Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque is in the crosshairs of what law enforcement authorities fear could be potential “war” between two outlaw motorcycle gangs, as a notorious newcomer – the Mongols – prepares to wage “violent conflict” that could spill over to unwitting members of the public.
The alleged threat, according to a federal search warrant affidavit unsealed Wednesday, appears to be escalating as members of the Mongols Motorcycle Club stockpile firearms and “conduct surveillance” for assaults on a rival motorcycle gang, the Bandidos, a club that has traditionally dominated in New Mexico.
An early-morning law enforcement raid Wednesday hit the Albuquerque residences of three alleged members or officers of New Mexico’s first Mongols chapter, formed a year ago. The raid aimed to recover evidence of racketeering and other crimes while mitigating the threat of violence between the two outlaw groups, the affidavit says:
“This search warrant affidavit is being submitted … to aid the FBI in stopping several imminent threats made by the Target subjects and other (Mongols) members. The threats have been directed at rival (outlaw) motorcycle gang members, their supporters, ‘citizen’ motorcycle riders, witnesses and the general public.”
The affidavit characterized the three men whose residences were searched as “the most aggressive proponents of a violent conflict” because they were conducting “reconnaissance on their rivals, encouraging others to join them in assaulting and killing rivals” while in possession of firearms, ammunition and ballistic vests.
Two of the three – William Westfall and Isaiah Matthew Chavez – were arrested on federal firearms charges and are set for an initial appearance in U.S. Magistrate Court in Albuquerque on Thursday. The third, Carlos Alvarado Jr., the alleged president of the New Mexico Duke City Mongols chapter, was searched for club tattoos and wasn’t charged.
The teams of SWAT agents from state, local and federal agencies took extra safety precautions conducting the searches Wednesday, given that two of the three suspects targeted had prior charges of assaulting law enforcement. Westfall shot a Bernalillo County sheriff’s SWAT deputy through a closed door during a search warrant execution in 2010.
Westfall was sentenced in 2011 to serve three years in prison but was incarcerated less than a year and was released on probation, New Mexico court records state. The SWAT deputy suffered permanent nerve damage.
Westfall, a former member of the Bandidos, is alleged to be the sergeant-at-arms of the Duke City Chapter of the Mongols.
Chavez, described as a Mongols member, is awaiting trial on state charges that include aggravated assault on a peace officer with a deadly weapon in August 2019. He had been on pretrial release in state District Court in Albuquerque and wasn’t permitted to possess firearms. Law enforcement agents who searched his residence found a Taurus revolver and a Taurus pistol in his bedroom closet – on top of his Mongols Motorcycle Club patches.
5 instances of violence
The affidavit relies in part on information from six confidential informers. One told investigators that Alvarado, a Mongols member who moved here from Arizona, “frequently commented how lax New Mexico laws were, compared to Arizona and Colorado.” And, that would help “boost the growth and goals of the Mongols Motorcycle Club.”
At least five instances of violence between the two clubs have occurred since the Mongols muscled into New Mexico last year, the affidavit says. Two motorcycle club members or prospects were killed, and a Mongols member resisted arrest and assaulted a Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputy in August.
In March, a top Mongols leader in Albuquerque told fellow members he had run a member of the Bandidos off the road with his car and the motorcyclist subsequently died.
The affidavit says the investigation by the FBI-led multiagency Violent Crime Task Force was spurred by a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office gang detective who in February reported an escalating conflict over the expansion of the Mongols into New Mexico.
Although they represent themselves as “motorcycle clubs,” both the Bandidos and the Mongols may “more accurately be described as outlaw motorcycle gangs whose primary purpose is the proliferation and maintenance of the gang through criminal activity,” the federal affidavit says.
“MMC members, like most outlaw motorcycle gangs, direct attacks on their rivals, as well as members of the general public who might unwittingly come into contact with the Mongols in a way that might be deemed disrespectful to the organization.”
“Such circumstances often occur when members of the motoring public do not move out of the way of MMC motorcycle riders, follow them too closely or otherwise show contempt in the eyes of the MMC members.”
One of deadliest clubs
The Mongols, with chapters around the world, has about 1,500 members and is considered by some federal prosecutors as one of the deadliest outlaw clubs of its kind.
“The MMC have a well-documented history of criminal activity, to include murder, battery, assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, firearms trafficking, drug distribution, extortion, motorcycle theft and hate crimes directed at African Americans who run afoul of the MMC,” the affidavit says.
Mongols members can often be distinguished from the other 99% “regular citizen” motorcycle clubs because of the patches they wear. One patch is diamond shaped with “1%er MFFM” inside the diamond. The patch labels the wearer as “Mongols Forever, Forever Mongols,” the affidavit says.
The trademark logo is a declaration used to define its members as “within the 1% who are not ordinary and do not adhere to the law or the rights of others.” Patches may be awarded for committing violence on behalf of the gang, killing on behalf of the gang, serving time in prison and sexual conquests of women.
The club’s website boasts, “The Mongols M.C. has been under Federal Indictment for 9 years.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, a federal court jury in December 2018 convicted the Mongols organization of racketeering and conspiracy charges, concluding that it shared responsibility for murder, attempted murder and drug crimes committed by individual members. A federal judge fined the outlaw club $500,000 and put it on probation for five years.
But California prosecutors weren’t successful in persuading the judge to strip the notoriously violent group of its trademark logo.
In New Mexico, the FBI-led task force affidavit sought to execute the search warrants to gather evidence of violations of racketeering, violent crimes in aid of racketeering, interference with commerce by threats or violence, possession of body armor by a violent felon, use of a firearm to further a violent or drug crime, felon in possession of firearm, stolen firearm, transmitting threatening communications and conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
Members of both organizations believe they are “at war” with the other, but a “select” few Mongols are instigating and fueling the conflict, the affidavit says.
Outlaw motorcycle gang members told one informer in the case that most states, including New Mexico, had no restrictions on possessing body armor. So the Mongols and Bandidos are encouraging members to acquire such vests for escalation of the conflict.
In applying for the search warrants, the SWAT teams sought court permission to knock, announce and then immediately begin breaching locked entry points Wednesday.
The FBI was concerned that “if agents delay their entry into the residence for more than a few seconds, Target Subjects may arm themselves and shoot at agents or destroy evidence.”
The search warrant affidavit said that even sworn law enforcement officers or law enforcement support employees maintain friendly or social and unprofessional relationships with outlaw motorcycle gang members.
“This is an unfortunate phenomenon that frequently compromises OMG investigations around the country.”