10 white supremacists indicted on racketeering charges in reported drug smuggling scheme

May 17, 2019

BOISE — A federal grand jury in Boise Tuesday indicted ten alleged members of a white supremacist prison gang on federal racketeering charges, after finding they’d engaged in drug dealing, money laundering and extortion for almost 20 years.

U.S. Attorney Bart Davis delivered news of the indictment at a Thursday press conference. Those indicted are alleged members of the Aryan Knights, a white supremacist gang founded in Idaho prison in the 1990s. The people indicted are:

James Ramsey, 38Christopher Foss, 30Harlan Hale, 53Steven Bowman, 36Jeremy Brown, 40Nicholas Sites, 34Buck Pickens, 30Lucas Johnson, 30Michael McNabb, 34Mark Woodland, 48

The conspiracy stretches back to 2000, according to the indictment. Its investigation began when the Idaho Department of Correction’s Special Investigations Unit found information about it, and the FBI soon became involved, because of the “depth and scale of the conspiracy,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho.

The drug smuggling, mostly of methamphetamine, began in the late 2000s.

“The (gang members) then distributed the drugs to other members, sold the drugs to other inmates, distributed and shared the proceeds, and personally used the drugs,” according to the indictment.

Prosecutors say the suspected gang members had visitors bring them the drugs or obtained them while outside the prison for medical appointments. In 2015 and 2016, for example, four of the inmates smuggled meth into the prison using a secret compartment in a wheelchair.

The inmates also laundered money through an Idaho business, identified only as “C.A.” in the indictment. The firm provided legal services. Beginning in late 2015, the suspected gang members who sold drugs to other inmates ordered the inmates to pay the firm for the drugs, claiming they were instead paying for legal services. The people who controlled C.A. then sent that money back to the suspected gang members.

The gang members had multiple flows of revenue though — they also managed gambling tables in the prison itself. A cut of “every dollar wagered” at those tables went to the gang, whose members kept it “in a ledger that was reconciled on a weekly basis.”

Often, the gang members’ schemes involved violence or the planning of violence. The indictment references multiple attacks on other inmates who had run afoul of them, resulting in stabbings and broken jaws. The suspected gang members forced other inmates to buy good for them from the prison commissary.

In June 2016, seven of the suspected gang members planned the murder of one of the witnesses cooperating with investigators. Two inmates, Ramsey and Hale, carried out the plan not long after that, and stabbed the other man. They are charged with attempted murder and assault with a dangerous weapon as a result.

Two more inmates, Bowman and Woodland, face those same charges in connection with the February 2017 beating and stabbing of an inmate who was a member of a rival gang, according to the indictment.

Ramsey, who was the overall leader of the Aryan Knights, is facing up to life in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho. So are Foss, Hale, Bowman, Sites, Pickens and Johnson, all charged with conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise.

Brown and McNabb are facing 20 years for the same charge.

All of the inmates, save for Johnson, were already in prison when the grand jury returned its indictment. Authorities arrested Johnson Wednesday, Davis said at the press conference.

Gangs in Idaho prisons

Inmates in Idaho prisons founded the Aryan Knights in the mid-1990s, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The gang, which subscribes to white supremacist and white separatist ideologies, operates within the prison system, but also outside of it. There are approximately 165 suspected Aryan Knights currently serving sentences in the department’s custody and another 100 members who have been released from prison.

“Prospects,” or those who wish to join the gang, are required to commit two acts of violence — for example, some of the inmates indicted Tuesday ordered prospects to attack other inmates to join the gang.

“Particularly violent acts, acts that resulted in new criminal charges, and assaults against IDOC staff were particularly valued and could result in quick acceptance into (the gang),” according to the indictment.

The gang encourages assaults on non-white inmates and discourages associating with or sharing a cell with inmates who aren’t white. Violence was also used as discipline within the gang — sometimes gang members would punish one of their number by attacking them for a set amount of time or with a set number of blows.

But there are other gangs — or “security threat groups” as their known officially — in Idaho prisons as well. As of April 2019, the department believes there are at least nine such groups. A security threat group exists, for the department’s purposes, “when two or more offenders have determined to act in concert to pose a significant threat to safety, security, and orderly operation of a prison facility or probation and parole district,” according to an affidavit written for a court case in 2018 by Randy Blades, the department’s deputy chief of its prisons division.

“(Gang) power in a prison facility is based on strength through superior numbers using fear and often violence to control others,” Blades wrote in the affidavit.”This attempt to control other inmates will affect the facility safety, operations and supervision success when not carefully monitored.”

As of April, the department suspects there are 1,467 people in its custody affiliated with gangs.

Yet the Idaho Department of Correction criteria for tracking gang affiliation is different from that used by prosecutors or law enforcement. Idaho’s Gang Enforcement Act lays out six specific traits of gang membership, and a person must meet two of them to be legally considered a gang member; they must also engage in a “pattern of criminal activity.”

Idaho Department of Correction officials, though, “never formally deem any inmate to be a member of any gang,” according to Jeff Ray, spokesman for the department. They instead keep a list of suspected gang members.

“To put it plainly, we don’t manage someone differently regardless of suspected (gang) affiliation unless they are engaging in inappropriate behavior,” Ray wrote in an email to the Idaho Press.

Department officials have declined to say how they track suspected gang members.

“We do not disclose those behavioral characteristics because doing so would hamper our ability to gather the information we need operate safe and secure correctional facilities,” Ray wrote.

Department officials also use different criteria for tracking gangs because they have a different goal in mind. Police and prosecutors are trying to solve crimes and prosecute guilty people. Officials with the Idaho Department of Correction, however, are trying to manage safe facilities.

“Our role is to house people sentenced to our custody and create an environment where behavioral change can take place,” according to Ray. “(Gang) behavior can corrupt that environment, so we use suspected (gang) affiliation as a management tool and employ certain strategies when individual behavior warrants.”

Tuesday’s indictment — and the department’s efforts to secure it — drew praise from Gov. Brad Little himself.

“I commend the collaboration between the Idaho Department of Correction and local and federal law enforcement partners to bring forward this indictment of members of an organized crime organization,” according to a written statement from his office.