Justice: Battling the Aryan Brothers

Prosecutors bid to break up a vicious prison gang.

Newsweek/February 13, 2006

Barry Byron Mills is a bank robber who will spend the rest of his life in prison. An alleged leader of the notorious Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, Mills stabbed a fellow inmate to death with a handmade knife 27 years ago, adding two life sentences to his time. Now 57, he likes to project a softer side. He spends his spare time crocheting, and writes love letters to lonely women on the outside who have a weak spot for prison toughs.

But in those same letters, prosecutors say, Mills passed along secret instructions to Aryan Brotherhood members, enabling him to help run a nationwide extortion and drug-trafficking enterprise from behind bars. Now Mills and three other alleged members are the first set of defendants facing multiple counts of murder, conspiracy and racketeering in the most sweeping indictment to date of the Brotherhood. Rather than chase down the members one by one, frustrated officials are hoping to take down the enterprise en masse, the way prosecutors once did with the Mafia. Forty alleged members have been charged in the case. About half have pleaded guilty. Jury selection for the trial of the rest began last week. Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against at least eight of the defendants—including Mills—making it one of the largest capital cases in U.S. history. (Dean Steward, a lawyer for Mills, says his client, who pleaded not guilty to all pending charges, was just doing what it took to survive in prison. "Federal penitentiaries are dangerous, violent places," he says. "My client and these others are small minorities within the system.")

After a six-year investigation, now comes the next challenge for law enforcement: how to hold a fair trial while protecting the lives of the judge, jurors, witnesses and lawyers in the courtroom. Five years ago an Aryan Brotherhood member on trial broke free of his handcuffs, seized a television and hurled it at the judge. Another stabbed his own attorney with a metal shank he'd smuggled into the courthouse.

Prosecutors acknowledge they're taking a risk by bringing so many of the men into a courtroom together, but they say they have no choice. "There really was an idea that it should be a body blow against the gang," says a government employee close to the case who requested anonymity because the judge asked all participants not to speak to the press. The defendants will be tried in small groups at Santa Ana, Calif.'s federal courthouse, in a tiered courtroom built especially for high-threat cases. Federal marshals won't discuss security details, but attorneys confirm that the defendants' shackles will be bolted to the floor, their restraints hidden from the jury by panels. Prosecutors will call several Aryan Brotherhood members turned informants, now hidden away in the prison system under protective custody, to testify against Mills and the others.

Even if prosecutors win their case, it may not be enough to shut down the gang for good. "Typically, [prosecution] does disrupt the group," says Tony Delgado, a gang expert with the Ohio Bureau of Prisons. But "you've just got to keep plugging away at them." Just ask Mikey Lando. An Aryan Brotherhood member since 1984, Lando, 56, now living in Elmira, N.Y., on disability pay, says he isn't worried about the "crew's" future. "You're never going to cripple the Aryan Brotherhood. If you kill one, there's going to be three more in its place."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.