A federal indictment unsealed Wednesday accuses a dozen Utah men of carrying out violent crimes both inside and outside of the state’s prisons as members or associates of the Soldiers of the Aryan Culture, a gang that operated a methamphetamine ring throughout the state.
The indictment, which had been under seal since a grand jury issued it Dec. 4, is the second time authorities have used the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law in Utah in an effort to bring down a street gang. The defendants, who are charged with various counts of racketeering, are accused of attempting seven murders, one of which resulted in the victim being maimed, and making violent threats in order to maintain their power and carry out drug trafficking.
“We have definitely taken a huge step in dismantling this gang and sending a message to other hard-core gangs that we’re not going to tolerate it,” said Bill Robertson, investigative sergeant with the Metro Gang Unit, a multijurisdictional law enforcement agency. “We don’t take these guys lightly at all.”
All 12 members are incarcerated in various prisons after a Tuesday night roundup that netted the final three. The others already were behind bars.
Robertson says the bust — in the works for a year and a half – – was a cooperative effort by the Metro Gang Unit, the FBI, the state Department of Corrections and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He credited people on “the front lines,” including detectives in the state prison, with dislodging a criminal network that stretched from the Ogden area to Utah County.
“These guys are in and out [of prison] all the time,” he said. “They have a whole web of people and like to intimidate.”
(Article continues below this ad)
West Jordan police Detective Brent Jex worked on the investigation for 18 months. He says the gang members are very intellectual and capable of organizing a drug trade that often became violent.
“There’s no doubt in my mind the ones we’ve taken down are some of the most dangerous to the community,” Jex said.
The indictment gives this description of Soldiers of the Aryan Culture:
Soldiers operate under a code of conduct that requires members to read white supremacy literature and had a hierarchy that included generals, lieutenants, sergeants and soldiers. The gang accepts new members by invitation only from a lieutenant or sergeant, and the recruits earn a position in the organization by completing criminal missions during a six- to 12-month probation period.
“Mission(s) oftentimes include orders, issued by the leaders of Soldiers of the Aryan Culture, to ‘hit’ another inmate,” the indictment says. “A ‘hit’ is usually a violent stabbing or some other form for criminal activity designed to show dominance within and outside of correctional institutions.”
Once a mission was completed, the new members received a tattoo of an iron cross wrapped by a swastika, the indictment says. Another tattoo awarded was tipped lightning bolts, it says, adding that the more work the members did, the higher they could rise in the organization.
The members refer to one another as “Wood” and cannot denounce membership, according to the indictment. Gang members follow a manual of rules, which are enforced by issuing “green lights,” or discipline that can involve an assault or even death.
The rules also require members to attack all known sex offenders and snitches. These assaults, as well as attacks on law-enforcement officials, are referred to as “cleaning up the trash.”
The members are banned from associating with minorities and told they must represent the “true” race.
However, Robertson says, racial concerns are not the primary motive for the Utah gang. The main objective of members, many of whom are well-educated, is to promote meth use and sales.
The attempted murders, extortions and threats alleged in the indictment date to 1997. The victims are all identified as John Does.
The indictment says Tracy David Swena, also known as “Tinman,” is the founder and highest ranking member of the organization. It says two other defendants, John Arthur McGee, or “Cajun,” and Steve Mark Swena, or “Taz,” are generals.
Swena was transferred a year ago from a Utah prison to a federal penitentiary in Colorado. He is the only defendant incarcerated out of state.
Defendants listed as lieutenants are David “Castle” Fink, Mike “M&M” Main and Mark Isaac “Snuff” Snarr. The sergeant defendants are Lee Ervin Heyen, known as “Dallas,” and Lance Vanderstappen, also called “Lil’ Lance” and “Cub,” and the soldier defendants are Andrew Beck, aka “Nutz” and “Bandit,” and Jeff Schirado, aka “Sherwood.”
The other defendants, who are described as significant associates of Soldiers of the Aryan Culture, are Jason “Kid” Bates, and Dennis Judd.
Last year, purported leaders of the King Mafia Disciples were indicted under the RICO Act, the first time that law was used in Utah to break up a street gang. Those indictments accused 10 defendants of a string of crimes that included murder, arson and violent home-invasion robberies.
All of the defendants have been convicted, either through plea bargains or trials, with most receiving at least 10-year minimum sentences.
In the case of the Soldiers of the Aryan Culture, Robertson said, the defendants are some of Utah’s most violent gang members and could end up with prison sentences of 10 years to life.
“We’re going for the golden ring,” he said. “We want some of these guys to go away.”