When biker Anthony W. Benesh III displayed his Hells Angels colors in the middle of Bandidos territory in the Lone Star State in 2006, he was given extensive warnings to stop.
But because Benesh ignored the instructions, the Bandidos Motorcycle Club dispatched two hit crews in March 2006 to find him and another Hells Angels member and send a message, a high-ranking ex-member of the Bandidos testified Wednesday at a racketeering trial for two former top Bandidos leaders.
Johnny “Downtown Johnny” Romo, 47, said John Xavier Portillo, a national Bandidos sergeant-at-arms at the time, passed on the directive from Jeffrey Fay Pike of Conroe, the national president: Romo was to put a squad together to take out Benesh in Austin.
The hit on Benesh was just one story Romo relayed during several hours on the stand Wednesday in the trial of Pike and Portillo, who had been the Bandidos’ national vice president since 2013. The pair are charged in a 13-count indictment that alleges they sanctioned or ordered assaults, extortion, robbery and murder in furtherance of the club’s racketeering conspiracy. The conspiracy lasted from 2000 to 2016, according to the indictment.
Portillo, ordering that Benesh be killed, said he would take another crew to find and rub out Benesh’s counterpart in College Station, Romo said.
“He told me there’s two Hells Angels in Austin riding their bikes and that the (Bandidos’) Austin chapter tried everything — intimidation, threats — to get rid of them,” Romo testified. “He said, ‘There’s two of them, this came from Jeff Pike that he wanted them taken out, you need to get some guys that you trust. You go to Austin and I’ll go to College Station.”
Romo, who also was a national sergeant-at-arms for the Bandidos, said he picked two “made” members of the Bandidos and his own brother, Robert Romo, who was trying to join the club. They took the information Portillo had provided about Benesh, watched for their quarry for two days at his house and followed him as he went to eat at a pizza restaurant in Northwest Austin.
On a Saturday evening in March 2006, Benesh was killed by a rifle bullet in front of his girlfriend and two sons, a shot so powerful that one Austin police officer testified last week that Benesh’s brain was missing from his shattered skull. A medical examiner who performed the autopsy testified earlier Wednesday that the skull had to be pieced together so she could determine entry and exit wounds.
Portillo’s crew left College Station once Johnny Romo informed Portillo that “it’s done,” Johnny Romo testified.
Romo also testified that the hit made him Pike’s go-to person for carrying out “beat-downs” and other similar enforcement tasks. His jobs included revoking the patches of Bandidos members in Central American chapters during a period of infighting within the biker club, which had chapters worldwide.
Pike’s lead lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, has argued that the local chapters within the Bandidos are autonomous and that Pike wielded little authority over them or their members. Any crimes they may have committed were done without Pike’s approval or knowledge, DeGuerin has said.
Romo, who turned government informant, was the first to testify that Pike directly gave him orders to continue the Bandidos’ pattern of intimidation and violence after Pike succceeded former president George Wegers, who was arrested in summer 2005 in a racketeering case in Washington state.
Romo said the hit on Benesh was planned the same weekend of the Bandidos 40th anniversary motorcycle rally in McAllen.
About a month after the hit, Romo said, he saw Pike at a funeral for another member.
“He had a big old smile, and he said, ‘Johnny, I’m very proud of you.’ We gave each other a hug and a kiss.”
Romo proposed a new patch for a hit squad within the Bandidos called the “Fat Mexican Crew” and Pike approved it.
During Pike’s tenure as president from 2005 until his arrest in January 2016, Romo said Pike had him go to Central America at least three times to discipline other members, and he also planned an assault on the national president of the Bandidos’ chapter in Australia for being disrespectful to Pike.
“I just want you to take your guys, the Fat Mexican Crew, find a place where you can take care of (the Australian chapter president),” Romo quoted Pike as saying. “I don’t care what you do, throw him in the ocean, do whatever the (expletive) you gotta do.”
Romo said they went to Cancun to put a deposit for an international meeting where they could conduct the beating, but it never materialized. The chapters from Europe and Australia refused to meet, Romo said.
Romo began cooperating with federal authorities in spring 2014 after a drug arrest. He wore a wire to record Portillo and other members of the organization make incriminating statements. But Romo also withheld information that he’d been involved in Benesh’s killing. He didn’t mention it until agents confronted him after he’d already been sentenced to 24 months in prison on drug charges — far less than the 60 months he originally faced.
Romo, his brother, Robert, and two more Bandidos pleaded guilty in September to murder and firearm charges in aid of racketeering in connection with Benesh’s killing and await sentencing. Romo’s testimony is to continue Thursday.