The sizzle in the federal superseding indictment of four members of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club filed Wednesday afternoon, is the accusation that former club vice president John Portillo and a, so far secret accomplice, “aided and abetted by other Bandidos OMO members and associates, murdered Robert Lara in Atascosa County, Texas, within the Western District of Texas.” It is an old accusation.
A former Bandido named Richard Steven Merla confessed to Lara’s murder in April 2007. Merla had already been sentenced to 40 years in prison for the 2004 murder of a retired boxer and San Antonio local hero named Robert Quiroga. Merla was sentenced to serve another 40 years for Lara’s murder. He is currently incarcerated at the maximum security Alfred D. Hughes Unit in Gatesville, Texas. It is, reputedly, an unpleasant place to do one’s time. Merla is now 50-years-old. His projected release date is April 9, 2047. He will be eligible for parole in April 2027.
The Bandidos, and specifically Portillo, disowned Merla after he stabbed Quiroga to death. “This was not an action of our club,” Portillo said. “We do not condone this. This was the act of a coward that is no longer a member of this motorcycle club.” Merla confessed to Lara’s murder two years after that. Then, within a year of his 2007 confession, about three years after he had been expelled from the Bandidos, Merla began to reevaluate his time in the club and his relationship with Portillo.
In an episode of the History Channel series Gangland titled “Bandido Army,” first cablecast on October 17, 2008, Merla explained, “Portillo tapped him to be his sergeant at arms, the chief of his security force,” and “he was quickly awarded the gang’s coveted ‘expect no mercy’ patch. The patch is given to members who have done something beyond the normal call of duty for the gang.”
Publically available court filings indicate that the episode “Bandido Army” was produced with the cooperation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Gangland represented itself as a journalistic endeavor but outtakes from the television show were used in at least two prosecutions: US v. Cavazos et al. and Tennessee versus Gutierrez.
Gangland explained Lara’s murder like this:
“A Bandido named Javier Negrete was shot in the stomach and killed outside a billiard hall. Some witnesses told police Negrete had been trying to break up a fight. Hundreds of Bandidos laid Negrete to rest in an elaborate ceremony. Then they began to hunt down his killer. Richard Merla, aka Scarface, was front and center.”
“We had different meetings how we’re going to do it, when we’re going to do it, blah, blah, blah, and who, who can we trust,” Merla told the television show.
A narrator stated, “Police had pegged a local named Roberto Lara for the shooting and were trying to build a case against him. The Bandidos got to him first…. Months after Negrete’s murder, Merla and a group of four accomplices pulled into a rest stop south of the city. It was an elaborate set-up. Lara had arrived moments earlier with a woman, who was actually part of the plan.”
“We already know what she’s driving,” Merla claimed. “So me and another Bandido got out of the truck and went straight to his car.”
The narrator of the program from eight years ago said, “Merla and the Bandidos pulled Lara out of the car and shot him 11 times.”
About 43 minutes into the television program, Merla provided the basis for the charges filed against Portillo earlier this week.
“Merla claims the Bandidos broke their own code and ratted him out for an earlier murder, the 2002 rest stop killing of Roberto Lara, the man Merla shot 11 times in retaliation for a Bandido’s death.”
“I took the rap, took all the rap,” Merla said on camera.
The narrator stated, “Merla claimed he was simply following the orders issued by (chapter) president John Portillo when he shot Lara.”
“He had his sources,” Merla told the History Channel, “and when he came to me, he said, ‘that’s the guy.’ I knew what he wanted done. He didn’t want no black eyes and broken noses, teeth missing. And I took care of it.”
The narrator said, “Merla says only Portillo had the authority to order the hit…. Portillo has refused numerous interview requests. He adamantly denies ordering the murder and hasn’t been charged with any crime.”
“If I wanted to,” Merla said, “I could have been like them, snitches, but it’s against my own personal beliefs is pointing the finger at other people. And, they know it. They know it.”
“I had a few regrets in my life,” Merla confided at the end of the show, “but the biggest regret I ever had in my life was ever becoming a Bandido, because they stabbed me in the back, you know. They stabbed me in the back…. I wouldn’t want to get out, because I got one thing on my mind, and I’m telling you the truth. I wouldn’t want to get out for the simple fact I’m known to retaliate, and I will, so I’m better off in here. So I’m better off in here.”