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Press Release

Eleven Alleged Aryan Brotherhood of Texas Members Charged for Roles in Assault

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

WASHINGTON - Eleven alleged members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) have been indicted for their alleged roles in the 2008 beating of a gang prospect in Tomball, Texas, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Jose Angel Moreno of the Southern District of Texas.

The superseding indictment, returned by the federal grand jury on Feb. 16, 2011, and unsealed today in Houston, charges the defendants with violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity (VICAR) and conspiracy to engage in violent crimes in aid of racketeering. The defendants charged in the indictment are Zechariah Aaron Johnston, 31; Steven Walter Cooke, 47; Stephen Kyle Knebel, 33; David Bruce Harlow, 46; Robert Lynn Sheats, 33; Justin Northrup, 25; Benjamin Christian Dillon, 28; Rusty Dwayne Plante, 34; Johnny Ray Nichols, 35; Shane Everett Dallmeyer, 30; and Michael Raymond Burkett, 33. All of the defendants are from the greater Houston-area.

According to the indictment, in order to be considered for ABT membership, a person must be sponsored by another ABT member. Once sponsored, a prospective member must serve an unspecified term, during which he is referred to as a prospect, while his conduct is observed by the members of the ABT.

The indictment alleges that a prospect member of ABT sustained serious bodily injury after he was severely beaten on Sept. 22, 2008, at Cooke’s home in Tomball. The beating was allegedly administered by ABT gang members because the prospect member violated certain ABT rules of conduct.

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the VICAR charge. They face a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy charge. The defendants who were not already in federal prison are making initial appearances today in U.S. District Court in Houston.

According to the indictment, the ABT is a race-based, state-wide organization that operates inside and outside of state and federal prisons throughout Texas and elsewhere in the United States. The ABT was established in the early 1980s within the Texas prison system. As alleged in the indictment, it modeled itself after and adopted many of the precepts and writings of the Aryan Brotherhood, a California-based prison gang that was formed in the California prison system during the 1960s. According to the indictment, previously, the ABT was primarily concerned with the protection of white inmates and white supremacy/separatism. Over time, however, the ABT has expanded its criminal enterprise to include illegal activities for profit.

As alleged in the indictment, the ABT enforces its rules and promotes discipline among its members, prospects and associates through murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, assault, robbery and threats against those who violate the rules or pose a threat to the enterprise. Members, and oftentimes associates, are required to follow the orders of higher-ranking members, often referred to as "direct orders."

An indictment is merely a charge and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

This case is being investigated by a multi-agency task force consisting of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the FBI; the U.S. Marshals Service; the Texas Rangers; the Texas Department of Public Safety; the Walker County, Texas, Sheriff’s Office; the Montgomery County, Texas, Sheriff’s Department; the Houston Police Department-Gang Division; and the Harris County, Texas, Sheriff’s Office.

The case is being prosecuted by David Karpel of the Criminal Division’s Gang Unit and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Hileman of the Southern District of Texas in Houston.

Updated September 15, 2014

Press Release Number: 11-215