May 01, 2018

'El Presidente' of Bandidos testifies at his trial



The man who led the Bandidos Motorcycle Club for a decade testified at his own racketeering trial on Monday that he’s not guilty of any of a host of crimes blamed on his group, and that the organization’s more than 120 chapters are autonomous and run independently from the national chapter.

Jeffrey Fay Pike, 62, who joined the Bandidos in 1979 and was national president from 2006 until he stepped down after he and then-national vice president John Xavier Portillo were arrested in January 2016, described the Bandidos as a brotherhood of like-minded individuals who like motorcycles.

Pike, testifying in his own defense, also said he was unaware of racketeering crimes that include three murders and beatings or intimidation of rivals or fellow Bandidos alleged in a 27-page federal indictment against Pike and Portillo.

Pike, who is to be cross-examined today by prosecutors and Portillo’s lawyers, said he did not authorize or order any of the violence or intimidation, and didn’t sanction a “war” against the Cossacks Motorcycle Club, who appear throughout the indictment as targets of the Bandidos.

Former Bandidos have testified during the lengthy trial of a turf war with the Cossacks over their use of a patch on their motorcycle vests saying “Texas,” which is considered the Bandidos’ home and territory. The ex-Bandidos, now cooperating with the feds, testified that they took orders from from national members led by Pike, or “El Presidente,” and Portillo, “El Vice Presidente.”

Pike disputed the turf war, adding that he authorized the Cossacks to wear the Texas patch.
“I like it when everybody gets along,” Pike said. “I don’t like drama.”

Pike denied assertions that national officers can give local chapters their marching orders.
“They don’t have any authority over individual chapters,” Pike said. “The individual chapters run themselves.”

The ex-members also said the Bandidos’ periodic motorcycle runs or rallies to places like Galveston, Red River, New Mexico, and Sturgis, South Dakota, serve, in part, to discuss the club’s criminal endeavors, from discipline of wayward members to violence against rivals.

But when Pike was asked by his lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, what the Bandido runs are all about, Pike said: “It’s about getting your friends and your family together and just having a good time. ...

It’s most people’s vacation or summer vacation and that’s the way we choose to spend it.” DeGuerin aimed to distance Pike from nefarious acts alleged by the ex-Bandidos who said Pike was insulated from the criminality by underlings, including Portillo of San Antonio. At times, the testimony and the secretive wiretap and confidential informant recordings that prosecutors presented to the jury appeared to suggest that Portillo — whom Pike picked as vice president in 2013 — was running the Bandidos and sanctioned the illegal conduct. Law officers say the Bandidos grew to become one of the country’s largest and most feared biker gangs, whose members proudly wear a patch identifying them as “1 percenters” — outlaws.

But Pike disputed that connotation, as well as the meaning of other patches that Bandidos wear on their “cuts,” or vests.
“We always wear a 1 percent patch out of tradition,” Pike testified. “It certainly isn’t meant to show society that you’re breaking the law, because I don’t have time.”

Pike, who lives with his accountant wife in a home he built himself on a 5-acre spread near Conroe, north of Houston, said he spends his time working at his business restoring classic cars and motorcycles, tending to family and to animals on his property. His last arrest was in 1992 for criminal mischief, when he “bypassed the electric meter on my house,” he said.

Pike worked as a dishwasher and cook in California before moving to Texas in 1973, where he worked as a homebuilder in Houston until 1985.

He said he was introduced to the Bandidos by Jim “Sprocket” Lyles, who worked at a Harley-Davidson dealership in Houston and was a past national president of the Bandidos before Pike. Pike joined the Bandidos in 1979.

His predecessor, George Wegers, appointed Pike national vice president in 1999 but that the role was little more than a sounding board.
“He was a micromanager who drove everyone crazy,” Pike testified. “He was not well-liked.”

Wegers and several other Bandidos were sent to prison in 2005 in a federal racketeering case in Washington state, and Pike took over the club in 2006.
 
Pike testified he tried to instill reforms, including doing away with patches and other Bandidos items that described women as “property.” Pike said he did not tolerate Bandidos being involved in drug dealing, but added that he did not know that some members were doing it, including Justin Forster and Johnny “Downtown” Romo, both of San Antonio and former national sergeants-at-arms who turned key government witnesses.

Romo testified that Portillo passed down orders in March 2006 from Pike to kill Anthony Benesh for trying to set up a Hells Angels chapter. But Pike testified that relations with the Hells Angels have been cordial since at least the 1980s and that there were no problems with them in 2006. He added that he was one of 13 Bandidos who rode to California and “hung out” with members of the Hells Angels’ Ventura chapter.

Forster testified that he carried out Pike’s orders to kick out Ernie Morgas, a Bandidos chapter president in El Paso and regional officer, because Morgas had opposed Pike’s proposal to split the Bandidos’ in the U.S. from chapters in Europe and Australia. Foster also testified that Pike dispatched him to use violence to kick out the president of the Bandidos’ Costa Rica chapter for the same reason, but Forster couldn’t find him.

Pike acknowledged he asked other Bandidos — not Forster — to take the patches of the Costa Rica chapter president, but no violence was used to obtain them. Pike denied any knowledge in the retaliation killing of street gang member Robert Lara in 2001, the 2014 shooting death of Geoffrey Brady, a member of a Cossacks support club, the beatings of Cossacks in August 2015 in Port Aransas and several other clashes with the Cossacks.

Pike said he wanted the Bandidos to attract more mainstream and family-oriented members — “different, younger people, more settled, I guess you would say.
“I didn’t really lead them at all,” Pike said. “I just set an example, and if they chose to follow me, they did.”

Pike’s lawyers informed Senior U.S. District Judge David Ezra that they plan to call as a witness Ralph “Sonny” Barger, a founding member of the Oakland, California, chapter of the Hells Angels.

Barger, who reportedly can’t travel because of medical reasons, could testify via video as early as today, provided that Pike finishes testifying and, if his legal team can overcome technical difficulties they were experiencing Monday during tests. Portillo’s lead lawyer, Mark Stevens, wouldn’t say if Portillo will testify in his own defense.


USA - BN.

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