Houston - Four top leaders of the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood of Texas are among nearly three dozen alleged gang members charged in a sweeping indictment unsealed Friday that accuses them of crimes ranging from capital murder to drug trafficking.
Few details were released about the alleged crimes, but 10 defendants are facing charges that carry a death penalty. As examples of the gang's brutality, the indictment says one leader ordered a subordinate to kill a gang prospect and return his severed finger, and another was told to burn a tattoo from a member's arm for not following an order.
"Brutal beatings, fire bombings, drug trafficking and murder are all part of ABT's alleged standard operating procedure," Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breurer said in a statement. "As charged, ABT uses violence and threats of violence to maintain internal discipline and to retaliate against those believed to be cooperating with law enforcement."
Only three people named in the indictment haven't been arrested. Sixteen people were arrested Friday across Texas, while 15 others were already in custody, prosecutors said, adding that the arrests capped years of investigation.
All are charged with racketeering conspiracy. Some were charged with involvement in at least three murders, multiple attempted murders, kidnappings, assaults and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine.
A message left for the U.S. Attorney's Office seeking more details about the alleged crimes and those arrested wasn't immediately returned Friday.
The military-style gang was founded in Texas prisons in the 1980s to offer protection to white inmates if they joined. Modeled after a similar gang that surfaces in California prisons in the 1960s, members often use hand signs symbolizing their participation and have Nazi-themed tattoos.
Investigators say the gang works as five regions, and that four of those charged were "generals" who controlled activities in a region while supervising the gang's overall activities, including issuing orders to kill in a steering committee known as the "Wheel."
The leaders were identified as Terry Ross Blake, 55; Charles Lee Roberts, 68; Larry Max Bryan, 51; and William David Maynard, 42. Blake and Roberts were arrested Friday, while Bryan and Maynard were already in prison. Home phone numbers weren't listed for Blake or Roberts, and court documents didn't yet show any of the men had retained attorneys.
According to the indictment, Bryan is facing charges in the fatal shooting of an ABT prospect member who allegedly stole drugs he was ordered to deliver to a customer on behalf of the ABT in Pleasanton, south of San Antonio. Bryan could face the death penalty in the case.
The charges against Maynard include the murder of a fellow gang member. He also could face the death penalty.
Bryan, sentenced in 1991 in Bexar County to 30 years for heroin delivery, is eligible for parole next year. Maynard arrived in 2003, with a 75-year term for murder conspiracy from Travis County. It was his fourth conviction.
Four women were among those arrested Friday, including one in North Carolina. U.S. Attorney's spokeswoman Angela Dodge said she didn't have details about the North Carolina arrest. Prosecutors said that while women are not allowed in the gang, they aid members by using phone calls, the Internet and the postal system to pass along communications that include orders to kill or assault.