behavior.
Silva disappeared in July 2014; he was one of three Hells Angels members to vanish from the Fresno area around that time, according to prosecutors.
Attorneys for Nelson, Wendt, and Ott all attacked the government’s case as a flimsy hodgepodge of unreliable witnesses coupled with inconsequential FBI testimony designed to smear the Hells Angels and make mountains out of molehills. For instance, attorneys countered testimony that the defendants’ phones placed them in the area of Silva’s killing by saying the group made frequent trips to the Fresno clubhouse all the time.
Wendt has been in jail since the indictment, while Nelson and Ott have been out of custody. They were both remanded to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin on Wednesday, where they remaining pending sentencing. All three face possible life sentences, to be determined by U.S. District Judge Edward Chen.