Courts

Would-be hitman pleads guilty in Aryan Brotherhood RICO case

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Federal prosecutors earlier this week secured their second guilty plea in a sprawling RICO case involving over a dozen people allegedly tied to the Aryan Brotherhood.

Donald “Popeye” Mazza pled guilty on Thursday to conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, implicating several other codefendants in his plea agreement.

Mazza, 48, is just one of 16 alleged associates tied to the neo-Nazi prison gang, which prosecutors say executed a massive meth and heroin trafficking operation from behind the walls of the California prison system. Two of the group’s main members shared a cell at CSP Sacramento. The organization also allegedly orchestrated murder plots, some of which were carried out and others that were stopped by law enforcement, in an effort to boost the gang’s standing and knock out competition.

The Anti-Defamation League, in 2017, listed Mazza as a founding member of white supremacist gang PEN1, a group originally founded by skinheads in the SoCal punk music scene in the 1980s before quickly devolving into white supremacy and crime.

“Heavily involved in the drug trade, PENI members have a strong history of violence, both in the prisons and on the streets,” a profile on the group reads. In addition to drug-related criminal activity, PENI members have committed a number of violent crimes, including assault, murder and attempted murder. The group’s mercenary and criminal nature, coupled with a white supremacist ideology and a subculture of violence, makes it a triple threat, both to law enforcement and to the public at large.”

In relation to the RICO indictment in Sacramento, Mazza was allegedly tasked with killing Michael “Thumper” Trippe while out of custody in 2016. According to tapped phone calls, Trippe was targeted by the brotherhood for allegedly participating as a police informant, as well as neglecting to financially support brotherhood members after getting out of prison.

Trippe, who lived in San Diego, was originally supposed to be killed by AB member Elliot “Rascal” Grizzle, but that plan was foiled when Grizzle was arrested for an unrelated murder in the city. The brotherhood’s leadership, including Ronald Yandell, assigned the killing to Mazza.

AB associate Matt Hall, who was found dead in a Costa Rican jail cell in 2019 following his arrest, informed Mazza that he had been tapped to handle the killing. Mazza admitted in his plea agreement that he was friends with Trippe but agreed to carry out the hit regardless because he feared the brotherhood would turn on him if he didn’t.

Law enforcement officials say they were tipped off to the murder plot by reviewing several tapped calls between Yandell and other high-ranking brotherhood members including Pat Brady and Brant Daniel. In one of the calls with Daniel, the duo began to second-guess Mazza’s membership in the gang.

“Yandell and Brady also discussed Donald Mazza and their belief that he should not have been made an AB member,” the plea agreement reads.

In the final call outlined in court documents, on October 10th of 2016, Yandell told Samuel Keeton, the only defendant apart from Mazza to plead guilty, that Mazza needed to “step up” and fall closer in line with the brotherhood if he didn’t want to be killed. Mazza allegedly stopped accepting calls from brotherhood members.

“[If he] doesn’t straighten his ass up, he is gonna get his ass smoked,” Yandell said, insisting that the man was a “motherfuckin Aryan Brotherhood member” who “hadn’t done shit” while being out of prison for six years.

Mazza returns to a federal courtroom in September for sentencing. Prosecutors, as part of the plea agreement, have said they will seek a “low-end” sentence, although the maximum term Mazza can be sentenced to is life.

As The Update previously reported, Sacramento’s head federal prosecutor, Phillip Talbert, is considering asking Attorney General Merrick Garland for authorization to seek the death penalty against Yandell, Daniel, Brady, William Sylvester, and Jason Corbett.

Ethan Biando
Ethan Biando is a freelance journalist from Sacramento. His writing focuses on crime, courts, and policing. Find him on Twitter @ethanb822

    You may also like