SAN ANTONIO – American leaders of the Bandidos biker gang were arrested Wednesday on charges of racketeering and waging a deadly “war” on the rival Cossacks gang, federal authorities said.
An indictment announced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Antonio accuses three Bandidos leaders of sanctioning a three-year fight that included violent clashes with rival gangs and distribution of methamphetamine. The accusations focus on a rivalry that came under renewed attention in May, when a clash at a meeting of biker groups in Waco, Texas, left nine people dead.
Authorities believe that the fatal confrontation began when members of the Cossacks crashed a meeting of a confederation of biker clubs that included the Bandidos at a Twin Peaks restaurant. The dispute ended in gunfire between the bikers and police standing nearby.
The federal indictment accuses John Portillo, the Bandidos’ national vice-president, of raising dues to pay legal expenses of its members days after the Waco shooting. Portillo, national president Jeffrey Pike and national sergeant-at-arms Justin Forster are charged with racketeering, drug distribution and other crimes that occurred before and after the Waco incident.
WATCH: Dramatic video of deadly Texas biker gang shootout released
If convicted on the most serious federal charges, the men could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
All three of the accused are based in Texas, where there are 42 Bandidos chapters, according to the indictment. An attorney who regularly works with the Bandidos declined comment Wednesday, saying he wasn’t authorized to speak on the group’s behalf. Several members of the Bandidos gang also declined comment when contacted by The Associated Press.
“The defendants will have their day in court, but today’s arrests have struck a significant blow to the Bandidos’ criminal enterprise,” U.S. Attorney Richard Durbin said in a statement announcing the arrests.
The indictment alleges that Bandidos bikers have harassed and attacked bikers across Texas as part of a “war” that Portillo declared in 2013. Prosecutors allege the group also gained money and territory by extorting and intimidating other biker groups, and trafficking methamphetamines.
The indictment outlines several clashes between the Bandidos and rival clubs, including a December 2014 shooting at a bar in Fort Worth, Texas, where a biker from a different club was killed. Two suspected Bandidos were charged in that killing, according to prosecutors.
Portillo took charge of the national organization for several months in 2015, when Pike was sidelined due to surgery, but both men at various times had ultimate decision-making authority over Bandidos criminal activities nationwide, according to the indictment. Forster is described as having control over Bandidos activities in Texas.
The indictment alleges that in March 2015, Portillo ordered several Bandidos members to “get a little aggressive” with Cossacks in West Texas, where Bandidos responded by striking a member of the rival group repeatedly in the head with a claw hammer. In April, Bandidos members from other parts of Texas and New Mexico arrived in Odesa, Texas, at Portillo’s direction. They were stopped and found to be carrying firearms and ammunition, allegedly to use to confront Cossacks.
Days after the May shootout in Waco, the Bandidos monthly dues were doubled to support legal fees for Bandidos in what Portillo later described as an “all-out war” against the Cossacks. Confrontations and assaults occurred in several parts of Texas through the summer of 2015.
The indictment characterizes the Bandidos as an international group with about 175 chapters and as many as 2,000 members who “do not fear authority and have a complete disdain for the rules of society,” yet adhere to an elaborate series of internal rules for record-keeping, information-gathering, meetings, and admission of new members. The group also maintains a formal taxation scheme that supports the criminal defence of members, the indictment says.
© 2016 The Canadian Press