The Aryan Nations leader in Pennsylvania pleaded guilty Tuesday to plotting seven Midwest bank robberies and using the cash to further the group’s cause.
Mark Thomas’ decision to switch his plea could signal that he will cooperate with prosecutors in the robbery trials of four other men, all members or associates of the Aryan Republican Army.
Thomas, 46, originally pleaded innocent Feb. 4, shortly after he was indicted on one count of conspiracy and two counts of receiving stolen money. But his lawyer said Tuesday that Thomas decided to change his plea almost immediately.
“He’s guilty,” attorney David Maynard said.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Thomas automatically faces less prison time, about 11 to 14 years instead of up to 25 years, said U.S. District Judge Edward N. Cahn.
As recently as last week, the Aryan Nations proclaimed Thomas’ innocence on the white supremacy group’s Internet site.
“The charges are absolutely false,” said a notice posted by the Aryan Nations, based in North Idaho. The charges against Thomas “are based on the testimony of a scared teenager who has been threatened by federal authorities.”
Thomas has visited the Aryan headquarters near Hayden Lake and is a friend of the group’s founder, Richard Butler, who appoints state leaders.
Thomas could further reduce his sentence by cooperating with prosecutors and testifying against his co-defendants. The government won’t charge him with any other crimes related to the bank robberies if he cooperates, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael A. Schwartz.
Thomas’ protege, Kevin McCarthy, will plead guilty Friday to involvement in the bank robberies, authorities said.
If Thomas cooperates, it could mean the biggest coup this decade for federal officials in cracking the white supremacy movement, said attorney Brian Levin, a professor at the Center for Hate and Extremism at Richard Stockton College in Pomona, N.J.
“Thomas is the biggest catch in the white supremacy world in this decade,” Levin said. “He is a virtual Rolodex for the far-right white supremacist world. He is one of the most trusted and influential leaders in this movement.”
Thomas, a minister in the Christian Identity Movement, and four others are accused in Pennsylvania of plotting seven of the 22 Midwest bank robberies attributed to the Aryan Republican Army.
A grand jury said the gang members divided the proceeds among themselves, then contributed a share to Thomas for their self-styled organization.
Testimony from McCarthy has already helped convict Scott Stedeford of Ardmore, Pa., charged with robbing an Iowa bank, and Peter Langan, charged in two Ohio robberies. In addition to McCarthy, Langan and Stedeford, the Philadelphia indictment also charges Michael W. Brescia of Philadelphia.
Tuesday’s plea agreement said the seven robberies between October 1994 and December 1995 netted $94,316 in cash and $18,374 in checks, but it was unclear how much Thomas received.
Thomas was accused of recruiting members of the gang at his home in Macungie.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo