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Defense attorneys allege they have uncovered a government “snitch school” where potential prosecution informants developed testimony against 44 alleged prison gang members indicted in a sweeping Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act case. The case involves Barry Mills, known as “the Baron,” the alleged kingpin of the Aryan Brotherhood (AB). The indictment includes allegations of 18 homicides at four state and federal prisons, and has been described by defense counsel H. Dean Steward as the largest criminal case ever bought in the federal prison system. The government is seeking death sentences against two of four of the defendants for their alleged involvement in some of the murders. U.S. v. Mills, No. CR 02-938 (C) (C.D. Calif.). Defense lawyers charged in a recent evidentiary hearing in front of Judge David O. Carter that housing the informants together tainted their testimony against the alleged gang members. “It’s tainted by their being fed information by the Bureau of Prisons and the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] case agent,” asserted Steward, a San Clemente, Calif., solo. “They had almost a year to get their stories straight.” Assistant U.S. attorney Gregory Jessner, lead counsel for the prosecution, declined comment prior to the court’s ruling. High stakes The rulings that result from the evidentiary hearing, in what is the first of the cases that will go to trial, could determine whether the government will be foreclosed from using those witnesses, and whether the defense will be allowed to expand greatly its scope of discovery. Defense lawyers say the alleged “snitch school” was located in the “H unit,” a wing housing the six inmates who had dropped out of the AB. The unit is at the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum facility in Florence, Colo., also known as “ADX”-the highest-security federal facility in the nation. Defense lawyers claim that the government fed the informants information about the AB, which they used to concoct their future testimony. The RICO indictment came more than a year after the unit was closed. The U.S. attorney’s office said in its pleadings that there is no proof of the allegations and no ground for suppression. A reading of the three-day evidentiary hearing transcript, in which two Bureau of Prisons (BOP) intelligence officers and two of the six informants testified, reveals that: The six prisoners had free rein of H unit during the day, while most other prisoners in the super-max facility were in their cells 22 to 23 hours a day. The six AB dropouts provided information to BOP about how drugs were introduced into the prisons, how they made weapons, which prison staff had been compromised, and about the methods the AB used to communicate with each other inside and between prisons. The six read copies of mail from federal and California state inmates for purposes of code-breaking. The mail was forwarded to them by the California Department of Corrections and the ATF. BOP and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) files were compromised. One of the six prisoners, Danny Weeks, smuggled out a document, and notes he had taken from BOP computer files, by mailing them to his lawyer. He wanted proof, he testified, that the unit had had access to such documents. The smuggled documents included a DEA document about the alleged involvement of specific high-level Mexican government officials in drug cartels. Carter-who had tried cases against the Mexican Mafia-repeatedly expressed concern that those documents involved ongoing DEA investigations. In a pleading submitted after the hearing, the U.S. attorney’s office describes those documents as having only historical value. The BOP officers’ testimony was unclear and sometimes contradictory about how Weeks could have gained access to the document and to the computer files. Weeks claimed that he and others were shown extensive documentation besides the mail and had computer access. The ADX warden, C. Chester, stated in an affidavit that no logs were kept of who visited the unit, but there was no disagreement that an ATF officer visited the unit at least once. The BOP officers testified that the U.S. attorney’s office was not involved in setting up or running the unit. The informants did not contradict that. At a status hearing regarding discovery in the case, held on July 14, the judge did not rule on the suppression motions. About half of those charged in the indictment-none eligible for the death penalty-have entered guilty pleas and been sentenced.

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