A former member of the Bandidos who helped bring down the outlaw motorcycle club’s national leaders got a huge break in a San Antonio courtroom Wednesday when he walked out with probation instead of the 14 to 17 years in prison he faced for a drug-trafficking conviction.
Senior U.S. District Judge David Ezra granted a request from federal prosecutors to cut Raul “K-Oz” Puente a break for his assistance in the Bandidos’ racketeering case.
At Wednesday’s hearing, everyone was careful not to mention what Puente did for the feds or to speak of the Bandidos by name as Ezra departed from the recommended sentencing guideline range of 168 months to 210 months in prison, without parole, and instead sentenced Puente to five years of probation. Puente pleaded guilty three years ago to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamines.
Ezra cautioned that he would “not normally, if ever, consider a probated sentence” — as requested by the government — for someone who faced such a high sentence for a drug offense.
“Every so often, and not that frequently, there are circumstances where the government has justified the request,” Ezra said. “Sadly, this is one of those situations where it requires that (the motion for downward departure) remain sealed, pursuant to law.
“It might seem to public that the court is not being as stern as it should be in terms of drug cases,” the judge continued. “Nothing could be further from the truth. I wish I can go into detail of why I’m imposing the sentence I am, but I can’t. If I did, it would endanger individuals.”
Ezra added that Puente’s sentence reduction was not as drastic as that of Sammy “the Bull” Gravano, the infamous mafia underboss who killed 19 people but avoided life in prison, or the death penalty, because he got government-sanctioned breaks for helping convict mob boss John Gotti. In Gravano’s case, the government (and the judge who approved Gravano’s pass) looked at the bigger picture: Taking down the head of a mafia organization was more important then imposing a hefty sentence against one individual, Ezra said.
According to court records, Puente went from being president of the Northeast San Antonio chapter of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club to something that put him in danger — he flipped. During a trial last year, testimony surfaced that Puente cooperated and agreed to wear a wire and record phone calls with other Bandidos, following his 2015 drug indictment. That helped the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and Texas Department of Public Safety identify the Bandidos’ drug-trafficking, and to solve other crimes that were also rolled into a racketeering indictment against the organization’s national leadership.
Puente’s cooperation helped the government flip other high-ranking members of the Bandidos and to convict its top two leaders, former national president Jeffrey Fay Pike of Conroe and then-national vice president John Xavier Portillo of San Antonio. The pair were sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in a three-month trial in 2018 of leading the Bandidos’ racketeering conspiracy that included drug-trafficking, assaults on rivals and murder.
“I tried to balance everything out, the good (and) the bad,” Puente told the judge Wednesday. “There’s no excuse for the situation I was put in. I could have gone left and I went right. I’ve done my best to rectify and correct and fix and prevent.”
For several years before 2015, Puente was in all things Bandido. He drew headlines for a bloody fight over turf with a member of another gang, the Texas Syndicate, at a local strip club in 2009. He was caught on a wiretap during a drug-dealing investigation of Johnny Romo, a national sergeant-at-arms of the Bandidos who later turned state’s evidence himself and testified against Portillo and Pike.
In one of those intercepted calls, Puente warned another Bandidos member that it appeared the call was being monitored by law enforcement.
Puente’s lawyer, Tony Jimenez, said after Wednesday’s hearing that his client is no longer in the Bandidos.
“It’s a very difficult situation,” Jimenez said. “He’s just wanting to move on and put this behind him.”
Puente, knowing he’s at risk, told the judge it won’t be easy to forge ahead.
“Even after this, I don’t know what tomorrow brings,” Puente said. “It’s just something that I’m going to have to look over my shoulder (for) the rest of my life. It’s going to be what it’s going to be. I apologize to my family and everybody in general.”
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
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