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Steven Michael Pannhorst’s Facebook page shows he got a new job last month.
Federal authorities allege he is a member of an Arizona-based white power extremist prison gang whose business – illicit drug and firearm trafficking – has just expanded to Albuquerque.
An 18-month FBI ongoing investigation identified Pannhorst, 37, among a half dozen people who are believed to be part of a new criminal threat involving an Arizona-to-New Mexico drug pipeline fueled in part by the Sinaloa drug cartel, federal court records show.
The suspects, described as career criminals, share a common affiliation: Each is connected to a racially motivated violent extremist group, according to federal search warrant affidavit unsealed Friday. The groups include the Aryan Brotherhood, the Soldiers of Aryan Culture and the 23 Boyz racist prison gang of Arizona.
“Based on information collected thus far, the drug trafficking scheme appears to originate in Arizona, where drug traffickers obtain methamphetamine, fentanyl pills and other drugs from the Sinaloa Cartel,” stated lead FBI case agent Bryan Acee in the affidavit. “From there, members of the drug trafficking organization drive the illicit drugs to Albuquerque, where they are sold for a higher price.”
The 45-page affidavit cites information gleaned from interviews with confidential informants, and from 10 arrests and at least seven searches of residences in Albuquerque by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies over the past year. Of those arrested, six of the men had ties to white power extremists gangs, the affidavit stated. Two were from Nevada; one from Arizona. The others were from New Mexico.
The latest step in the investigation came last week when FBI task force agents conducted searches of at least four locations in New Mexico and arrested two more men, who are now facing drug trafficking charges. Investigators also recovered methaphetamines, fentanyl pills, weapons and a 40 mm gas grenade launcher stolen from the Albuquerque Police Department in 2019.
The searches also turned up more clues about white supremacist groups with links to New Mexico, such as contact information for members of the Aryan Warriors gang originally based in the Nevada prison system. The information was found in the prison cell of an inmate serving time in a northeast New Mexico prison.
Open for business
Overall, the FBI investigation appears to show why Albuquerque has become more attractive as an illegal drug distribution destination over the past year, according to the affidavit.
At least one of the confidential sources cited in the affidavit told the FBI that in Phoenix, for example, homeless people were selling fentanyl tablets for $1 each.
That compares to $3 to $10 a pill in Albuquerque, according to a Journal report last December.
“We had to push east to Albuquerque to make money,” the informant was quoted as telling the FBI.
“Albuquerque was described as being a ‘neutral’ or ‘unregulated’ by organized crime and open for business,” the affidavit states.
The same informant related that Albuquerque “did not have a gang that regulated who sold (drugs) in the city or taxed the dealers that did, thus organizations could come in and sell drugs uninhibited by a dominant organized crime element,” the affidavit added.
According to the investigation, an Arizona-based white power prison gang has been sending methamphetamine and fentanyl to bulk dealers in Albuquerque for at least a year, the affidavit states. Distributors also included members of non-white power gangs such as Albuquerque’s Westside Locos and Los Padillas gangs.
At the same time, firearms from New Mexico are being moved west by white power gang members to Arizona for the cartel. The cartel ships them across the U.S.-Mexico border via the Nogales port of entry, along with ammunition. The Sinaloa cartel pays $1,500 per AK-47 or AR-15 rifle or trade methamphetamines and fentanyl for guns, the affidavit stated.
In Pannhorst’s case, the affidavit alleges he often drove a vehicle loaded with drugs to Albuquerque and then flew on a private airplane back to Arizona. He would deliver drugs and collect money owed to the drug trafficking organization.
Investigators paid close attention to his Facebook page to chronicle his travels. In one post, Pannhorst states he started a new job March 7 but gave no details.
The affidavit cites a video on his Facebook page dated Feb. 28 showing a man seated on a private plane. There’s another photo of him dated March 9 driving a Range Rover, with the caption, “Nice day to push the range rover … got more whips (cars) than most got kicks (shoes),” the affidavit stated.
Another photo on his Facebook page shows a thick wad of cash in a heavily tatooed hand. Elsewhere on his page he declared, “IM RICH.”
Pannhorst, a member of the 23 Boyz gang in Arizona, was listed as living in an apartment on Albuquerque’s West side when he was arrested as a fugitive here on March 16. He was wanted for violating probation for four armed robberies in Arizona and court records say he was recently extradited back to that state.
Efforts to locate an attorney representing him in Arizona weren’t successful late Friday.
FBI moves in
The affidavit seeking court permission to search four locations last week states that investigators hoped to collect evidence of violation of federal drug trafficking, firearms and racketeering laws, and believed the raids would help the FBI in disrupting and dismantling several drug supply houses in Albuquerque.
During the searches, agents seized more than 31,000 fentanyl pills, a quarter pound of methamphetamines, nine firearms, two ballistic vests, two cars and an RV, according to inventories filed Friday in federal court.
Agents also recovered a 40-mm gas grenade launcher that was stolen from an Albuquerque Police Department vehicle in 2019.
A search of the prison cell of Larry Dwayne Daugherty, an Aryan Warrior member from Nevada housed at Northeastern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Clayton, recovered gang writing, gang photos and contact information for other Aryan Warrior gang members.
Daugherty, aka Gunner, is alleged to have been distributing heroin, Suboxone and fentanyl pills at the prison and is awaiting trial in the 2nd Judicial District in Albuquerque for possession of a dangerous weapon (a shank), according to the affidavit.
Shamon Pacheco, 30, a suspected Westside Locos street gang member who has at least 15 prior arrests in New Mexico, was arrested on state drug-trafficking charges as a result of the discovery of drugs, guns and the grenade launcher.
Agents also arrested Orlando Diaz, aka “Junior,” 39, who is believed to be a member of the G-Town gang from Glendale, Arizona, and currently living in Albuquerque. He is assisting the drug-trafficking organization distribute methaphetamine and fentanyl, the affidavit stated. Court records show he is charged as a fugitive from Arizona and with violating state drug-trafficking laws.
Efforts to reach attorneys for Pacheco, Diaz and Daugherty weren’t successful late Friday.
Collecting a debt
The FBI affidavit noted that just weeks ago a showdown occurred in Albuquerque over a $96,000 drug debt owed to the cartel, which had enlisted Pacheco, Diaz and others to help the Sinaloa Cartel collect the money from a Los Padillas gang member who was behind on his payments. The cartel wanted him killed if he didn’t pay. After a negotiation, Pannhorst, acting as a negotiator, was able to collect $25,000 for the cartel and the hit was cancelled.
But, the affidavit added that the cartel may still decide to impose discipline.
“I have observed some of the Target Subjects to be supportive of each other, with mutual acquaintances,” Acee wrote in the affidavit, “while others may not know each other or may be competitors; yet all share a nefarious business model and geographic similarity.”