"Devastating blow" for Texas' Aryan Brotherhood

The violent, prison-based gang has been implicated in one of the largest racketeering cases of the year

Published November 14, 2012 3:56PM (EST)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Washington, D.C.                 (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
The Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Washington, D.C. (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

This article was originally published by The Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Southern Poverty Law Center In one of the largest racketeering cases brought this year, the U.S. Department of Justice has just unsealed a 43-page indictment of 34 members of a “violent, whites-only prison-based gang with thousands of members operating” in and out of prisons throughout Texas and elsewhere.

The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) is accused of carrying out murders, attempted murders, conspiracies, arsons, assaults, robberies and drug trafficking as part of an enterprise that goes back to at least 1993. Among those charged in the indictment are four senior leaders or “generals” — Terry Ross “Big Terry” Blake, 55; Larry Max “Slick” Bryan, 51; William David “Baby Huey” Maynard, 42, and Charles Lee “Jive” Roberts, 68.

Blake and Roberts were among 17 of the defendants arrested last week by a task force of 170 state, federal and local law enforcement officers who conducted sweeps in Texas and North Carolina. Authorities say 14 of the defendants already were in custody and three remain fugitives.

Ten of those charged, including Bryan and Maynard, could face the death penalty if convicted.

It seems apparent from details contained in the indictment that several current or former members of the racist “Aryan” gang are talking with investigators, probably as part of deals to receive lighter prison sentences. The investigation was begun about three years ago, and involved the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, the FBI and a host of state and county agencies in Texas, including investigators and gang experts employed by the prison system.

The arrests “represent a devastating blow to the leadership of ABT,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department Criminal Division in announcing the arrests Friday at a Houston press conference.

The hallmark of the gang, he said, is the use of “extreme violence and threats of violence to maintain internal discipline and retaliate against those believed to be cooperating with law enforcement.”

“Through violence and intimidation, ABT allegedly exerts control over prison populations and neighborhoods and instills fear in those who come in contact with its members,” Breuer said.  He pledged that the Justice Department “is determined to continue disrupting and dismantling ABT and other violent, criminal gangs.”

The indictment alleges those involved in the racketeering enterprise carried out the murders in Texas of Aaron Wade Otto, on Nov. 25, 2001; Robert Alan Branch, on March 6, 2002, and Mark Davis Byrd Sr., on May 4, 2008.

The murder of Otto 11 years ago was solved by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office cold case unit, forming a key portion of the federal case, the Houston Chronicle reported.

In one of the homicides, Aryan Brotherhood leader Kelley Ray “Magic” Elley “ordered subordinate ABT gang members to kill an ABT prospect [member] and make the killing as messy as possible” to send a message against cooperating with law enforcement, the indictment alleges.

Elley and others in the gang directed the killers to “return the victim’s severed finger as a trophy,” the indictment alleges.

“The traditional power centers of the ABT, and members of the gang’s leadership structure, were predominately located in prisons operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice,” the indictment says. The ABT was established in the early 1980s within the Texas penal system, modeling itself after and adopting many of the precepts and writings of the Aryan Brotherhood, a California-based prison gang formed in that state’s prison system during the 1960s, the indictment says.

“The ABT offered protection to ‘white’ inmates if they joined the gang,” it added.

The ABT was also characterized by “a detailed and uniform organizational structure,” with various rules, procedures and a code of conduct, outlined in a written “constitution” widely distributed to members throughout Texas and elsewhere. In Texas, two competing ABT factions eventually evolved, leading to turf wars and violence between gang members. Each faction was set up in military fashion, with a “general” for each region, and various subordinate ranking members — majors, captains, lieutenants, sergeants-at-arms and “numerous soldiers,” the indictment says.

In detailing the investigation, the Houston Chronicle reported last week that the Aryan Brotherhood has about 2,600 members in Texas prisons and another 180 in federal prisons.

ABT leaders issued direct orders (called “D.O.’s”) to subordinates, commanding them to “S.O.S.” — “smash on sight,” or assault — rival gang members or ABT members who had strayed, or to “green light “ or “X” — murder — the targeted victim, the indictment says.

Members greeted each other with a hand-sign intended to represent the letters “A” and “B.” The gang also “employed a robust symbology,” using Nazi symbols, including the Nazi flag and SS lightning bolts.

“The most coveted tattoo … was the ABT patch which could be worn only by ‘fully made’ members who generally ascended to full membership by committing a ‘blood-tie,’ an aggravated assault or murder on behalf of the gang,” the indictment alleges.

Four women — affiliated with gang members and arrested last week — are among those named in the indictment. The document says that “females were not allowed to become members of the ABT” but “engaged in criminal activity for the benefit of the gang” and were called “featherwoods.” They functioned as communication hubs, facilitating gang communication among imprisoned members through the use of the telephone, Internet and U.S. mail.

Rebecca Johnson Cropp, 44, Destiny Nicole Feathers, 24, Samantha Deann Goldman, 28, and Tammy Melissa Wall, 44, are each charged with racketeering conspiracy. Feathers also is charged with accessory after the fact to murder.

Others named in the indictment include James Lawrence “Chance” Burns, 42; Ben Christian “Tuff” Dillon, 40; Rusty Eugene Duke, 31; Chad Ray “Polar bear” Folmsbee, 29; Kenneth Michael Hancock, 32; Benjamin Troy “South” Johnson, 41;  Michael Richard Lamphere, 54; Jamie Grant “Dutch” Loveall, 37; Glen Ray “Fly” Millican Jr., 39; James Erik “Flounder” Sharron, 39; Steven Worthey, 41; Fredrick Michal “Big Mike” Villarreal, 34;  Shane Gail “Dirty” McNiel, 33; Christopher James “Rockstar” Morris, 37; Stephen Tobin “Scuba Steve” Mullen, 43; Justin Christopher “Ruthless” Northrup, 27; David Orlando “Chopper” Roberts, 35, Bill Frank “Billy the Kid” Weatherred, 28.

The others are: Dustin Lee “Lightning” Harris, 28; Clay Jarrad “Diesel” Kirkland, 33; James Marshall “Dirty” Meldrum, 40; Ronald Lee “Big Show” prince, 43; Billy Don “Big Nasty” Seay, 37; Sammy Keith “Stubby” Shipman, 30, and Brian Lee “Bam Bam” Thomas, 33.

Hometowns of the defendants were not provided by the Justice Department.

By Bill Morlin

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Aryan Brotherhood Hatewatch Southern Poverty Law Center Texas U.s. Department Of Justice