Friday, April 18, 2014
Juan A. Lozano and Nomaan Merchant / The Associated Press
KAUFMAN, Texas — Suspicion in the slayings of a Texas district attorney and his wife shifted Monday to a violent white supremacist prison gang that was the focus of a December law enforcement bulletin warning that its members might try to attack police or prosecutors.
CHARGES DROPPED IN CASE AGAINST AMERICAN FRONT GROUP
KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Central Florida’s largest domestic terrorism case ever continued to fall apart Monday in the Osceola County courthouse.
All charges were dropped Monday against two of the last three members of the American Front accused last year of training for a race war. No explanation was given.
Only Marcus Faella, the accused head of the white supremacy group, still faces trial in May. If convicted of running a racist criminal gang, he faces the possibility of serving life in prison.
His wife, Patricia Faella, and Dylan Rettenmaier had been scheduled to stand trial Monday on lesser charges.
It has been nearly a year since the arrests of 14 members of the neo-Nazi white supremacy group drew international attention.
The convictions so far are: Christopher Brooks, 28, sentenced to three years in prison for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; Luke Leger, 32, and Kent McLellan, 22, both sentenced to four years of probation for pleading no contest to participating in paramilitary training.
All had been accused of training with AK-47s and other weapons to kill Jews, immigrants and minorities, during a two-year undercover investigation of paramilitary activities in Holopaw, a remote area in eastern Osceola County.
– The Orlando Sentinel
The weekend deaths of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, who were found fatally shot in their home, were especially jarring because they happened just a couple of months after one of the county's assistant district attorneys, Mark Hasse, was killed near his courthouse office.
And less than two weeks ago, Colorado's prison chief was shot to death at his front door, apparently by a white supremacist ex-convict who died in a shootout with deputies after fleeing to Texas.
The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas has been in the state's prison system since the 1980s, when it began as a white supremacist gang that protected its members and ran illegal activities, including drug distribution, according to Terry Pelz, a former Texas prison warden and expert on the gang.
The group, which has a long history of violence and retribution, is now believed to have more than 4,000 members in and out of prison who deal in a variety of criminal enterprises, including prostitution, robbery and murder.
It has a paramilitary structure with five factions around the state, Pelz said. Each faction has a general, who is part of a steering committee known as the "Wheel," which controls all criminal aspects of the gang, according to court papers.
LEADERS INDICTED IN OCTOBER
Four top leaders of the group were indicted in October for crimes ranging from murder to drug trafficking. Two months later, authorities issued the bulletin warning that the gang might try to retaliate against law enforcement for the investigation that also led to the arrest of 30 other members.
At the time, prosecutors called the indictments "a devastating blow to the leadership" of the gang. Pelz said the indictments might have fragmented the gang's leadership.
Hasse's death on Jan. 31 came the same day as the first guilty pleas were entered in the indictment. No arrests have been made in his killing.
McLelland was part of a multi-agency task force that investigated the Aryan Brotherhood with help from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and police in Houston and Fort Worth. McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were found shot to death Saturday in their rural home just outside the town of Forney, about 20 miles from Dallas.
Detectives have declined to say if the Aryan Brotherhood is the focus of their investigation, but the state Department of Public Safety bulletin warned that the group is "involved in issuing orders to inflict 'mass casualties or death' to law enforcement officials involved in the recent case."
Killing law enforcement representatives would be uncharacteristic of the group, Pelz said.
"They don't go around killing officials," he said. "They don't draw heat upon themselves."
But Pelz, who worked in the Texas prison system for 21 years, said the gang has a history of threatening officials and of killing its own members or rivals.
MURDER COUNTS ALLEGED
The 18-count indictment accused gang members of being involved in three murders of rival gang members, multiple attempted murders, kidnappings, assaults and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine.
Some of the attempted murders in the indictment involved gang members who were targeted for not following orders or rules or who were believed to be cooperating with law enforcement. The indictment also alleges that gang members discussed killing a police officer in 2008 and allegedly ordered a subordinate gang member to kill a prospect "and to return the victim's severed finger as a trophy."
Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies throughout Texas were on high alert, and steps were being taken to better protect DAs and their staffs.
In Kaufman County, deputies escorted some employees into the courthouse Monday after the slayings stirred fears that other public employees could be targeted. Law enforcement officers were seen patrolling outside the courthouse, one holding a semi-automatic weapon, while others walked around inside.
Authorities have not discussed a motive for the McLellands' killings.