Bandidos Inc.: Tough-as-nails riders are now a nonprofit group

In the wake of a federal racketeering indictment in San Antonio that targeted three top leaders, the Bandidos Motorcycle Club has opted to put on paper what they have argued all along, that they are not a gang but a legitimate brotherhood of motorcycle riders.

In March, the Bandidos’ national board and interim president, William E. Sartelle, formed a nonprofit corporation called USARG Inc. to represent the Bandidos and to handle the group’s charitable contributions. Sartelle, Timothy W. Harper and Marcos M. Flores, all of the Houston area, are listed as directors.

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On May 3, USARG filed an assumed name certificate with Texas’ Secretary of State Office to conduct business as the Bandidos Motorcycle Club United States.

“It was announced at the presidents’ meeting on January 28, 2017, that a non-profit corporation would be set up and that all chapters would be entering into licensing agreements in order to continue to be Bandido chapters,” according to an affidavit obtained by the San Antonio Express-News. The affidavit is signed by William S. Morian Jr., who became general counsel for the Bandidos in early May.

 

The meeting in Las Vegas included presidents from the 123 licensed chapters of the Bandidos in the United States, court records said.

In an interview with the Express-News, Morian said USARG Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

“They’ve been operating as a motorcycle club for many years,” Morian said. “Steps were taken just to update their status. Bill Sartelle, and the national chapter, took steps to put it on paper.”

The Bandidos were formed in the Houston area in the 1960s and earned an outlaw reputation, using the motto: “we are the people our parents warned us about.” They are considered Texas’ ruling biker club. The Bandidos have drawn headlines mainly for crimes of members, but some chapters have been in the news for conducting toy drives for children and motorcycle runs for charity.

“The money raised by USARG Inc., no one receives that money in their pockets, it’s all used for charitable purposes,” said Morian, of Jasper. “None of the Bandidos or the board use those funds, it’s not for personal gain.”

USARG will regulate the Bandidos trademark and its logos. Morian said the USA club has not been affiliated with international groups carrying the Bandidos name since 2006.

“If some pop-up club tries to use the logos or trademarks that belong to the Bandidos Motorcycle Club, then obviously the corporation can file an injunction or seek damages,” Morian said.

A rival club, the Hells Angels, has filed trademark suits in more than a dozen cases in federal court, alleging infringement on apparel, jewelry, posters and even yo-yos, according to news reports. The Hells Angels have also challenged Internet domain names and a Hollywood movie — all for borrowing the Hells Angels name and insignias. The defendants have included Dillards, Toys “R” Us, Alexander McQueen, Amazon, Saks, Zappos, Walt Disney and Marvel Comics, the reports said. Another longtime motorcycle club, the Boozefighters, also has previously registered as a nonprofit, according to Morian.

Morian also said the nonprofit incorporation move is aimed at helping dispel myths about the Bandidos — law enforcement has painted the group as a criminal organization, calls it the “Bandidos Outlaw Motorcycle Organization.” Law enforcement blamed a deadly melee and shootings at a restaurant in Waco in 2015 on the Bandidos clashing with a smaller group, the Cossacks, though many bikers dispute that account and blame police for the violence. Dozens of attendees were indicted on state charges in Waco, and some are awaiting trial.

Separately, in January 2016, federal prosecutors in San Antonio obtained a racketeering indictment charging the Bandidos’ then national president, Jeffrey Fay Pike, 61, of Conroe, vice president John Xavier Portillo, 57, of San Antonio, and national sergeant-at-arms Justin Forster of San Antonio. The indictment, revised twice since then, has added other alleged Bandidos, accusing them of murder in furtherance of the organization’s racketeering. Pike, Portillo and Forster are accused of sanctioning violent acts listed in the indictment, including attacks on rival bike clubs and murder.

“Yes, things have happened over the years to individual members that may have been (wrongly) attributed to the club,” Morian said. “Look, these members are all men, big guys, ominous, but they’re hard-working, they pay insurance, buy braces for their kids and have jobs just like everyone else. One bad thing happens to a Bandido and the media and law enforcement want to attribute it to the organization. There is no organized criminal structure in this club, period.”

“If a San Antonio Spur commits a violent crime, it shouldn’t be attributed to all the San Antonio Spurs,” Morian said as he listed other groups that might get wrongly blamed for the act of one member.

Pike stepped down as president after his arrest in January 2016, and Sartelle took over for a period, though a meeting was held Friday to discuss the future leadership, according to court records. Morian said Sartelle is no longer national president, and the Bandidos decided to have its board run the group. He said he was “not at liberty” to say how many members are on the board.

In the latest revised indictments, prosecutors added four alleged Bandidos, charging them in the killing of a man in Austin who reportedly tried to start a chapter of the Hells Angels.

Anthony W. Benesh III was gunned down by a sniper in 2006 in front of his girlfriend and two children as they left Saccone’s Pizza in Austin. The indictment added San Antonio residents Johnny “Downtown Johnny” Romo, 47; Robert Romo, 45, Jesse James “Kronic” Benavidez, 40, and Norberto “Hammer” Serna Jr., 35, as defendants — alongside Pike and Portillo.

Portillo has remained in jail without bond since his arrest in January 2016, while Pike was released last year on bond. Forster took a plea deal and awaits sentencing.

In mid-May, prosecutors at first consented to Pike’s request to a San Antonio judge for permission to travel outside of Texas, but then filed a motion in mid-May to have him detained. It says the feds learned that Pike had re-assumed his post as president of the Bandidos.

“To re-assume the top leadership position of a criminal enterprise, while on bond for racketeering charges stemming from his leadership of that same organization, exhibits unfathomable disregard for the seriousness of the charges he faces,” the government’s motion said. “It also drastically raises the likelihood of his participation in, or association with individuals engaging in, criminal activities, and undermines this court’s supervision and role in ensuring the community remains safe.”

Pike’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, countered in a court filing last week that Pike has been a model defendant while on pretrial release. And while there had been discussions of having Pike return to the presidency, it ultimately did not happen, and Pike is also not a director in USARG, DeGuerin wrote.

No hearing has been scheduled yet to take up the request to detain Pike. Trial is tentatively set for February.

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