In closing arguments Monday of the nearly three-month trial in San Antonio, prosecutors painted Jeffrey Fay Pike, who was national president of the Bandidos from 2005 until January 2016, and then-vice president John Xavier Portillo, as crime bosses of a secretive gang of outlaw bikers who claimed Texas as their territory.
“In their world, these defendants were kings,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Fuchs told the jury. “They led the Bandido nation ... where power, respect and territory mattered more than anything. ... It was under the direction of these two defendants, under the culture these two had built and sustained, that the Bandidos maintained that feeling of superiority.”
Fuchs argued that Pike and Portillo set wheels in motion that resulted in crimes like the killing by Bandidos of a man in Austin in 2006 who reportedly was trying to set up a chapter of the Hells Angels and intimidating, extorting or beating rival bikers over territory or wayward Bandidos who got crossways with the leadership.
“These kinds of acts are expected because that’s the Bandido way. That’s the culture,” Fuchs said. “This is the mafia on two wheels.”
Fuchs said the prosecution’s evidence showed Portillo served as a buffer, helping distance Pike from criminality. Fuchs said Pike sometimes met in secret with confidants like Portillo, and added that communication was compartmentalized — information was shared only with those who needed to know.
During the trial, three former national sergeants at arms — Justin Forster and Johnny “Downtown” Romo of San Antonio and William Gerald “Big G” Ojemann of Houston — testified about the inner workings of the Bandidos and how they carried out orders from Pike and Portillo for assaults, discipline and intimidation.
Pike and Portillo are also charged with murder and use of a firearm in the aid of racketeering murder of the 2006 shooting of purported Hells Angels member Anthony Benesh. The two ex-leaders also are charged with passing down orders for a “war” against the Cossacks, who had been wearing patches on their vests saying “Texas.”
Among those assaults was a Cossack who was stripped of his biker vest after being beaten with a claw hammer west of Fort Worth in March 2015, the beatings of Cossacks members at a bar in Port Aransas in August 2015 and an unsuccessful attempt to find Cossacks in Crystal City, also in fall 2015.
The ex-Bandidos leaders are also accused of ordering Bandidos to go to Odessa as a show of force against the Cossacks in April 2015. Law officers said more than 200 Bandidos showed up, though police warned Cossacks before to leave the area and no confrontation ensued.
That incident took place five weeks before the infamous May 17, 2015, shootout involving Bandidos, Cossacks and police at a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco in which nine bikers were killed and 20 others were injured.
“These defendants are not charged in that,” Fuchs said. “But it is important that a Bandido was killed there because it provides context to everything that happened afterwards. The intent was retribution.”
Portillo is also charged with murder in the January 2002 shooting death of Robert Lara, who had reportedly killed a Bandidos member months earlier. Portillo is also charged with being a felon in possession of a gun and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
If convicted, the pair could face up to life in federal prison without parole.
Pike’s lead lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, and Portillo’s lead attorney, Mark Stevens, cautioned the jury to not convict their clients based on “guilt by association” or “guilt by lifestyle.”
“In any group, there’s going to be some bad apples, but that doesn’t make the entire group a criminal enterprise,” DeGuerin said. “The Bandidos are not on trial”
DeGuerin called Pike a good family man who is not guilty.
“It is not enough that he is simply president of the Bandidos (to convict Pike),” DeGuerin argued. “He has to have some knowledge and intent. There was no evidence of that.”
DeGuerin said Pike was “an agent of change” who tried to reform the Bandidos by bringing in more mainstream members of society and doing away with how the club referred to women as “property.”
DeGuerin also said Pike split the club’s U.S. chapters from those in Canada, Europe and Australia because he disliked that they had done some “bad things.” DeGuerin and Stevens each attacked the credibility of the government’s key witnesses, claiming they lied and implicated Pike and Portillo so the witnesses could avoid charges or long prison time for crimes that included murder.
“Without those witnesses, there’s not much meat on the bone,” Stevens said.
Stevens argued that there was no physical evidence to prove Portillo was involved in most of the crimes listed in the indictment. But Stevens said Portillo, who was convicted of possession of less than a gram of cocaine in 2006, admits to one of the charges — being a felon with a firearm — because agents found guns in Portillo’s Southeast San Antonio home when they arrested him in January 2016.
Stevens also said Portillo won’t challenge evidence that white powder agents found in the raid was 1 ounce of cocaine, but Stevens left it to jurors to decide if Portillo is guilty of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, or a lesser included offense of simple possession.
“John Portillo did not murder anybody,” Stevens said. “He’s not a big time drug dealer and he was not at war, in the offensive sense, with anybody.”
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