Tag Archives: Mexican Mafia

Mexican Mafia Chronicles: Champ Reynoso Dies

Word was recently passed to me that another of the pioneers of the country’s most damaging prison gangs, the Mexican Mafia, has died.

Adolph “Champ” Reynoso passed at a Colorado hospital near the federal maximum-security lockup where he’d spent his last many years. He was 75.

Reynoso was part of L.A. crime lore. He was a member of Big Hazard, an East LA street gang.

Later, he was made a member of the Mexican Mafia while in prison. He was one of the 22 Eme members indicted in the first federal RICO case against the gang — coming in 1995, and hingeing on the testimony of Ernie “Chuco” Castro, up to that point one of the most influential members of the organization.

The trial pulled back the veil on the mafia in several ways – one of which was to reveal its scheme for using street gang members to tax drug dealers in the barrios of Southern California, the revenue for which was funneled to mafia members and their associates.

The scheme remains in place today and has turned the Mexican Mafia into more than a prison gang –rather, an organization with enormous influence beyond prison walls.

Years later, now 61, Reynoso was identified as a leader of the Eme in the Supermax prison at Florence, Colorado, in testimony about a hit that took place within the gang at the prison.

At his passing, he was deemed the highest-ranking active Mexican Mafia member.

The last few years have seen the passing of several Eme figures from those years — those who formed or spread the Eme: Peter “Sana” Ojeda, Frank “Frankie B” Buelna, Ruben Rodriguez, “Black Dan” Barela. Joe Morgan and Benjamin “Topo” Peters died years ago. Many others have dropped out of the gang while in prison – an exodus that began with Castro, who went into federal witness protection, and, before him, Ramon “Mundo” Mendoza.

Most of the older Eme members, like Reynoso, were heroin addicts on the street — reflecting the fact that their criminal careers began in the late 1960s, early 1970s — a time when heroin crept into the Mexican-American neighborhoods of Southern California with a vengeance.

 

 

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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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Dirty Thirds: Cops, the Mexican Mafia & LA’s disappearing gangs

Los Angeles has seen gang violence plummet in the last decade.

Some of the reasons why were on display in two federal criminal conspiracy cases announced this afternoon at a press conference at the L.A. office of the U.S. Attorney.

The cases involved the Mexican Mafia prison gang controlling drug taxation and trafficking in two places: The LA County Jail, largest jail in America, and in the city of Pomona.

The Mexican Mafia is a prison gang that runs the Latino gang members in the state’s prison system. About 25 years ago, it extended that power to the streets, ordering those gang members to tax neighborhood drug dealers and funnel the proceeds to MM members. Drug taxation thrives and amounts to the first regional organized crime system in the history of Southern California.

One case involved a Mafia member who controlled drug trafficking in the entire jail, according to the indictment: Jose Landa-Rodriguez, who grew up in East LA,  a member of the South Los gang. He’s apparently been in county jail for many years, during the reign of the now deceased Lalo Martinez, a controversial MM member. Through those years, and after Martinez died, Landa-Rodriguez allegedly grew to control the drugs entering and for sale across the jail system.

Inmates not with the Mexican Mafia had to get his permission to sell. Only way to do that was by funneling a third of their product to the gang — hence the name of the case, Operation Dirty Thirds — then waiting while Mexican Mafia associates sold the stuff. That’s one way of controlling your competition. Violators were often beaten. That’s another.

They were helped, prosecutors allege, by Gabriel Zendejas-Chavez, a local attorney whom investigators say helped facilitate the trade, passed notes back and forth between Mexican Mafia associates, and that kind of thing. They were also helped by a slew of go-betweens who would get arrested with drugs in their bodies.

The other indictment involved a Mexican Mafia member named Mike Lerma, who has controlled Pomona for many years from his cell in solitary confinement at Pelican BayState Prison maximum lockdown. Crews of members from 12thStreet, Cherryville and Pomona Sur street gangs were working together under Lerma’s command, the indictment alleges. The indictment alleges Lerma’s crews did kidnappings, robberies, identity theft. These are Pomona gangs that have harbored animosity against each other for years, but have repressed the urge to go after one another due to orders from Lerma, according to officers I spoke with.

(Btw, I briefly met Mike Lerma one time, in his cell in Pelican Bay State Prison. We were separated by Plexiglass and he was cooking a cup of cocoa on his hotplate in his pale-yellow concrete cell where he spent 23 hours of every day. He was small, a wan and bent fellow, wearied by years on solitary confinement. From behind the glass, he waved, said how you doing? I said fine.)

The mafia’s system has forced gangs to abandon what made them local neighborhood scourges because it leads to unwanted police attention.

“Years ago, they were about turf,” said one. “Now they’re about protecting their business.”

For decades, they waged wars over turf. They defended street corners, parks, markets, apartment buildings like they actually belonged to them.  They were very much street gangs, and their activity — graffiti, shootings, car jackings, simple hanging out through which they did their recruiting — blighted working-class neighborhoods across Southern California.

These days, though, they are absent. They have retreated into the shadows. Doesn’t mean they’re gone for good. Just that they’ve disappeared from the streets, no longer are out in public, damaging neighborhoods that can least afford it, spraying up mom-and-pop markets. Homicides are way down because gangs don’t have easy rival targets to shoot at. That’s one reason anyway. In Pomona, the once-notorious Sharkey Park – from which Pomona 12thStreet earned its name the Sharks (members often had shark tattoos) — hasn’t had a shooting in who knows how many years. Some Pomona cops at the press conference couldn’t remember the last one. As if to exorcise the past, the park has been renamed Tony Cerda Park, in honor of a Native-American activist and tribal leader; pow-wows are held at the park.

Gangs are just not evidence in Southern California. It’s a remarkable, profound change in culture and crime, and one that benefits cities, neighborhoods, and working-class residents most of all. Parks are once again places for kids to play. This is part due to dictates in the underworld, from organizations like the Mexican Mafia, who want their business protected.

But it’s also due to an unprecedented amount of collaboration among law enforcement. In the 1980s and 1990s, this didn’t exist. Agencies fought each other for credit, turf, budget, as the gangs grew fierce and brazen. But the last decade or more has seen a remarkable change and that too you could see at the press conference.

At the press conference, cops of all stripes assembled to thank each other for working together. The feds thanked the locals. The locals thanked each other and the feds.

“I want to give special thanks to our law enforcement partners,” said Pomona Police Chief Mike Olivieri.

(For the record, apart from Pomona PD, that includes the FBI’s San Gabriel Safe Streets Task Force, the LA County Sheriff’s Department, ATF, the DEA, Ontario Police Department, the IRS Criminal Division, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Division.)

“Today’s action is not an isolated event. Southern California law enforcement is united in its fight against violent criminals and street gangs,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna, continuing the theme.

I’ve been to a dozen of these gang-conspiracy press conferences and I always like it when they thank each other. Because it wasn’t always that way.

Speaking with a prosecutor outside the press conference, we marveled at the change and wondered how the trauma of the 1980s and 1990s might have been avoided had this kind of collaboration been more common

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Adios Underworld Pioneer Sana Ojeda – I think

Mexican Mafia prison-gang member Peter “Sana” Ojeda, a pioneer in the Southern California underworld, was found guilty by a jury today of a slew of racketeering charges in a federal court in Orange County.Peter Ojeda

In 1992, Ojeda held meetings at Salvador Park in Santa Ana, bringing together warring Latino gangs from across Orange County.

It was a stunning moment that showed the power of the Mexican Mafia in the barrios, sworn mortal enemies stood docilely together as Ojeda, from atop baseball bleachers, told them to stop the feuding and drive-by shootings.

The so-called Peace Treaty spread from there to Latino gangs across Southern California, during which Mexican Mafia (Eme) members banned drive-by shootings.

In the end, though, the peace treaty proved a Trojan Horse. Eme members used the newly discovered obedience of Latino street gangs to set up a vast business model of using thousands of gang members to tax drug dealers in barrios across the Southland, then funnel the proceeds to Eme members and their relatives in prison and on the streets.

The new system, which remains in place today, transformed the region’s Latino street gangs from neighborhood entities into money-making enterprises. Neighborhood gang loyalty disintegrated, as feuding over money, taxation, the favor of Eme members, turned gang members against each other. It also led to mass defections of gang members from the Mafia structure inside California prisons.

Spotty and haphazard though it often is, the Eme’s drug-taxation system amounts to the only region-wide organized crime syndicate Southern California has ever known.

Ojeda was convicted of running the Orange County operation – ordering murders, extortion and more – from his federal jail cell, where he’d been since his arrest on a prior racketeering charge in 2005. He was helped by his girlfriend, Suzie Rodriguez, who was also convicted. Both will be sentenced in May.

Still, it’s hard to imagine this will be the real end of Sana Ojeda. Mafia members, most of whom are doing life in maximum security prisons, routinely run these operations with the help of go-betweens on the street.

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LAT Op-Ed: Parks, Gang Free, Returned to Owners

An opinion piece of mine is out in the LA Times — this one about the radical changes at Southern California parks.

Parks, by and large, are now free of gang presence. They are, generally speaking, places where families can play and relax without the fear that not so many years ago kept them away.

As I say in the piece, this mostly benefits working-class families who couldn’t use gang-infested parks near where they lived years ago.

This marks a real revolution, I think. Dominating parks was part of how gangs emerged and grew strong in Southern California.

Hope you like the piece.

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Boxer Enriquez, the Mexican Mafia, LAPD – What’s the problem?

There’s been a dust-up recently over a meeting that LAPD investigators held with Rene “Boxer” Enriquez, a former influential member of the Mexican Mafia prison gang, in which he explained to them the inner workings of his former crime pals.

The mayor is criticizing the meeting, questioning why it was held. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has called for a review of the decision to hold it.9780061257308_p0_v1_s260x420 LA Police Commission President Steve Soboroff has called for an investigation into the meeting. Soboroff called the meeting a “giant waste of resources” and “very very misconceived.”

I don’t know what happened at that meeting, but if it was anything like the kind of law-enforcement seminar Enriquez has given dozens of times in the past, then Soboroff need to reassess that opinion.

What is the problem here?

Why would you not want a former Mexican Mafia member to be educating police brass on the workings of one of the most influential, and little-known, institutions in Southern California life today?

Boxer has made a second career (behind bars – he’s serving life in prison) of teaching law enforcement about how his old mates work. I’ve interviewed him extensively. That’s what he does, and, an articulate fellow, he does it pretty well.  (He’s co-author, with local TV reporter Chris Blatchford, of the book, The Black Hand, released in 2009.)

Far from being a “giant waste,” this seems to me to be essential work. The Mexican Mafia is one of the most important institutions in Southern California, particularly in communities with large Latino populations and gang problems.

The Eme used to be just a prison gang. But two decades ago, it marshaled the forces of street gang members to tax drug dealers in their areas, and sometimes also fruit vendors, bars, prostitutes and others – and funnel the proceeds to Eme members, their families and associates.

With that, it became Southern California’s first regional organized crime syndicate.

It’s probably less than that description implies, as it’s run by drug addicts locked away in maximum security prisons, who use drug addicts and criminals as their go-betweens. The miscommunication can be monumental. Still, the mafia has changed life in many parts of this region.

In some SoCal towns, its members are more important than the mayor, with enormous impact on town budgets. Its members can create – have created – crime waves with simple orders to associates who pass them along to gangsters on the street. The Eme has been shown to have alliances with Mexican cartels.

Sounds to me like anyone willing shed light on an organization like that ought to be welcome.

By the way, I contend that Enriquez’s decision to drop out while he was in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay in 2001 was a crucial moment in state prison history, as it helped pave the way for the mass defection of gang members in prison.

It wasn’t the only factor pushing that along, but it was important because it showed the Eme’s soldiers and lieutenants that their higher-ups weren’t going stick with the program. Also, two other mafia members – Angel “Stump” Valencia and David “Chino” Delgadillo – quickly followed him into PC, with several others after that, including Boxer’s old Eme buddy, Jacko Padilla, who controlled the Azusa area.

Protective custody in state prison went from a few hundred to, today, tens of thousands of inmates on what are known euphemistically as Sensitive Needs Yards. Many of them are Southern California Latino gang members. All that picked up enormous momentum after Enriquez dropped out.

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Is This How Gangs End?

I’m very proud of my cover story in the January’s edition of Pacific Standard Magazine about the decline of gang violence and gang presence in Southern California.gangs-illo

I’ve been watching this phenomenon quietly unfold for several years. It amounts to a revolution in criminal behavior in the region that essentially invented the modern street gang, then exported it to much of America.

It’s not necessarily to say that, literally, all gangs have stopped existing, though some have. Rather, it’s to say that their behavior is so much more underground, low-profile, so quiet, that it amounts to about the same thing for many working-class neighborhoods that were besieged by these guys for so long. Some are still active but none is as active as gangs were a decade or two ago.

These were truly street gangs, meaning they took their power, identity and reputation from their streets and how well they “defended” them.

Areas like Drew Street, mentioned in the piece, are now seeing a resurgence that was denied them for many years due to the stifling presence of their local gangs.

Anyway, I hope you like the piece. Daily Beast selected it as one of the Best Longreads of the Week – so that was nice….Let me know what you think, please.

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The Flowers of El Monte….dope taxes and attacks on blacks

Today’s RICO indictment of the El Monte Flores gang offers another glimpse of the Southern California gang underworld and how it’s changed.

EMF ran taxation of not just drug dealers but also of fake-document vendors on behalf of the Mexican Mafia prison gang, according to the indictment.emf

The gang also allegedly participated in the wave of race-hate crimes by Latino street gangs against blacks, ordered up by Mexican Mafia prison gang members.

For several years during the late 1990s and well into the 2000s, Latino street gangs were the county’s leading, and by far the most violent, perpetrators of race hate crimes.

This is about the 7th or 8th indictment of a Latino gang alleging this. Others include Hawaiian Gardens 13, Azusa 13, Avenues, Florencia 13, etc.

(You can see more of what I’ve written explaining that entire phenomenon in an chapter in the book, Black and Brown in Los Angeles, published last year by the U.C. Press.)

El Monte Flores – from El Monte and South El Monte – is one of those Latino street gangs that grew up in the numerous barrios that emerged in post-WWII Southern California, places where Mexican-American workers lived.

Now, 50+ years later, the gang, like virtually all Latino gangs in the region, pays homage and obedience to the Mexican Mafia. In this case, the orders allegedly come from an Eme member named James “Chemo” Gutierrez, who just finished a 20-year federal sentence for murder in time to catch this indictment.

Reading between the lines of the indictment, Gutierrez took over in 2007 for Frankie “Frankie B” Buelna, the long-time Mexican Mafia member who was killed in a bar fight in Pomona and before his demise controlled many of the gangs in the San Gabriel Valley.

What’s interesting about these RICO indictment is how they have become almost as routine as morning coffee.This is the 25th or 26th in the last six or so years. So many that the US Attorney apparently no longer holds press conferences to announce them.

Still, the indictments are powerful things and have gone a long way toward changing gang activity in the region.

Federal prison sentences are longer than state time. There’s no parole. Plus, guys are sent to prisons in South Carolina, or Arkansas, or Minnesota – far from friends and family. No girlfriend’s going to be visiting any gang member in Arkansas. Plus, so many gang members are wrapped up in each indictment. the EMF was tiny, with 41. The Florencia and HG13 indictments each involved over 100 defendants.

The effect has been to either neutralize many gangs, or force them underground, giving the neighborhoods a welcome breather from the constant blight, graffiti, shootings etc that for so many years accompanied the presence of any LA street gang.

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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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LOS ANGELES: Mexican Mafia and La Familia Michoacana

An indictment announced today offers a scary, fascinating look into a new alliance between a California prison gang, including a current hunger strike leader, and a Mexican drug cartel.

Florencia 13 — from the Florence-Firestone district of LA — and La Familia Michoacana were apparently combining forces, with the gang giving permission to the cartel to sell methamphetamine

Important to note: Also mentioned as an unindicted co-conspirator is Mexican Mafia member Arturo “Tablas” Castellanos, who runs Florencia 13 and is currently one of the four leaders of the Short Corridor Collective in Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit (SHU) promoting a hunger strike across state prisons to protest solitary confinement of its members and others.

Castellanos, whose name appears 30 times in the indictment, allegedly communicated with the street using his visitors to Pelican Bay and those who visited accomplices.

The indictment alleges if not a new cooperation between cartels and the state’s prison gangs, certainly a deepening of those relationships, though authorities say they got it while the alliance was still in its early stages. At one point, La Familia allegedly paid the prison gang $150,000.

(Read the press release here.)

La Familia Michoacana is a strange cartel based in the Mexican state of Michoacan, involving Catholic teachings with drug trafficking. Members of the cartel allegedly paid money to the gang and the Mexican Mafia, and sold drugs at discounted prices, to be able to sell in the area.

Florencia 13 is a many decades-old gang. In 2007, more than a hundred Florencianos were arrested and charged with racketeering, as well as waging a war on blacks in their neighborhoods, which are unincorporated parts of Los Angeles, south of downtown and north of Watts.

All of this was allegedly on orders from Castellanos, who is serving a life term in Pelican Bay SHU for a murder committed in Los Angeles in 1979, as well as gang crimes committed while in prison since then.

I’m reading through the indictment as I travel to Ohio for more reporting for my book on heroin trafficking. More later.

Photo: CDCR & California Watch

 

 

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HUNGER STRIKE: How one prison-gang member sees it

The hunger strikes in California prisons lately are motivated as much by prison gang maneuvering as by concern over human-rights violations.

That’s the opinion of one veteran gang member I spoke with recently.

Emanating from Pelican Bay State Prison, the strikes protest the fact that hundreds of inmates are housed in solitary confinement in the prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU), some for many years.images-1 A recent strike had 30,000 inmates refusing food. Thousands stopped eating in sporadic strikes last year as well.

Trying to understand what there was to know, I took time from a busy schedule writing a book to speak with the long-time Sureno (Southern California) gang member, who’s done a lot of time in Pelican Bay SHU, as well as several other of the state’s penal institutions, and just been released.

This gang member dropped out in prison several years ago and has spent his recent prison time on what’s known as Sensitive Needs Yards, the new euphemism for protective custody.

Protective custody used to comprise a few hundred inmates statewide, in a couple cellblocks. Now there are many thousands. So the state prison officials came up with SNYs — entire yards to house them all. Most of the new entrants into SNYs are dropouts from prison gangs. (Btw, I wrote about SNYs several years ago.)

SNYs are the most radical change to the state prison system in a generation, probably since Pelican Bay itself opened in 1989.LA Flower District

So great are the numbers of dropouts that most prisons now have at least one SNY. Mule Creek in Ione is all SNY.

In these yards, inmates must live with those that prison gangs prohibit them from getting along with on mainline, active-gang yards. So blacks and Aryan Brotherhood must live together on SNYs. Surenos must live with Nortenos and with blacks – whom normally they are under orders to attack in the mainline yards. All of them must live with child molesters and others they’d have killed on mainline yards.

(In active-gang prisons yards, Northern Hispanics and Southern Hispanics cannot be housed together due to a feud dating to the late 1960s. Southern Hispanics and blacks cannot be housed together, for the same reason. These are some of the divisions that keep life in state prisons confusing to the point of headache.)

Many SNY inmates are tired of the gang life and just want to serve their sentence in peace.

But a lot of these dropouts can’t get the gang out of their blood. So on SNYs have emerged a half-dozen new gangs of various sizes.IMG_7902

The 2-5s are the oldest. But there’s also the Northern Riders (ex-Nortenos); the Independent Riders (ex-Surenos and skinheads); BBC (Brothers by Choice – northern skinheads) and Los Amigos (former Mexican Mafia members).

This is crucial to understanding the prison hunger strikes of the last year, he said.

Guys in Pelican Bay “are saying, these SNY guys are debriefing to get out of the SHU and they’re forming new gangs. Why do you have us slammed (in solitary confinement) if all these guys who are debriefing are forming gangs and still walking the lines?” he told me.

To stoke their numbers, Pelican Bay gang leaders have ordered inmates across the system to participate in the hunger strike. Most strikers have no choice, he said.

During last year’s hunger strikes, “I was in Tehachapi and [the order] came down from Pelican Bay,” the gang member said. “They didn’t eat for three weeks. No one was supposed to eat, or program until they agreed to let out the Brothers and all the people that’s validated gang members in the SHU.

“There was a few of them who didn’t [stop eating], and they put them in the hat (a death list). They took them off roll call, which is the good list,” he said. “They tried to get us (in SNY gangs) to join the hunger strike. We shot it down. We don’t fall under their rules.”

cropped-Dfjaripo97.jpgSame thing just happened, he said. An order came down and 30,000 inmates had to stop eating.

For its part, the CDCR, the gang member said, is requiring that all inmates live with each other — no matter the race, affiliation or background – before they’ll let the Pelican Bay strikers out of solitary confinement.

CDCR’s idea, he said, is that prison-gang leaders would have to order an end to the divisions, system-wide, that have made California prison life into a bewildering and dangerous racial and geographic Balkans for decades now.

“The state’s saying, `You guys are telling us you want to come out but you don’t want to program (live on the same yards) with the SNY gangs,’” he said. “The state’s saying, `You guys all got to program together.’”wpid-Photo-Jan-24-2012-356-PM.jpg

The gang member expected inmates in Pelican Bay SHU will start insisting on single cells, where many of them double up now. That would force chaos on the SHU system. “There’s not enough room in SHUs to do that. That’s the brothers’ next move.”

Meanwhile, in SNYs, all the new gangs are “fighting for numbers.”

The new gangs illustrate the changes at work in the CDCR since the advent of SNYs.

“There’s Nortenos who are 2-5s, ex-Surenos who are Northern Riders,” he said. “There’s blacks who are ex-Crips who are 2-5s. It’s crazy.”

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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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PRISONS: A call to end racial warring

A group of inmates in California’s maximum security lockups — Pelican Bay, Corcoran and Tehachapi — are calling for an end to the racial warring that has been part of prison life in the state since … probably since I was born.

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.

 

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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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