A Pope County woman -- one of 55 people indicted as being part of a violent Russellville-based drug-trafficking ring that included several white supremacists -- pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday for her part in the kidnapping and torturing of one of two people the drug trafficking ring suspected of being informants.
Carey Lynn Mooney, 44, of Russellville faces a possible penalty of life in prison when she appears for sentencing later this year on charges of aiding and abetting violent crimes. Mooney initially appeared before U.S. District Judge Brian Miller to plead in the case in January, but that hearing was aborted when Mooney disputed some of the allegations in the indictment and the government's statement of facts in the case, which were entered under seal and were not read in open court.
According to a second superseding indictment filed in the case in September 2019, on May 28, 2017, Mooney -- along with co-defendants Kevin Long, Shannon Ferguson, Paula Enos and Courtney Talley -- kidnapped a woman, identified only as "C.L." in the indictment, beat her and stabbed her multiple times. The indictment said the five kidnapped and stabbed C.L. in retaliation, believing that she had given law enforcement information regarding Long's involvement in a shooting, and threatened to kill her to persuade her not to testify against him.
On June 4, 2017, according to the superseding indictment, Long and Ferguson, accompanied by other co-defendants, lured C.L. and her boyfriend, identified as H.D., to a park in Pope County where they took the two captive, beat them, disfigured H.D. with a hot knife, and forced the pair to write letters of apology to the New Aryan Empire. Mooney was not charged in that incident.
According to a transcript of the Jan. 4 change of plea hearing, Mooney's involvement in the kidnapping and assault was motivated by her desire to gain entrance to or maintain or increase position in the New Aryan Empire, the white supremacist group at the heart of the conspiracy. The transcript also says she was aware of Long's involvement in the shooting incident that motivated the kidnappings of C.L. and H.D.
"So where it says I was trying to gain rank and position in, that is completely false," Mooney said in the transcript. "And that I had knowledge in Kevin Long's activities prior to this incident itself happening."
"That you had knowledge in whose activities?" Miller asked.
"Long," Mooney replied. "That's inaccurate. I mean, I did assault this woman, but I had no clue of any of this that was going -- that was going on."
On Wednesday, Mooney had no objection to the amended statement of facts submitted under seal by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Mazzanti.
"Have you had a chance to take a look at that statement of facts?" Miller asked Mooney.
"Yes, I have," Mooney replied.
"Do you have any objections to that statement as written by the government?" Miller asked.
"No," Mooney said.
When Miller asked Mooney for her plea in each of the two counts she is charged with, she answered "guilty" each time, her voice clear and steady.
All four of the others charged in C.L.'s kidnapping have pleaded guilty to the kidnapping and assault charges in the indictment. In addition, Long, Ferguson and Enos pleaded guilty to one count each of violating the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Ferguson also pleaded guilty to separate counts of kidnapping and assault in regard to the June 4, 2017, incident.
To date, 12 co-conspirators in the investigation have been sentenced on drug conspiracy, distribution or kidnapping counts, and have received penalties ranging from time served to 262 months in federal prison.
The investigation that led to the 55 indictments in 2017, dubbed To The Dirt, began in 2016 when federal authorities assisted the Pope County sheriff's office in a murder case involving the supremacist group that began as a prison gang in 1990 and later expanded into neighboring communities and states.
Officials said an inmate at the Pope County jail in Russellville founded the New Aryan Empire, which was described as a "violent and highly structured criminal enterprise" associated with other white supremacist groups such as the Aryan Brotherhood.
The term "To The Dirt" refers to the Empire's slogan referring to a rule that members must remain in the group until they die, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Little Rock.
Information for this article was contributed by Linda Satter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.