Public Enemy Number 1: California's Growing Racist Gang
Drug Trade Involvement and Violent Crimes
Posted: January 17, 2007
Drug Trade Involvement
Public Enemy Number 1 (PENI) members have sometimes been given the nickname "needle Nazis," due to their heavy drug usage and racist ideology. Because of their involvement with illegal drugs, both as users and sellers, many of their encounters with law enforcement on the streets revolve around drugs. On March 16, 2006, for example, law enforcement officials from various agencies in Orange County arrested 23 suspected members leaders and associates of PENI who were allegedly involved in drug sales, identity theft and other crimes. All the suspects had criminal records and more than half of those arrested were women. Most of the suspects were arrested on parole and probation violations. Officials also confiscated 12 weapons and recovered small amounts of heroin and methamphetamine from the gang.
Like the AB and the NLR, PENI members often have working relationships with Hispanic street gangs and non-white prison gangs such as the Mexican Mafia, due to a shared interest in criminal activity, particularly the drug trade. Even though PENI sells methamphetamine and, to a lesser extent, other drugs, it is not involved in the production of drugs. PENI members get most of their drugs from other illegal manufacturers; in some cases they may also "tax" or steal from other drug users and their associates. PENI members also use drugs as a means to entice and recruit others into the organization. They have sometimes allegedly supplied addicts with drugs, eventually coercing them, through force and intimidation, to commit crimes for the gang.
PENI members are also active in bringing drugs into the prison system, often through novel means. In August 2004, drugs were allegedly introduced into a Southern California prison by PENI members through dirty diapers brought into the facility by a member of an outside landscaping crew.
PENI members have managed to find ways to organize around the drug trade both in and out of prison. For example, law enforcement officers recently discovered that there are a few sober living homes or half-way homes in Orange County that have a reputation for being "PENI friendly." Some employees of the homes allegedly turn a blind eye, permit or, in some cases, may even be involved with drug sales and other criminal activity. PENI members have reportedly been able to take advantage of the fact that there is little licensing or regulation of these homes by government agencies, making them potentially easier targets for criminal activity.
In addition to drug related criminal activity, PENI members have committed a number of violent crimes, including assault, murder and attempted murder. In 2003, for example, PENI member Chad Studebaker, involved in a traffic altercation in Orange County, ran the victim's car off the road, sliced his neck with a knife, and yanked a Star of David hanging from the victim's neck. Studebaker then fled to a PENI safe home in Riverside County before being arrested; he was later convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 21 years to life in prison.
A more gruesome incident occurred in April 2004, when a group of PENI attacked a 26-year old Laguna Nigel resident because they thought he had stolen $12,000 from a stripper and PENI associate. Although they apparently intended only to torture him to extract a confession and the location of the money, their brutal attack with blows from a claw hammer to his skull killed the victim. Police arrested nine members and associates of PENI on various charges in connection with the slaying, including PENI leader Billy Joe Johnson of Huntington Beach and Jason Karr of Costa Mesa. In June 2006, Johnson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 45 years to life; six other defendants also pleaded guilty and received lesser sentences. A mistrial was declared in October 2006 in the trial of the two remaining defendants when a juror used an internet search engine to research Johnson; they will have to be retried.
Authorities believe PENI members may also have been behind other unsolved murders that involved punishing members believed to have betrayed the group's trust. Orange County law enforcement officers discovered the dead body of Scott Miller, a PENI member, in an alley behind a housing complex in March 2002. Authorities suspect Miller had been punished for participating in a revealing television interview about PENI in February 2001 and because other PENI members suspected he was stealing drug money from the gang.
Similarly, in June 2002, Lake Elsinore police discovered the severely beaten body of an 18 year old girl stuffed into a 55-gallon drum in an open field. The men charged with her murder, Jeffree Buettner and Glen Joseph Jones, were reportedly PENI gang members who allegedly believed the victim had been talking to law enforcement. They still await trial.
PENI members have also committed violent crimes in prison. Like other white supremacist prison gangs, PENI follows certain codes of behavior. The members will "take care of their own," meaning white prisoners, but will kill white sex offenders, who are considered unworthy of being white. The inmate whose throat Dominic Rizzo slit in 2003, for example, was a known sex offender.