Prosecutors rest their case in Bandidos trial

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Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday in the racketeering trial of two former top leaders of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club — ex-national president Jeffrey Fay Pike and then-vice president John Xavier Portillo — weeks earlier than expected and to the surprise of the defense.

Senior U.S. District Judge David Ezra then denied motions for acquittal from the defense, which argued that prosecutors failed to show sufficient evidence to support the crimes listed in a 27-page indictment against the defendants.

With jurors dismissed for the day, the judge noted the law required him to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, and he found that prosecutors made sufficient showing for all 13 charges to remain against Portillo and Pike. The judge said the evidence was less direct against Pike than Portillo, “and this may be, as the government alleges, because Mr. Pike was very smart and astute and insulated himself.”

Over 24 days since the trial started Feb. 28, federal prosecutors have brought witnesses and played wiretap and body wire recordings to support their contention that the Bandidos are a biker gang and criminal enterprise, and that its leaders handed down orders to threaten, extort, harm and even kill rivals using secretive methods in which Portillo, as vice president, served as a buffer to protect the wishes of Pike, who was the group’s president until the pair were arrested in January 2016.

The judge stressed his findings were not to be taken as a statement on the pair’s guilt or innocence because that will be up to jurors to decide. Courthouse regulars note that judges rarely grant such motions for acquittal, which are raised after the prosecution rests its case.

Further striking down other arguments from Pike and Portillo’s lawyers, the judge also said the evidence showed Portillo and Pike denied responsibility for actions of underlings, despite some ex-members testifying that they were carrying out orders.

“As the testimony showed, these were not individuals who were totally passive and pacifists,” Ezra said. “These are people who ran around with 1 percenter patches, and some who reveled in violence. ... You can foresee, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, that Mr. Pike and Mr. Portillo were well aware of the consequences.”

The final government witnesses Wednesday included testimony by an FBI agent about the location of cell phones connected to Pike, Portillo and other Bandidos; a Colorado state police officer testifying about a November 2014 methamphetamine seizure connected to Bandidos in Denver; and a federal agent testifying about wiretap evidence and body recordings that the feds contend connect Portillo to methamphetamine Bandidos sent from Colorado to San Antonio.

According to testimony, Pike, of suburban Houston, was president from 2005 or 2006 until January 2016, when the FBI and DEA arrested him and Portillo, of San Antonio, who had been national vice president since 2013.

Pike’s lead lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, and Portillo’s lead attorney, Mark Stevens, deny their clients are crime bosses who led a racketeering enterprise or that they ordered or sanctioned murder.

 

The defense lawyers counter that the feds’ allegations are mistaken not only as to what the Bandidos are about — a fellowship of bikers — but also as to their clients’ involvement.

Assistant U.S. attorneys Eric Fuchs and John Gibson had indicated to Senior U.S. District Judge David Ezra that their case might go into mid-May, but Fuchs informed the judge Wednesday morning that they planned to rest.

The defense also expected more prosecution witnesses and were caught off guard. Because their witnesses aren’t available, Pike and Portillo won’t begin presenting their case until Monday. That part of the case may last up to two weeks, the lawyers estimated.

If convicted, Pike and Portillo face up to life in prison.

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GUILLERMO CONTRERAS
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wacotrib.com




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