By Julie Manganis
---- — SALEM — The 54-year-old Gloucester man charged in connection with a kidnapping and extortion case tied to the notorious Hells Angels motorcycle gang has pleaded guilty to his charge and sentenced to two years’ probation.
Nikolas Avelis, 54, one of six defendants in the case, pleaded guilty Monday to a single count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
The plea came as jury selection began in Salem Superior Court in the trial of four other men — three reputed Hells Angels and another said to be part of an affiliated gang — on charges that include extortion, kidnapping and mayhem.
The men are charged with forcing a former member, a Revere man, to turn over the title to his motorcycle, which they took last October after kicking him out of the Red Devils motorcycle gang, an affiliated group, and smashing the man’s hand with a hammer.
On trial are Marc Eliason, 35, of Danvers; Sean Barr, 48, of Lynn; and Robert Defronzo, 45, of Saugus, all said to be members of the Hells Angels Salem chapter (based in Lynn); and Brian Weymouth, 41, of Danvers, who is alleged to be a member of the Red Devils, based in Newbury. Besides kidnapping and extortion, they are charged with mayhem, assault and battery, and larceny.
A fifth defendant, George Brown, 49, of Salem, another reputed Hells Angel, has also reached an agreement with prosecutors under which he will testify against his alleged former associates. Brown has also been testifying before a federal grand jury, prosecutors disclosed last week.
All of the men were charged earlier this year, months after the October 2012 incident at the clubhouse. The alleged victim’s fiancee contacted the FBI after learning of threats against her, the alleged victim and their son.
Prosecutors said Gloucester resident Avelis is not cooperating in the case, nor will he testify in the trial. The offer made to him, he said, was based on Avelis’ minimal role in the incidents.
During the hearing, Avelis stressed to the judge that he never laid a hand on the victim. He was charged under a legal theory known as “joint venture.”
Some 11th-hour legal issues — including whether the jury will be shown the state’s key piece of evidence, a video of one defendant taking the title to the motorcycle from the alleged victim — led to a lengthy hearing at the start of the trial.
During that hearing, an FBI agent testified that the agency has reports and federal grand jury testimony by the alleged victim, as well as by a co-defendant who has made a deal with prosecutors. That prompted defense lawyers to demand that prosecutors turn over all of those materials.
Prosecutor A.J. Camelio said he was willing to do so — if he had them. He told Judge David Lowy that the U.S. Attorney’s office has so far refused to give him those grand jury transcripts and the FBI reports. So, the judge issued an order for those reports. The response of federal prosecutors could determine whether the case actually goes to trial as scheduled.
During Monday’s hearing, FBI Special Agent Jeff Wood testified that he initially believed he had a federal case against the men, but after federal prosecutors reviewed the evidence he’d gathered, including the secret video, they decided not to pursue the case. Wood then handed some of the evidence over to the state police.
At issue in Monday’s hearing was whether prosecutors can use the video during the trial. Massachusetts has a requirement that both parties consent to being recorded unless a judge issues a warrant, but the federal law is different. If the judge determines the investigation was conducted by federal agents, the video may be used in a state prosecution if it concerns organized crime.
Security was heavy during yesterday’s proceedings, something that is expected to continue throughout the scheduled two-week trial. Additional court officers have been assigned to the courtroom where the trial will take place, and Salem police maintained a presence both inside and outside the courthouse throughout the day.
Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.