Santa Fe Police Chief Raymond Rael confirmed Thursday that Officer Ben Chavarria, who is assigned to SFPD’s community relations department is under investigation for allegedly associating with the Bandidos Motorcycle Club.
“They are seen as a criminal organization in various jurisdictions,” Rael said of the Bandidos. “They’ve been involved from everything from narcotics trafficking, drugs, trafficking guns and other crimes.”
Rael said that the department’s internal affairs division investigated Chavarria for the same allegations in 2009. The Journal on Thursday could not confirm the outcome of that investigation.
Rael said he didn’t know when internal affairs would complete its current investigation.
“It’s difficult to tell, at this point. They are busy with other investigations right now,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll want to make sure they cover all the bases, but I’m confident they’ll conclude it as quickly as possible.”
Rael said the investigation was initiated after an obituary for a Santa Fe man appeared in a local newspaper.
The obituary for Stevan Roybal, who died Nov. 19, 2012, listed Roybal as “a PROUD member of the Bandidos MC” and Chavarria as an honorary pallbearer.
KRQE-TV reported that Chavarria described Roybal as his “best friend” on his Facebook page.
“I spent many a night riding Harleys with him. He made me the biker I am,” Chavarria wrote of Roybal, according to the report.
Contacted by phone Thursday, Chavarria said he wouldn’t comment on the allegations under the advice of his attorney, though he did say he “did nothing wrong.”
Chavarria’s position as a police officer, and as part of the community relations division, appears to be in sharp contrast to any association with a notorious motorcycle gang.
He helped start SFPD’s Shop with a Cop program that helps families in need during the holiday season and served on the regional board for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern New Mexico. He recently completed his second term as president of the Santa Fe Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and is vice president of the governance council of Tierra Encantada charter school.
Stacy Spurlock, a former owner of the Harley-Davidson shop in Santa Fe, said he’s known Chavarria for three years and worked with him in putting together a parade float for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“I’ve never know seen him associate, wear colors or hang out with any gang members that I know. To me he’s an outstanding citizen,” he said.
The Bandidos are considered by federal authorities as a worldwide organized crime syndicate. The FBI designated them as one of the “Big Four” outlaw motorcycle gangs operating in the United States, alongside Hell’s Angels, the Pagans and the Outlaws.
While the Bandidos describe themselves as a motorcycle club, they are not sanctioned by the American Motorcyclist Association and operate under their own set of bylaws.
Members are often referred to as “one percenters” and sometimes wear “1%” patches on their jackets. The implication is that they are not among the 99 percent of motorcyclists who are law-abiding citizens, a statement that has been attributed to the American Motorcycle Association, though the AMA claims to have no record of making the statement.