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Los Angeles-Dozens of Southern California lawyers are gearing up for the first trial against members of the Aryan Brotherhood in one of the largest gang-related cases in U.S. history. Opening statements begin on March 14 in Santa Ana, Calif., against four of 19 defendants who are accused of murder, attempted murder and racketeering. The remaining defendants face separate trials beginning later this year. The case is one of the largest criminal probes to come out of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. So far, prosecutors have turned over more than 105,000 pages of discovery. Because at least eight defendants face the death penalty, the case involves one of the largest groups of lawyers specializing in capital punishment. Using RICO Prosecutors also are seeking life sentences for charges of federal racketeering under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO-an increasingly popular weapon used in the courts against gangs nationwide. “It’s the largest prosecution that the federal government has ever brought,” said Richard Novak, an attorney at the Law Offices of Richard G. Novak in Pasadena, Calif. He is representing Aryan Brotherhood member Richard McIntosh, who is accused of stabbing to death a black inmate in 1999 in an Illinois federal prison. “For everybody involved in the case, there’s nothing quite like it. And it’s a sign of the increasing use of the federal racketeering laws for criminal prosecutions.” In 1997, prosecutors in Los Angeles launched an investigation of the Aryan Brotherhood, which had spread to federal prisons in other states. According to the indictment, prosecutors allege that gang members used an elaborate system in which a three-man commission approved and ordered dozens of murders inside and outside prison walls during the past 30 years. Associate members then committed the killings, usually with handmade knives or by strangulation. In 2002, prosecutors indicted 40 members of the gang. At that time, nearly 100 lawyers were involved in the case. Since then, one defendant has died and half have signed plea deals. Of the remaining defendants, the eight facing the death penalty each require two lawyers-one of whom specializes in capital crimes. Up to eight additional defendants may face the death penalty, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Wolfe, one of three prosecutors in Los Angeles heading the case. The case is so large and complex that three separate judges will hear the trials. The first trial is against two of the most notorious gang members, Barry Byron “McB” Mills and Tyler Davis “The Hulk” Bingham, who were involved in most of the 32 murders or attempted murders that are part of the case. Both face the death penalty. The other two defendants are Edgar Wesley “Snail” Hevle and Christopher Overton Gibson, two associate members. About half a dozen lawyers finished picking the 12 jurors late last month for that trial, which is before U.S. District Judge David Carter. Another four defendants are expected to go to trial in October in Los Angeles before U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner. The remaining 11 defendants are waiting for a trial date before U.S. District Judge George King in Los Angeles. A $100 million bill? One of Mills’ attorneys, H. Dean Steward, a solo practitioner in San Clemente, Calif., said defense lawyers have carved out four or five “themes” to be argued during the trial. Among those themes are claims that the defendants acted in self-defense, that the government’s informants are liars and that federal prisons are “inept and crooked,” said Steward, whose client faces charges for 16 murders. He said the defense has assembled up to 30,000 pages of documents and traveled to various prisons nationwide to interview convicts, who make up the vast majority of witnesses in the case. Working 18-hour days, including Saturdays, Steward said he expects the case to cost taxpayers up to $100 million in public defender fees and prosecution hours. Wolfe called Steward’s cost figure a “silly estimate.” “I’ve no idea what the cost is, but I don’t see how it could be that,” he said. “I don’t get paid $200 per hour.” He said the case is the latest in Los Angeles alleging RICO violations against several gang members. In Los Angeles, RICO charges, which have been used on the East Coast against organized crime families, helped in recent years to prosecute local members of Mexican organized crime groups and to obtain 18 convictions against a local clique of the 18th Street gang.

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