Allen “Big Al” Benton’s road into the Aryan Brotherhood began when the Florida Highway Patrol stopped Rhett Zambito on January 16, 1977, for speeding in a car full of drugs, guns and human blood. Zambito later testified that the drugs belonged to John Charles Piazza III, a well known playboy in South Florida.
La Cosa Nostra
John Piazza financed his lavish lifestyle by dealing in drugs. Mostly marijuana, but at a later stage also cocaine. He bought the drugs from Thomas Farese, a made member of the Colombo crime family, who at that time smuggled tons and tons of marijuana and cocaine from Columbia into South Florida through a shipping company Farese – AKA “Tom Mix” – ran in Fort Lauderdale. John Piazza was not himself a member of La Cosa Nostra, but operated through his uncle under the protection of the Gambino crime family. He also had a cousin who was a capo regime in the Lucchese crime family (Eddie Coco, a well known name to boxing historians.)
John Piazza had been dealing in drugs since 1968, but his operation seems really first to have taken off when he met Charles Keck in 1974. Keck was a street wise former mob connected fence from Philadelphia who had settled in South Florida. Keck was a natural born salesman with a vast network of contacts in the underworld of Southeast USA. With Keck as junior partner John Piazza expanded his operation from hundreds to thousands of pounds of marijuana, delivered mostly to distributors in Philadelphia and Atlanta.
Along the way Piazza had a man murdered. The murder and accumulated debts resulted in a fallout with Thomas Farese and Piazza had to get his drugs somewhere else. He started dealing in low quality marijuana from the “Ching group” in Jamaica and dealing more heavily in cocaine. A Colombian woman by the name of Nubia Gonzalez was a central player in the latter dealings. Somebody murdered her too.
John Charles Piazza III got heavily addicted to cocaine and therefore more and more paranoid. Street wise Charles Keck withdrew from Piazza’s criminal organisation and went into legitimate business with him instead. After Keck’s departure Piazza had to rely more and more on his strongman and bodyguard William Rhett Zambito, a former auto mechanic, and on a relative newcomer to his organisation, a red haired giant by the name of Allen Clifton Benton.
The Zambito murder
When Rhett Zambito got busted in January 1977 he ratted not only about the drugs in his car. He also confessed to the recent murder of Leonard Parrotta, a drug dealer from Philadelphia. The murder was ordered by Piazza and Zambito had committed it together with Allen Benton. Zambito also implicated Benton in at least one other murder.
John Piazza and Charles Keck both jumped ship and corroborated fully with the authorities. Piazza became the star witness against Thomas Farese who got thirty years in prison. Piazza and Keck later disappeared into the federal Witness Protection Program. Allan Benton received eighth years on federal charges of narcotics trafficking and was sent to United States Prison (USP) Atlanta.
Rhett Zambito recieved seven years on the same charges and was send back to Florida to help in the investigation into the Piazza drug ring murders. Though he had testified against his co-defendants – including Allen Benton – at the federal drug trial, Zambito refused to enter the Witness Protection Program. He also refused to corroborate any further in the murder investigation and started fighting against his indictment for the murder of Leonard Parrotta. On March 22, 1978, Rhett Zambito arrived in USP Atlanta to begin serving his federal drug sentence. Fifteen hours later he was found stabbed to death in his cell.
The murder of William Rhett Zambito was a major scandal for the authorities. Not only was USP Atlanta with now eight murders in sixteen months the most dangerous federal penitentiary at that time, but it housed Allen Benton who earlier had sworn to kill Zambito on sight. How could a prisoner who should have been kept in protective custody be sent to such a place?
The Federal Bureau of Prisons appointed a board of inquiry to investigate how Rhett Zambito ended up in USP Atlanta. His murder also led the bureau to appoint a team of investigators to thoroughly examine why USP Atlanta was so violent.
Just three days before the investigators from the Bureau of Prisons arrived in USP Atlanta on April 13, 1978, yet another prisoner was stabbed to death. The victim this time was Dominique Orsini, a member of the Corsican Mafia and a major player in the so-called French Connection, a heroin pipeline from Turkey via France to the US.
The 58-year old drug lord had only been at USP Atlanta since December 1976. His much younger cousin Jean was also an inmate at the prison and was immediately put in protective custody. Jean “The Shepherd” Orsini, too, had been busy in the French Connection and was sent to USP Atlanta in 1972. In March, 1973, Orsini was caught with nine other inmates in an elaborate – if comical – escape attempt. Among his co-conspirators was George Harp, the very first member of the Californian prison gang the Aryan Brotherhood – AKA The Brand – to be sent to the federal prison system. Other deadly Californians such as William “Puppet” McKinney, Barry Mills, David Owens, Edgar Hevle, Christopher Gibson, and Charles “Preacher” McEvoy soon followed
“Mad Dog” Pruett
While the federal bureaucrats during 1978 toiled with their Zambito-related investigations, the law came gunning for Allen Benton. Everybody in the prison system knew he was responsible for the killing of Rhett Zambito. For the authorities it was only a matter of getting someone to talk. They got three. On their testimony Big Al – as Benton was known in the prison – was charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The jury acquitted him of murder, but convicted Big Al of conspiracy, for which he drew a life sentence.
Among the three inmates who testified against Al Benton was Marion “Mad Dog” Pruett, who occupied the bunk beneath Zambito’s during the murder. Pruett was a former member of the Tasmanian Devils MC in Charlotte, North Carolina, home to the more famous Tar Heel Stompers (who donned the Death Head in 1978). Pruett was serving twenty years for armed bank robbery and had been in various federal prisons since 1971.
Marion Pruett went into protective custody after he testified against Big Al. He was released into the Witness Protection program in 1979, but – contrary to John Piazza and Charles Keck – “Mad Dog” did not disappear. He and his common law wife – a dedicated biker chick – settled in New Mexico under new identities and quickly became part of the local outlaw biker scene where Mad Dog soon got heavily addicted to cocaine. In 1981 he murdered his wife in a fit of rage and went on a robbery, kidnapping and murder spree through several states. He was caught after five months and five murders.
The case became a major scandal for the Federal Protective Witness Program with new inquiries, investigations and reports in its wake. Pruett kept the pot boiling with numerous interviews to the press. He now claimed to be the actual killer of Rhett Zambito and later also claimed to have committed a double murder that a fellow inmate on Arkansas’s death row was convicted of. Marion “Mad Dog” Pruett was executed in 1999. Allen “Big Al” Benton was at that time himself in protective custody.
The Aryan Brotherhood
In May 1977 yet another mobster with ties to the French Connection, 59-year old Vincent Papa, was murdered in USP Atlanta. Three inmates were tried and convicted for the murder. Inmate Herbert Sperling, a member of the Jewish Mafia, was acquitted of paying for Papa’s death. Among the convicted killers were the Californians Ronald Perrin and Daniel “DC” Cavanaugh, both members of the Aryan Brotherhood.
It is not known when or where the Aryan Brotherhood was formally formed in the federal prison system. But as previously mentioned George Harp, a member of the Brand almost since it’s beginning in 1967 in California’s San Quentin state prison, was in USP Atlanta as early as 1973. In 1977 Cavanaugh’s partner in crime, Aryan Brotherhood’s “Red Baron”, was transferred from USP McNeil Island to USP Atlanta. Later known simply as “The Baron” Barry Byron Mills would become the most famous member of the Aryan Brotherhood. According to former AB John Greschner, who first met Barry Mills in 1977 when they both were en route to Atlanta, it was “The Baron” who took the initiative and asked California for permission to start a section of the Aryan Brotherhood in the federal prison system.
It therefore seems plausible that the federal Aryan Brotherhood was formed in USP Atlanta around 1977-78. And it seems plausible that Big Al was recruited to the Brand in that prison during that period. What is known for sure is that Big Al rose to the absolute top of the extremely feared brotherhood. For many years he was a member of the three man Commission who ruled the organisation with an iron fist. Together with the two Californians Barry Mills and Tyler Davis “TD” Bingham he had the ultimate say over who was to live and who was to die.
Trouble in Lewisburg
Big Al’s downfall began in November 1996 when racial turmoil started brewing in various federal prisons. It began in USP Lewisburg in Pennsylvania where Big Al held sway over the white prisoners. Among them were a group of White Nationalists formed around Richard Scutari, the former chief of security for Robert Matthews’ group of militants known variously as The Order and Brüder Schweigen.
The WN-group in USP Lewisburg took it personal when Randall Scott Anderson, a wannabe Klansman convicted of trying to bomb a roller skate park, became a Muslim. On November 8, 1996, Anderson was stabbed to death. The blacks retaliated three days later and killed Perry York, who was not a member of the WN group.
In 1997 “Highlander”, the official voice of Blood & Honour Scotland, published a letter from a certain Marek Kowaalski who gave the WN group’s version of the events in USP Lewisburg:
Marek Kowaalski – formerly known as the skinhead Mark Frank Kowaalski – was a former member of Bob Heick’s American Front, convicted of bombing a local NAACP-headquarter. Kowaalski sounded uncompromising in his letter to “Highlander”. But when he years later was charged with the murder of Randall Scott Anderson, he immediately rolled over and testified against his accomplice in the killing, Peter Georgacarakos, the co-founder of The White Order of Thule society.
The killing of Perry York by blacks could have escalated the conflict between the White Nationalists and the Muslims to an all out race war in USP Lewisburg. In modern prison politics you do not lay a hand on a member of another race. However, under the leadership of Big Al Benton the Aryan Brotherhood in USP Lewisburg played an important role in calming the situation.
War with DC Blacks
That very same month race troubles were also brewing in USP Marion in Illinois. A member of the DC Blacks, the by far largest black gang in the federal prison system and an old adversary of the Brand, assaulted without provocation Joseph Tokash from the Dirty White Boys.
In those days the Dirty White Boys played more or less the same role in the federal prison system vis-à-vis the Aryan Brotherhood as the Nazi Low Riders did in California’s prison system. The assault on Tokash should on paper have caused the Dirty White Boys to immediately retaliate against the DC Blacks. However, the attacker was in serious trouble with his own gang and had assaulted Joseph Tokash in order to be placed in isolation, a well know tactic among those who want to go into protective custody without appearing to do so.
As such there was much room for not letting the situation escalate any further. But it did. A fortnight later a handful of Dirty White Boys were attacked in the yard by a dozen DC Blacks. After that the shot callers for the Aryan Brotherhood in USP Marion stepped up to the plate and ordered any black that attacked at white to be killed. In Marion the war was on between the Brand and the DC Blacks. When Barry Mills and TD Bingham in USP Florence in Colorado – the “Alcatraz of the Rockies” – learned that DC Blacks had put a hit on AB’s two shot callers in USP Marion, they declared total war on the black gang.
On August 28, 1997, Big Al in USP Lewisburg recieved a secret message from TD Bingham. “War with DC Blacks”. Within sixteen hours Big Al had organized two hit teams, one led by himself, the other led by the formidable Wayne Bridgewater. The two teams attacked simultaneously and stabbed all in all five members of DC Blacks and a white associate of the gang. Two shot callers – the main targets – died. It was a spectacular attack, even in the violent history of the Aryan Brotherhood, and the most bloody in the Brand’s war against DC Blacks, which continued for the next three years. But without Big Al. Just fourteen hours after the murders in USP Lewisburg he defected from the Aryan Brotherhood and later went into protective custody.
A law enforcement officer later described how unexpected and inexplicable Allan Benton’s move was perceived by the authorities by comparing it to the sudden defection of a four star American general to North Korea. Later in court Big Al explained that he had picked his victim Abdul Salaam because he liked him and wanted his death to be quick. A former federal prosecutor has refused the notion that Benton’s defection was caused by a crisis of conscience. However, it is a fact that right before the killings Big Al had a heated argument with Wayne Bridgewater because Bridgewater refused to kill two DC Blacks shot callers, at least one of them because Bridgewater knew him too well.
Although Bridgewater almost single-handedly stabbed, killed and wounded four DC Blacks in one ferocious attack, Bridgewater had been a reluctant participant. He stood to be released from prison in a short time and thrice refused to hit targets designated by Benton, his formal superior in the Aryan Brotherhood. According to the iron rules of the Brand Wayne Bridgewater stood himself to be killed and only let the attack after heavy pressure from Big Al.
Back in the nineteen eighties the FBI had tried to build a RICO-case against the Aryan Brotherhood. The case went nowhere when the federal prosecutor in Los Angeles threw in the towel in 1989. Then the ATF took up the mantle in 1995 and began building a case against the Californian faction of the Brand. The killings in USP Lewisburg came timely to a case against the federal faction as well, and the defection of Allen Benton – the highest ranking member of the Aryan Brotherhood ever to defect – made a RICO-conviction against especially Barry Mills and TD Bingham within the desired reach.
In return for his full corporation in the investigation Big Al Benton pleaded guilty to assault and received a mere nine years for the murders and attempted murders in USP Lewisburg. He became the star witness in the US government’s trial against Barry Mills, TD Bingham and two other high ranking brothers. The government wanted to kill Mills and Bingham. The jury said no. Both got multiple life sentences.
Big Al also testified against Wayne Bridgewater, the soon-to-be-released brother he had pressured into the bloody attack in USP Lewisburg. Bridgewater drew a life sentence.
Barry Byron Mills died in USP Florence of old age in 2018. Tyler Davis Bingham is still locked up in Florence. So is Wayne Bridgewater. None of them have renounced the Aryan Brotherhood. Big Al Benton probably lives – if alive – in some Special Needs Yard somewhere in the American federal prison system.