SACRAMENTO -- It was clear that the indictments of 25 Aryan Brotherhood members and associates were a big deal.
"What we report today is a very significant setback for one of California's most notorious prison gangs,” said McGregor Scott, the U.S. Attorney for California’s Eastern District.
Among those charged were key Aryan Brotherhood members, six of them already serving time in prison for murder.
The investigation started with a low-level drug buys on the streets of Sacramento and Vallejo. Those led investigators to Ronald Yandell, an inmate at Folsom Prison serving time for several murders.
The indictment outlines five murders of gang members who wouldn't follow orders and plans to kill four others. The charges include conspiracies at three separate prisons throughout the state.
The gang is also charged with running a heroin and methamphetamine drug ring that encompassed three states. A gang house in Sacramento that was seized as part of the investigation contained guns and drugs.
Orders were given through cell phones smuggled in food packages and during prison visits with an attorney, who was also indicted.
"Phone calls and gave them access to encrypted chat applications, text messages, multi-media messages and email,” said Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Chris Nielsen.
Federal investigators wiretapped those phones.
"The information and evidence gained through the wiretap of Mr. Yandell's contraband phone is a hugely significant part of this investigation,” Scott said.
Not only were the tapped cell phones a big investigative tool, but they will also be strong evidence at trial.
"A jury can literally listen to the crime being committed and that's a very powerful tool for us,” Scott said.
Some of the charges are death penalty offenses.
In addition, the case is expected to discourage the use of smuggled cell phones by other inmates.
This was a yearslong investigation in which local law enforcement, state prison investigators and the DEA participated. The result is that two of the three Aryan Brotherhood commissioners now face federal racketeering charges.