By KIMBERLY EDDS
The Orange County Register
They were drawn together by the grinding guitars of the punk rock scene in Long Beach and Huntington Beach. But it was neo-Nazism and methamphetamine that bonded their brotherhood.
A highly organized and corrupt leadership helped Public Enemy Number 1 evolve over the past quarter-decade from music fans and casual drug users to a violent skinhead gang that has mauled and killed its way through the methamphetamine trade across much of Southern California.
On Thursday hundreds of local, state and federal investigators rounded up 57 members of the gang and affiliates, law-enforcement officials said, after threats were made to assault and kill several local police officers and at least one Orange County prosecutor who tried to crack down on the gang's drug, counterfeiting and white collar criminal operations.
Orange County officials began planning a multi-agency assault on the gang – which turned up illegal weapons, drugs and dozens of parole and probation violations – three weeks after word surfaced of a hit list aimed at law officers.
Gang investigators spent Friday sifting through evidence and talking to the dozens of people arrested to assess the threat.
"At this point we're still investigating whether it was a personal vendetta or whether it was an actual gangwide order," said Lt. K. Switzer of the Anaheim Police Department's crime suppression bureau. "It's not like there's a company with a licensed CEO and you can go right to the source."
At least one person picked up in the raid – 29-year-old Kevin Dwayne Chase of Anaheim – appeared in court Friday. Chase was arrested on suspicion of a probation violation that, if he is convicted, would be his third violation under the "three strikes" law. Chase has convictions of assault with a deadly weapon and is awaiting trial on robbery charges. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday.
Officials say the gang is drawing on affiliates with high-tech expertise used in printing counterfeit currency to plan the hits on law enforcement.
Investigators arrested 23 of the gang's members and associates and recovered 12 guns in March while serving search warrants in 16 Orange County cities after a threat to an Orange County sheriff's deputy who was investigating the group.
While traditional gangs carve out territory and protect it, Public Enemy Number 1 is largely transient, hopping into motel rooms across the county, passing bad checks and making it difficult for law enforcement to keep tabs on them.
"PENI is not the only gang out there threatening law enforcement, but they're the ones who probably have the most resources to cause the greatest harm," said Sgt. Mike Colver of the Orange County Sheriff's Department's gang enforcement team.
Many members are serving time for assaults, attempted murder and murder, including Donald "Popeye" Mazza, convicted in 2003 for the attempted murder of a drug informant. Prosecutors say Mazza stabbed the victim while gang co-founder Dominic "Droopy" Rizzo, 35, held him.
In 2004, police stopped an entourage of members in Riverside County. Inside the bed of a pickup truck, officers found the corpse of Cory Christian Lamons wrapped in plastic and a blanket and hidden beneath firewood. Prosecutors say Lamons was beaten to death with a claw hammer for stealing money from the former girlfriend of a gang member.
Seven people pleaded guilty to charges connected to the death, and two others await trial.
Armed with search warrants, about 350 officers from police agencies across the county hit 74 locations Thursday, rounding up people on suspicion of parole violations, drugs and weapons charges and other crimes.
Named after the British punk band Rudimentary PENI, the gang was born in the punk rock scene in Long Beach in the 1980s. It took up residence in Huntington Beach and Anaheim, and spread across Orange County.
Fueled by heavy methamphetamine use and sales, the gang has expanded throughout Southern California, using technology and sophisticated copy machines to print bogus checks and steal identities, Colver said.
Women are not allowed to be gang members, but the group depends heavily on wives, girlfriends and other female affiliates to set up three-way calls for jailed inmates or infiltrate mortgage companies to steal personal information. Members cull dumpsters and burglarize mailboxes looking for information.
Drawn to the drugs and culture affiliated with the anarcho-punk movement, many members sport neo-Nazi tattoos, including swastikas and other skinhead symbols. But the all-white gang with skinhead leanings has committed few hate crimes, concentrating on profits instead of ideology, said Joanna Mendelson, an investigative researcher for the Anti-Defamation League working on a resource paper on the gang for law enforcement.
"Their race is the glue of why they are together," Mendelson said. "But they are so involved in their criminal activity that the ideology and the racist belief system that is so prominent in other skinhead organizations is certainly tangential to their criminal activity.
"This is a very violent organization," Mendelson said. "The Aryan Brotherhood may be carrying out violence in the prisons, but the PENI's playground is the streets."