Feds announce massive bust of Aryan Brotherhood crime ring in California’s prisons

iStock/JANIFEST(LOS ANGELES) -- Federal prosecutors Thursday announced a massive operation targeting one of California's most notorious white nationalist prison gangs, unsealing numerous racketeering charges against 16 alleged members and associates of the so-called "Aryan Brotherhood."

In a 143-page criminal complaint, an undercover DEA agent maps out an extensive organized crime network alleged to have orchestrated assassinations, weapons smuggling operations and drug trafficking across multiple states

At the center of the investigation are two of the three alleged members of the Aryan Brotherhood's leadership commission, Ronald Yandell, 56, and Daniel Troxell, 66. When the investigation started, both were already serving life sentences in prison for murder.

The court document, however, chronicles in detail through intercepted calls, texts and the undercover agent’s own recollections after infiltrating the outer circle of the gang -- how Yandell was allegedly able to coordinate drug deals and oversee murder plots while still behind bars.

The complaint specifically details five murders allegedly carried out by gang members from 2011 to 2018 targeting inmates staying at Folsom State Prison, High Desert State Prison and Salinas Valley Prison in California, in addition to multiple other murder plots. Nine of the 16 defendants named in the criminal complaint are already serving out sentences in prison for separate crimes.

The DOJ announcement notes that the charges are only allegations and defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. ABC News has attempted to contact the listed attorneys for two of the defendants, Jeanna Quesenberry, 52, of Sacramento and Kristen Demar, 44, of Citrus Heights -- but did not immediately receive a response. Two others, Justin Petty, 37, of Los Angeles, and Samuel Keeton, 40, of Menifee, were not reachable by their available phone numbers.

The agent puts partial blame for the gang’s success in an October 2015 court settlement that required the California prison system to release “extraordinarily dangerous” prisoners stationed in strictly isolated cells into less restrictive confinement conditions, including numerous Aryan Brotherhood members like Yandell.

“[As a result of the settlement], Aryan Brotherhood members have recruited new members, indoctrinated new associates, and rapidly asserted their dominance over the white inmate population throughout California,” the complaint reads. “As a result of their resurgence, Aryan Brotherhood members and associates have also committed a number of murders, assaults, and acts of intimidation that preserve, protect and further expand the power of the enterprise.”

Through several confidential informants and the undercover agent’s own recollections, the complaint gives detailed insight into the Aryan Brotherhood’s expansion since its formation in 1964 into its status as California’s most dominant white nationalist prison gang.

The Aryan Brotherhood operates on a “blood-in, blood-out,” policy, according to the complaint, meaning in order to achieve full membership potential members must murder a fellow inmate and “can only leave when they die.”

Though its members traffic in white supremacist ideology and often boast neo-Nazi tattoos, legal experts have observed that the Aryan Brotherhood's white nationalist motivations morphed mostly out of a desire to consolidate power and recruitment inside the prison system and less on racial animus. For instance, the gang is alleged in the complaint to have engaged with members of the Mexican Mafia, a Latino prison gang.

The DEA agent’s own infiltration into the gang is described in several alleged drug deals with an outside associate, Quesenberry, who phone records showed was in frequent contact with one of Yandell’s contraband cell phones both before and after selling the agent several ounces of heroin on multiple occasions.

Yandell and other Aryan Brotherhood leadership would allegedly rely on increasingly creative methods to obtain cell phones that allowed them to coordinate with associates in the outside world.

Among the associates charged in the case was attorney Kevin MacNamara, 39, who is accused of smuggling a cell phone for one of the defendants in prison by hiding it inside his wheelchair.

MacNamara is also alleged in the complaint to have smuggled other “various kinds of contraband” like tobacco and controlled substances into Folsom prison in previous visits, using attorney-client privilege to shield him from the surveillance that would be placed on other visitors.

Reached by phone by ABC News on Friday, MacNamara declined to comment and hung up when asked about the allegations.

While it’s unclear what effect the arrests and new charges will have on the Aryan Brotherhood’s network, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott told reporters Thursday they expected the operation would amount to “a very significant setback for one of California’s most notorious prison gangs.”

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