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Bandidos: 5 things to know about second-most dangerous motorcycle gang

Bandido gang members

A brawl between rival outlaw gangs Bandidos and Cossacks in Waco, Texas, ended with nine people dead, 18 others injured and people arrested.

The situation has cast a spotlight on outlaw gang culture in the U.S. and its impact on society.

Of the two gangs, the Bandidos are considered the most dangerous. Here's what you need to know:

1. Who are the Bandidos?

The gang was started in San Leon, Texas, in It's one of the largest outlaw motorcycle gangs in the United States, with about members and 93 chapters, according to the FBI. The Bandidos has a membership of 2, to 2, people in the U.S. and in 13 other countries, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

2. How dangerous are they?

A state gang threat assessment released last year by the Texas Department of Public Safety ranked the Bandidos as a "Tier 2" gang — or the second-most dangerous classification — alongside the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas and the Partido Revolucionario Mexicano (PRM). The most dangerous outlaw motorcycle gang in the U.S. is considered the Hells Angels from California.

3. What criminal activities are the gang involved in?

The Bandidos are involved in transporting and distributing cocaine and marijuana, and are involved in the production, transportation and distribution of methamphetamine, according to the DOJ.

4. Where are they most prominent?

According to the DOJ, the Bandidos are most active in the Pacific, Southeastern, Southwestern and the West Central regions of the U.S. The Bandidos are growing in each of these regions.

5. Who founded the gang?

According to gang legend, Donald Chambers, then 36, started the Bandidos. . He was working on the ship docks in Houston, according to a profile of the Bandidos by Skip Hollandsworth. The Bandidos MC Sweden website says Chambers was a war vet from Vietnam. Chambers felt disenfranchised by the treatment of troops back from the war.

"The members of the Brotherhood wanted respect, recognition and freedom for their actions. The laws of society had denied exactly these points. As club colors, the colors of the U.S. Marine Corps were selected: Red & Gold," the website says.

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Bandito Latin Kitchen & Cantina, the Mexican restaurant from Kent Harman, closes on June 9 after two years in business at the Hughes Center along Restaurant Row.

“After two years of serving guests in Las Vegas, we have made the difficult decision to close Bandito Latin Kitchen & Cantina,” Harman, the owner and operator says in a press statement. “Bandito was a project of passion of ours and we are incredibly proud of what we achieved in that time. Unfortunately, we opened what we consider a great neighborhood restaurant without the neighborhood, but will continue looking for a great location to hopefully serve our guests again in the future. We’d like to sincerely thank everyone who supported us during this journey and hope to see you all again soon. Our last day of service will be June 9.”

Bandito opened in June in a new 4,square-foot space in the Hughes Center. Natural light fills the restaurant through its foot tall glass windows, while diners could sit around a huge bar with butcher-block counters, hand-laid tile, and a foot steel shelving structure. Local artist Brett Rosepiler created two huge murals of “Bandito” and “Rosie” in the main dining room.

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An undercover agent who infiltrated a Las Vegas chapter of the Vagos Motorcycle Club for two years offered a glimpse into the underworld of outlaw bikers this week as he testified during a federal racketeering trial.

&#;If the leadership decides to declare war,&#; Agostino Brancato, the lead undercover agent in Operation Pure Luck, told jurors, &#;people are going to die.&#;

Prosecutor Tracey Batson asked who would make such a decision, and Brancato pointed to Pastor Fausto Palafox, the Vagos international president known as &#;TaTa,&#; seated among a crowd of lawyers and seven fellow defendants.

Brancato, a deputized agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, detailed the thorough application process and how he became trusted enough to earn a &#;fully patched&#; membership. He also discussed the gang&#;s response to the melee at a Sparks casino that left a rival Hells Angels leader dead.

A brawny man with a shaved head and a thick salt-and-pepper goatee, Brancato is the first of dozens of witnesses expected to testify in what&#;s scheduled as a four-month trial for the eight California men.

Brancato, who was introduced to the gang through a confidential informant, talked about Vagos mantras and slogans, such as &#;we give what we get&#; and &#;trust no one.&#;

Earning Vagos patches

Members of the gang earned various patches, which were stitched onto leather and denim vests &#; or &#;cuts&#; &#; for their length of loyalty and their willingness to commit acts of violence on behalf of the group, Brancato said. He testified that he never committed violent acts while he worked his way to a sergeant-at-arms position.

But his testimony, which is scheduled to resume Monday, could be called into question as the trial rolls on in the weeks ahead and defense attorneys start to cross-examine him.

In , a federal magistrate judge recommended dismissal of felony drug trafficking charges against a former Vagos officer because of outrageous government conduct by Brancato. Two federal judges later refused to throw out the case, saying Brancato did not violate the rights of a defendant during an alleged cocaine transaction.

The start of Brancato&#;s time with the gang included a page application that asked for work history and criminal history, along with emergency contacts, marital status, education and military background.

&#;They were shocked that I had no prior arrests,&#; Brancato said.

Later, when he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon on his bike in Utah, he said, &#;I did not come out of role.&#; A Utah member of the gang who bailed him out of jail expressed surprise that he had no felony record.

Brancato told the bikers that he paid for good lawyers to keep his record clean.

Casino shooting death

He became a &#;hangaround&#; before the Northern Nevada shooting but was not inside John Ascuaga&#;s Nugget when Jeffrey &#;Jethro&#; Pettigrew was killed.

During the casino brawl, one of the defendants now on trial in Las Vegas, Ernesto &#;Romeo&#; Gonzalez, shot and killed Pettigrew, 54, a member of the Hells Angels. Pettigrew was known as the &#;godfather&#; of the Hells Angels in San Jose, California.

Attorneys for several of the eight men on trial have denied that there was a plan to kill the Hells Angels leader, saying that the Vagos members were responding to &#;active shooters&#; in the casino.

Brancato recorded Vagos leaders discussing collecting $ from each of the more than 1, members to help pay for Gonzalez&#;s defense in a state trial.

Prosecutors have said in court papers that Vagos operated as a criminal enterprise and engaged in drug distribution, firearms trafficking, murder, kidnapping, assault, extortion, robbery and witness intimidation.

Thirteen more defendants are awaiting trial in a case that prosecutors allege involves the Vagos gang and crimes in Nevada, California, Arizona, Hawaii, Oregon and Utah.

Brancato also testified that in early Vagos leaders planned an attack in New Mexico, where a member had been run over by someone in the rival Bandidos Motorcycle Club. He described a meeting inside a crowded restaurant with a Vagos leader, who passed him a note scribbled on a napkin: &#;It&#;s on with the Bandidos.&#;

The prosecutor asked: &#;What did you take that to mean?&#;

Brancato replied: &#;That we were at war with the Bandidos.&#;

Contact David Ferrara at [email protected] or Follow @randompoker on Twitter.


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

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, , 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 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 (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 s 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

“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.

Mike Helle, president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, found the move “incredible,” and said those behind it put themselves in a precarious position. In many cases, investigators have seen Bandidos members paying their club dues with money from drug sales or other crimes, so money laundering could be another crime they might be accused of.

He also said he believed the laws regulating nonprofits prohibited documented criminal groups from obtaining nonprofit status, and if it doesn’t, “I’d venture to say that loophole will be closed pretty damned quick.”

“It’s an interesting cover,” Helle said. “It doesn’t escape the criminal aspect that’s behind the curtain.”

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 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 , 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 , 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 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 , 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.

[email protected]

Twitter: @gmaninfedland


Vegas bandidos las

It was , headed back to the U.S.A from an annual trip to the bullfights in Sonora, Mexico, Don Chambers and his friends stopped at a local Cantina. When they entered, a patron asked the waitress, "Who are those guys?" The waitress answered, "That's DC and his American Bandidos" - hence the name. In March of THE BANDIDOS MOTORCYCLE CLUB was born. The Houston Chapter or Mother Chapter was soon followed by the Southwest Houston Chapter. A year later, riding back from that annual trip as full patch Bandidos, a problem occurred with the Federales in Mexico and a Bandido "Sunshine" was killed. He was the first Bandido killed and that was the last time the Bandidos went to Mexico. With hundreds of chapters across THE USA, Central and South America, and thousands of members with a worldwide following, the Bandido Nation is strong and thriving.

In the years that followed, the Bandidos MC spread world-wide to more that 80 countries, but as time wore on, differences of opinion between the United States, Europe and Australia about the club values and definitions, prompted changes to be made.

It was discussed at the annual Chapter Presidents Meeting in February , there it was decided by vote to set Europe, Asia, free to follow their own path. On July 17th, , the club was split. Though we share a common name and a similar patch, we are no longer associated with the Bandidos MC in Europe, Asia and Australia. Leaving us to get back to our roots, embodying the true meaning of Motorcyclism.

Today the Bandidos Motorcycle Club is the largest 1% club in the Western Hemisphere, with members in Northers, Central and South American Countries.


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