TERRELL, Texas -- A federal prosecutor has withdrawn from a sweeping racketeering case against a white supremacist gang for "security reasons," a defense attorney told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Jay Hileman announced his withdrawal from a racketeering case involving the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas on Tuesday in an email to defense lawyers, Houston attorney Richard O. Ely II told The Times.
Investigators have scrutinized the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas in recent days after two Kaufman County prosecutors were killed in attacks that followed their office's assistance in a major federal indictment against 34 alleged leaders and members of the gang in November.
The gang had allegedly threatened to attack law enforcement officials connected to the racketeering case, though officials still have not named a suspect in the attacks against Kaufman County Assistant Dist. Atty. Mark Hasse and Dist. Atty. Mike McLelland, who was killed with his wife.
U.S. Department of Justice officials in Washington and the U.S. Attorney's office in Houston had declined to confirm or deny Hileman's withdrawal Tuesday evening, saying only that the case "will continue to be worked by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas in partnership with the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division," according to a brief statement.
On Wednesday, Tim S. Braley, an assistant U.S. attorney and deputy chief on a Justice Department drug and gangs task force, filed a notification that he would be joining the case as lead counsel with David Karpel, who had been previously working the case with Hileman.
Hileman's apparent withdrawal came months after the gang allegedly threatened to kill public officials connected to the indictments.
In the hours before news broke of Hileman's withdrawal -- first reported by the Dallas Morning News -- U.S. attorney's spokeswoman Angela Dodge declined an interview with the Los Angeles Times about the office's case against the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.
"I do apologize, but given the sensitive nature of the topic, we will not be providing any additional comments/statements or additional information at this time," Dodge told The Times in an email Wednesday.
The November racketeering indictment tallied an extensive list of murder, attempted murder and assault charges against the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, regarded as one of the most violent white supremacist gangs in the United States.
The gang often retaliates against its own members if they fail to carry out orders from the gang's strict, hierarchical leadership, according to court documents. The group has a written constitution that also mandates that members be killed if they cooperate with law enforcement.
In December, the Texas Department of Public Safety issued a confidential bulletin that the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas was plotting retaliation for the November indictments of its leadership.
The bulletin said, in part, "High ranking members are involved in issuing orders to inflict ‘mass casualties or death’ to law enforcement officials who were involved in cases where Aryan Brotherhood of Texas are facing life sentences or the death penalty.”
Defense attorney Ely told The Times he was "a little surprised" by Hileman's decision to withdraw, and that he couldn't think of a specific reason why the prosecutor would step away from the case.
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Matt Pearce reported from Los Angeles and Molly Hennessy-Fiske reported from Terrell, Texas.
Times staff writer Richard Serrano contributed to this report.