A high-ranking member of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges involving the 1995 slaying of a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy.
Federal prosecutors said Paul “Cornfed” Schneider admitted that Deputy Frank Trejo was shot and killed at the beginning of a crime spree by two gang associates under orders from Schneider to raise money by committing robberies.
Schneider, 41, also was the co-owner of two enormous dogs that mauled a woman to death in San Francisco in 2001.
He is expected to be sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy and racketeering in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
“It’s just ironic,” said his attorney, Brian Getz. “It wasn’t anything that they planned. What they planned were robberies of armored cars, and then this terrible tragedy happened. But the criminal liability still stands.”
Trejo was killed March 29, 1995, outside a Highway 12 saddle shop where parolee Robert Scully and Schneider’s fiancee were scoping out a potential robbery target.
The gunman, Scully, had been released a day earlier from Pelican Bay State Prison, where Schneider was serving a life sentence for robbery and attempted murder.
Schneider’s guilty plea included admissions that he introduced Scully to his girlfriend, Brenda Moore, and groomed him to commit robberies with her once he was paroled.
Federal prosecutors said Schneider also admitted to telling Moore to assist Scully with the robberies and to provide him a gun. She picked Scully up at Pelican Bay and gave him the sawed-off shotgun with which he killed Trejo, Schneider said.
Scully was convicted of Trejo’s murder in 1997 and sentenced to death.
A separate jury deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of acquitting Moore of murder but convicted her of robbing Trejo and, along with Scully, taking a family hostage as they tried to escape. She is serving a 14-year state prison sentence.
Schneider and Moore were among seven Aryan Brotherhood members and associates indicted on federal charges two years ago.
Moore pleaded guilty in May to a conspiracy charge stemming from a home invasion in Eureka and to smuggling methamphetamine into Pelican Bay.
She was sentenced to seven years in federal prison.
The federal indictments were based on an investigation into questions that arose during the initial inquiry into Trejo’s slaying, authorities said.
“It became increasingly clear over time that Scully was part of a larger criminal enterprise that had its roots in Pelican Bay,” Santa Rosa Police Cmdr. Scott Swanson said Thursday.
After working with federal authorities to investigate ties between the Nuestra Familia prison gang and crimes committed outside prison, he said police were eager to pursue members of the Aryan Brotherhood who might have culpability in Trejo’s death.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hannah Horsley said, “Obviously everybody was very concerned about it and wanted to get to the bottom of how it happened and what the people were up to when it happened, and who they were.”
Charges including conspiracy to murder were dismissed Thursday when Schneider agreed to plead guilty to racketeering and conspiracy.
He is to serve his state and federal life sentences in U.S. custody, in part to further efforts to break up the members of the white-supremacist prison gang, Horsley said.
Schneider is the adopted son of San Francisco attorneys Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, who were caring for the two powerful presa canarios he co-owned with a cellmate when the dogs attacked and killed Diane Whipple outside her San Francisco apartment in 2001.