'Aryan' Gang Leader Sentenced for Racketeering

Prison Gangs

The founder and self-appointed "general" of the Soldiers of Aryan Culture (SAC), a white supremacist gang based in the Utah state prison system, pleaded guilty in August to racketeering and was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.

Prior to his sentencing, Tracy Swena admitted that he started SAC in 1997 and oversaw the gang's operations, including drug dealing and orchestrated attacks upon prison guards. Under his leadership, SAC members rose through the ranks by committing violence against Hispanic and black inmates chosen at random.

Modeled after the Aryan Brotherhood, the Soldiers of Aryan Culture gradually established criminal syndicates outside prison walls as its members were released. In 2002, Utah police uncovered and averted a plot by SAC members to murder Jewish athletes at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Security for Swena's sentencing hearing was extraordinarily high. Its date and time were kept secret, and Swena appeared from an undisclosed location via remote camera. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said the precautions were deemed necessary given the SAC's recent history of death threats and courthouse violence.

Last March, the federal prosecutor leading the racketeering case against a dozen members of the SAC received a letter that read, "You stupid bitch! It is because of you that my brothers are in jail. We will get you." The letter was signed, "'Til the casket drops."

After the same prosecutor received a second death threat by mail last December, the federal judge presiding over the case called all 12 defendants together into the same courtroom and informed them that their family visits and telephone privileges were suspended indefinitely. In an apparently coordinated assault, the defendants, who were shackled and handcuffed, jumped up from their seats and began kicking, head butting and spitting on federal marshals and bailiffs.

It was the last time authorities allowed the SAC defendants to occupy the same room. But even alone they're dangerous.

In July, SAC member Lance Vanderstappen pleaded guilty to racketeering and was sentenced to five years. Immediately after he was sentenced, Vanderstappen was taken to a temporary holding cell inside the U.S. District Courthouse in Salt Lake City. There, he allegedly pulled out a three-inch homemade knife he'd secreted in a body cavity and repeatedly stabbed a Hispanic prisoner who shared the cell. The man was a stranger to Vanderstappen, who was subsequently indicted for attempted murder. He pleaded innocent.