LITTLE ROCK — One ranking member of the New Aryan Empire and four associates entered guilty pleas to racketeering and drug trafficking charges in federal court in Little Rock on Thursday.
The New Aryan Empire, described by authorities as a white supremacist group directing a violent methamphetamine ring, began in the 1990s as a prison gang but prosecutors said the organization now engages in drug trafficking, witness intimidation, violent acts, and even murder.
Kevin Long, Jeffrey G. Howell, Matthew Riggs, Thomas I. Plaisance Jr. and David Singleton all entered guilty pleas in U.S. District Court before U.S. District Judge Brian Miller, who held the hearing via a video conference link from the federal courthouse in Helena-West Helena.
Long, 25, heavily tattooed on his arms, his shaved head (including a nine-brick pyramid White Aryan Resistance tattoo on the back of his head), and his face, wearing an orange jumpsuit from the Dub Brassell Detention Center in Pine Bluff, shackled and in leg irons, was led into the courtroom by U.S. Marshals and sat before a video monitor.
Speaking in a monotone, Long answered Miller’s questions with a terse “yes” or “no” in response to a number of queries as the judge questioned him to determine if Long understood the nature of the charges against him.
Long faced charges of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering, assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering, maiming in aid of racketeering, and narcotics conspiracy.
The charges stemmed from a two-year investigation in Pope County dubbed operation “To the Dirt,” so named because membership in the New Aryan Empire was for life, or “to the dirt.”
During the two-year investigation, agents made 59 purchases of methamphetamine. Law enforcement officials seized 69 firearms, more than 25 pounds of methamphetamine and $70,000 in drug money. A total of 54 of the group’s estimated 5,000 members were named in the 52-page indictment.
“Normally, Mr. Long, I would go through and read the counts against you,” Miller told Long. “But because this indictment is quite long, what I’ve been doing is I’ve been going through and picking out the areas that are specific to the person that’s come in, so I’m going to do the same with this.”
Miller then went through the specifics of the five counts of the 32-count indictment Long agreed to plead guilty to.
When he is sentenced, Long could face spending the rest of his life in prison and be hit with $1 million in fines for his role in the crimes outlined in the indictment.
Howell, Riggs, Plaisance and Singleton all pleaded guilty to a single count each of narcotics conspiracy. The specifics of the indictment said each conspired to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Upon sentencing, each could face a minimum of 10 years in prison and $10 million in fines.
The sentencing hearing for Plaisance nearly went off the rails when he insisted to the judge during a rambling statement that although he was entering his plea voluntarily, he indicated he felt like he had no choice but to enter into the agreement after having no contact with his attorney for months.
“Until two weeks ago I haven’t been able to contact him since November of last year,” Plaisance said. “I’ve written him letters and made several phone calls. I went over my case and found some things that I wanted done but I haven’t been able to contact him.”
Plaisance, 44, told the judge he wanted a suppression hearing to suppress evidence he said was discovered when a police dog was let out of a patrol car to take a bathroom break and alerted onto evidence.
“To my knowledge you’ve got to give the K-9 dog a signal, tell it, give it a command to look for drugs,” he said. “You don’t let it out to use the restroom and it alerts for drugs, you give it a command, so I feel like that whole instance where the cell phones or whatever, it was illegal to start with.”
“You’re not required to enter a plea of guilty,” Miller told Plaisance, adding only two conditions would make such a plea permissible; that he, in fact, be guilty of the crimes he was charged with, and he wanted to enter a guilty plea to those crimes.
“They’re telling me if I don’t accept this plea agreement today it will no longer be on the table,” Plaisance told the judge. “So I’m committed. I either take it today or never.”
Prosecutors told Miller the deadline for entering pleas in the case, which is scheduled for trial in February, is today. Miller was told all of Plaisance’s options had been gone over with his attorney.
After several minutes of discussion, during which Miller at one point said he was inclined to not allow him to plead in the matter, Plaisance relented and asked Miller to accept his plea.
“I’ll take it,” he said. “I’ll take it. I’m a grown man.”