SACRAMENTO — As part of a deal with federal prosecutors, a California inmate has admitted to running a massive multi-state drug ring from his cell and plotting to kill an Aryan Brotherhood member on the orders of higher-ups at the prison. gang, records show.
Travis Burhop, 49, agreed to plead guilty Sept. 7 to racketeering and drug charges, according to a court document filed Monday. In exchange for his pleas, prosecutors agreed to seek a “low” sentence under federal guidelines, but have not publicly disclosed how much prison time they will seek.
Burhop is the fourth person to plead guilty in a wide-ranging racketeering case targeting 15 members or associates of the Aryan Brotherhood and one member of the Mexican Mafia. These two gangs are widely considered to be the most dominant within the California prison system. The charges include five murders and four other murder conspiracies that did not go through.
The plea agreement signed by Burhope says he planned with two alleged Aryan Brotherhood commissioners, Ronald Dean Yandell and Danny Troxell, to murder an Aryan Brotherhood member named James Mickey.
The deal is similar to one signed last June by Donald “Popeye” Mazza, the co-founder and former leader of a skinhead gang called Public Enemy Number One, or PEN1, which is closely linked to the Aryan Brotherhood. Mazza pleaded guilty to conspiring to kill gang member Michael “Thumper” Tripp, who authorities warned against, according to court records.
In both plea deals, federal prosecutors gave Burhop and Mazza an excuse: that they agreed to aiding and abetting the murders because they feared they would be next on the chopping block, but didn’t really want to.
“To get into (the Aryan Brotherhood) and avoid consequences for not killing Mickey, Burhop agreed to arrange the murder of Mickey at Calipatria State Prison in August 2016, even though his heart was not in killing,” the agreement says.
But for someone who wasn’t really into it, Burhop seems to have taken an active role in the plot.
The plea agreement says that in conversations on the contraband cell phones, Burhop engaged in discussions where he suggested possible hitmen and talked about Mickey’s current location. When Mickey was taken from the Calipatria prison yard and placed in a protective custody unit, Burhop complained to Yandell that Mickey was probably out of reach, the agreement says.
Before the plot went through, Yandell and Troxell reportedly debated whether Burhop had the “skills” to arrange and carry out the hit.
“I guess we’ll find out, huh?” Troxell allegedly joked about one wiretapped call.
Mickey was allegedly targeted for killing for showing cowardice and stealing money from the gang. He was transferred to a segregated housing unit in Pelican Bay after the alleged murder plot came to light, but has since been paroled. Mickey was serving a life sentence under the Three Strikes Act and was at one point listed as “shot” by the gang.
Burhop also admitted to conspiring with Mexican Mafia member Michael “Mosca’ Torres and several members and associates of the Aryan Brotherhood to distribute methamphetamine and heroin throughout the United States, including Washington, Missouri and California. Included in the plea agreement is an incident in which a courier was apprehended in Las Vegas, Nevada while driving across the country with 4.8 pounds of methamphetamine, allegedly at Burhop’s behest.
Burhop and his co-defendants were indicted in June 2019. The case is still tentatively set for trial next March, but a new development could change that: prosecutors recently revealed they are seeking a new indictment that could include additional charges and/or additional defendants , sometime in the next 30 days.
Meanwhile, one of the defendants, Pat Brady, continues to file a lawsuit against the Sacramento County Jail, accusing the county sheriff of violating their rights in a myriad of ways. The suit alleges that the defendants were held in solitary confinement for up to one hour per week and publicly disclosed that attorney/client meeting booths were secretly videotaped.
Since the Brady lawsuit, the defendants have been transferred from the Sacramento County Jail to the Sacramento State Prison, where several of them were housed when the alleged crimes occurred.
Federal prosecutors have indicated they may seek the death penalty for at least one defendant, despite President Joe Biden expressing opposition to the death penalty during the 2020 presidential campaign.
Two other defendants — an alleged drug courier named Samuel Keeton and Kirsten Demar, a woman accused of helping a crooked lawyer smuggle contraband to jailed Aryan Brotherhood members — also pleaded guilty and await sentencing. Keeton’s scheduled sentencing date has been postponed several times.