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Press Release

Five Aryan Brotherhood of Texas Gang Members Sentenced in Houston for Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

WASHINGTON – Five members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) have been sentenced to federal prison for their role in an aggravated assault that took place in Tomball, Texas, in September 2008, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas.

U.S. District Court Senior Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. today sentenced Zechariah Aaron Johnston, 31, aka “Oz,” to 84 months in prison; Stephen Kyle Knebel, 33, aka “Lil Evil,” to 24 months in prison; Robert Lynn Sheats, 33, aka “Dirty,” to 36 months in prison; and Johnny Ray Nichols, 35, aka “Nick,” to 18 months in prison.  On March 23, 2012, Senior Judge Werlein sentenced Rusty Dwayne Plante, 34, aka “Rusty,” to 36 months in prison.

All five defendants pleaded guilty for their role in the aggravated assault of an ABT prospect member.  Johnston, Knebel and Nichols each pleaded guilty to racketeering aggravated assault.  Plante and Sheats pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering aggravated assault.  All five defendants are from the greater Houston area.

According to court documents, the defendants were members of the ABT, a powerful race-based, state-wide organization that operated inside and outside of state and federal prisons throughout the United States.  The ABT was established in the early 1980s within the Texas prison system.  The gang 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 court documents, previously, the ABT was primarily concerned with the protection of white inmates and white supremacy/separatism.  Over time, the ABT has expanded its criminal enterprise to include illegal activities for profit.

According to court documents, 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.”

According to court documents, Johnston, Knebel, Plante, Nichols and Sheats, along with seven fellow ABT gang members, participated in the beating of an ABT prospect member at the home of another ABT gang leader, Steven Walter Cooke, 48, aka “Stainless,” in Tomball, on Sept. 22, 2008.  The ABT prospect, who sustained serious bodily injury, was beaten by ABT gang members because he violated ABT rules of conduct. 

Eleven of the 12 co-defendants have pleaded guilty for their roles in the assault.  The 12th ABT gang member, David Harlow, 43, aka, “Bam Bam,” was found guilty by Senior Judge Werlein on March 21, 2012, at trial in the Southern District of Texas.

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 Ranger Division – 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; the Tomball Police Department; the Texas Department of Criminal Justice – Inspector General; and the Harris County, Texas, Sheriff’s Office.

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

Updated September 15, 2014

Press Release Number: 12-476