Aryan Brotherhood Racketeering Trials Begin
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
SANTA ANA, Calif., March 14 -- The largest capital murder case in U.S. history began Tuesday as federal prosecutors aim to dismantle the Aryan Brotherhood, a prison gang of white supremacists that has been linked to dozens of killings across the country.
Prosecutors have charged 40 people affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood with crimes that include conspiracy to commit murder, fomenting a race war with black inmates, smuggling heroin into prisons, and murders inside of prison and out. Eight gang members now face the death penalty, and prosecutors may seek death for eight more. Nineteen others have already pleaded guilty, and one has died.
"This case is fundamentally about power and control of the nation's prison population," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Emmick told the jury in his opening statement in the first of a series of trials that use racketeering statutes to target the gang's top leadership. Although there are only about 100 members of the gang, he said, "what distinguishes the Aryan Brotherhood is that its members are particularly violent, disciplined, fearless, and committed to controlling and dominating the prison population through murder, threats and intimidation."
Racketeering statutes, originally used to send mobsters to prison, have been used to target prison gangs before, said Gregory Jessner, a former prosecutor who brought the indictment but is no longer on the case. "Other than the Mafia, there's probably no other more appropriate use of RICO than a prison gang," he said, referring to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Prosecutors paint the Aryan Brotherhood as a cunning and well-organized network of convicts more concerned with earning hundreds of thousands of dollars from gambling, drug sales and prostitution than with racial superiority. The gang sought unsuccessfully to carry out a hit for Mafia don John Gotti and once executed the father of a man who testified against them, according to the indictment and declassified FBI documents.
Gang members communicated between maximum-security prisons by using elaborately coded messages and notes written in invisible ink made from lemon juice or urine, prosecutors said. "They're very, very crafty," Jessner said. "They have on the whole tended to outwit the prison authorities."
Tyler "The Hulk" Bingham and Barry "The Baron" Mills, previously convicted of stabbing a fellow inmate to death in 1979, are among four gang members on trial this week. Bingham and Mills are accused of setting up and running a three-member "commission" to oversee the workings of the gang inside the federal penal system. They allegedly authorized more than a dozen killings and personally orchestrated the murders of two black Pennsylvania inmates.
Dean Steward, Mills's attorney, said in an interview that different gangs control gambling and drugs within all prisons. He said the prosecution's case is built on informants who were housed together for two years, "getting their stories straight," who will be rewarded with freedom and privileges for testifying. Moreover, prosecutors are exaggerating the amount of money at stake, Steward said. "These guys are about a bag of chips and a bar of soap," he said. "A hundred dollars is a lot to these guys."
Steward said that when the group formed in the 1960s it aimed to protect white inmates from other gangs. "Federal prisons are violent and dangerous places, period, for anybody who's in them," he said. "These guys are just trying to protect themselves."
In the courtroom, Bingham, Mills, and co-defendants Christopher Gibson and Edgar Hevle sat facing jurors at a special desk designed to hide shackles that chained them to the floor. Each wore button-down shirts, heavy mustaches and glasses. Mills, his bald head gleaming, peered through bifocals as prosecutors described the details of 15 murders he allegedly ordered, authorized or carried out. Gibson is accused of serving as head of the gang's "department of security," and Hevle is said to have sat on a lower governing body than Bingham and Mills.
The trial is expected to take nine months, and prosecutors plan to call dozens of witnesses, including at least 12 former gang members. Eleven more Aryan Brotherhood members will go on trial in October in Los Angeles.
"We've seen their activity leak out of the prison system as they are paroled," said Melissa Carr, a special projects director for the Anti-Defamation League based in California. "They continue to serve the organization from outside. That's probably where the greatest danger to the community lies."