My San Antonio
The Bandidos Motorcycle Club’s former second-in-command, a San Antonio man who directed the biker group’s violent racketeering enterprise, including drug dealing, extortion, beatings and murder, was sentenced Monday to two consecutive life terms and another 20 years in prison.
Senior U.S. District Judge David Ezra handed the sentence to John Xavier Portillo, the former national vice president of the Bandidos. Portillo, 58, a member of the club since the 1980s, rose through the ranks to become the second-in-command for then-national president Jeffrey Fay Pike, 62, of Conroe, who led the organization for more than a decade.
Portillo’s lawyers, Robbie Ward and Mark Stevens, asked the judge not to grant the prosecution’s request for four stacked life sentences.
The judge gave Portillo two consecutive life sentences for racketeering murder, plus 10 years on each of two charges of using or discharging a gun in furtherance of racketeering, and stacked those as well. That sentence will run concurrent with the five years to 20 years for Portillo’s remaining nine counts that included racketeering conspiracy, murder conspiracy, extortion conspiracy, assault conspiracy, being a felon with a gun and drug charges.
Given an opportunity to speak, Portillo — still reeling from what he feels was a wrongful conviction — said he planned to appeal.
“What would you like me to say?” Portillo asked the judge.
The judge said he could assert his innocence if he’d like.
“I think we’re beyond that,” Portillo said. “What was done was done. I’m not going to apologize. … Only a guilty man apologizes. I’m innocent.”
Despite Portillo’s association with the Bandidos, Ezra said he conducted himself appropriately — like a gentleman — at trial. The judge said it was obvious Portillo is not happy with the result of his case, but he’s still “a bright guy” who could take advantage of prison reform programs.
“I don’t think you should go to a Supermax institution,” Ezra said. “I’m going to be recommending against that strongly. I don’t think you are an inherently violent person. I don’t think you present an immediate danger to other prisoners. Don’t prove me wrong.”
Both Portillo and Pike were convicted after a three-month federal trial in San Antonio of ordering and sanctioning a racketeering conspiracy that aimed at keeping the biker club’s stronghold on its home turf of Texas. The trial showed that the Bandidos, once the second-largest biker gang in the world behind the Hell’s Angels, split off from its international chapters in Europe and Australia because of turmoil in the ranks.
By the time Pike became president in 2005, some law officers estimated the Bandidos had 5,000 members in 210 chapters, located in 22 countries. But by 2016 — six years after Pike first sought to break away from most of the international chapters — the Bandidos had dropped to 100-plus chapters and more than 1,000 members mostly in the United States and parts of Latin America.
Despite its smaller numbers, law officers said the Bandidos are still among the country’s largest and most feared biker gangs, whose members proudly wear a patch identifying them as “1 percenters” — outlaws.
Texas’ deadliest biker shootout occurred while Portillo and Pike were at the helm of the Bandidos. Neither Pike nor Portillo were at the May 17, 2015, shootout at Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco that involved other Bandidos, members of the Cossacks Motorcycle Club, some of their support clubs, and police. That incident resulted in nine bikers being killed, 20 injured and nearly 200 being arrested on state charges of engaging in organized crime, but state prosecutions for that incident have yet to result in any convictions.
None of the charges against Pike and Portillo were for the Twin Peaks shootout.
During the federal trial, the two Bandidos leaders challenged the government’s contention that they were the bosses of what the feds called “the mafia on two wheels.” The pair denied ordering, authorizing or sanctioning the criminal activity of their fellow Bandidos, and Pike claimed local Bandidos chapters were autonomous and didn’t act on orders of national leaders.
But federal witnesses that included ex-Bandidos and wiretaps of Portillo’s phone, along with body-wire recordings worn by cooperating witnesses, helped sway jurors to agree with prosecutors.
The federal jury convicted Pike and Portillo of conspiracy to murder and assault of members and associates of the Cossacks. Government witnesses testified that Portillo, with Pike’s approval, declared in 2013 or 2014 — before the Waco incident — that the Bandidos were “at war” with the Cossacks. According to that testimony, a number of violent acts — before and after the Waco gunfight — were committed by Bandidos around Texas in furtherance of this “war,” including in Fort Worth, Gordon, Odessa, Port Aransas and Crystal City.
Among the murders the jury heard about were that of Geoffrey Brady, a supporter of the Cossacks shot by Bandidos members in December 2014 at a Fort Worth bar; street gang member Robert Lara, who was shot by Bandidos in Atascosa County on Jan. 31, 2002; and Anthony Benesh, a purported Hell’s Angels member who was shot outside an Austin restaurant by other Bandidos on March 18, 2006.
“Each of those murders significantly, advanced and promoted the interests of the Bandidos criminal enterprise,” lead prosecutor Eric Fuchs told the judge.
The clashes cited in the federal trial were over the Cossacks wearing patches on their biker vests that said “Texas,” which is considered the territory, and home base, of the Bandidos. Defense evidence showed Pike, at one point, had approved of Cossacks wearing the Texas “bottom rocker,” or patch, but at least one government witness testified that relations soured: Some Bandidos were angry that permission was granted for Cossacks to wear the patch, and because the Cossacks’ Texas patch was larger than the one Bandidos wear.
Pike was national president of the Bandidos from mid-2005 until he stepped down in January 2016 after his arrest. Pike picked Portillo as his national vice president in 2013. Portillo had been in that position until he was arrested, also in January 2016.
Pike, meanwhile, is scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday, and also faces life in prison. Pike also plans to appeal.
Guillermo Contreras covers federal court and immigration news in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @gmaninfedland