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Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney's Office
Eastern District of California
Phillip A. Talbert, United States Attorney
For Immediate Release
Monday, February 6, 2023

Aryan Brotherhood Associate Pleads Guilty to a Racketeering Conspiracy That Included Murders, Assaults, and Drug Trafficking From Within California Prisons

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Justin Petty, 41, of Los Angeles, an associate of the Aryan Brotherhood (AB) prison gang, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise and conspiracy to distribute heroin and methamphetamine, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

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. AB members Ronald Yandell and Billy Sylvester oversaw a significant heroin and methamphetamine trafficking operation from their shared prison cell. They used smuggled cellphones to direct their drug trafficking activity from their prison cell to the streets of Sacramento and other California cities. Using a contraband cellphone, Yandell and Sylvester communicated with AB members and associates to direct drug trafficking activities, membership in the AB, order murders, and oversee other criminal activities.

In June 2019, sixteen defendants were indicted for federal racketeering (known as the “RICO” statute) 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 August and September 2016, Petty conspired with AB members at two different state prisons – CSP-Sacramento and High Desert state prison – to send packages containing food stuffed with contraband items into each prison through Petty’s employer, a contractor authorized by CDCR to pack and send sealed packages to inmates.

On Sept. 6, 2016, Petty’s package was intercepted at CSP-Sacramento and found to contain three cellphones, two phone charging cables, six grinding discs, seven lighters, one cellphone battery, seven small screw drivers – five with flat heads and two with Phillips heads, two Bluetooth ear pieces, 10 small metal saw blades, more than 20 grams of methamphetamine, and 15 grams of heroin. The contraband items were hidden inside food packages, including a box of Quaker Oats, a box of Honey Buns snacks, a box of fudge brownies, and similar items. The contraband was concealed in a manner designed to avoid detection by prison staff who would have searched the box’s contents before giving them to the inmate.

Similarly, on Sept. 6, 2016, another package from Petty was intercepted [at which prison] and found to contain about 10 cellphones, more than 200 grams of heroin, and 120 grams of methamphetamine. The cellphones and controlled substances were hidden inside boxes of Oatmeal Creme Pies and fudge brownies. They were concealed in a manner designed to avoid detection by prison staff who would have searched the box’s contents before giving them to the inmate addressee.

Other defendants who have entered guilty pleas as part of this investigation include:

Nickolas Perez – RICO conspiracy and drug trafficking conspiracy;

Donald Mazza – RICO conspiracy and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering;

Travis Burhop – RICO conspiracy and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering;

Samuel Keeton – RICO conspiracy and drug trafficking conspiracy; and

Kristen Demar – RICO conspiracy and drug trafficking conspiracy.

This case is the product of an investigation by the DEA 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.

Petty is scheduled for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller on May 8, 2023. Petty 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.

This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Strike Force Initiative, which provides for the establishment of permanent multi-agency task force teams that work side-by-side in the same location. This co-located model enables agents from different agencies to collaborate on intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations.

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