Feds strike at California Aryan Brotherhood prison gang
SACRAMENTO — Federal law enforcement officials in Sacramento say they have struck a blow at the leadership of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, outlining an alleged conspiracy among inmates in California state prisons to order murders, oversee narcotics sales and arrange for the smuggling of numerous cell phones to prisoners.
The allegations, contained in court documents unsealed Thursday in federal court in Sacramento, seek charges under the federal racketeering statute against 16 defendants, including two inmates considered to be among the ruling “commissioners” of the white supremacist gang.
“What we report today is a very significant setback for the Aryan Brotherhood,” U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said at a news conference at his downtown Sacramento office Thursday, where he described a series of crimes inside prisons that stretched from Lassen County to Imperial County.
Details in the court documents spell out a yearslong investigation that tied the prison gang to at least five inmate slayings and orders to kill more, saying investigators “uncovered and disrupted multiple murder plots targeting AB member, AB associates and other individuals who — according to Aryan Brotherhood members — had violated the gang’s expectations or code of conduct.”
DEA investigators using court-ordered wiretaps monitored more than 1,800 phone calls during the course of the probe, and used information from some of the calls to move targeted inmates to safety and, in at least one case, warn a target who was not in prison that he was in danger, the documents say.
“These defendants have participated in conspiracies to commit racketeering, murder and drug trafficking,” a 137-page affidavit from DEA Special Agent Brian Nehring says, adding that investigators turned up evidence the gang was distributing heroin and methamphetamine from Sacramento to South Dakota and Missouri.
The gang also conspired with associates outside prison walls to import drugs, cell phones and other contraband into California prisons hidden in boxes of Little Debbie snacks, Folgers coffee jars and Quaker Oats containers, court documents say.
One defendant, a 37-year-old ex-con named Justin Petty, worked for a company called Golden State Overnight and was overheard on wiretaps planning smuggling operations with inmates, court documents say.
“Petty described how he was going to place cell phones, batteries, chargers, mini hack saw blades, drill bits, ear pieces and other items inside Little Debbie snacks, including Honey Cakes,” the DEA agent wrote in his affidavit. “Petty also described other contraband items, which I believe were drugs.
“Petty said the box would be sealed as if it were straight from the vendor.”
Prison officials intercepted the packages after being tipped by investigators, and court documents say the inmates were later heard on wiretaps speculating about what had happened to the packages.
The investigation also included a number of undercover purchases of heroin and the seizure of other drugs and weapons.
But the most serious allegations involve a series of prison-yard slayings that included the 2015 stabbing death at California State Prison, Folsom, of Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, a prominent former member of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang who was serving six life sentences.
Pinell, 71, had been threatened for decades and was killed only weeks after being moved into the general population at “New Folsom,” where two Aryan Brotherhood associates allegedly stabbed him 20 times in hopes of becoming full-fledged members of the gang, court documents say.