Two former high-ranking Bandidos on trial in federal court

Jeffery Pike, John Portillo face 13 federal counts

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SAN ANTONIO – The former president and vice president of the Bandidos controlled an "absolute dictatorship from the top," federal prosecutors said in opening arguments in the trial of the two men.

Jeffery Pike and John Portillo are on trial in connection with 13 federal counts.

Pike and Portillo are accused of directing, sanctioning, approving and permitting members of the Bandidos to carry out acts, such as murder, attempted murder, robbery, assault, intimidation, extortion and drug trafficking.

Prosecutors said the two led an international criminal organization from Texas, the birthplace of the motorcycle club.

Related: 4 alleged Bandidos gang members charged with 2006 murder of Austin man

The prosecution focused most of their opening statement on the 2006 death of Anthony Benish, a rival biker gang member who was reportedly trying to start a Texas chapter of the Hell's Angels.

Bandidos members warned Benish to stop recruiting and activities for the Hell's Angels, but he ignored them and was killed in Austin in 2006, according to court documents.

Defense attorneys downplayed the club's structure, saying it's a loosely-organized nonprofit organization with autonomous chapters whose members don't receive direct orders from the top. 

They told jurors the Bandidos hold values and bylaws and showed a picture of a large gathering of members to illustrate an example of what defense lawyers claim is a social club bound by a common love for motorcycles.

Defense attorneys said the evidence in the trial will be contradictory.

Before jurors entered the courtroom, prosecutors wanted to make sure the ongoing legal action against the Bandidos in a 2015 shootout in Waco that killed nine people would have no bearing in the trial.

The judge assured prosecutors that convictions, if any, in the trial would not be as a result of the Waco case.

Security was tight for the trial, as anyone entering the federal building had to walk through two metal detectors and there was a strict ban on cellphones.

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