A local pastor testified during the trial of former Grace College professor Dr. Mark Soto Wednesday that he was forced to move his family out of town after he became scared for his life.
Soto faces three counts of corrupt business influence and three counts of intimidation after being indicted by a grand jury in February 2016 along with Kevin Bronson, an Aryan Brotherhood member, and former Kosciusko Sheriff Aaron Rovenstine.
Prosecutors contend Soto used a series of threats to extort money for a book and/or movie deal about Bronson’s life story.
Nate McLaurin, a pastor at Christ Covenant Church, Winona Lake, testified of the fear he felt when he thought outlaw bikers were coming to kill him and his family. He said Bronson told him the Aryan Brotherhood would make him watch as they killed his children.
He called Tyler Silveus, a friend, to come over and get his family to safety.
“I looked at my wife, not knowing if it would be the last time I would ever see her; looked at my kids, not knowing if it would be the last time I would ever see them either,” McLaurin said.
After his family was out, he sat and waited. No one came.
McLaurin believes the threat was made because he asked for contact information of Bronson’s superior in the Aryan Brotherhood, referred to as “Sky Blue.”
McLaurin testified that a couple of hours after he asked to talk to Sky, Soto called him and told him he had crossed a line and bikers were coming from Fort Wayne to take action on him and his family.
McLaurin had been working with Soto and Bronson on making a movie about Bronson’s life. McLaurin was first introduced in late 2012 to the two men at a coffee shop, McLaurin said.
McLaurin then told jurors the story that the two men told him that Bronson was an ex-member of the Aryan Brotherhood. Bronson had converted to Christianity and had been working on changing his life. Bronson said that he intervened with the Brotherhood to stop a death contract on some Elkhart County police and prosecutors, according to McLaurin.
As punishment for intervening, the gang forced Bronson to sit on a “ghost council” for the gang. No explanation as to what a ghost council is was provided during testimony.
The only way the gang would allow Bronson to be free was if Bronson made a movie detailing the “horrific power of the Aryan Brotherhood,” but the gang was OK if the movie had a “redemptive end,” McLaurin said.
McLaurin said he wanted to help a fellow Christian, and feared the innocents who would die if the movie was never made.
Shortly after that, McLaurin said Bronson showed him a lock box with information about the Aryan?Brotherhood in it.
McLaurin said that after he saw the lock box “he felt stuck” and knew he was on the Aryan Brotherhood’s “hit list.”
McLaurin contacted Silveus, who fronted $36,000 to McLaurin. The money was supposed be used for a treatment on a movie or book deal and for Bronson’s living expenses.
McLaurin said he became concerned about the way that Bronson was spending the money, and how needs for expenses would always come up. The concerns about the money led him to create Young Enterprises LLC, a company where Bronson would not know where the money was coming from.
McLaurin owned a 20 percent stake in the business, but eventually opted out. After that, Silveus continued to make payments to Bronson for “living expenses.” McLaurin said Silveus did that out of concern for McLaurin’s safety.
Scott Lennox, Soto’s attorney, challenged McLaurin for believing the tale.
“The Aryan Brotherhood is a violent criminal organization and you think they would want a happy movie made?” he asked.
McLaurin said he had doubts about Bronson, but trusted Soto based his reputation in the community and the fact Soto was also a pastor.
In the end, McLaurin said he didn’t care about the movie or the Aryan Brotherhood but stood in fear that innocent people would die if the movie was not made.
Lennox also challenged McLaurin on Soto’s power, asking him if he believed that Soto, as a non-member, had the power to call on gang members to bring down their wrath.
McLaurin said he did so based on interactions with Soto and Bronson. He said Bronson would often ask Soto what to do and Bronson talked of the great respect the Aryan common council had for Soto.
Lennox argued that information came from Bronson and not Soto.
Lennox also appeared to lay framework for his argument that Soto was also a victim.
“Did you know Soto moved his family and slept with a gun that night?” Lennox asked, referring to the night Soto called to warn McLaurin about the possible danger.
McLaurin said he had heard Soto had a gun, but he didn’t know Soto had moved his family out.