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SACRAMENTO, Calif. June 6, 2019 — Sixteen members and associates of a prison-based gang have been charged after a long-running investigation into drug trafficking and murders inside and outside of California’s prisons.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott, and Special Agent in Charge Chris Nielsen of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) made the announcement.
According to a criminal complaint unsealed today, nine defendants have been arrested on federal racketeering and other charges for extensive, organized criminal activity from within California’s most secure prisons. The allegations include murders, drug trafficking and other violent crimes. The complaint charges California State Prison inmates Ronald Yandell, 56; Daniel “Danny” Troxell, 66; William Sylvester, 51; Travis Burhop, 46; Brant Daniel, 44; Donald Mazza, 48, Pat Brady, 48; Michael Torres, 55; and Jason Corbett, 47. At the outset of this investigation, Yandell, Troxell, Sylvester, Burhop, Torres and Corbett were all serving life sentences for murder.
Five other individuals were also arrested as part of the investigation: Samuel Keeton, 40, of Menifee; Jeanna Quesenberry, 52, of Sacramento; Kevin MacNamara, 39, of La Palma; Kristen Demar, 44, of Citrus Heights; and Justin Petty, 37, of Los Angeles. Warrants have been issued for the arrests of Kathleen Nolan 64, of Calimesa, and Matthew Hall, 50, of Manhattan Beach.
U.S. Attorney Scott stated: “Today we are announcing a significant blow to the leadership of a violent criminal enterprise run from inside California prisons. Despite the incarceration of its leaders in the state’s most secure prisons, the Aryan Brotherhood has maintained its deadly influence over members, associates and others both inside and outside prison walls. The charges allege multiple murders of those who run afoul of the gang, as well as an active drug trafficking operation that spans multiple counties and states. The prosecution of these individuals, if convicted, will help to dismantle and weaken this dangerous organization.”
“This extensive investigation revealed the violent underbelly of a race-based prison gang and organized crime enterprise operating behind bars. Agents exposed Aryan Brotherhood operations providing law enforcement opportunities to successfully intervene and save lives,” stated DEA Special Agent in Charge Chris Nielsen. “This case demonstrates our unwavering commitment to combat drug related gang violence not only on the streets, but also behind prison walls.”
“Neutralizing prison gangs is a top priority for the department, and we are committed to stopping illegal activities conducted by them to further their criminal organizations and instill fear in people,” said Secretary Ralph Diaz, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “Actions like this operation demonstrate how effective our partnerships are with local, state, and federal agencies so that together we can target dangerous individuals in and out of prison. We value the hard work of our staff and our partners, and are proud of the tremendous work that went into this operation.”
According to court documents, between 2011 and 2016, Aryan Brotherhood (AB) members and associates engaged in racketeering activity, committing multiple acts involving murder and drug trafficking offenses. Yandell and Sylvester oversaw a significant heroin and methamphetamine trafficking operation from their shared cell. They used smuggled-in cellphones to direct their drug trafficking activity from their cell to the streets of Sacramento and other California cities. Using a contraband cellphone, Yandell and Sylvester communicated with AB members and associates to direct drug trafficking activities, membership in the AB, order murders, and oversee other criminal activities.
The complaint alleges that the AB members murdered five other inmates as part of their gang activities and conspired to murder several others. The complaint alleges that on Oct. 7, 2011, Sylvester murdered an inmate at Folsom State Prison and, on Aug. 12, 2015, AB associates carried out an order to murder a rival prison gang member at Folsom State Prison. In addition, the complaint alleges that on Oct. 15, 2016, on Corbett’s order an AB associate murdered an inmate at High Desert State Prison in Susanville, AB member Daniel killed an inmate at Salinas Valley prison on Oct. 29, 2016, and AB members Corbett and Brady murdered an inmate on July 20, 2018, at High Desert State Prison as part of their role in the gang. The complaint further describes multiple other murder plots.
The complaint details the drug trafficking activities of the AB. Members and associates oversaw an extensive drug-trafficking network that operated on the streets of Sacramento, Southern California, Missouri, Las Vegas, and elsewhere. On Aug. 11, 2016, MacNamara, a lawyer, and Demar, posing as a paralegal, visited Sylvester in Folsom State Prison in order to smuggle methamphetamine, cellphones, and tobacco. When the contraband was discovered, Sylvester, using a cellphone, advised Demar to blame their contraband smuggling on the Aryan Brotherhood in order to get out of trouble.
According to the complaint, Petty sent heroin, methamphetamine, cellphones, and other items concealed in food packages to Aryan Brotherhood members at Folsom State Prison and High Desert State Prison. In addition, the investigation uncovered a drug trafficking partnership between AB members Yandell and Burhop with Torres a Mexican Mafia member.
This case is the product of an investigation by the DEA with substantial investigative assistance from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Vallejo Police Department, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office, and the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office.
If convicted, the defendants face a range of maximum sentences, including up to life in prison. The facts outlined in the complaint could trigger the federal death penalty for several defendants, and a number of the defendants also face a range of mandatory minimum sentences of five to 10 years in prison. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case was part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). The OCDETF program was established in 1982 to conduct comprehensive, multilevel attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.