SACRAMENTO, Calif. — One of 16 members and associates of the Aryan Brotherhood (AB), a prison-based gang, charged in 2019 for organized criminal activity inside and outside of California’s prisons has pleaded guilty today, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.
Samuel Keeton, 41, of Menifee, an AB gang associate, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise (known as the “RICO” statute) and to conspiracy to distribute heroin and methamphetamine.
According to court documents, between 2011 and 2016, AB members and associates engaged in racketeering activity, committing multiple acts involving murder and drug trafficking offenses. From their shared cell in California State Prison (CSP) Sacramento, Ronald Yandell and William Sylvester oversaw a significant heroin and methamphetamine trafficking operation using smuggled-in cellphones to communicate with AB members and associates.
In June 2019, sixteen defendants were indicted on federal racketeering and other charges. The allegations include murders, drug trafficking and other violent crimes. Nine of the defendants were inmates in California prisons and six of those were serving life sentences for murder.
According to the plea agreement, between March 2016 and at least October 2016, Keeton knowingly associated with the AB and knew that this group regularly engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity that included murder, assault, conspiracy to commit murder, and drug trafficking. For his part, Keeton assisted the AB by picking up and distributing methamphetamine and heroin on behalf of AB members Yandell, Sylvester, and Travis Burhop. Keeton also delivered drug proceeds to AB associates outside of prison. During the RICO conspiracy, Yandell, Sylvester, and Burhop were all incarcerated within the California prison system, and Keeton communicated with them over contraband cellphones.
As part of his guilty plea, Keeton admitted that he knew that Yandell and Sylvester were AB members based upon his discussions with them during 2016, including the crimes that he was asked to commit and that he agreed to commit, such as assisting in smuggling cellphones, drugs, and other contraband into prison. As part of the RICO conspiracy, on July 11, 2016, Keeton transported and delivered at least 100 grams of heroin from Southern California to Jeanna Quesenberry in Sacramento on behalf of Yandell and the AB. On Aug. 11, 2016, Keeton participated in a plot to smuggle methamphetamine and other contraband into CSP Sacramento for Sylvester with the agreement and assistance of Kevin MacNamara, a licensed California lawyer living in Southern California. Keeton also collected AB drug money on Aug. 12, 2016.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration with assistance from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Vallejo Police Department, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office, and the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office.
Keeton is scheduled for a hearing regarding sentencing before U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller on March 29, 2021. Keeton faces a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison and a fine up to $10 million. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
Charges against the other defendants are pending. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at www.justice.gov/OCDETF.