Sheriff Couldn’t Quit Aryan Inmate
An Indiana sheriff, a theology professor, and a former white supremacist have all been indicted in a twisted bribery case that smacks of a made-for-TV movie script.
The criminal charges, filed Monday in Kosciusko County, center on Kevin Lee Bronson, an ex-Aryan Brotherhood member, who was jailed on drug and gang charges and now stands accused of bribery and intimidation in his quest to launch a Hollywood film about his life.
Prosecutors claim Bronson threatened the lives of a dentist, a Los Angeles attorney, his pastor, and fellow churchgoers in Warsaw, Indiana, so that they would invest in his movie-making outfit, Young Dragon Enterprises.
A grand jury also handed down 10 felony charges against Kosciusko County Sheriff C. Aaron Rovenstine that include bribery, intimidation and official misconduct relating to Bronson’s alleged treatment at the county jail.
Meanwhile, jurors charged Bronson and Mark H. Soto, the felon’s mentor and a Grace College theology professor, with corrupt business influence and intimidation.
According to the indictment, Sheriff Rovenstine accepted at least $30,000 to grant “special privileges” to Bronson during his stay at the Kosciusko County jail — and to Soto, who visited him. The sheriff allowed unrecorded phone calls and unsupervised visits between Bronson and Soto, court papers state.
Rovenstine permitted the unrecorded calls and visits “with the intent to hinder the punishment of Kevin Bronson,” prosecutors charge in court filings.
But Rovenstine allegedly took it a step further. Authorities say he threatened a Warsaw police officer who probed inmate Bronson’s conduct inside the jail.
James Voyles, an attorney for the sheriff, declined to comment.
Still, Rovenstine had known the ex-Aryan Brother turned karate fighter for 20 years, according to a local newspaper story about Bronson's redemption from a life of drug abuse and a previous stint in prison.
“I met him in 1996, and I’ve spent some time with him off and on,” Rovenstine, then a deputy, told the Warsaw Times-Union in 2009. “I’ve gotten to know him as a unique individual. He’s strong-willed, but not as bull-headed and as stubborn as he was when I first met him.”
Bronson has been incarcerated since January 2015, after he was charged with dealing in a narcotic drug, possession of cocaine, criminal gang activity, and being a habitual offender. He entered a guilty plea last month.
According to Ink Free News, an unnamed woman called the police to say that Bronson was holding her husband against his will and forced him to chauffeur Bronson to South Bend in order to buy drugs.
Officers stopped the vehicle, and the driver said he withdrew $240 from his debit card to help Bronson pay off a debt. Cops searching Bronson found a green pill container filled with plastic bags holding a white powdery substance, which later tested positive for cocaine, Ink Free News reported.
During the police stop, Bronson allegedly told cops he was “in the top seven in control of the Aryan Brotherhood,” Ink Free News reported. He also reportedly told authorities his stepson was in trouble with the Brotherhood, and that he was buying coke so the stepson could use it to pay off a debt with the gang.
The charges came not long after Bronson touted his new life as a married, born-again Christian and karate instructor and bragged on Facebook about potential Hollywood biopics.
But the latest slew of charges against him are even more shocking, detailing a pattern of alleged threats and bullying of anyone who refused to help him reach his Hollywood goals.
He allegedly turned on the church that supported him, as well as on the attorney he tooled around with during a 2012 visit to Los Angeles. He went as far as browbeating a local dentist, Dr. Steven Hollar, to perform work for free, prosecutors say. Hollar was in the film Hoosiers as an undergrad.
Bronson, with the help of Soto, threatened to harm the family of Bronson’s pastor at Christ’s Covenant Church because the churchman had asked “for contact information on [his] superior in the Aryan Brotherhood," according to court documents.
Authorities say the pastor was forced to collect payments totaling $84,012 from an insurance executive who attended the church—money “intended to prevent” the “beating or killing” of the pastor and his family, court papers state.
Bronson also allegedly threatened to beat or kill a Los Angeles-area attorney, David Baker, whom he ordered to work for free in order to secure paperwork for movie and book contracts. (Baker is listed as the contact for Young Dragon Enterprises on corporation records.)
Bronson’s lawyer did not return messages left by The Daily Beast, and Christ’s Covenant Church declined to comment.
The former gang member’s life story was previously recounted in local media profiles and in a 2013 interview posted on YouTube.
“I met a pastor, who began as a fitness client of mine,” Bronson told the Times-Union in 2009. “We started to talk about God, and after about two months, I saw I needed Him.”
At the time, Bronson told the newspaper he was part-owner of 24-Hour Natalius Spa in Arizona and was cuffed by the feds for alleged money laundering. The Daily Beast could not confirm these charges or his reported incarceration in the late 1980s.
Bronson echoed these claims in an 2013 interview posted on YouTube. He said he opened a chain of health clubs across the United States and that his business partner was “the son of a mafia crime boss.”
“Five families laundered money through my health clubs, and the United States government—the FBI and the IRS—caught it, so they indicted me and convicted me for theft of funds under the RICO Act,” Bronson said, “so I lost about $10.6 million in cash and assets.”
“But you can’t tell on mafia bosses and survive … because of that they sent me to an extremely terrible place,” he added.
Bronson said a gang approached him on his first day in prison and demanded he sit at their lunch table. “That was 9 a.m.,” he recalled in the video. “At 11:30 a.m. ... a man was gutted and his intestines was put on my tray and exploded over my body.”
By the end of his fifth day, he said, he watched a man get murdered. Gang members asked him, “Do you want to ride alone or do you want to ride with us?” He said, “There was no way to survive, and so I joined.”
In the video, Bronson claimed he rose to national leadership within the Aryan Brotherhood and was a member for 20 years. He claimed he faced a murder charge but “got off on a technicality.”
In 2007, he wanted to become sober and wanted out of the Brotherhood, he said, and he told gang leaders, “Either take my life or give it back to me.” Within three years, he found salvation.
At the end of the interview, Bronson plugged his future fame, saying he had “three possible movies, one for-sure movie, a cable series, and two possible book projects based on the details and facts of my life.”
None of those works has been published.
David Kolbe, an attorney for Soto, said his 61-year-old theology professor client has advised people inside prison for years.
“At some point in years past, Dr. Soto became familiar with Kevin Bronson while he was incarcerated,” Kolbe told The Daily Beast. “Dr. Soto was a mentor and spiritual adviser.”
When asked if Bronson manipulated Soto, Kolbe would only say, “Dr. Soto always had the best of intentions. I’m not sure that was true of Mr. Bronson.”
“There’s a lot more to this story … that is going to come out and I’m encouraging everybody in this environment to reserve judgment,” Kolbe added.
In September 2015, Soto and his wife filed a tort claim against the Warsaw Police Department seeking $4 million in damages following a raid on his home and his Grace College office by police. (Kolbe told The Daily Beast the claim is on hold as Soto deals with the criminal case.)
In his tort claim, Soto said he was a professor at Grace College for nearly two decades before he began counseling Bronson. He later held Bronson’s power of attorney and coordinated his legal, medical and social services, all while remaining his Christian mentor, Ink Free News reported.
Soto indicated that because of this, he’d “become the target of a vindictive and unfounded investigation” by the police and suffered “irreparable harm” to his reputation. He said his career was also hindered because student records were on a computer seized by cops, WSBT reported.
The tort filing says Bronson sought to make a film about his criminal past and ties to the Aryan Brotherhood, “development of martial arts expertise” and conversion to evangelical Christianity, according to WSBT.
Bronson had a “falling out” with churchgoers who invested in his flick, and cops were called to investigate “alleged concerns expressed by investors and various members of Christ’s Covenant Church and the community,” the TV station reported.
It’s unclear what led the flock to alert police. The tort filing claims Warsaw cop Paul Heaton, whom Sheriff Rovenstine is accused of intimidating, led the investigation. He was also identified as a fellow congregant at Christ’s Covenant Church.
In March 2015, Heaton had allegedly contacted Soto for a police interview, but the professor declined.
Weeks later, authorities issued three search warrants to obtain Soto’s computers, laptops, cellphones, and other property—including items belonging to Bronson that were stored at Soto’s residence, Ink Free News reported.
Special prosecutor E. Nelson Chipman Jr. declined to comment further on the allegations against Rovenstine, Soto, and Bronson.
David Sumpter, who owns Relentless Martial Arts Academy where Bronson worked for a spell, said he was duped by the felon, Fox 28 reported. He also said that Soto helped to convince him to let Bronson work out there.
“He used to be part of Relentless,” Sumpter told The Daily Beast. “As soon as I found out that he was arrested for drugs and gang affiliation, I kicked him out and changed the locks on the doors.”
“I’m a Christian,” Sumpter added. “I was trying to give him a chance.”