All six people arrested in Tuesday’s take-down of "Native Mob" gang members pleaded not guilty to the racketeering and other federal charges filed against them.
Aaron James Gilbert, Jr., and Justen Lee Poitra were released on bond pending trial, while Dale Wesley Ballinger, Jr., Cory Gene Oquist, and Dale John Pindegayosh were ordered by the court to remain in custody, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Damien Lee Beaulieu is scheduled for a detention hearing tomorrow in St. Paul.
A seventh defendant turned himself in today. Matthew Steven Poitra, a/k/a Chewy, age 21, of Minneapolis, made his initial appearance in federal court today.
He has been charged with one count of racketeering and one count of conspiracy to use and carry firearms during and in relation to a crime of violence. He was ordered into custody pending his hearing.
All of the inmates in Minnesota's prison system were placed on a 25-hour lockdown this week while authorities conducted a major sweep targeting members of a Native American gang.
The lockdown coincided with the unsealing of a 47-count federal indictment charging 24 members of the Native Mob gang with conspiracy to commit racketeering and other crimes.
“The DOC played a supporting role in this sweep,” John Schadl, a spokesperson with the Department of Corrections said Wednesday afternoon. “We have been cooperating with this investigation for some time. One way we could contribute is to perform a lockdown.”
Prisoners were confined to their cells from 4 a.m. Tuesday until 5 a.m. Wednesday, and weren't allowed any outside contact, Schadl said.
"It's very rare to lock down all the facilities at once," he said. "But, we do use it at each facility to account for people and to break up disturbances."
The lockdown was done to protect the safety of law enforcement agents making the arrests and to ensure that word about the takedown didn't get out, Schadl said. It was also done to cut off communication, so prisoners couldn't tip anyone off.
The six defendants who made their initial federal court appearances late Tuesday afternoon were arrested earlier that morning in a take-down conducted by about 150 local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement officials, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Arrests were made on the White Earth, Mille Lacs and Leech Lake Indian reservations as well as in the Twin Cities. Of the 18 remaining defendants, 12 are presently in jail or prison on other charges, while six continue to be sought by law enforcement.
Schadl was unable to confirm if any of the defendants were serving time in Stillwater or Oak Park Heights prisons. The six people arrested yesterday remain in custody pending their next hearings, scheduled for Jan. 26 and Jan. 27.
“This investigation exemplifies the law enforcement cooperation we are fortunate to experience here in Minnesota,” U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones said of the investigation. “Local, state, federal, and tribal investigators worked side by side to take down some of the most violent criminals in our state and, in the process, disrupt an extremely dangerous gang that diminishes the quality of life for those who live and work in Native American communities.
"We owe a debt of gratitude to everyone involved in the investigation. Their efforts have made our streets and communities much safer.”
Native Mob gang members routinely engage in drug trafficking, assault, robbery and murder, according to authorities. Detectives believe there are about 200 members of the gang—including juveniles—who are regularly recruited from communities with large, young male, Native American populations.
Association with the gang is often signified by wearing red and black clothing or sporting gang-related tattoos.
The indictment alleges that since at least the mid-1990s, those arrested in this case, and others, have conspired to conduct criminal activity through the gang, violating the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The primary objective, according to the indictment, of the “enterprise” is to preserve, protect, promote and enhance the Native Mob’s power, territory and financial gains.
To do that, authorities allege that gang members distributed illegal drugs—from crack cocaine to ecstasy—as well as provided monetary support to other members, including those incarcerated; obstruct police investigations; and intimidate witnesses.
The indictment alleges that the members had and circulated firearms for gang use and commit acts of violence—including murder—against people associated with rival gangs.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office is listed as one of the law enforcement agencies assisting in the investigation.
If convicted, gang members face a maximum sentence of between 20 years and life in federal prison.