The leader of a Colorado white supremacist gang known as the 211 Crew has been charged with racketeering, while many of his associates have been accused of murder, attempted murder, assault and intimidation.
An 18-month investigation culminated Wednesday in the unsealing of indictments against 211 Crew leader Benjamin Davis, 29, serving a 30- year prison sentence out of Denver for burglary. Davis and 16 other 211 Crew members or associates were indicted in a variety of crimes, including racketeering, bribery, tampering, and manufacturing and distributing drugs.
Five other 211 Crew members were indicted in the Dec. 12, 2001, slaying of inmate Donald Mayfield at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility. He was killed as part of an initiation rite into the 211 Crew, according to the indictment.
All but two of the 22 indicted are in custody.
The gang of more than 300 members operated solely in Colorado, authorities said.
Officials at a Denver news conference credited Denver police officer Aaron Lopez with breaking the case when his investigation of a beating revealed the 211 Crew and its violent methods.
Under the 211’s code, gang members were recruited in prison, authorities said. When they were released, they had to make money for the gang, primarily by selling drugs and weapons. The money they earned was funneled back to 211 Crew members in prison and used to assist 211 members on the outside.
If a 211 member failed to come up with the money, a “hit” was ordered, Lopez said. The gang spoke and wrote in codes – codes that law enforcement analysts were able to break.
Breaking the code was crucial to saving lives, authorities said.
The group is named after California’s penal code for robbery.
“Secret codes and phone calls, secret messages passed on in visiting, that’s how the gang operated,” said Jim Welton, a lieutenant for the Aurora Police Department who helped direct the investigation. “And it resulted in many violent acts on the streets of all jurisdictions in the Denver metropolitan area.”
The investigation was dangerous, Welton said, with undercover cops buying drugs and negotiating for guns from dangerous white supremacists.
“There were multiple acts of violence,” he said. “(The officers) dealt undercover … with people literally showing them guns and teaching them how to commit murder.”
At various times, according to the indictment, Davis would order attacks on 211 members who violated the gang’s code.
One of the recipients of such a beating was Michael Garren. Gang members had accused Garren of engaging in homosexual activities with a black male at the Limon Correctional Facility, according to the indictment. Such conduct was deemed unacceptable by 211 members. Garren also refused to beat up another inmate for testifying against a 211 member.
On March 14, 1999, Davis allegedly ordered Brian Gargan to send Garren the gang’s “ill regards.” Eleven days later, Garren was lifting weights at the Limon facility when Gargan attacked him and punched him repeatedly in the face, the indictment alleged.
“This is for 211. You disrespected us,” Gargan allegedly told Garren.
Several months later, investigators discovered a second letter allegedly written by Davis to other 211 members in which the number 187 was next to Garren’s name. The indictment said the number was code directing that Garren be killed. That order was not carried out.
Danny Shea, 29, described as being part of 211’s “inner circle,” was involved in 211 plans to attack [name removed — RNB], a 211 “prospect” at the Sterling Correctional Facility.
On Jan. 13, 2004, [name removed — RNB] allegedly was attacked with a shank – a homemade knife – by 211 member Joel Rader, 34, who was assisted by Eric Barnard, 27, with a padlock. [Name removed — RNB] received a small puncture wound to the back of his head.
Among 211 Crew members is Nathan Thill, the neo-Nazi who killed African immigrant Oumar Dia, 38, in November 1997 at a downtown Denver bus stop. Thill was not indicted in this investigation.
Lopez said it was disturbing to him that the 211 Crew used prison not for rehabilitation but for gang recruiting and criminal activities.
“You are supposed to go to prison, do your time, get out and then be a productive member of society,” the detective said.
Jan. 6, 2005
Howard Pankratz, Denver Post Staff Writer