Tag Archives: Latino street gangs

the Original SoCal Mexican Mafia Godfather Dies

Los Angeles never had a mafia in the way that many East Coast cities did.

Regional organized crime never really took root out here. So we never had the mafia dons, running the large crime syndicates that made the headlines in, say, Cleveland or New York.

About as close as we came was Peter “Sana” Ojeda.

Ojeda, the oldest active member of the Mexican Mafia, died June 7, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons website, which lists him as 76 years old.

Sources tell me he apparently suffered a heart attack during an operation in a federal prison medical facility. YouTube memorials are already up.

To understand Ojeda’s importance, it’s important also to understand that the Mexican Mafia is neither Mexican nor was it, for many years, a mafia, strictly speaking. It is a prison gang, controlling Latino gang members in the state prison system. It took its name as a way of inspiring fear in others. Ojeda was part of that formation early on, as well as the spread of the Mafia’s influence across the state prison system.

The Mexican Mafia had no connection (until recent years) to the underworld in Mexico. Its members were, to begin with and for many years, like Ojeda’s, Mexican-American, who spoke only halting Spanish, if any at all, and whose families had been in the United States for generations.

For many years, in fact, the Mexican Mafia only ran prison yards and its influence was barely felt outside those walls.

But in the early 1990s, all that changed. The man who ushered in that change was Peter “Sana” Ojeda, a long-time member of the Mexican Mafia who had grown up in Orange County.

Ojeda, who was then on the streets, organized a meeting of O.C. street gangs at El Salvador Park in Santa Ana, filmed by law enforcement, during which he stood on bleachers dressed in a black-and-white long-sleeve shirt and told them all to stop with the gang killings and the drive-by shootings. He urged them to tax drug dealers in their neighborhoods as a way of funding neighborhood defense.

This stunned many in the Mexican Mafia, and they began to follow his lead, often using emissaries to organize meetings from San Bernardino and Pomona out to Elysian Park in Los Angeles, where one of the biggest meetings was held.

The Peace Treaty, as all this came to be known, sounded great. Gang leaders doing what law enforcement could not. But it evolved into something sinister and lasting: A system whereby gang members would indeed tax drug dealers in their area and funnel the proceeds to Mafia members, many of whom were in prison for life.

This taxation system far outlasted the Peace Treaty and is still in place today across Southern California, described in dozens of federal RICO indictments and in interviews I’ve done with dozens of gang members.

It amounts to the only regional organized crime syndicate that Southern California has ever known.

Taxation transformed Latino street gangs from scruffy neighborhood territorial entities into money-making ventures, though these were often fairly rag-tag. It gave career criminals, doing life terms in prison, access to a labor force — youths on the street who would do their bidding and admired them the way little leaguers look up to major league ball players. The Big Homies, as they were known on the street, could change life in a barrio with only a few words smuggled from prison in microprint on small pieces of paper.

It’s worth noting that their organizations on the streets, too, were often inept, bumbling, hampered by limited communications, by greed, envy, betrayal, rumor and gossip and drug use, as well as the constant return to prison of anointed emissaries of incarcerated Mafia members. One trial I sat in on involved a mafia member trying to organize three gang members to kill a rival, a man who rarely drove but was often walking in his Pomona neighborhood. Dozens and dozens of cellphone calls on how to do this and it still didn’t happen.

But Mafia taxation changed a lot about Southern California street life.

For a decade, Latino street gangs became the leading race-hate criminals in Southern California, a culture that grew from orders by many members of the Mexican Mafia that gangs should now rid their areas of black street gang/drug sales competition. As they were interpreted on the street, far from direct Mafia control, those orders often became directed at any black person, and thus in some neighborhoods campaigns were waged to get all black families to leave, which included murder, firebombings, assaults, racist graffiti and more.

Taxation made Mexican Mafia members equal in many communities to the town mayor or city council, at least with when it came to their ability to affect life in those areas. Now with the obedience of thousands of gang members on the street, many of whom were too young to have ever laid eyes on the incarcerated men they were obeying, Mafia members could, and did, ignite crime waves from maximum-security cells merely through letters smuggled from prison or via liaisons who transmitted their orders to the street. They drained city budgets, mangled lives, and forced young gang members to commit crimes that landed them in prison for life. I’ve interviewed several young men in such situations.

Ojeda was a contemporary of the pioneers of the Mexican Mafia (he’s far lower left in this photo). Among them was Joe Morgan (standing above him in the photo), whose story is also fascinating. Morgan was a Serbian-American who grew up in Boyle Heights/East LA and became culturally Mexican-American, and helped found the Mexican Mafia. Morgan died many years ago.

Ojeda was the last surviving member of that generation of the Mexican Mafia, made a member in 1972 in Tehachapi. Here’s a photo of him from those years (top right).

Throughout his life, but especially following the Salvador Park meeting, he would remain a household name in the Southern California Latino street-gang world. Meanwhile, he was in and out of prison.

In 2016, he was convicted a final time of conspiracy, largely on the basis of testimony from a former protégé, and sent to prison for 15 years, which most people figured was a life sentence.

But his control over Santa Ana and much of Orange County Latino street gang life seemed to me mostly unquestioned. So, too, his reputation as the Godfather of Orange County.

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The Dead Presidents Case…Finally the End

On the night of July 9, 2000 on the West Side of the city of San Bernardino, several armed gang members went into the driveway of a duplex and opened fire.

Johnny AgudoFour people were killed that night. They included two brothers, Johnny and Gilbert Agudo. The Agudos were presidents of their respective west side gang cliques — 7th Street Locos and the Little Counts.

The incident became known as the Dead Presidents case and involved betrayal and greed and murder worthy of Shakespeare’s best tragedies.

The Agudo brothers’ murders changed gang life in the West Side Verdugo area, the flatland barrio separated by the 215 freeway from the rest of San Bernardino and made up of families whose ancestors first settled the area in the 1920s and found work at the Santa Fe Railroad.

What made it more amazing was that it was the Agudos’ own homeboys doing the killing.

The case came to a long-awaited end last week, when the last of four defendants to be convicted for the crime, Froylan Chiprez, now 36, was sentenced to four life terms without parole, and 31 years for the attempted murder of two others at the scene that night.

Chiprez, a gunman that night, was arrested in December, 2011 in Tijuana, where he’d been living for a decade.18-e1381189731659

The case fractured West Side Verdugo, the largest Latino gang, then comprising four cliques, in San Bernardino, said Denise Yoakum, the prosecutor in the Chiprez case.

“Gang officers have told me that many gang members weren’t sure who to trust after that,” she said. “They refer to it as their 9-11. A lot of the old gangsters, you ask them a question [about some event], and they’ll say `Was this before the Dead Presidents case or after?'”

The  murders took place supposedly at the behest of Sal “Toro” Hernandez, the Mexican Mafia prison gang member who controls San Bernardino Latino gangs.

One member of the 7th Street gang, Luis Mendoza — aka Maldito — was Johnny Agudo’s best friend. Together they started the 7th Street clique.

Mendoza organized the shooting that night, believing he could be made president of the gang, and possibly a Mexican Mafia member himself, if he followed Hernandez’s orders and killed Johnny Agudo, who was believed to have been talking to police.

Gilbert Agudo was killed because it was believed he would always avenge his brother’s death if he lived.

Mendoza and another shooter, Lorenzo Arias, were sentenced to death in 2008. John Ramirez, another long-time 7th Street homeboy, spent 12 years in prison for his part in the shooting that night, his sentenced shortened due to his cooperation with prosecutors.

These guys all went to school together. Their mothers babysat for each other, and they knew everything there was to know about each other’s families.

I always took the case as a sign of how Southern California barrio life, once so tight-knit, almost cloistered, began to shred under the influence of the Mexican Mafia.The Virgin of Mount Vernon

In the early 1990s, the Mafia came out to the streets and put Latino gangs under its control, forcing gang members to tax drug dealers and kick Eme members a percentage. In time, Eme members began ordering gang members to kill their own.

On the streets of Southern California, this undermined the long-standing, deep loyalty that many Latino gang members felt for their own homeboys. This case, and others, showed that that loyalty pretty much doesn’t exist any more.

A lot has changed on San Bernardino’s West Side since then. Mexican immigrants have replaced many of the Mexican-American families who once lived there.

The Agudos’ parents moved away from the west side long ago.

“Some of the victims moved completely out of state,” said Yoakum.

The physical presence of the gangs in the area has diminished notably. There’s far less graffiti and no gang members hanging out at markets or at a large park on the West Side. That doesn’t mean the gangs have disappeared, Yoakum said.

In fact, more than 13 years after that night, only the influence of the Mexican Mafia remains constant in the barrio where the presidents died.

Photos: Johnny Agudo, Gilberto Agudo, Mount Vernon Virgin of Guadalupe

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GANGS: Cisco and the Streets

Mexican Mafia member Rafael “Cisco” Munoz-Gonzalez was sentenced to life in prison today.Screen Shot 2013-03-06 at 1.59.46 PM

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 with991-ringleader 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

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GANGS: Two illuminating Mexican Mafia tales

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.

The second was the sentencing of Santiago Rios and his son, Louie, from the Azusa 13 gang. Rios senior was accused of being the gang’s “llavero” — keyholder, or shotcaller, anointed by the Eme to run its affairs in Azusa.

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.”

A federal RICO indictment in 2011 sent the Rioses and 49 other Azusa members to jail, and now to federal prison.

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.)

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TELL YOUR TRUE TALE: Huffington Post again

The Huffington Post crime page has posted another story that first appeared on my storytelling website, Tell Your True Tale.

The story is by Richard Gatica, a longtime Mexican Mafia tax collector, and drug runner inside various prisons.

Now 43 and a prison-gang dropout, he is writing his memoirs, and was just convicted of strangling his cellmate to death. His memoirs make for powerful reading as he’s a great storyteller.

Richard sent me the story of how he killed his crack dealer, included in those memoirs, more than a year ago. It was posted on TYTT last year.

Anyway, read “Killing Donald Evans” on the Huffington Post. 

Please “like” it, share it on FB, tweet about it, and tell your friends.

Earlier this month, HP also posted a story by federal prison inmate Jeffrey Scott Hunter: My First Bank Robbery.

Also I hope you’ll all consider submitting your own stories to Tell Your True Tale. We’ve got about 40 or so up so far.

If you haven’t looked into TYTT, or it’s been a while, feel free to check it out. The stories are great (and deal with all kinds of topics; only a few are about crime). Don’t pay, but I do edit.

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