News Item: (USA) Closing arguments Monday in trial of former top Bandidos leaders
(Category: Biker News)
Posted by ace
Monday 14 May 2018 - 22:42:14

After more than 30 days of testimony that featured everything from sex to murder and an appearance by one of the world’s most known outlaw bikers, the racketeering trial of two former top leaders of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club winds down with closing arguments on Monday.

Federal prosecutors are expected to contend during their summation that the Bandidos Motorcycle Club handed down orders to threaten, extort, harm and even kill rivals or fellow Bandidos using secretive methods in which the club’s vice president served as a buffer to protect the wishes of the group’s national president.

But lawyers for Bandidos ex-president Jeffrey Fay Pike and then-vice president John Xavier Portillo are expected to argue to jurors that the organization is nothing more than a fellowship of bikers, that Pike tried to make the club better when he took over as president in 2005, and that any criminality the jury heard about were the acts of individuals and not authorized or sanctioned by Pike or Portillo.

“I believe these awful things were done without Jeff’s prior knowledge, without his prior approval and without his agreement,” Pike’s lead lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, said in opening arguments.

Likewise, Portillo’s lead lawyer, Mark Stevens, tried to distance his client from the crimes, arguing that the government’s witnesses had reason to lie — a chance to avoid charges or lengthy sentences for their own involvement.

Former Bandidos, most of them from San Antonio and cooperating with the feds, testified that they carried out orders to commit murder, beat up wayward Bandidos or rivals, or intimidated or extorted them into turning over their prized patches or vests — part of the Bandidos’ way of flexing its power and muscle. The ex-Bandidos also claimed drug distribution was prevalent in the club. Pike and Portillo are charged in a 13-count indictment with leading the Bandidos racketeering conspiracy and ordering, authorizing or sanctioning those crimes.

Three killings are included in the indictment: Street gang member Robert Lara in Atascosa County in January 2002, suspected Hells Angels member Anthony W. Benesh III in Austin in March 2006 and rival biker Geoffrey Brady in Fort Worth in December 2014.

To try to cast doubt on the government’s case, Pike’s lawyers called an unusual witness, a founding member of the Hells Angels, which had traditionally been considered one of the Bandidos’ biggest rivals. Ralph “Sonny” Barger, who helped found the Hells Angels in the 1950s, testified via video from San Francisco that Benesh was not a member of the Hells Angels and that the Bandidos and Hells Angels are not the rivals law enforcement claim them to be.

The trial also saw testimony from an unusual insider of the all-male Bandidos club: A San Antonio woman who said Portillo made her “property” of the Bandidos in 2002. She testified she ran an escort service for the Bandidos in San Antonio, in which its women charged $200 an hour for sex, and that she helped in its other rackets — from delivering drugs to Bandidos members to luring Lara to Atascosa County, where Bandidos shot him to death in retaliation for the slaying of a fellow Bandidos member.

A task force that included the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and Texas Department of Public Safety tapped the phones of Portillo and former national sergeant at arms Justin Forster for several months, helping collect much of the evidence prosecutors played for jurors throughout the trial.

Forster took a plea deal eight months after he, Pike and Portillo were arrested in January 2016, and he testified for the prosecution about the inner workings of the club. Other Bandidos also flipped, including national sergeant at arms Johnny “Downtown” Romo of San Antonio. Facing a lengthy sentence for the murder of Benesh, Romo told federal agents that it was a hit ordered by Pike.

Romo also wore a body wire to record conversations with Portillo. The recordings Romo captured include Portillo talking about plans to raise club membership dues, allegedly to help Bandidos with legal fees because its members would end up arrested for carrying out the leadership’s wishes to attack members of the Cossacks Motorcycle Club because they were wearing patches saying “Texas,” which is considered Bandidos territory.

The trial also explored a number of clashes or attempted clashes with the Cossacks, before and after the infamous shootout in Waco in May 2015, in which nine bikers — the majority of them Cossacks — were killed, and 20 other people were injured. The Waco shootout was not a focus of the trial, and mentioned only briefly, because Pike and Portillo are not charged in that incident.

“The law states that these defendants need not have committed the crimes themselves, but it is the agreement of these defendants for these crimes in furtherance of the conspiracy,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Fuchs said in opening arguments. “These are not the guys down in the trenches. They’re not the trigger pullers. They’re the bosses.”

Pike, who spent three days on the stand, testified he was on medical leave during much of 2015, leaving Portillo handling the reins. Pike also called the government’s key witnesses “snitches” who made up stories “to get themselves out of trouble.” Portillo did not testify.

Outside the presence of the jury last week, Senior U.S. District Judge David Ezra said the evidence was more direct against Portillo than against Pike. And when presented with defense motions for acquittal after the government rested its case, and once again after the defense rested (both outside the presence of the jury), the judge found prosecutors presented “sufficient evidence by which the jury could find the defendants guilty.”

The judge stressed that he was not finding them guilty, only following the legal standard that requires him to give more weight to the prosecution’s case to see if the case should be kept alive. A finding of guilt or innocence rests with the jury, he stressed.

If convicted, Pike and Portillo face up to life in prison. The judge gave prosecutors two hours for closings, and an hour and a half to Portillo and Pike for their summation.

This news item is from White Trash Networks
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