Racketeering case ends in conviction
A Danville man accused of racketeering and drug-trafficking conspiracy in a federal investigation of a violent Pope County white-supremacist gang was convicted Friday on all counts.
The verdict closes out the six-year investigation that resulted in convictions for 54 defendants.
The jury of seven men and five women began deliberations about 9:15 a.m. Friday. Five-and-a-half-hours later, the jurors notified court officials of a verdict.
Marcus Owen Millsap, 53, was indicted in 2019 by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, aiding and abetting attempted murder in aid of racketeering and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.
Millsap was the next-to-last of 55 defendants named in two indictments handed up in 2017 and 2019 as part of investigations into Pope County drug trafficking tied to a white-supremacist group. The group got its start as a jailhouse gang in the 1990s in the Pope County jail and is called the New Aryan Empire.
Of those defendants, 53 have pleaded guilty in federal court to charges ranging from minor ones to racketeering. Of those, 21 testified against Millsap in exchange for reduced prison sentences, according to their plea agreements.
One defendant, Troy Loadholdt, has been a fugitive since before the first indictment was handed up.
In addition to drug trafficking, Millsap was accused of trying to arrange the killing of an informant, Bruce Hurley, who assisted authorities in setting up a controlled methamphetamine buy in 2014 that resulted in Millsap's arrest on drug charges in Pope County. On May 22, 2015, according to court records, Millsap pleaded no contest to charges of possession with intent to deliver and delivery of methamphetamine and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
About a year later, on May 2, 2016, Hurley was found shot at his Atkins home and later died at a hospital. No one has been charged in his death, which remains under investigation.
Prosecutors spent much of the nearly three-week federal trial laying a foundation for the violent activities of the New Aryan Empire, including the June 2017 kidnapping and torturing of two people the gang suspected of working with police.
Millsap's defense team, Tre Kitchens of Little Rock and Lee Curry of Monticello, tried to separate their client from the activities of the gang, but the jury returned unanimous verdicts on all three counts against him, finding that the racketeering and drug conspiracy counts involved more than 500 grams of methamphetamine.
At many points during the trial, Kitchens called out testimony and evidence that he said had no bearing on Millsap's conduct, making dozens of objections. Most of those objections were overruled by U.S. District Judge Brian Miller.
In his closing statement Thursday, Kitchens tried to pull the government's case apart, telling the jury that little of the evidence presented related to his client's conduct and that Millsap was in jail when most of the crimes outlined in the trial occurred.
In the end, the government prevailed.
A few minutes after the jury gave notice of the verdict, people began to file into the empty courtroom. Assistant U.S. attorneys Liza Jane Brown and Stephanie Mazzanti entered, flanked by two case officers, and took their seats at the prosecution table. A few moments later, acting U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ross walked in and sat in the gallery.
As he was escorted into the courthouse, Millsap -- dressed in a black business suit -- appeared relaxed with his hands casually in his pockets. As he sat at the defense table, he turned several times to smile and wave at his teenage daughter, who was accompanied by two longtime family friends. The only hint of nerves were his hands, as he laced and unlaced his fingers and drummed the top of the defense table.
When the three juror alternates were ushered in to sit in front of the jury box, Miller began to chat with them, breaking the tense silence that had fallen over the courtroom.
Just before the jury walked in, Miller directed the three alternates' attention to the attorneys.
"Look at the lawyers over there," he said, softly. "Look at their faces. You can see the three years or more they've put into this. It's a tough life. You know, it's easy watching it on television but when you're living it, it's a hard life."
"It's nothing like TV," said one of the alternates.
"No, it's a hard life, it is," Miller said.
At 3:25 p.m., just over a half hour after notifying the judge, the 12 jurors filed in quietly and took their seats. A courtroom security officer took the verdict forms from the jury foreperson and handed them to Miller, who scanned them briefly, then quickly read them to the courtroom.
Millsap didn't react as Miller announced the guilty verdict on the conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act count, but at the reading of the guilty verdict on the count of attempted murder in aid of racketeering, he grimaced slightly and bowed his head. As the third guilty verdict was read, Millsap looked toward his daughter and smiled as he placed his right hand over his heart and patted his chest.
Millsap, before exiting the courtroom, turned back toward his daughter, smiled and waved.
"He's obviously very upset," Kitchens said. "He didn't do what he was charged with doing and now has been convicted of doing and it's a very difficult position to be in."
Kitchens said he plans to appeal the verdict.
Millsap will be sentenced at a later date after completion of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.
"Having just received the verdict a few minutes ago, I'm not writing the appeal just yet, but there will be one," Kitchens said.
After the verdict, Ross noted that the prosecution of the New Aryan Empire case had taken nearly six years and was notable for its size and complexity. He expressed satisfaction at the verdicts.
"Today's unanimous verdicts handed down by the jury make clear that the New Aryan Empire should change their creed from 'To the dirt' to say instead 'To the jail,'" he said. "Because that's where each of their members and associates who break the law are going."