Northern California drug trafficking case connected to Aryan Brotherhood investigation

Two defendants facing federal charges

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SACRAMENTO — A 2015 federal investigation into two alleged Vallejo heroin dealers led to one of the biggest prison gang takedowns in Northern California history, targeting the Aryan Brotherhood, prosecutors revealed in recently filed court records.

This combination of photos provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows, top row, Kevin McNamara left, and William Sylvester; and bottom row, Daniel Troxell, left, and Ronald Yandell. The four are among the 16 Aryan Brotherhood prison gang members who were charged Thursday, June 6, 2019, with killings and drug smuggling from within California’s most secure prisons, U.S. prosecutors said. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP)

Brian Butler, 59, and Vicente C. Zavaleta were charged in May with conspiracy to distribute heroin in Vallejo. The offense dates cover a time period from late 2015 to early 2016, and Butler was charged with several additional heroin-related offenses that allege he trafficked heroin in Solano County during the summer of 2015.

In recent court filings, federal prosecutors revealed that the investigation led to a series of phone wiretaps that have resulted in a massive case aimed at 16 Aryan Brotherhood leaders, members and associates. The case is centered on five prison homicides — and four alleged murder plots — within the state prison system. Among those charged are two of the three men who allegedly lead the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, Ronald Dean Yandell, 57, and Daniel Troxell, 66.

Butler pleaded not guilty at his arraignment hearing in July, and is being held without bail at the Sacramento County jail. His next court date, a status conference, has been set for 9 a.m. Oct. 21 in front of Judge Kimberly Mueller, according to court records.

So far, including the Butler and Yandell cases, authorities have identified four cases connected to the Aryan Brotherhood investigation. The other two resulted in indictments against Arturo Castro Zavaleta, an alleged Turlock-area heroin dealer who authorities say was growing his own opium, as well as four Northern California women charged with heroin sales. The women include Jeanna Quesenberry, who authorities allege coordinated large drug deals with Yandell, communicating with him on his contraband prison cellphone.

In recent court filings, federal prosecutors allege that Arturo Zavaleta was supplying Butler and Vicente Zavaleta with heroin.

“During subsequent investigation of the Butler targets, the United States obtained wiretaps which resulted, in part, in the evidence supporting the Quesenberry and Yandell cases,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Hitt wrote in a memo. “During the arrests and investigative takedown of the defendants in the Butler, Quesenberry and Yandell cases, DEA obtained a search warrant and executed it at the home of the defendant in the subsequent (Arturo) Zavaleta case.”

At a June press conference announcing the Aryan Brotherhood case, authorities credited Vallejo police with arresting a local meth dealer, which they said led to the discovery that Yandell had obtained a cellphone while in Sacramento State Prison, where he was serving a life sentence for a 2001 El Sobrante double homicide. Prosecutors have not identified the methamphetamine dealer who was arrested in Vallejo, nor specified when that arrest took place.

Authorities obtained a warrant to tap Yandell’s phone in the summer of 2016, and say they recorded upward of 1,800 calls, containing a litany of evidence about murder plots and other crimes. In court records, a Drug Enforcement Agent wrote that the investigation started in 2014, with a probe into a gang called the Family Affiliated Irish Mafia, or FAIM, of which Quesenberry is allegedly a member.

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