Bringing Down the Brotherhood

Inside the fedsí war on the countryís deadliest prison gang: 16 murders, 21 death-penalty cases, and snitches galore.

After Weeks went public, Warden Pugh moved quickly to discredit him. He sent out a memo to staff declaring that Weeks had failed a polygraph test. But another H Unit graduate, Brian Healy, would later tell a very similar story to defense investigators about what went on in the unit. "After they've been fed the information," he said, "the informants know what to say."

According to Healy, Pugh had personally brought staff files to H Unit and shown the inmates photos that included the officers' addresses and phone numbers. He would then ask, "Which of these guys are dirty?"

One of the photos was of Joe Principe. Healy had spent months at ADX before moving to H Unit, but Principe had done nothing wrong, as far as he knew. The guard was "certainly no worse" than the chummy intelligence officer whose gonads Roach claimed to have in hand, he added.

Crossing over: Former prison guard Joe Principe at 
the time of his 2000 arrest (from left), in the hole, and 
Crossing over: Former prison guard Joe Principe at the time of his 2000 arrest (from left), in the hole, and today.

Weeks had made accusations about Principe when he first arrived in H Unit, accusations that may have prompted Principe's assignment to home duty. But Weeks would later claim that his fellow defectors had labeled several guards they didn't like as "AB facilitators" in hopes of getting them jammed up.

"I knew that Officer Principe had been placed on home leave, and I asked Kevin the details on that," Weeks wrote. "He told me Principe had been down here working the bubble when he first rolled over and had treated him so bad that he had told [investigators] the guy was hooked up with us. He was going to get indicted with all the AB as a co-conspirator for helping us conduct our business here at ADX.

"I told Kevin that's kinda hard on the guy. He replied, 'Fuck the puke. He's lucky I can't kill him.'"

Home duty was a bit like being locked up, Principe soon realized. Nothing to do, weird thoughts, a deepening estrangement from what passes as normal society. A hint, maybe, of things to come.

His buddies from the union called with messages of solidarity. Hang in there, Joe. They can't get away with this. But as the months dragged on, the calls dried up. So much for the brotherhood of the badge.

His father had just passed away. He was going through a messy divorce and a custody battle over his kids, sitting on a mortgage and wondering how much longer he could keep his non-job. If he was going to be branded an outlaw, he might as well live like one. He wrote poems, hung out in a tattoo shop, rode his Harley.

People who used to work with him thought he was losing it. He carried guns and acted paranoid. According to one source, at a union meeting he put another officer in a headlock -- which might explain why his union pals stopped calling.

His new friends were other people living on the margins. One of them was a bartender named Gino. In March 2000, Gino came to him with a story about being in debt to "dangerous people." Principe loaned him $1,500 and let him borrow his car for a few minutes to go make the payoff. Hours later, no Gino. No car.

"I probably should've let the police handle it, but I thought I was too street-suave for that," Principe would later write to a friend. "I still had my bike and truck to get around, and I wanted to handle it like a stand-up guy should."

Five days later, Gino showed up at Principe's house. He had the car but no cash, just a peace offering: a T-shirt from a Las Vegas casino. Principe blew up. "I slapped him around," he says. Then he told Gino to go get the money he owed him.

Gino told a different story to the police. It was a lurid account of handcuffs, a beating, a haircut lopping off his long hair. An ex-girlfriend came forward with accusations of her own. Suddenly, Principe was facing a barrage of charges: kidnapping, sexual assault, menacing, stalking. Bail was set at a million bucks. The Cañon City paper had him down as some kind of alleged maniac rapist prison guard, with rumored ties to white-supremacy prison gangs -- all of which made him a very popular guy in the county jail.

Principe says the ex-girlfriend ultimately recanted her story. Gino did not.

Principe took the case to trial. He thought he could beat the rap, right up until the time another ADX employee, a martial-arts workout buddy, took the stand and claimed that Principe had bragged of doing exactly what the prosecution said he'd done. Principe insists his friend perjured himself. "I don't know why he did it," he says. "I assume he was in trouble, too. He got a promotion and a transfer shortly after that."

Somebody, Principe figured, wanted him in prison. How did a guy like Joe Principe suddenly get so important?

His lawyers told him that the friend's testimony was damning: He was looking at 32 years. So they cut a deal with the prosecution before the case could be handed to a jury. He pleaded guilty to kidnapping and two counts of menacing. Sentence: eight years.

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