The FBI has arrested a reputed member of the Aryan Brotherhood, the white supremacist prison gang, and accused him of plotting a contract killing in a remote corner of St. Tammany Parish.
Jeffery A. Howard, 45, of Nicholson, Mississippi, faces one count of murder-for-hire after federal authorities said he accepted a $2,500 down payment for the execution of a black drug dealer, according to court documents. The planned killing was to be retribution for an assault and robbery Howard had been told the drug dealer committed upon a woman.
In announcing the arrest, the feds made prominent mention of the drug dealer’s race — and Howard’s alleged membership in a white supremacist gang — but did not explicitly charge that the planned murder had a racial animus.
Howard, described as a known methamphetamine dealer, planned to carry out the killing Thursday evening at the Pearl River turnaround in a rural area near the Mississippi border, the FBI said. He was to receive an additional $2,500 after the murder, Special Agent Kevin Miller wrote in a criminal complaint.
Howard appeared briefly in New Orleans federal court Friday and is expected to return Jan. 29 for a preliminary hearing.
The FBI has been investigating Howard since at least June, but the bureau acknowledged in court filings that its early attempts to infiltrate his drug-dealing ring had been slowed because potential informants “believed Howard was violent and would kill their families.” The bureau characterized the probe as a “domestic terrorism investigation.”
Howard’s 83-year-old mother, Edna, said in a telephone interview with The Advocate that her son had spent 10 years in prison for residential burglary after becoming addicted to methamphetamine. “He got on drugs real bad,” she said. He was released about two years ago, she said.
She said she did not know her son belonged to the Aryan Brotherhood but recalled hearing him speak at times about white supremacy.
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the group as “the largest and deadliest prison gang in the United States, with an estimated 20,000 members inside prisons and on the streets.”
“On the streets, the (Aryan Brotherhood) is involved in practically every kind of criminal enterprise, including murder-for-hire, armed robbery, gun running, methamphetamine manufacturing, heroin sales, counterfeiting and identity theft,” the nonprofit says on its website.
The FBI described Howard as a methamphetamine trafficker “who has subordinate dealers operating in the Mississippi and Southeastern Louisiana area.” According to the criminal complaint, the bureau received a tip in June that Howard belonged to the Aryan Brotherhood.
Agents eventually found an informant who, along with an undercover officer, conducted a series of “controlled purchases” of drugs from Howard at his home in Nicholson.
In November, according to the criminal complaint, Howard told the FBI’s informant that if he ever needed to “hit a lick on someone, that he was the man for the right price.”
The FBI conferred with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the complaint says, and “a story was devised” in which Howard was told that the undercover agent’s sister “had been assaulted and robbed by an African-American drug dealer in Pearl River.” It’s not clear if the drug dealer actually exists.
Howard agreed to kill the dealer for $5,000 and, in a series of recorded meetings, hatched a plan in which the FBI’s informant would bring the drug dealer to the Pearl River turnaround, just north of Pearl River, where he would “take him out,” according to the complaint.
Last week, Howard rode with the informant and the undercover officer from Nicholson to Pearl River, where he accepted $2,500 as a “down payment for the murder.”
“The second payment of $2,500 was to be paid after the murder,” Miller wrote in the complaint. He said Howard provided “detailed instructions” about how he planned to carry out the murder.
The kill had been scheduled to take place Thursday evening, authorities said, but Howard was taken into custody beforehand. He was arrested without incident and booked into the St. Tammany Parish Jail.
Edna Howard said she does not believe her only child has a history of violence. She said she believed he had been “framed.”
“That don’t sound like my son,” she said. “I just don’t think my son could murder anybody.”
“I know there’s a sad heart laying in his chest tonight,” she added, “because he don’t know when he’ll see his family again.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian, and Faimon A. Roberts III, @faimon.