I was in Compton earlier today and came upon this restaurant on Long Beach Boulevard.
El Infierno Restaurant (English: Hell Restaurant), known for its excellent menudo, was named thus by its owner, a fellow named Andres, who comes from Apatzingan in the state of Michoacan, Mexico.
Apatzingan, you may know, is in a ferociously hot part of Mexico known as the Tierra Caliente, and known for its wild ways. Frankly, I was always afraid to visit and never did.
Andres said he named it for the heat of his native region, though Apatzingan lately has become a virtual war zone, as cartels fight each other and the military.
Anyway, El Infierno Restaurant has had some tumultuous times itself.
When it was in its original spot, in a strip mall elsewhere in Compton, it was burned down during the riots of 1992. Andres rebuilt. Then earlier this year, his restaurant was shot up and then someone crashed a car into it, gutting it with fire (see photo, right).
Andres blamed gang members who wanted to sell drugs and didn’t like his surveillance cameras (there to protect his business). A neighboring business owner said he didn’t treat customers well and some got mad. That seems hard to believe, but whatever the case, Andres moved to the newer, bigger, better location on Long Beach, which he shares with a cleaners. (See photo above)
(Reminds me of the time when, from a bus, I spotted a taqueria in Los Mochis, Sinaloa — Tacos Hitler — no lie).
The stories you hear in L.A. if you stop and ask….
Tonight at 10pm (9 pmCentral), A&E/Biography is showing a documentary on the Leon-Real family and the Drew Street gang, part of its (perhaps hyperbolically named) series on gangs: Gangsters: America’s Most Evil.
Anyway, I helped make this doc, interviewing with them etc. Check it out and let me know how I did. I don’t have cable….
Most of the folks on that street come from one small town in Mexico: Tlalchapa, Guerrero, which is in the Tierra Caliente, long one of that country’s most violent regions. They congregated on tiny Drew Street and the street became known back home as “El Barrio Bajo.” (The Low Neighborhood).
As one immigrant told me, “Anyone with aspirations left the street.” Most moved to Dalton, Georgia, America’s carpet capital. Those who remained turned Drew into a hive of drug and gang activity — one of the scariest in Los Angeles, with Maria Leon, a tiny woman who once sold popsicles and babysat for immigrant mothers, as the matriarch of 13 children.
Several gang sweeps and a federal prosecution have changed Drew Street.
I was just over on Drew Street and it looks better than it has in probably a couple decades at least. People can actually sell their houses there now, which wasn’t the case in 2008, at the height of the housing boom. The city seized the family’s house and tore it down, in a kind of municipal exorcism. It’s now a community garden. So that’s nice.
Mexican Mafia member Rafael “Cisco” Munoz-Gonzalez was sentenced to life in prison today.
Munoz-Gonzalez was tried on charges that he’d controlled the Puente 13 street gang, ordering gang members to tax local drug dealers in the La Puente area, sell methamphetamine, and attack rivals and even one cooperating witness, who was stabbed 22 times in a jail lockup — all this according to a US Attorney’s report.
His brother, Cesar, was also sentenced to life in prison for running Puente 13 and giving orders on behalf of Cisco, who was locked up until 2008.
The Mexican Mafia prison gang has run its drug-dealer taxation/extortion scheme since the early 1990s. The scheme is as close as Southern California has come to a regional organized crime system.
Truth is, though, it’s not that organized. It’s remarkable that these guys can control Southern Califonria Latino street gangs from prison. The system has broken up the SoCal gang world into little fiefdoms. But it is far from perfect, communication between maximum-security prison cells and the streets being shaky at best.
That and the greed and conniving of Eme members often leads to feuding, plotting, death decrees and betrayal of the kind that would give Shakespeare fodder for a dozen more tragedies.
Cisco Munoz-Gonzalez was part of an earlier Mexican Mafia soap opera. He and Ralph “Perico” Rocha, also an Eme member, were allegedly feuding with the associates of then-influential Eme member, Jacques “Jacko” Padilla, who ran Azusa 13 from his maximum-security cell at Corcoran State Prison.
Rocha and Munoz were supposedly collecting taxes from dealers in Azusa.
Padilla’s wife and liaison to the streets, Delores “Lola” Llantada, went to war with the two carnales. Women liaisons with jailed Eme members have enormous shot-calling power across Southern California. On a couple occasions, I’ve thought they were as powerful as the local mayor.
But this was the first example I’m aware of in which a woman actually ordered hits.
Anyway, a big RICO case came down, brought against Llantada and others in her crew.
Llantada and her cohorts are now doing lengthy prison terms. Padilla has since dropped out of the Eme, and is a genial chap, as I found when I interviewed him a couple years ago.
Now the brothers Munoz-Gonzalez are going away forever.
As the world turns, Mexican Mafia style.
Now, as an antidote to this grim stuff, here’s one about stuff to do in LA — Oaxacan basketball and photgraphy.
Keep scrollin’ down…..:)
Photos: Rafael “Cisco” Munoz-Gonzalez and Delores “Lola” Llantada
In the last week, there’ve been two stories that illuminate the world of the Mexican Mafia prison gang and its influence on the streets of Southern California.
The first was the story of attorney Isaac Guillen, a guy who was in a gang, then left, went to UC Berkeley, got a law degree, only to eventually become a mob lawyer, in a sense.
Guillen’s story is classic. Several gang members have told me of how certain lawyers have gone beyond their duties as legal representatives to become liaisons between incarcerated Eme leaders and the rank and file gang members on the street — passing notes, orders for criminal activity, drugs. All behind the shield of the attorney-client privilege.
These attorneys are part of what allows Eme members to exert their influence and control on SoCal gang streets, even while they’re locked up in maximum security prison.
He presided over the drug business, over taxing drug dealers and of implementing gang policy, established at a meeting (prosecutors say) in 1992, of “cleansing” the city of black people. Azusa went through several years of seeing hate crimes such as murder, firebombing of black residences, beatings, graffiti, etc.
The judge, in sentencing him to almost 20 years in prison, called him a “proponent of the racial cleansing of the city of Azusa.”
But the indictment highlights just how much havoc — crime waves, really — can be created in a normally quiet town when its gang begins acting on orders from Eme members who are locked up far away. Often, they don’t know the gang members they are ordering around on the street, who are nevertheless only too willing to do their bidding.
As I mention in the story, numerous other neighborhoods and towns have been gripped by this kind of racial violence committed against blacks by Latino street gang members.
Because of this control, the Mexican Mafia — whose founders are pictured above — qualifies as the only region-wide organized crime that Southern California has known.
(The photo is one I found online without any attribution. If someone can attribute it, I’d be happy to list it, or, if they object, remove it.)
Among those calling for this within this coalition are members of the Mexican Mafia, which has warred with blacks in the prison system and ordered Latino gang members in Southern California to wage wars on the streets with blacks as well.
One of the leading members of this collective is Arturo Castellanos — a long-documented Eme member, aka Tablas, serving a life prison sentence for murder since 1980 — who, trial documents and evidence show, ordered up the Florencia 13 war on blacks in the Florence-Firestone unincorporated area that turned that area into a war zone for several years, the worst of which was 2005.
In the federal indictment of Florencia 13 members, the unindicted co-conspirator, identified only as AC, is, according to sources, Arturo Castellanos.
The Black Hand, about ex-mafioso Rene Enriquez, gives a clear idea of how the Eme has used activist groups, lawyers and others to promote their own financial/criminal interests. In interviews with ex-Emeros and their soldiers, I’ve heard these stories as well.
Those interviews have also made clear that the truce edict and the order to end drive-by shootings in the early 1990s were simply ways of organizing Latino street gangs in Southern California into units to tax local drug dealers and kick back some of the money to incarcerated Eme members. Among the edicts the Eme came up with during these years was an order to push Latino street gangs to war with blacks in their areas, rid their areas of black drug dealers, etc.
The result was virtual race wars in neighborhoods such as West Side San Bernardino, Pacoima, Azusa, Highland Park, Glassell Park, Canoga Park, Pomona, Harbor Gateway, Wilmington, Hawaiian Gardens and the aforementioned Florence-Firestone, among others.
Surely it’s a welcome thing to end racial wars in prisons, but history and evidence show that with the Eme you always wonder about underlying motives.
“East L.A. is a quiet place,” he says. Years ago, it was known for gangs, but that was years ago, which Guillen remembers well and is not sad to see gone.
The area is one of those benefited enormously by the regional collapse in gang activity in Southern California. I say activity, because there still is gang violence in some areas, though it, too, is far less than even a decade, much less two decades, ago.
But the gang activity of daily hanging out, graffiti, commandeering crash pads from empty houses, dominating street corners or parks — what used to cause such grinding blight and feelings of powerlessness among residents — all that has dropped off to almost nothing.
Go to almost any once-notorious neighborhood and the story is the same.
It’s one of the great tales of Southern California — gang culture was one of the region’s great exports, after all — and you can see it pretty clearly in East L.A. Gangs still exist, but they’ve largely taken it indoors.
All this amounts to massive a tax cut for those neighborhoods (poor and working class) where gangs and their activity were such banes.
No longer do families have to worry about their garages being graffitied, or their property values being whacked because they’re down the street from a market a gang took a liking to.
“You people need to come here and write about this,” Guillen says.
I got into it while looking for a way to write about indoor swap meets in Los Angeles, which have always intrigued me. I shop at them often and find them fascinating business models for micro-entrepreneurs.
Most, if not all, are owned by Koreans, for whom the indoor swap meet was an important route into the middle class in America.
They provided another view of black-Korean relations than that of the Korean-owned liquor store.
Mr. Kim is pictured here with his wife, Boo Ja, and his son, Kirk, who now runs the stall at Compton Fashion Center.
The family members of Unique Russell told me about this family tradition that dates to the 1960s of getting together at these two duplexes on 97th Street for a day-long July 4th, including barbecue and firecrackers in the street.
This pair of beige duplexes acted as a center for a family that included many dozens of people and a long list of last names. In the house lives `Granny Cherry,’ now blind and well on in years, great-grandmother to the girl who was killed.
Pictured are two of the girl’s aunts, Emily Sharp-Williams and Mary Dill.
UCLA criminologists have published a study showing that most gang violence occurs where gang territories meet, and thus are where gangs are most likely to run into each other and be in competition — not, I would say, a surprising conclusion, but interesting to see the school take on the topic, nevertheless.
The authors draw their conclusions from studying LAPD’s Hollenbeck division, 563 gang shootings involving 13 gangs.
Meanwhile, Mexico scholar George Grayson has published an article on the Mexican presidential election and its effect on various Mexican governors’ races. Grayson is always interesting to read. Check it out
Ernesto Alcarez, now 25, had been convicted last month. He was the lookout that after on December 15, 2006 when 204th Street gang member Jonathan Fajardo, pictured here, went looking for blacks to shoot and found Green and some friends talking on a street nearby.
The case was one of the most remarkable of my career. First, it showed how Latino street gangs had become the region’s foremost race-hate criminals, much of this stemming from orders from the Mexican Mafia in prison, and the general apartheid culture that reins in the institutions, which had by 2006 made its way out onto the street and was causing great havoc.
The killing of Green, followed by the slaying of Christopher Ash, a 204th Street associated whom the gang believed to be an informant, left a trail of pointless destruction. Two families had loved ones killed. Five families have loved ones doing life in prison.
Amazingly, Alcarez and Fajardo barely knew each other when Fajardo set out that day, with Alcarez has his somewhat reluctant lookout.The way a gang member explained it to me, Alcarez was a kind of wannabe member of 204th Street whose commitment the gang wanted to test by sending him along with Fajardo, a dedicated 204th Streeter and serious methamphetamine user.
Their fate was entwined forever when Fajardo opened fire, killing Green.
Alcarez’s mother once told me that she’d moved from the neighborhood to get her son away from 204th Street, but he kept returning. A story like so many others I’ve heard, speaking to the brainwashing that goes on in many of these street gangs.
I wrote a story of how the Harbor Gateway area Cheryl Green had grown up in had been changed by lenient zoning laws from a single-family neighborhood into one crammed with apartment buildings that led to the problems of race it experienced beginning in the late 1990s. The story was also about the hollowing out of the LA economy, and the departure of union jobs that had held neighborhoods like the Gateway together for so long.
Gretchen Ford, the prosecutor in the case, prosecuted five defendants in three separate trials, one of them a death penalty case for the shooter, Jonathan Fajardo. A tip of my hat to her.
It feels like the end of an era, she told me the day Alcarez was sentenced. I bet. Feels that way to me, too.
Drew Street, the once-scary two blocks into which the city of LA has poured enormous resources to reverse a serious gang and drug problem, shows a few signs of reverting to old ways.
A shooting on the street, followed by two others in a rival gang neighborhood, yesterday. A month ago, a Drew Streeter chased a black family down the street with a shotgun; the family left the area immediately. In December, a murder of a Drew Street gang member.
Of course, that would have been a couple days mayhem a few years back. That all of this is noteworthy is a sign of how far the street in Glassell Park, abutting the Forest Lawn cemetery, has come. Over the last three years, there were major sweeps, prosecutions, the razing of a notorious house, with a community garden in its place. Now, no drug bazaar, no kids in hoodies lurking by cars, very little graffiti.
Still, talking with some folks on the street, they seem to see a more brazen attitude among the little gangbangers who remain. Could be a good story, but first I want to talk to the cops about it all, which I wasn’t able to do today. Hoping to do so on Monday.
The other day, on my way out of town on vacation, I stopped by a San Bernardino County Courthouse to hear a bit of the trial of Richard Gatica.
Richard Gatica is accused of strangling his cellmate at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga in 2006. He then propped up the cellmate for more than a day, pretending to talk and play chess with the cellmate, and moving the corpse occasionally, so that jailers wouldn’t realize what had happened.
Gatica, who grew up in Rosemead, was already doing two life terms in prison when this happened. So prosecutors are asking for the death penalty.
I happened to catch the testimony of the psychiatrist, employed by the prison system, who examined Gatica for several hours and reviewed thousands of pages of documents about him, and concluded Gatica suffered from several kinds of mental illness.
The doctor described a childhood of apparently nonstop abuse by a sadistic mother who “was severely mentally ill, both because of addictions and because of an innate mental disease which appears to be major depression. … Mr. Gatica was, along with his younger brother, the focus of his mother’s illness and anger in that Mr. Gatica was physically and emotionally abused through much of his childhood.”
Among the mental illnesses Gatica developed was post-traumatic stress disorder.
The doctor went on to say that later, in the prison system, Gatica was incarcerated in a special housing unit, SHU, which amounts to solitary confinement, where inmates are denied human contact, often sunlight and are let out of a cell an hour a day. The SHU is reserved usually for inmates who’ve committed some crime in prison, or been part of a prison gang. Gatica lived in a SHU for a dozen years, the doctor said.
“He grew up without a father in the home and with a crazy abusive mother who was also a drug addict. There wasn’t much opportunity for Mr Gatica to learn coping skills, how to be a loving, caring person. What he learned was how to be a drug addict and a criminal. Being in the segregated housing unit only reinforced Mr Gatica’s dwelling in his internal world of disassociation and very pathological defense mechanisms.”
One of which, the doctor said, was to develop an extreme phobia to germs to the point where he would scrub his cell with a toothbrush “20 to 30 times a day or [wash] his hands 20 to 30 times a day.”
Gatica sat in his seat, dressed in a lavender shirt, a tie, black slacks, glasses, short, gelled hair — looking like a business executive and watching the very middle-class jury absorb all this.
The reason is the Mexican Mafia, the prison gang that has controlled street gangs for most of two decades.
In the story, a gang member killed a friend who’d been going around collecting taxes from area drug dealers in the name of the Mexican Mafia, when he wasn’t designated to do so.
The story doesn’t say how good of friends these guys were, but there were many years when Latino street gangs would never kill one of their own like this.
The Mexican Mafia’s taxation scheme — ordering Latino street gangs to tax drug dealers in neighborhoods and kicking up the money to MM members in prison and their associates — changed that. These kinds of killings mark a huge, though quiet shift in Southern California gang culture.
I wrote a story several years ago about the Dead Presidents case in the West Side Verdugo area of San Bernardino, in which, on MM orders, members of two allied, neighborhood gangs murdered their presidents: two brothers, Johnny and Gilbert Agudo, the presidents of 7th Street and Little Counts, respectively.
The victims and the suspects had all grown up together; some had been babysat by the mothers of the others. Yet the mafia had twisted relations in the gang to such a point that, like some Shakespearean play, they turned on each other one bloody night in 2000.
“After what happened, that just broke up the neighborhood completely,” said one guy from the area that I talked to. “Nobody trusted nobody.” Indeed, the gangs really haven’t reconstituted since then.
In Avenal state prison once, I interviewed a 22-year-old gang member who’d murdered a friend he knew from kindergarten, who was at the time even living with this kid’s family because his own had thrown him out. This was on orders of the local mafia member, who said that the friend had to go, apparently over some debt of some kind. The details weren’t clear ever to the 22-year-old, who, without asking a question, took his friend for a ride and shot him in the chest in an isolated part of the San Gabriel Valley.
He told me he wanted, above all, to be a carnal — a Mexican Mafia member — some day and looked up to the Big Homies the way a little leaguer looks up to a MLB player. He’d since dropped out and was on a protective custody yard, a Sensitive Needs Yard, which I’ve written about before in this blog. He also said that because he looked sweet and much younger than his years, he had to do more violence to get the respect of his gang brethren. That was also part of it.
He’s now doing 55 years to life.
This never used to happen in Latino neighborhood gangs — this turning homeboy on homeboy, unless one had snitched. They were clannish things, happy to war with their enemies, but all about “protecting” the neighborhood and not ever about killing each other.
But this kind of killing has been happening across SoCal since the MM’s edicts on taxation were issued in the mid-1990s. Usually the orders come from some old incarcerated MM gang member who hasn’t been on the streets in the lifetime of those homeboys who are about to kill, or to die.
Now, one gang member told me once, when your best homies you knew from kindergarten call and say let’s go for a ride, you don’t do it.