SANTA FE (KRQE) - For the second time in three years, a Santa Fe police officer is under investigation for associating with the Bandidos motorcycle gang, according to documents and a police official.
Officer Ben Chavarria, who's been with the department for more than 12 years, most recently came to the attention of his superiors after his name appeared as an "honorary pallbearer" in an obituary published in The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper on Nov. 23.
The death notice was for Stevan "Steve" Roybal, who died Nov. 19 at the age of 49 and was described in the obit as "a PROUD member of the Bandidos MC (motorcycle club)." Chavarria attended the funeral but did not carry the coffin, according to a source who requested anonymity.
"Given what I already know, I would question the judgment of any officer that chose to associate with a criminal organization," said Santa Fe Police Chief Ray Rael.
In posts on his Facebook page, Chavarria described Roybal as his "best friend."
"I spent many a night riding Harleys with him," Chavarria wrote in one posting. "He made me the biker I am."
In another post, Chavarria uses flowery language to describe a motorcycle road trip to Laughlin, Nev., with Roybal.
"My carnal introduced me to ‘Angels' ‘Mongols' ‘Sons of Silence," Chavarria wrote. "He knew them all and they all respected him."
KRQE News 13 asked Rael about those references.
"It's my understanding they're all motorcycle groups, as well as the Bandidos" he said. "And, again, they're all involved in various drug trafficking, human trafficking, gun trafficking and other crimes."
This isn't the first time the Santa Fe Police Department has had its suspicions about Chavarria and the Bandidos.
The department's internal affairs unit investigated him in 2009 after "information that had been received by other officers as to (his) possible affiliation with the motorcycle gang called the Bandidos warranted further investigation," according to internal disciplinary documents obtained by News 13.
Then-Chief Eric Johnson suspended Chavarria for a week without pay after that investigation because "I believe that your affiliations and choice of friends within the community are at very least questionable and suspect," according to the documents.
The Bandidos have deep roots in New Mexico.
"This is definitely a Bandido state," an undercover gang detective with the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department told News 13. "And they will tell you this is a Bandido state."
The detective, who requested anonymity, regularly tracks the Bandidos and said the gang is involved in trafficking guns and drugs, but that's not all.
"They're involved in homicides, robberies, aggravated assaults with weapons, aggravated batteries with weapons, kidnapping, extortion," the detective said. "They'll kill someone just for disrespecting their vest, their bike, their woman or their chapter."
For example, Willie Anaya, 49, was arrested in October for methamphetamine trafficking and is currently facing federal charges. A source tells News 13 Anaya is a member of the Bandidos.
Then there's the case of former state cop Jack McDowell and his son, John, who were arrested in January for a year and a half-old murder in Rio Rancho. Again, sources said the Bandidos were involved.
By phone, Chavarria initially told News 13 he would speak to us about the Bandido allegations. However, he later called back and said that because of the internal investigation, his union lawyer advised him not to talk.
It's against Santa Fe Police Department policy to associate with criminal organizations. Rael said he's forwarded the latest allegations to his internal affairs unit, which is investigating.
Chavarria could face suspension or termination if the current department investigation proves his Bandido association.
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