Drug arrest killed hate-music business, owner says

Minneapolis Star Tribune/February 18, 2005
By Howie Padilla

Bryant Cecchini sat in a room full of white supremacist pamphlets, books and compact discs recently, lamenting what could have been.

He projects that the South St. Paul-based Panzerfaust Records company that he helped build into a force in the niche of white-power music could have made almost $1 million this year. Instead, the company is defunct.

Things would be different, Cecchini said, if his business partner and neighbor, Anthony Pierpont, hadn't been charged with a low-level drug crime in December. And if the company's clients didn't now believe that Pierpont, who founded Panzerfaust, is of Mexican descent.

Cecchini, 33, who once was sentenced to three years and seven months in prison for a stabbing years ago, said he has standards for the people with whom he does business, such as being truthful and refraining from drug use.

"And, unfortunately," he added, "you have to be white."

Pierpont, 38, is scheduled to appear in Dakota County District Court on Feb. 28 in connection with fifth-degree cocaine possession.

Pierpont declined to comment for this article, but David Ayers, Pierpont's attorney in the criminal case, said that they would fight the drug case on various levels, including the possible suppression of evidence.

Ayers also said that his client has been devastated personally and professionally by the media glare in the raid's aftermath.

There had long been mutterings in white supremacist circles that Pierpont didn't look the part. One website said he appeared more fitted for a "Mexican street gang than the White Power Movement."

But Cecchini said that most people gave Pierpont, a California native, the benefit of the doubt.

But when his birth certificate surfaced after his arrest, many of Pierpont's customers were disturbed to learn that his mother, Maria Marcola del Prado, was born in Mexico.

Minnesota Gang Strike Force investigator Dan Michener said he didn't intentionally tear down Panzerfaust. But he said he hopes that Pierpont's drug arrest and the company's disbanding have made the area safer.

Targeting kids

Panzerfaust, which was established in 1998, really got the attention of white supremacy watch groups when it launched "Project Schoolyard USA" last fall. The project involved sending thousands of CD samplers of violence-filled rock music to teenagers across the country. The teens then doled the discs out at school, according to Marilyn Mayo, director of the Anti-Defamation League's fact-finding department.

No reports of the discs hitting Minnesota schoolyards ever surfaced, Michener said. Although Mayo points out that schools can be reluctant to discuss the discs.

Cecchini said that before Panzerfaust's demise, the company distributed at least 40,000 copies of its first sampler, sometimes selling them for as little as 15 cents a disc.

"I can't think of a state we didn't send them to," said Cecchini, who now goes by the name Byron Calvert because he said he likes the name Byron better than Bryant and because he wants to shed his Italian stepfather's surname.

Looking over the CD's packaging, Michener, of the Gang Strike Force, points out the immediate appeal to Panzerfaust's target audience.

"There's images of powerful men, sexy women and bands," he said. "There's a German cross, but there aren't any real obvious hints of the violence and hate music inside."

Although some estimates have put Panzerfaust's revenue at $1 million, Cecchini said that may have been a projection if the company had thrived for another year. A more realistic figure would be about $750,000, he said.

Big fish, little pond

Being the biggest white-power record label doesn't make you a major player in the recording industry. As an example, Cecchini said, if a major recording artist recorded a CD that sold 300,000 copies, he likely would be laughed off the label.

"I'd love to have a record that bombed like that," he said. "We pressed CDs in the thousands. We don't sell things in the millions.

"It's pretty easy to be the biggest fish in a little pond," he said.

Pierpont's refusal to take a DNA test and his drug arrest basically killed the company, Cecchini said.

"What kind of person would I be if I let that stuff slide in order to make a profit?" he asked.

He said that he believed Pierpont was targeted because of Project Schoolyard. But, he said, "if you leave the window open for them by committing a crime, you get what you deserve."

Cecchini said that he has no doubts that Michener, of the Gang Strike Force, will get credit for "running the Nazis out of town."

But Michener said that he would rather be known for the drug arrest.

"There are a lot of white supremacists out there exercising their First Amendment rights, not breaking any laws," Michener said. "They're not getting arrested."

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