LAS VEGAS — Legal cases stemming from a bloody brawl between rival motorcycle clubs five years ago are finally drawing to a close.
The fight between the Hells Angels and the Mongols broke out at a downtown wedding chapel in December 2008.
Now, the final two defendants are about to be sentenced. One of the men is the former president of the local Hells Angels chapter, and he wanted to get some things off his chest before he is sent away.
He spoke to the I-Team about what happened at the chapel six years ago. This is really two stories. One is about the circumstances surrounding the wedding chapel brawl.
The biggest guy in the chapel video is also the biggest target of the police investigation. That man, Charles Goldsmith, also known by the nickname Pee Wee, says it was a clear case of self defense, that he is being targeted merely because of he was a member of the club.
But it is also the story of an unusual friendship between two guys who know what is meant by the term guilt by association.
The Saturday night get-together was a lot like any other going away party. The guest of honor made the rounds, dished out final hugs and posed for photos.
However, the crowd inside the Italian American Club was hardly typical, starting with the 6-foot-8, 400-pound behemoth at the center of attention. Charles 'Pee Wee' Goldsmith is the former president of the Las Vegas Chapter of the Hells Angels.
The ink from that period is still etched on his skin, and many of the guests reflected that slice of his life. Bikers mingled with Goldsmith's fellow Teamsters and with a crowd that might seem more vintage Vegas.
Master of ceremonies Frankie Citro organized the party. If Citro's name sounds familiar, it is because he is listed in Nevada's Black Book of persons banned from casino premises because of suspected ties to the mob.
Citro did prison time for loan sharking and struck up a seemingly improbably friendship with Pee Wee based on their mutual love of doo-wop music. The kind of songs performed by the Goodfellows and other groups at the party.
For months now, Citro had been advising Goldsmith about how to survive prison. Pee Wee knows he will face challenges inside.
"I've always been a fighter. I stand up for myself. I'm a man. Somebody comes up to me with aggression, I take care of it, you know," Goldsmith said.
His willingness to brawl when necessary is part of what led Goldsmith to join the Angels.
But, he says, looks are deceiving. He has done some jail time for fighting, but otherwise has no criminal record. He has worked as a celebrity bodyguard but earned most of his living as a Teamster and truck driver for the past 23 years, is still married to his high school sweetheart, and raised two kids.
But because he brought the Angels to Las Vegas, he says, he has been a target of law enforcement.
"The perception with the Angels is, if there is one bad apple, they're all bad apples, you know. If there is one guy selling drugs, we're all drug dealers," Goldsmith said.
Pee Wee's road to prison started with a wedding. In December 2008, his son Brad, also a club member, was getting married at a Las Vegas chapel.
By an amazing coincidence, a wedding party made up of the Angels bitter rivals, the Mongols, was scheduled for the same chapel on the same day. Pee Wee says he didn't go there to fight.
"My wife, my mother, my sister, personal friends, people that were there not in the club, not even club members, they were just friends of ours," Goldsmith pointed out.
When the two clubs came face to face, there was no doubt what would happen. Video from the chapels newly installed camera system shows the brawl. Pee Wee says he got into it because the Mongol in front of him reached into his pocket, presumably for a knife or gun.
At some point, someone with the wedding party pulled a knife and stabbed two people and that changed everything.
"The guy was a coward to pull out a knife and use it. It was senseless. If the knife wasn't used, it was fistfight, a misdemeanor battery. That is what it should have stayed," Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith says his son Brad punched someone who later turned out to be an undercover lawman who had infiltrated the Mongols. The Mongols had arrived an hour earlier, saw that the Angels were inside, and came into the chapel anyway. To Pee Wee's savvy friend Frankie Citro, the whole thing smells.
"Everybody in the world knows when you put these two entities together it's a death sentence. You going to tell me, no one knew of this? Somebody let this happen. Somebody wanted this to happen for their own agenda. Somebody should have said, 'no, we can't let these two groups have a wedding side by side inside of five minutes. There will be hell to pay,'" Citro said.
Federal agencies looked at the case but took a pass. Police spent two years putting charges together. It has dragged on, in part, because of a mistrial.
Two defendants were given probation. Others grew weary of fighting it and took a plea deal that included an admission it was a gang-related event, which meant Goldsmith and his son had no choice but to take a plea too, but theirs calls for prison sentences of two to five years.
Pee Wee thinks the sentence is more about his associations than his crime.
"The DA wants me to go to prison because I was president of the Hells Angels and I brought them here, which I didn't know was against the law, and it is," Goldsmith said.
"This is good for the people in power. They always want to chop down the biggest tree, and unfortunately, he is the tree," Citro said.
One other factor which messed up his defense, Pee Wee says, is that the attorney he hired to work on his case, and who was paid around $20,000, had his license suspended last year for ripping off his clients, just a few months before the case was coming to court.
Goldsmith left the Hells Angels four years ago, saying he no longer felt like he belonged. He and his son are due to be sentenced on March 18.