Tom Diaz

Archive for the ‘Latino gangs’ Category

NOW ITS PERSONAL–MS-13 GANG LEADERS IN EL SALVADOR ORDERED HIT ON U.S. ICE AGENT IN NEW YORK

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on November 4, 2009 at 4:53 pm
gang_members12_6_07

Leaders of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) in El Salvador Ordered Hit on ICE Agent in New York

Now it’s definite.

And it’s personal.

Leaders of the transnational organized criminal gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) have upped the ante and ordered a hit on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent in New York.  An earlier plot to kill an LAPD gang detective, Frank Flores, was detailed in a RICO indictment earlier this year.  (See “The Plot to Whack a Cop” here.)

This case takes MS-13’s violent impudence to a federal level.

Tom Diaz, "No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement"

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

M16assaultrifle

M-16 Assault Rifle Was One Choice of MS-13 Gangsters to Kill Federal Agent

According to an affidavit filed in support of an arrest warrant, an MS-13 member specifically tasked to kill the ICE agent described the plot to federal agents.  The gangsters were looking for an AK-47 or M-16 assault rifle to do the job.  (“Affidavit In Support Of Arrest Warrant,”  United States v. Walter Alberto Torres, also known as “Duke,” United States District Court for the Eastern District Of New York, Case 1:09-mj-01055-RLM).

This is perhaps not surprising, given MS-13’s violent history — which is detailed in my book, No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press, 2009).

As Fairly Civil has noted before, there is no question that gangsters in the United States have access to the firepower to take on U.S. law enforcement agents in the same way that narcotraficantes go after Mexican law enforcement authorities.  The question has been:  would gang leadership risk bringing the fury of America’s cops and agents down on their heads?

Apparently they would.   (Although one experienced gang cop takes exception to this conclusion here.)

ak47

AK-47 Was Other Choice of MS-13 Gangsters

It is worth noting that some gang experts familiar with the Mexican Mafia and their affiliated Sureno gangs insist that the Mexican Mafia made its decision a few years ago to target troublesome cops.

If there were any gloves left on, they are off now.

Here is an extended excerpt from the affidavit. (Under the circumstances, Fairly Civil does not include the name of the agent filing the affidavit.  The target is called “John Doe” in the affidavit.):

2. Over the past several years, my office has engaged in an extended, in-depth investigation of members of the street gang La Mara Salvatrucha 13, also known as “MS-13,” (hereinafter “MS-13″). The defendant WALTER ALBERTO TORRES DUKE, also known as “Duke,” is a self-admitted member of MS-13. MS-13 engages in acts and threats involving murder, attempted murder, robbery and extortion, in violation of the laws of the various states, including New York, and narcotics trafficking, in violation of Title 21, U.S.C., Sections 841 and 846.

3. MS-13 is comprised primarily of immigrants from El Salvador and other Central American countries, with members located throughout the United States and Central America. In the United States, major MS-13 chapters, or “cliques,” have been established in New York, Virginia, Texas, California and elsewhere. Following induction, members of MS-13 frequently demonstrate their membership by wearing clothing containing the colors blue and white and/or the words “MS” or “13.”

4. In the Eastern District of New York, MS-13 cliques have been established in various towns on Long Island, including Hempstead, Freeport, Roosevelt, Huntington, Brentwood and Islip, and neighborhoods in New York City including Jamaica, Flushing, Forest Hills and Far Rockaway. The cliques routinely hold meetings to plan criminal activity, and members pay dues into a clique treasury. The treasury funds are used to purchase firearms and ammunition and to promote other illegal activity. Inter-clique meetings, called “Universals,” are used to coordinate criminal activities among different cliques. Participation in criminal activity by a member, especially violence directed at rival gangs, increases the respect accorded to that member and is necessary to obtain a promotion to a senior or leadership position.

5. In the Eastern District of New York, MS-13 members are frequently involved in violent altercations with members of rival gangs such as the Salvadorans With Pride (“SWP”), the Latin Kings, the Bloods and the Netas. In the Eastern District of New York, MS-13 members have repeatedly carried out “drive-by” shootings and other violent attacks targeting members of rival gangs and others.

6. According to a cooperating witness (“CW”), members of MS-13 have been plotting to kill ICE Agent John Doe (“Agent Doe”), a leader in the investigation of MS-13, since at least December 2006. Specifically, CW stated that he, along with fellow MS-13 gang members in the Flushing clique of MS-13, plotted to murder Agent Doe with either a rifle or a shotgun, in retaliation for Agent Doe’s ongoing investigation of MS-13 in Queens, New York. CW stated that the gang was exceedingly angry at Agent Doe, whom MS-13 blamed for the incarceration of dozens of gang members in Queens, New York, and elsewhere.

7. A second MS-13 gang member, who subsequently pled guilty to racketeering-related charges in this District, admitted to participating in the same plot to kill Agent Doe in late 2006 and early 2007, during proffer sessions with the government.

8. On or about October 16, 2009, at approximately 9:30 p.m., detectives from the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) observed a group of several admitted MS-13 gang members walking on Northern Boulevard, near 150th Street, in Flushing, Queens, and approaching other pedestrians in an aggressive manner. Two detectives requested the individuals to stop, and requested them to take their hands out of their pockets. The individuals ultimately complied, and the detectives recognized four of the individuals as previously identified MS-13 gang members. A fifth individual, the defendant TORRES, was not known to the detectives at the time, but identified himself as a member of MS-13 and stated that he wished to provide information to the NYPD. None of the individuals, including the defendant, were taken into custody.

9. On or about October 20, 2009, defendant WALTER ALBERTO TORRES, also known as “Duke,” contacted detectives from the NYPD and requested a meeting, which was arranged for later that day. Prior to commencing the interview with the defendant, the defendant was advised of his Miranda rights, both orally and in writing. Defendant TORRES indicated that he understood and wished to waive his rights, and signed a written waiver to that effect.

10. During the interview, the defendant stated, in sum and substance and in part, that he has been a member of MS-13 since joining the gang in approximately 1998 in El Salvador. The defendant stated that he emigrated to the United States in 2001, at which point he joined an MS-13 clique in Springfield, Virginia. He later moved to Alexandria, Virginia.

11. The defendant further stated that he and other MS-13 gang members agreed to murder Agent Doe and engaged in planning the murder. In order to perpetrate the murder, the defendant stated that the gang was attempting to procure an AK-47 assault rifle or an M-16 machine gun, in anticipation that the bullets would penetrate the agent’s body armor. TORRES stated that the order for the murder came from gang leadership in El Salvador, and that he discussed the plan with MS-13 gang members as recently as August 2009.

12. During the October 20, 2009 interview, it was determined that there was an outstanding warrant for the defendant’s arrest. Specifically, the defendant is wanted in Fairfax, Virginia, for violation of probation following his guilty plea to grand larceny, a felony. The defendant was subsequently taken into custody.

13. On or about October 22, 2009, NYPD detectives and ICE agents again interviewed the defendant, this time at Riker’s Island. The defendant was advised of his Miranda rights, both orally and in writing. Defendant TORRES again indicated that he understood and wished to waive his rights, and signed a written waiver to that effect.

14. During the interview, the defendant described, among other things, multiple acts of violence he committed on behalf of MS-13. The defendant also described the plot to kill a federal agent, stating that he traveled to New York in or about August 2009 for the specific purpose of participating in the planning and execution of the murder plot. Information provided by the CW, as well as surveillance by law enforcement agents, corroborates the identity and gang membership of the coconspirators identified by TORRES. According to TORRES, he was in charge of putting the plan together, and he agreed with fellow gang members to participate in the ongoing plot to kill Agent Doe with a high powered rifle or similar weapon.

MS 13

Maybe All They Need is a Hug: MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

WRONG ZOMBIE? COULD MISTAKEN IDENTITY STRIKE TWICE IN TWO FEDERAL MS-13 CASES? BOTH INVOLVING ALEX SANCHEZ?

In bad manners, Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on October 27, 2009 at 10:53 am
Sorry, Wrong Gangster?

Sorry, Wrong Gangster?

“’Curiouser and curiouser!’ Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English). ’Now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!’ (for when she looked down at her feet they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off).

Lewis Carroll, Alice In Wonderland.

Pregnant MS-13 Gangster Brenda Paz Was Slashed to Death on the Banks of the Shenandoah River on the Morning of July 13, 2003 for "Ratting" on Fellow Gangsters

Pregnant MS-13 Gangster Brenda Paz Was Slashed to Death on the Banks of the Shenandoah River on the Morning of July 13, 2003 for "Ratting" on Fellow Gangsters

Here is a curious web of events, the common thread of which is one Alex Sanchez, aka “Rebelde.”

Sanchez is the putative “anti-gang activist” whom the government accused in a racketeering (RICO) indictment handed up in June 2009 by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles of being a fraud — acting in secret as a “shot-caller” while posing in public as the Mother Teresa of the Latino gang world.  (For details of the case, start here, and here and follow links).

Let us, gentle reader, go forth and explore this web together.

O, Shenandoah!

A horrific murder — typical of the work of members of the bloodthirsty transnational Latino gang, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) — was committed the morning of July 13, 2003.

On the banks of the gently flowing and historic Shenandoah River in Virgina, pregnant gangster Brenda Paz was brutally slashed to death by two of her fellow gangsters.  One of them, Ismael Juarez Cisneros, later told investigators, “I loved her with all my heart.”  Skeptics might be forgiven for thinking Cisneros — a deported and feloniously re-entered illegal alien from Mexico — had a curious manner of showing his affection.

Brenda’s offense?

“Ratting out” her fellow gangsters to federal authorities and a host of state and local police.  Paz was scheduled to testify in a federal murder trial, in which she was prepared to implicate as homicidal mastermind a Virginia-based MS-13 shot-caller, Denis “Conejo” (Rabbit) Rivera — not incidentally one of her former lovers.

[The sordid details of Brenda Paz's life and murder are summarized in my book, No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press, 2009).  No Boundaries also examines the genesis of MS-13 within the context of the broader history of Latino street gangs generally. Those interested in a book more narrowly focused specifically on Paz's tumultuous life and tragic death should read Samuel Logan's This is for the Mara Salvatrucha (New York: Hyperion 2009).]

In a December 2005 piece on the Paz murder, “The Fight Against MS-13,” the CBS 60 Minutes television program summed up the relevant events:

Not only does MS-13 conduct investigations of its own, but like a corporate organization, most cliques have regular meetings where they discuss recruiting, money and murder – what they call a “greenlight.”

According to witnesses, the gang took a unanimous vote in a hotel that Brenda should be assassinated. The next morning, she was lured away on a fishing trip with her new boyfriend, Oscar Grande, and her friend, Ismael Cisneros.

A former MS-13 member who is now in jail on an ammunition possession charge and asked 60 Minutes not to use his name, went with them.

“I was facing the river. You know, I was watching, I was enjoying the view. Was summertime. It was nice place. And they was behind me fixing the fishing pole. And I turn my face. I see for couple seconds that she was get stabbing. And I freak out and I run away,” he recalled.

Asked to confirm if he saw the stabbing of Brenda Paz, he answered “Yes.”

She was stabbed by her boyfriend Oscar Grande and Ismael Cisneros, who later confessed. He said she had called out “Why?” “Because you’re a rat” she was told. They stabbed her approximately 13 times.

MS-13 Gangster Ismael Cisneros Claimed He "Loved" Paz, Whom He Was Convicted of Slashing to Death

MS-13 Gangster Ismael Cisneros Claimed He "Loved" Paz, Whom He Was Convicted of Slashing to Death

Court records and other news reporting make clear beyond doubt that the anonymous “former MS-13″ gangster quoted on the 60 Minutes program was one Oscar Garcia-Orellana.  Garcia had either somehow slipped between the cracks and evaded a 1998 deportation order, or feloniously re-entered the United States after having been deported to El Salvador.

Garcia was the only defendant in the 2005 Paz murder case trial to take the stand.  Prosecutors claimed that he held a rope around Paz’s neck while the other two men slashed the life out of her and her unborn child.  Garcia admitted that he had been present at the time of the slaughter, but claimed that he did not know in advance that Cisneros and Grande planned to kill her.  He testified that instead of trying to save Paz, he had acted like a coward and run away when they started slashing her.  His lawyers maintained that although he had once been an active member of MS-13, he had drifted away from the gang.

One of the defense witnesses for Garcia was — the aforesaid “anti-gang activist” Alex “Rebelde” Sanchez.

The Expert Witness for the Defense

Here is an excerpt from the report of the Paz murder trial in the May 4, 2005 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper:

Jurors also heard from Alex Sanchez, a gang expert from Los Angeles and a former MS-13 member. He explained that many young people join gangs like MS-13 to mitigate abuse or neglect at home.

“They feel a sense of knowing that a bigger group will stand up for them, that they are not alone,” he said.

Sanchez also said most older gang members fall away from MS-13 once they reach their 30s, when younger members take leadership roles. His comments dovetailed with the assertions of Garcia’s lawyers, who claim he was a part-time gang member who was not involved in MS-13’s decision to kill Paz.

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

Sorry, Wrong Member

But Alex Sanchez was by far not the only help Oscar Garcia got.

More important was a huge screw-up, belatedly admitted by government prosecutors.  Here is an excerpt from the May 11, 2005 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch (which, it ought to be noted, cleaned the Washington Post’s clock on the coverage of this case) detailing the blunder:

Lawyer Alexander Levay, representing 32-year-old Oscar Garcia-Orellana, charged that government lawyers manipulated evidence and pursued conspiracy charges against Garcia even after prosecutors recognized their indictment against him was seriously flawed.

“If we can’t count on the government to play fair and by the rules, then each of us are a little less free,” Levay said.

At issue are allegations central to prosecutors’ contention that Garcia conspired with the accused mastermind of the plot to kill Paz, 21-year-old Denis “Conejo” Rivera. At the outset of the case, prosecutors said a taped telephone call between Garcia and Rivera — in which Garcia purportedly informed Rivera that Paz was dead — would prove Garcia’s guilt.

But prosecutors were forced to abandon that assertion after Garcia’s lawyers showed that it was not the defendant’s voice on the call. Rather, Rivera apparently was talking about the Paz murder with another gang member, Napoleon Hernandez, who shares the same nickname as Garcia, “Gato.” Hernandez has been deported.

Prosecutors acknowledged their mistake earlier in the case. Out of the presence of the jury, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Walutes Jr. offered to withdraw the phone-call allegation from the indictment. But Garcia’s defense lawyers refused, hoping to show to the jury that the prosecution misstep made their entire case against Garcia suspect.

Levay said prosecutors had reason last year to suspect that they had the wrong Gato, but chose not to pursue the evidence.

“It didn’t fit their little scenario of the case, so they buried it,” Levay said. “The fact that they would mislead you into believing that the Gato on the phone was my client should be enough to find him not guilty.”

Levay’s attack on the prosecution case was part of a defense strategy to differentiate him from his fellow defendants.

“The indictment lumps everyone together, but the evidence distinguishes them again and again,” he said.

Oops.

Garcia walked — but right into the arms of federal agents, who arrested him on another felony charge of being illegally in possession of ammunition (by reason of his immigration status).  According to federal court records, he took a plea and was sentenced to a year and a day.  He has since presumably been deported to his native El Salvador [although the trail grows cold in official records, one might justifiably assume that the government kept track of him this time.]

His Other Left Foot

Fate takes strange turns in the gangster world.

This June Alex Sanchez found the shoe on the other foot — instead of witness for the defense, he became notorious defendant (for not the first time in his life).

In brief, Sanchez is accused of only pretending to have rejected the gang life and become a prominent anti-gang activist.  In fact, the government claims, Sanchez has all along been a secret leader of an MS-13 clique in Los Angeles.

More specifically, Sanchez is said to have directed the murder of a renegade gang member in El Salvador, one Walter Lacinos (aka “Camaron,” also sometimes spelled “Cameron”).

Prosecutors persuaded a federal magistrate to detain Sanchez when he was arrested.  The issue in a detention proceeding is not guilt, but the risk of flight.  The strength of the government’s detention case was four wiretapped phone calls in which — according to the analysis of Los Angeles Police Department Detective and MS-13 expert Frank Flores — Sanchez allegedly directed one Juan Bonilla (aka “Zombie”) to whack Camaron.

Judge Manuel L. Real promptly confirmed the magistrate’s decision and set a new bail (detention) hearing for last Monday, October 19, 2009.

According to the court’s one page of clinical minutes, the hearing before Judge Manuel L. Real lasted one hour and eighteen minutes.  (Criminal Minutes — General, “Further Hearing re: Defendant’s Application for Review/Reconsideration of Detention Order,” Case No. CR-09-466-R).

Here is what happened, according to the court’s minutes:

Detective Frank Flores is called, sworn and testifies.

Exhibits are identified.

The Court hears arguments of counsel.

For reasons stated, the Court orders the continued detention of defendant.

More or less, open and shut.  Here is a nice, balanced account from LA Weekly about the hearing.

But according to the social justice website WitnessLA, something fascinating also happened.  And it is no doubt this something that prompted Alex Sanchez’s court-appointed lawyer, Kerry Bensinger, to file an interlocutory appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the detention order.  Courts of appeal generally do not fiddle with such fact-based, pre-trial rulings of lower courts, but the 9th Circuit is said to have reversed Judge Real at an exceptional rate and to be “on his case.”

Sorry, Wrong Member, Redux

Alex Sanchez (WitnessLA Illustration)

Alex Sanchez (WitnessLA Illustration)

Miracle of miracles, Sanchez’s defense lawyer,  Bensinger, claimed to have found in the Sanchez case precisely the flaw that brought down the government’s case against Oscar Garcia-Orellana.  Namely, the mistaken identification of a party to a key wiretapped phone conversation!

If there were a convenience store for defense tactics, this one would be right up at the front of the MS-13 impulse shopping shelf!

The whole thing reminds me of a common street defense I encountered during my brief tenure as a defense lawyer for indigent defendants in Washington, D.C. some years ago.  It was commonly known as “the Tyrone defense” and was more or less automatically uttered by any miscreant collared with incriminating swag in hand, but not actually witnessed ripping the swag off.

“I was just standing here when my boy came by and he handed it to me,”  the tarnished angel would state indignantly.  And who would that have been?  “I don’t know.  We just call him ‘Tyrone.'”  Naturally, the ubiquitous Tyrone could never be found.

And, yes, I actually saw the “Tyrone defense” work in at least one poorly “papered” case.

But I digress.

Passing curious, no, this amazing coincidence?  Perhaps beyond strange and approaching incredible?

Here is the self-admittedly and vigorously pro-Sanchez WitnessLA’s description of the argument, which its editor, Celeste Fremon has headlined, “Arresting Alex Sanchez: Part 6: The Judge Real Show.”  (Some among the social justice crowd — but most assuredly not including Ms. Fremon, who is among other things a professor of journalism and who loves her city, including whatever warts she perceives in the LAPD — play a sort of ideological whack-a-mole on this case alternating between whacking Judge Real as some kind of geriatric nut case, the LAPD as a vengeful racist gang determined to “get” Sanchez, and the FBI/Department of Justice as dull-witted, compliant tools of the slavering LA police establishment.  Gangsters, on the other hand, generally conduct themselves with the comportment of wronged angels, who would never lie to, manipulate, or exploit the good intentions of those who come bearing breviaries of redemption.  For the archetypal case of whackfrenzy, see usual suspect Tom Hayden’s piece beamed down from the empyrean to usual outlet The Nation.  )

But I digress again!  Here is the WitnessLA excerpt:

One of the issues that [attorney Kerry] Bensinger brought up during the cross examination was his contention that Flores completely and crucially misidentified a person on one of the calls, a guy with the street name of Zombie. According to Flores, the person, “Zombie,” on the phone call was also the person who was eventually arrested for the murder of Cameron, a murder that Sanchez had allegedly ordered during the last of the four phone calls that are the center of the prosecution’s case.

Yet, according to Bensinger, the guy called “Zombie” on the call was a very different fellow from Juan Bonilla, the killer, who is also called Zombie.

(I know this nickname business is dizzying, but try to stay with me here.)

Evidently there are a number of Zombies in and around the local MS-13 cliques—which is common in gangs. There might be a guy with the nickname of Zombie. But there may also be Lil’ Zombie…..Big Zombie….and heaven knows what other permutation of the nickname Zombie (or Sleepy or Dreamer or P’Nut or Snyper or Loco or…..you get the picture).

Anyway it seems that Bensinger’s Zombie (whom we’ll randomly designate as Zombie 2) dropped a whole lot of identifiers during the course of the long conversation, like references to several family members and—helpfully—his actual name.

With the tiniest amount of police work Flores could have verified which Zombie he had on this call—since it was so important to his case.

When asked if he did any of that follow-up investigation, Flores admitted that he had not. When Bensinger asked why, Flores said that he didn’t need to do any further checking because he knew it was Zombie/Juan on the call. (The exchange between Flores and Bensinger was longer than I am portraying here.) And how did the detective know he had the right Zombie in the face of fairly convincing evidence to the contrary? Flores did not elucidate.

However, what Flores did say is that Zombie/Juan was one of the feds’ informants, that after he was arrested for Cameron’s murder, he began singing like a bird and not only confessed to the killing himself, he also fingered Alex Sanchez and said that Sanchez told him on the phone to kill Cameron. [Fairly Civil's emphasis.]

It would be an understatement to say that WitnessLA is skeptical of the government’s position, notwithstanding its own report of Flores’s testimony that “Zombie/Juan was one of the feds’ informants, that after he was arrested for Cameron’s murder, he began singing like a bird and not only confessed to the killing himself, he also fingered Alex Sanchez and said that Sanchez told him on the phone to kill Cameron.”

Unfortunately, the transcript of this latest detention hearing is not available as of this writing.  Would that it were, because some observers who were present and have read the above wonder whether everyone was on the same planet.   It is hard, nay impossible, to know what Detective Flores actually said.

Whack!

In any case, some would say that a singing bird (or rat) in hand — a federal informant who identifies himself as the person on  the phone receiving orders — pretty well would establish who was on the other end of the phone line.  If “Zombie/Juan” says it was he….?  But Zombie/Juan/Whoever apparently uttered words that raise some doubt about who he actually was.

Not enough doubt, however, to persuade Judge Real.

Whack!  Whack!

In between blows, it should be noted that gangsters often talk in elliptical ways when on the telephone or in circumstances in which they think someone else might be listening.  For example, in No Boundaries I describe how convicted 18th Street gang hit-man Anthony “Coco” Zaragoza sometimes referred to himself in the third person and sometimes adopted “code” pseudonyms for himself in the course of conversations that were being wiretapped by the FBI.  One of the investigative challenges for law enforcement is breaking through and interpreting the fog of jargon, crude codes, and such attempts at deception on the part of gangland’s little angels.  What seems straightforward to, say, a social justice critic, may have an entirely different meaning to the gangsters involved.

In any event, this is perhaps an appropriate moment to recall the following observation, reported in an earlier Fairly Civil posting:

Experienced gang prosecutors and investigators who are not related to or part of the Sanchez case have told me [first person code for Fairly Civil] that this sort of “back and forth” or what is known as the “battle of the transcripts” is fairly typical of the early stages of a big racketeering case — particularly when you have a case that relies on transcripts that require translation — and that it is best at this stage to keep an open mind and not jump to conclusions but rather to follow the evidence until the “back and forth” sorts itself out.

At this stage it appears to these observers that too many people are jumping to conclusions and making personal attacks (on both sides) when the real issues are evidence-based — namely, “First, “what precisely do the transcripts say?” Then, once that is established, second, “Now that we know what the transcripts say, what exactly does that mean?”

Curiouser and curiouser.

Whack!  Whack!  Whack!

23a_cheshire_cat

The Cheshire Cat

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

`I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.

`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

Y QUE? ALEX SANCHEZ DENIED BAIL AGAIN

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, undercover investigations on October 20, 2009 at 4:09 pm
Still in Custody -- Judges denies Bail Request of Alex Sanchez, Accused "Stealth Shot Caller"

Still in Custody -- Judges denies Bail Request of Alex Sanchez, Accused "Stealth Shot Caller"

Details are not only sketchy, they are non-existent, but two close sources confirm that Alex Sanchez was again denied bail at his hearing in federal court yesterday.  Don’t bother searching the Los Angeles Times, to whom this case is apparently not a story in spite of its drama and implications for administration of justice, gangs, and organized crime.

For background on the story of this former gangster, ostensibly turned anti-gang activist, but now accused in a federal RICO indictment of being a secret “shot-caller” or gang boss, go here, here, and here.

Meanwhile, perhaps the most that can be said until the trial and verdict is this.

Whatever the prosecutors served up yesterday, it apparently was sizzling enough to convince federal judge Manuel Real to keep Sanchez locked up.

Experienced gang prosecutors and investigators who are not related to or part of the Sanchez case have told me that this sort of “back and forth” or what is known as the “battle of the transcripts” is fairly typical of the early stages of a big racketeering case — particularly when you have a case that relies on transcripts that require translation — and that it is best at this stage to keep an open mind and not jump to conclusions but rather to follow the evidence until the “back and forth” sorts itself out.

At this stage it appears to these observers that too many people are jumping to conclusions and making personal attacks (on both sides) when the real issues are evidence-based — namely, “First, “what precisely do the transcripts say?”  Then, once that is established, second, “Now that we know what the transcripts say, what exactly does that mean?”

Point taken, but Fairly Civil remains amazed at the virtual news blackout on this case.

Lindsay Lohan grabs more media time? Any media time?

Pathetic.

Newsworthy in L.A.

Newsworthy in L.A.

A Gang Cop’s Reply to Latest Post On the Alex Sanchez Case

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on October 18, 2009 at 6:38 am

As Fairly Civil expected, the previous post on Father Greg Boyle’s filing for the defense in the Alex Sanchez MS-13 case (see here) provoked …um… strong reaction from some members of the Southern California law enforcement community.

[Update: Sanchez was again denied bail on October 19, 2009 by Judge Manuel Real.]

One of the more outspoken was the following communication from retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Richard Valdemar:

I worked the Metropolitan FBI Gang Task Force which targeted the Mara Salvatrucha gang (1994-2004). Father Boyle may yet be a Catholic priest, but he has no credibility with this Catholic. His actions in the past have been very anti-police in nature and I believe this comes from his own personal issues and prejudices. I believe his conduct in the past in protecting wanted gang members was immoral and unethical. I believe that he was sanctioned in the past by the Catholic Church. He has a political agenda and his support of Alex Sanchez and Homies Unidos has become an embarrassment, which can be corrected if Alex Sanchez is somehow acquitted.

There could be several valid explanations for the conversation and they do not necessarily mean that Sanchez is not a member of Mara Salvatrucha, or a Shot Caller;

The Los Angeles Mara Salvatrucha gang is made up of sub-groups or cliques. Each of these cliques supposedly operates with some autonomy from the gang in general, while at the same time holding to the identity and goals of the whole gang. These cliques have de-facto charismatic leaders and vote within the clique in matters that do not necessarily involve the whole Mara Salvatrucha. If a MS member, no matter how influential, tried to interfere in the activity of a clique which he was not a member of, he would be rebuked by clique members and leadership that were members of the particular clique who held voting power. Thus you might hear…

CAMARON: Listen man! And-and-and-and I don’t know why you [stutters] come … you know, and you get involved in things, when you are not longer active, man! You see? Better yet, what you should do is to be careful with the “United Homies” and not-not to get involved in our things, you see? [Call breaks] [UI] with us, because you are no longer active, see what I mean?

But I believe the best explanation is that Alex Sanchez (a MS shot caller), by becoming a leader of Homies Unidos, the “respectable” political arm of the Mara Salvatrucha, and associating with the likes of LA Sheriff Leroy Baca, California Senator Tom Hayden and radical political Catholic Priest Greg Boyle, Sanchez insolated himself from the MS cliques and gang street soldiers who now consider him “inactive” in the daily criminal business of the gang. Alex Sanchez was a MS shot caller when I retired in 2004, and I am sure he has not been “jumped out” of the gang or Camaron’s words would have been much more threatening. What Camaron is telling him is, you take care of the Politics and we will handle the dirty business of killing. But they are still part of the same criminal gang.

By the way, did Alex Sanchez (the supposed ex-gang member) upon learning of Camaron’s evil plot, run and inform his mentor, the good Father Boyle, who of course contacted the police so that the crimes could have been prevented? …Never Happened did it?

Sergeant Richard Valdemar

LASD Major Crimes Bureau (retired)

Power serve.

Alex Sanchez Case Boyles Over — Priest Pours Cold Water on Government Case Against “Secret Shot Caller”

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on October 17, 2009 at 11:00 pm
Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde") Throwing Devils Horns Gang Sign

Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde") Throwing Devils Horns Gang Sign

Are the men in this picture two gangsters, as the federal government claims?

Or are they one gangster and a dedicated anti-gang worker bonding with an ex-homie as part of his work in steering gangsters toward redemption?

Federal Judge Manuel L. Real is scheduled to to slice this baby Monday afternoon, October 19th.  [Update:  Judge Real again denied bail.]

That’s when the judge will hear again the application of the man on the left — Alex Sanchez — for bail.   Sanchez was charged in June with living a double life as a secret “shot caller” while pretending to be an anti-gang worker as executive director of Homies Unidos.

The shock was palpable.

If You Indict Someone Who Rates a 10 On the Mother Teresa Scale, You Better Be Damned Sure You Can Convict

If You Indict Someone Who Rates a 10 On the Mother Teresa Scale, You Better Be Damned Sure You Can Convict

Sanchez is right up there with Mother Teresa in the hagiography of good works.  An unyielding corps of his fans have absolutely insisted that that there is no way Sanchez could have been anything other than the selfless man he presented himself to be.

As an earlier post of Fairly Civil enthusiastically noted (here), the government’s case against Sanchez’s release pending trial rested primarily on what appeared to be a damning series of four wiretap transcripts and the expert opinion of Los Angeles Police Department Detective Frank Flores interpreting the transcripts of those calls.

But a statement filed Wednesday by Father Greg Boyle on behalf of Sanchez raises the bar considerably.  Father Boyle points out a troubling omission from the transcript in the government’s case — namely, the statement of one of the gangster’s that pretty clearly appears to say (in so many words) “butt out, Alex, you are no longer one of us.”

To quote an L.A. news website, WitnessLA: “WTF?”

If you indict Mother Teresa, you better be able to prove her guilt slam dunk style.

(It’s worth noting that the Los Angeles Times appears to be — nay, is — sleeping soundly through this case, as it does so many other gang cases.  That is scandalous either way this case goes, because either an innocent man is being railroaded or he pulled off the greatest scam in the history of do-goodism!)

Excerpt from Father Boyle’s Filing

Here is an excerpt from the gut of Father Boyle’s court filing.  [Declaration of Father Greg Boyle Filed in Support of Defendant Sanchez's Application for Review of Detention Order, United States v. Alfaro, United States District Court for the Central District of California, Docket No. CR-09-00466-R-22.]

(Note:  Sanchez is called by his gang moniker “Rebelde” in this filing.  Camaro is the late gangster whose murder Sanchez is accused of plotting as a secret shot-caller.)

No doubt, the government will have an answer (not filed as of this posting).  If it does not have a zippy and persuasive reply to the following, you won’t be able to count the ruined careers on all your hands and toes.  [For a reply to this post, and to Father Boyle's filing, from a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff's gang sergeant, go here.]

12.  I am fluent in Spanish and I have listened to the tapes of the four recorded calls.  I have read and considered the government’s Memorandum of Points and Authorities as well as the Declaration of Detective Flores.  Based upon my experience, history and qualifications as a gang expert, I believe the government’s conclusions and Detective Frank Flores’s opinions are mistaken and are based upon a misinterpretation of the language and meaning of these four calls.  Similarly, the government and Detective Flores have misconstrued Alex Sanchez’s role in these calls, his purpose in participating in these calls and the import of his statements.

13.   Before I discuss my review of each of the calls, it is important to highlight the fact the government and Detective Flores completely omit and ignore one of the most important — if not the most important — sections in these calls:  the clear and unequivocal statements by participants in the calls that Mr. Sanchez is not an active gang member.  This omission, in and of itself, raises concerns in my mind about the balance and fairness of the government’s and Detective Flores’s presentation.  It is unlikely, if not impossible, the government and Detective Flores overlooked this part of the calls.  More likely, they did not make mention of these statement because the recorded statements undermine their conclusions.

14.  Unlike many of the potentially ambiguous statements lifted from the calls by Detective Flores, there is no ambiguity in the statement made by Camaron, during the third call, that Alex Sanchez is not an active member of the MS-13 gang.  Camaron states:

CAMARON:        Listen man!  And-and-and-and I don’t know why you [stutters] come … you know, and you get involved in things, when you are not longer active, man!  You see?  Better yet, what you should do is to be careful with the “United Homies” and not-not to get involved in our things, you see?  [Call breaks] [UI] with us, because you are no longer active, see what I mean?

REBELDE:        If you told him — If you told Boxer that I’m working with the FBI, then you know what, you are getting me involved!

15.  Camaron does not mince words.  He says Mr. Sanchez should have no voice in the conversation because he is not part of the gang.  From Camaron’s perspective, Mr. Sanchez is an outsider and should not get involved in “our things” because he is “no longer active.”  There is no way to reconcile this statement — that Mr. Sanchez is not an active gang member — with the government’s and Detective Flores’s position; in fact, it turns their argument on its head. If Mr. Sanchez is not an active gang member, he is certainly not a “shot caller.”  No one can be a shot caller if they are not an active gang members.  It is that simple.”

Whatever else Fr. Boyle writes in his filing, he puts his pen here right on a camel the government will have to get through the needle:  “You are no longer active.”

Match point.  Serve.  Better be a zinger.

AVENUES GANG BUSTED FOR SMUGGLING ALIENS

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime on October 17, 2009 at 9:28 pm
Deported?  No problema!  Federal Indictment Charges Avenues Gang's Drew Street Clique Operated Door to Door Immigration Smuggling Service that Included Illegal Reentry Option

Deported? No problema! Federal Indictment Charges Avenues Gang Operated Door to Door Immigration Smuggling Service that Included Illegal Reentry Option

Calexico is one of California’s best kept secrets. A delightful blend of American and Mexican cultures, Calexico’s small-town lifestyle, combined with its convenient proximity to the metropolitan areas of Mexicali and San Diego, make it a great place to live.

Internet Website, City of Calexico, CA

Kinda “homey,” right?

If Calexico is one of California’s “best kept secrets,” then the arcanum acarnorum, the secret of secrets, was the transnational alien smuggling ring allegedly being run through Calexico’s sister city, Mexicali, Mexico, by members of the notorious Avenues Latino street gang in Los Angeles.

An indictment handed up and sealed on October 1 and made public October 14 is the latest in a hammering series of actions against the Avenues by federal and state law enforcement authorities. [You can read an earlier Fairly Civil post about the Avenues gang here, and connect through links to other posts.]

ICE Press Release

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Press Release describes the scope of the ring’s activities and some context:

According to the search warrant affidavit filed in federal court in connection with the case, the ring allegedly smuggled more than 200 illegal aliens per year into the United States. At one point, investigators say, members of the Drew Street clique contacted the smuggling organization about bringing the infamous matriarch of the gang, Maria Leon, into the United States from Mexico. While the ring did not end up smuggling Leon into the United States, she returned to the country illegally and was subsequently arrested. Leon is now serving a 100-month federal prison sentence for racketeering crimes related to the Avenues street gang.

The indictment in the case of United States v. Eduardo Alvarez-Marquez [U.S. District Court for Central District of California, Docket No. CR-09-01013, filed October 1, 2009] illustrates two general points about trans-border criminal organizations:

  • Transnational criminal organizations are increasingly adapting their cellular structures to a variety of opportunistic crimes.  Structures originally set up for drug trafficking can also be used for smuggling aliens, trafficking human beings, extortion, and trafficking in firearms.
  • Retired Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Richard Valdemar is bang on when he says (as he did to me several months ago) that so-called “street gangs” like the Avenues have jumped in the alien smuggling game as a source of revenues.
  • Background on the Mexicali–Calexico Border Crossing

    The border crossing the Avenues exploited is one of the busiest.  According to the City of Calexico’s website:

    More than 18.9 million vehicles and pedestrians cross into U.S. through Calexico’s two Ports-of-Entry. The East Calexico port of entry provides an improved link to major trucking routes, and has increased the ease with which people and goods move between the two countries.

    The Avenues alien smuggling business exploited the crush.  The following excerpts from the indictment describe in some detail how the gang operated.

    Overview

    Defendants … would arrange for unidentified co-conspirators to smuggle illegal aliens into the United States by methods that included jumping over the international boundary fence, walking through the Calexico Port of Entry using fake or falsified documents, riding in cars entering the United States through the Calexico Port of Entry using fake or falsified documents, concealing themselves in hidden compartments in vehicles, and wading through the New River in and around Calexico, California.

    Defendants … would negotiate the price and method that would be used to smuggle illegal aliens into the United States from Mexico… [and] would instruct illegal aliens to wait at particular locations in Mexicali, Mexico, in order to be smuggled into the United States.

    The Safe Houses

    The gang kept a “safe house” in Mexicali as a holding tank for aliens waiting to be smuggled.  Once the aliens were safely across the border, the gang then stashed them in safe houses on the U.S. side, one close to the border, and another in Los Angeles.  The aliens were later moved from these safe houses to other locations, some to as far away as New York City.

    Defendants … would meet illegal aliens once they had been smuggled into the United States and take them to a residence in Holtville, California….until transportation from the area could be arranged.

    Defendants … would [also] harbor and conceal recently smuggled illegal aliens at a residence on West Avenue 34 in Los Angeles…[and] would arrange and coordinate transportation for illegal aliens from the Los Angeles area to other locations in the United States.

    Defendant Alvarez-Estrada told defendant Alvarez that unidentified co-conspirators would charge $700 to transport an illegal alien from Los Angeles to New York.

    The Prices

    The smugglers charged different fees, depending on how the illegal aliens came across the border:

    On August 26, 2008, by telephone using coded language, defendant [Rosario Maria] Rodriguez told a confidential informant (the “CI”) that defendant Alvarez [Eduardo Alvarez-Marquez] has different methods for smuggling illegal aliens into the United States; that the price for smuggling illegal aliens ranges from $2,500 to $4,500 depending whether the alien walked through the Port of Entry with false documents, rode as a passenger in a vehicle, or jumped over the international boundary fence in a remote area near Mexicali, Mexico…Rodriguez told the CI that an alien should not sneak into the United States by jumping across the international boundary fence unless the alien previously had been deported.
    ….
    On August 26, 2008, by telephone using coded language, defendant Alvarez told the CI that Alvarez only smuggles illegal aliens through Mexicali, Mexico; that he charges $2,800 for aliens who jump the international boundary fence and are picked up by a vehicle in the United States; that he charges $3,500 for aliens who use a guide to walk the alien through the Port of Entry with a lost, stolen, or falsified green card or visa; and that he charges $4,300 for aliens who he arranges to have driven through the Port of Entry as a passenger in a vehicle.

    Rodriguez told an unidentified co-conspirator that previously-deported illegal aliens were smuggled into the United States undetected through the Port of Entry at a price of $3,500 to $4,500.

    Alvarez told an unidentified co-conspirator that Alvarez charged $4,000 to smuggle an illegal alien into the United States from Mexico through the use of a false green card.

    Defendant Alvarez told an unidentified co-conspirator that Alvarez had a $2,800 option for smuggling illegal aliens into the United States from Mexico, which required the aliens to run for six to ten minutes, as well as a $3,800 option, which required the aliens to run for approximately 30 seconds before being hidden inside a truck, and Alvarez would transport the illegally smuggled aliens as far as the Avenue 34 residence near San Fernando Road and Fletcher Drive in Los Angeles, California.

    Special Rate for Chinese

    The smugglers also had a “special” rate for Chinese aliens who wanted to enter the United States through Mexico:

    Defendant J. Carreon told defendant Alvarez that five illegal aliens from China wanted to be smuggled into the United States over the Mexican border while hidden inside a truck … Alvarez told defendant J. Carreon to charge the illegal aliens from China double the normal smuggling fee.

    Gangster Family Values

    Finally, no comment is really needed on this illumination of gangster family values:

    Defendant Rodriguez told a friend that defendant A. [Aquilina] Alvarez was upset because defendant Alvarez-Estrada [her husband] had taught defendant Alvarez [her son] to sell drugs at age 14 and later taught Alvarez to smuggle illegal aliens, and the friend stated that A. Alvarez was also to blame for Alvarez’ illegal activities.

    Interesting, no?

    Bonus Round

    For our Spanish-speaking readers, here is an excerpt from the October 15 report about this case in La Opinion:

    Caen ocho polleros

    Supuestamente tienen nexos con una pandilla en LA

    La Oficina de Control de Inmigración y Aduanas (ICE) informó ayer que sus agentes arrestaron a ocho personas vinculadas con el tráfico de drogas y de personas, que mantenían contactos estrechos con la clica Drew Street, perteneciente a la trístemente célebre pandilla Avenues del Este de Los Ángeles.

    Se trata de un caso especial en el que un grupo dedicado a transportar personas de manera ilegal desde México a Estados Unidos, especialmente a Los Ángeles, desarrollaron una relación con grupos del hampa organizado, dedicados especialmente al narcotráfico, dijo Kevin Kozak, agente especial encargado de las investigaciones de ICE en esta ciudad.

    SUNSET BOULEVARD FOR AVENUES GANG — FEDS AND LA CITY ATTORNEY KEEP HAMMERING

    In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, undercover investigations on September 24, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Gloria Swanson as Faded Silent Movie Queen Norma Desmond (1950)

    Joe Gillis (William Holden): You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.

    Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson): I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.

    Sunset Boulevard (1950)

    The notorious Avenues gang in Los Angeles is finding itself caught in a giant gang compactor.  The screen is not getting smaller.  The gang is.

    A federal RICO (racketeering) indictment — handed up Thursday, September 17th and sealed until a massive raid was carried out Tuesday, September 22nd — named 88 members of the gang, which has an estimated 400 members in total.  That’s 22 percent of the gang in this round alone.

    Among the crimes alleged in the current indictment is the August 2008 murder of 27-year old Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy Juan Abel Escalante.  Wholly aside from the moral degradation apparent in that tragic and ruthless murder of a father of three, it was a serious mistake by the gang’s genius bar.

    The latest in a series of coordinated attacks on this violent criminal entity by federal law enforcement agencies and the City of Los Angeles have demonstrably affected the gang and its overlords, the “big homies” of the Mexican Mafia (EME) prison gang.  Although some of the faces have changed on the side of civil society, the new players are sticking to a well-honed game plan and putting unrelenting pressure of the worst of the gangs.  [The history of how that game plan developed is laid out in my latest book, No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press, 2009).]

    “THE TORCH HAS BEEN PASSED”

    Unlike Many Contemporary Idealists, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy Clearly Understood the Threat of Organized Crimes and Was A Relentless Gang-Buster

    Unlike Many Contemporary Idealists, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy Clearly Understood the Threat of Organized Crimes and Was A Relentless Gang-Buster

    In concert with the federal indictment, the new Los Angeles City Attorney, Carmen Trutanich, has also filed 3 new civil abatement actions against the Avenues, under his office’s Project T.O.U.G.H. (Taking Out Urban Gang Headquarters).  These civil lawsuits ask for injunctions against owners of property in notorious use by gangsters, and demand that the properties undergo physical and managerial improvements.  The court is also asked for “stay-away” orders against known gang members named in the lawsuits.  These filings bring to 15 the total of such actions against the gang since an injunction was won in 2002 by former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.

    On the federal side, Acting United States Attorney George S. Cardona is continuing to use the gang-busting RICO hammer that former USA Thomas O’Brien used to great effect.

    Earlier posts of Fairly Civil laid out some of this civil action history in the context of the Drew Street clique (of which more below).  You can read those posts here and here.

    Another excellent source on the history of the Avenues gang and its relationship to the Mexican Mafia can be found in Tony Rafael’s book, The Mexican Mafia.  Rafael (a non de plume) is reported to have a “green light” on him because of his research.  Here is what the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report wrote about him in 2006:

    Whenever Tony Rafael leaves home, he carries a .45-caliber handgun nestled in a holster just below his armpit. A Cold Steel Recon-1 knife is stashed elsewhere on his person. Concealed weapons permits are hard to come by in Los Angeles County, but Rafael is a special case.

    Okay, to each his own.  Other good sources are Chris Blatchford’s engaging profile of former (“flipped”) EME member Rene Enriquez, The Black Hand, and Mundo Mendoza’s Mexican Mafia: From Altar Boy to Hitman, available only in Word format on a CD-ROM.

    But several things distinguish Rafael’s book in the context of this case.

    First, as the SPLC Intelligence Report describes, Rafael was all over the EME-policy driven anti-Black murders by the Avenues gang and some other Latino gangs — at a time when the Los Angeles Times and other “main stream media” simply refused to admit that such things as local “ethnic cleansing” were happening and simply would not report on them (until federal indictments put the elephant on the news conference table).

    Second, Rafael puts a well-informed finger right on the astoundingly obtuse Los Angeles media coverage in general about the Mexican Mafia and its suzerainty over Southern California Latino gangs, a dominance that is being consolidated and extended elsewhere in the United States (see this Fairly Civil post for an example).

    In Yogi Berra’s inimitable words, “This is like deja vu all over again.”  In two lead stories in the Los Angeles Times on the law enforcement action, here and here, the Mexican Mafia was mentioned in one sentence! Moreover, the paper appears oblivious to the significance of the RICO law as a gang-fighting tool, instead focusing its coverage on “style section” type gangster and cop profiles, like a film noir script.  The federal investigative effort was key in this case — primarily from agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration working on the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force, using Title III wiretaps among other sophisticated tools.

    Given the media grey-out in Los Angeles, of all places, about the nature of gangsters and organized crime, it is no wonder that many probably well-intentioned activists still insist on seeing the gang problem only as the “disorganized crime” of marginalized youth.  (Of course, some less-than-well-intentioned are in the mix, and Fairly Civil will not need smelling salts if and when the public corruption indictments start coming down).

    Of course, intervention, prevention, and spiritual redemption all have their place.

    But nothing stops a violent criminal conspiracy like a RICO indictment.

    Speaking of which, here are relevant and extremely informative excerpts from United States v. Aguirre, the case at hand.

    The first section not only describes the history of the Avenues, but articulates the relationship between the Avenues and the Mexican Mafia, and the impact of the hammering the Drew Street clique took:

    BACKGROUND OF THE AVENUES STREET GANG

    2. The Avenues gang is a multi-generational street gang that was formed in the 1940s and claims the area roughly between Colorado Boulevard to the north, the 3200 Block of Griffin Street to the east, San Fernando Road to the south, and Drew Street to the west as its “territory” in Northeast Los Angeles. The Avenues gang has been divided into a number of smaller groups, or “cliques,” based on geography and associations in the neighborhood controlled by the gang. The original Avenues cliques were the Cypress Avenues, the Avenues Assassins, Avenues 43rds, and most recently the Drew Street clique. After its formation was formally authorized by the Mexican Mafia in August 2007, the Drew Street clique became the most active and violent clique within the Avenues gang and produced the most significant revenues for the Mexican Mafia from narcotics trafficking, robbery, the extortion of local business owners, “staged” car accidents, identity theft, and other crimes. Revenues in the form of “taxed” proceeds from the crimes of the organization were collected by Avenues leaders and paid to Mexican Mafia leaders who directed, and continue to direct, the activities of the Avenues gang from within the California State Prison system, in particular the California State Prison at Pelican Bay, California. In June 2008, the federal investigation and prosecution of the Drew Street clique of the Avenues gang dismantled the Drew Street clique and removed its leadership, in particular Francisco “Pancho” Real, Maria “Chata” Leon, and the Real/Leon family. After the federal indictment, Mexican Mafia leaders have attempted to re-organize and re-establish the  Avenues presence in Northeast Los Angeles by ending the “clique” divisions within the gang and naming new leaders of the Avenues gang, specifically defendants VELASQUEZ, RODRIGUEZ, and, later, SOLIS. Mexican Mafia leaders meet with Avenues gang leaders at California State Prison facilities and speak by telephone in order to instruct and direct the crimes of the Avenues gang, and to coordinate the collection of illegal proceeds from gang activity.

    Following sections illuminate gang “culture,” including the key role of “tagging,” which some probably well-intentioned people prefer to see as the creative expressions of frustrated youngsters:

    3. Avenues gang members generally identify one another through the use of hand gestures, or gang “signs.” They typically display the letter “A” for Avenues or the interlocking “L-A” for “Los Avenidas.” Members refer to one another as “skulls” and frequently wear the “Skull Camp” or “Skull Wear” brand clothing to identify themselves as members and associates of the Avenues gang. The clothing depicts images of human skulls in various forms, such as a human skull depicted as part of the logo for the Oakland Raiders football team and, oftentimes, the depiction of a human skull wearing a fedora hat, with a bullet hole in the side of the skull. Gang members also frequently wear baseball caps for teams such as the Oakland Athletics, Atlanta Braves, and Los Angeles Dodgers, whose team insignia includes an “A” or “L-A,” for Avenues and Los Avenidas. Gang tattoos, gang names, and slogans are also used to identify members and territory controlled by the gang.

    4. The Avenues gang also uses spray-painted “tagging” to demonstrate its control of its neighborhoods to rival gang members and the local community. Gang “tagging” frequently appears on street signs, walls, buildings, and portions of the 110 Freeway, Interstate 5, and Highway 2 in the areas controlled by the gang. Members will also often use the number 13 in various forms (i.e., 13, X3, or XIII) to demonstrate loyalty to the Mexican Mafia (“m” being the 13th letter in the alphabet) and to signal that the gang has “sureno” (Southern California) loyalty. The letters “NELA” are used to identify Northeast Los Angeles gang members, and the number 187 is frequently used by the gang to take “credit” for a murder that has been committed by the gang. “Tagging” is used in this way to issue challenges to rival gang members and to communicate among Avenues gang members. More importantly, it is a public demonstration of the authority of the gang, because it not only identifies territory claimed by the Avenues gang to rival gang members, but also serves as a warning or means to terrorize members of the public and law-abiding residents of the neighborhoods with threats that the neighborhood is under the control of the Avenues gang.

    Of course, the most innocent victims are the ordinary people who live in gang-infested neighborhoods.  It’s odd that “activists” often seem less concerned about these boringly “straight” people than the thugs who terrorize them:

    5. Persons living in the neighborhoods controlled and “tagged” by the Avenues gang have had to live with the knowledge that they may be subject to violent retaliation, even death, if they try to remove or clean the gang’s marks from their buildings and homes or try to remove pairs of sneakers that are frequently thrown across telephone and power lines as a display of gang control of the neighborhood. Those actions would be seen as defying the gang’s authority and its control over the neighborhoods it has claimed. The gang’s tactics, which include wearing “Skull Camp” clothing, shaved heads, display of weapons, tattoos, “tagging,” and even posting items on websites, are designed to intimidate and terrorize the residents of the neighborhoods controlled by the Avenues gang. In addition, residents in the neighborhood have been attacked by Avenues gang members for maintaining security systems and cameras in the neighborhoods.

    Confronting and murdering law enforcement personnel is not just an expression of “la vida loca.”  It is a violent manifestation of the gangs’ imperative to control territory, gauzily recalled by gangster advocates as barrio-love.

    6. As part of the gang’s control over neighborhoods, Avenues gang members direct violent attacks against law enforcement officers and brag about those attacks in Internet communications. In particular, Avenues gang members and leaders post antagonistic attacks directed at law enforcement on Internet websites, such as “Fuck the police,” and mottos, including “Avenidas don’t get chased by the cops. We chase them.” As to the general public, Avenues gang members warn, “Avenidas don’t just hurt people. We kill them.” Threats of violence against law enforcement have been repeatedly demonstrated in armed attacks by Avenues gang members on law enforcement officers, including a February 21, 2008 attack in which Avenues gang members opened fire on Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”) officers with handguns and an assault rifle, and an August 2, 2008 attack in which Avenues gang members murdered Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Juan Escalante in front of his home in Cypress Park.

    Here follows reference to the gang’s campaign against Africa-Americans, the subject Tony Rafael convincingly demonstrates in his book was … um … whited-out by the news media in Los Angeles:

    7. The organization is also hostile to the presence ofAfrican-Americans in Avenues gang territory. Neighborhoods controlled by the Avenues gang are frequently “tagged” with racist threats directed against African-Americans that are intended to intimidate African-Americans and prevent African-Americans from living in the neighborhood. Avenues gang members also confront African Americans with threats of violence and murder in order to intimidate and prevent African-Americans from residing in or entering neighborhoods controlled by the Avenues gang.

    Oh, yeah, did we mention drug-trafficking?  This is the core of the organized criminal enterprises that gangs have morphed into since the sepia-toned days gang “advocates” are stuck in. Most gangsters today are workers inthe drug sweat shops, while the “big homies,” “shot callers,” and drug lords” live lives of filthy wealth.

    8. The Avenues gang is continually engaged in the distribution of cocaine base in the form of cocaine, crack cocaine (“crack cocaine”), methamphetamine, heroin and other narcotic drugs. In particular, Avenues gang leaders obtain narcotic drugs and control the distribution of narcotic drugs by providing “street-level” distribution amounts (typically a few grams of crack cocaine at a time) to numerous gang members and associates in the area controlled by the gang. Avenues gang leaders, in turn, collect extortion payments, referred to as “taxes” or “rent,” from drug traffickers in the neighborhood. Avenues gang members also extort payment from persons who live and maintain businesses in the area controlled by the gang under threat of physical violence, including the threat that individuals who do not adhere to the gang’s demands will be “green-lighted” by the Mexican Mafia, that is, they will be targeted for murder. The authority to collect “taxes” represents an elevated position within the gang, one that is authorized by the Mexican Mafia leaders as a “shot-caller.” The “shot-caller” who has authority to collect “taxes” may then delegate the responsibility for collections to other gang members under his authority.

    What makes this all work?  Guns.  The militarization of the U.S. civilian firearms market in the 1980s (assault weapons) and the rise of high-capacity semi-automatic pistols was the wind under the wings of the criminally consolidating gangster empires.

    9. Avenues gang members maintain a ready supply of firearms, including handguns, shotguns, automatic assault rifles, and machineguns, in order to enforce the authority of the gang. Such weapons typically are stolen or unregistered, so that their use cannot be readily connected to the gang member who either used the weapon or maintained it. Weapons often are discarded or destroyed after having been used to commit acts of violence on behalf of the organization. Therefore, gang leaders frequently need to maintain a source of supply for additional unregistered or non-traceable firearms. The Avenues gang also controls the activities of its members and enforces its authority and internal discipline by killing, attempting to kill, conspiring to kill, assaulting, and threatening its own members or others who would present a threat to the enterprise. Avenues gang members and associates typically continue to plan and execute crimes even after arrests and during periods of incarceration, by telephone calls from inside detention facilities, prison notes (known as “kites”) and meetings among inmates within an institution, where they coordinate offenses to be carried out within the institutions and upon their release from custody.

    More on gang “culture” — youth programs, activities for women, and neighborhood “work”:

    10. Leaders of the Avenues gang recruit and initiate juveniles to join the gang and direct them to commit acts of violence and drug-trafficking crimes on behalf of the gang. New members frequently are recruited through their participation in a younger “tagging” unit or from a different sect of the larger organization. New members ordinarily are then “jumped in” to the gang. This initiation process ordinarily requires that the new member is physically beaten by senior, established members of the gang and must demonstrate his resilience during the beating. The new member is then expected to put in “work” for the gang, which includes the distribution of narcotics, “hunting” rival gang members,  posting up” in the neighborhood (acting as a “look-out”to alert members to the presence of law enforcement), and “tagging” in the neighborhood.

    11. Females are commonly disparaged and addressed derisively in the gang. However, female members and associates play a vital role in the operation of the Avenues gang and its relationship with the Mexican Mafia. Female associates are frequently active in narcotics trafficking, weapons distribution, the maintenance of cellular telephones, and the collection and transfer of “tax” payments and narcotics proceeds. Female associates are frequently relied on to smuggle narcotics into the state penitentiaries and provide cellular telephones to gang members in and out of custody. Female associates also play an integral role in directing and maintaining communications within the organization, in particular, communications with incarcerated gang members and leaders of the organization, as well as the distribution of collected drug proceeds and “taxed” payments from the neighborhood.

    12. Avenues gang members enforce the authority of the gang to commit its crimes by directing acts of violence and retaliation against non-compliant drug-traffickers and rival gang members, as well as non-compliant members. Gang members frequently destroy surveillance cameras installed in the neighborhood pursuant to court orders and to protect the neighborhood from the crimes of the Avenues gang. Avenues gang members also commonly threaten witnesses whom they suspect might testify or provide information to law enforcement about the crimes committed by the gang, or other public officers, such as school teachers or fire department officers who might come into conflict with the goal of the Avenues gang to control and terrorize the neighborhoods in Northeast Los Angeles.

    Here is a tutorial on the relationships between EME and the Avenues:

    MEXICAN MAFIA AUTHORITY FOR THE AVENUES

    13. The Avenues gang is loyal and committed to the “Mexican Mafia,” also known as “La Eme.” The Mexican Mafia is a prison gang that was organized within the California State Prison system in order to control and direct the activities of Southern California street gangs. “Made” members of the Mexican Mafia have assumed authority for different regions in Southern California. Typically, a “made” member is an inmate within the California State Prison system and exercises his control and direction over the region from within the state prison facility where he is housed. The Mexican Mafia leaders issue directions and orders, including orders to kill rival gang members, members of law enforcement, and members of the public, which are referred to as “green-lights.” Those orders are to be executed by Avenues gang members and are understood by Avenues gang members as opportunities to gain elevated status within the organization or potentially become a “made” member of the organization.

    14. The Mexican Mafia has established rules to govern acts of violence committed by local street gang members, including Avenues gang members. The Mexican Mafia thus requires Avenues gang members to adhere to protocols for the conduct of violent attacks, narcotics trafficking, and murders, including the issuance of “green light” authorizations for murder. Failure to adhere to Mexican Mafia rules can lead to the issuance of a “green light,” directing an attack on the offending member, or the requirement that money be paid. “Green lights” are also frequently issued in retaliation for a perceived “disrespect” to a Mexican Mafia leader, to punish the unauthorized collection of “tax” payments in a neighborhood controlled by the Avenues gang, or to sanction individuals who traffic in narcotics without the gang’s authorization or without paying the required tax to the Avenues and Mexican Mafia.

    15. Mexican Mafia and Avenues gang members and associates regularly exploit prison visits, telephone calls, policies concerning letter-communications with attorneys, and prison monetary accounts in order to generate income from narcotics trafficking and other crimes of the enterprise, so as to promote the criminal enterprise and direct the operation of the Avenues gang from within the California State Prison system. Mexican Mafia leaders also require weekly payments from prisoners incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Jail system.

    16. Avenues gang leaders extort money from local drug traffickers, members of other gangs, prostitutes, residents, and persons who maintain businesses in the area controlled by the gang. A portion of the “taxes” collected by the Avenues gang leaders is then paid to the Mexican Mafia leadership incarcerated within the California State Prison system. Avenues gang members also raise funds for the organization by conducting armed home invasion robberies, in which they target individuals believed to maintain large sums of cash or valuables in their homes.

    LEADERSHIP OF THE MEXICAN MAFIA

    17. Currently three Avenues gang members are also validated Mexican Mafia members. They are Mexican Mafia Member #1, Mexican Mafia Member #3, and Alex “Pee Wee” Aguirre, and they have authority over Northeast Los Angeles, which is the territory controlled by the Avenues gang. The Mexican Mafia members use Mexican Mafia leaders and associates, including defendants RUDY AGUIRRE, JR., RICHIE AGUIRRE, RUDY AGUIRRE, SR., and P. CORDERO, to communicate orders and authorizations to Avenues gang leaders and members, and to receive information about the activities of the Avenues gang.

    LASD Deputy Juan Abel Escalante, Father of Three, Allegedly Murderd by Avenues Gangsters

    LASD Deputy Juan Abel Escalante, Father of Three, Allegedly Murderd by Avenues Gangsters

    “SNITCH” MANAGEMENT — LOOKING AT INFORMANTS THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, PART ONE

    In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Mexico, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on September 18, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    neighborhoodwatchgrafitti

    Confidential informants are like the black hole of the criminal justice system.

    Ellen Yashefsky, Benjamin Cardozo Law School, quoted in Aubrey Fox, “Delving the Murky World of Police Informants,” Gotham Gazette, February 20, 2008.

    It is rarely possible to guess accurately from what corner the informer will emerge.  For this reason, a delicate relationship, little understood by the public, exists between law enforcement officials and individual members of the underworld.  These men we hunt down are always possible allies who may come over to our side for some consideration of sentence, for some promise to protect their wife or family.  My attitude has been to use any means available to cut narcotic violations to a minimum, and where criminals or addicts will cooperate with us to that end I will deal with them…Whether he comes voluntarily or because he is shown that it is his best way out, whether it is a one-time deal or a source of inside information that may continue for months, the informer provides the solution for ninety-five percent not only of narcotic offenses but of all types of crime.

    Harry J. Anslinger and Will Orsler, The Murderers (New York: Avon Books, 1961), pp. 121-122.

    Informants are more than mere witnesses to crime and are less than law enforcement officers.

    John Madinger, Confidential Informant: Law Enforcement’s Most Valuable Tool (Washington, DC: CRC Press, 2000), p. 12.

    “No informant, no case.”

    That aphorism has become almost universally accepted among investigators of racketeering and drug crimes.  But some doubt it.

    Harry J. Anslinger believed in the value of informants, as the quote above demonstrates.

    Harry J. Anslinger

    Harry J. Anslinger

    Anslinger — the other J. Edgar Hoover — was the first Commissioner of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics.  Although the rap is variously pinned on Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan, Anslinger was the original architect of the American war on drugs.  Some of his prose on the evils of marijuana is … entertaining … to say the least.  (“Google” him if you are interested.  This is a more or less family-friendly blog.)

    Every street cop, federal agent, and prosecutor battling the toxic corrosion of the illegal drug trade–and its local retailers, street gangs–also knows the value of the informant.

    ‘’The big secret of detective work is that you’ve got to get somebody else to tell you what happened,’’ NYPD Lt. John Cornicello told The New York Times in 2006.

    However, some federal investigators suggest that the brutal discipline, cellular structure, and tightly held core of Mexican drug trafficking organizations has diminished the value of “flipping” lower level criminals and — through them — working the investigation up to the bosses.  These people suggest that the interception of communications — wiretaps and other techniques — has become more important in the law enforcement tool box of “sophisticated techniques of investigation.”

    Here is the central problem of informants against the Mexican DTOS, according to this view:  Lower level members of the Mexican drug trafficking organizations in the United States (i.e., your quiet Latino neighbor in Cleveland, Atlanta, or Conshohocken, whose well-trimmed lawn and unexceptional home is a stash house, packed with dope for redistribution to local gangs and thence up the nose of America’s addicts) typically clam up tightly when busted.  After all, they have family members who can be easily whacked or tortured back in Mexico.  Moreover, they generally are isolated in specialized cells, and know little to nothing about the rest of the organization.  Flipping them is difficult and usually yields little useful information, some seasoned agents say.

    Be that as it may, court records and news reports teach that the use of informants is still central to the investigation of many criminal enterprises, including transnational gangs.  And although communications intercepts may be the key to making cases against the Mexican DTOS, informants here and in Mexico are still important.

    Fairly Civil will wander through this world of informants over a series of posts, beginning with this one.  These posts will examine the value of informants in actual criminal cases, and some of the issues that critics consistently raise.

    The Long History of Informants

    Modern civil libertarians and the criminal defense bar tend to criticize the use of informants as an insidious and relatively new creature of the war on drugs.

    In fact, informants have been used since at least Biblical times.  The transactional equation (“you give me information, I give you special treatment”) is the same now as it was then:

    The House of Joseph, for their part, advanced against Bethel, and the Lord was with them.  While the House of Joseph were scouting at Bethel … their patrols saw a man leaving the town.  They said to him, “Just show us how to get into the town, and we will treat you kindly.”  He showed them how to get into the town; they put the town to the sword, but they let the man and his relatives go free.

    Judges (Shofetim) 1: 22-26, Tanakh (Philadelphia:  The Jewish Publication Society, 1985).

    Recent court filings — e.g., a corruption case involving a senior ICE official, federal racketeering (RICO) cases against MS-13 in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the pursuit of an injunction by police officers in St. Louis — illustrate the vast range of differences in the uses and abuses of snitch management within the American law enforcement system.

    Given the utility of informants — and the fair assumption that most law enforcement officers and prosecutors want to use informants to fight crime and put criminals in jail — the use of informants raises three classes of interesting issues:

    • Keeping informants alive.
    • Managing informants and their information to ensure that they are reliably transmitting valid information and not wrongfully implicating innocent persons.
    • Law enforcement policy management issues about the impact of informants on the administration of justice, particularly in communities where they are heavily used.

    This post will focus on the problem of keeping informants alive.

    Keeping Informants Alive

    If you decide to embark on a life of crime, there’s one very important thing that you should know, and that thing is everyone is a potential informant against you — your wife, your mother, your brother, your lawyer, anyone you’ve ever worked for or worked with and anyone who has ever worked for you.

    Chris Mather, Crime School: Money Laundering (Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2004), p. 101.

    Gangsters know the value of the informant — an endangered species also known in the underworld as the “rat,” the “stool pigeon,” and the “snitch,” among other epithets.   The thought that one’s homey or carnal may be cooperating with law enforcement is a tiny live wire wound through the brains of the “shot callers” and “big homeys” of every  Latino gang.  That little wire carries a buzzing current of paranoia and suspicion.  “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain,” Prince Hamlet observed upon learning of his own mother’s duplicity.

    Not infrequently, paranoia overcomes reality.  Gangsters innocent of cooperation have nevertheless suffered the misfortune of being whacked without proof, much less probable cause.  Call it intuition gone awry.

    Some who suffer unjust accusation from their fellow gangsters are driven into the  arms of law enforcement.  [I write about several such cases in No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press 2009).]

    To give the devil his due, however, it is also true that gang leaders often seek what they call “paperwork” — some kind of official evidence — corroborating that a suspected homey has in fact “flipped” before giving a “green light” to have him (or her, as in the case, e.g., of notorious MS-13 informant Brenda Paz) murdered.

    “They usually try and get paperwork on people that they say that they’re snitching or they said something to incriminate somebody,” a member of the Columbia Lil’ Cycos clique of the 18th Street gang explained in testimony during a federal racketeering trial described in No Boundaries. “And once they get the paperwork, they place a green light on the person.”

    One of the better places to find such evidence is in the files of the “discovery” material that our system of justice requires be given to persons accused of crime.  Gangsters and their lawyers comb through this material in search of the identity of informants.

    “The homeboys know the legal system better than most lawyers,” FBI Special Agent Carl Sandford told we when I was researching No Boundaries. “They use the rules of discovery and evidence in criminal cases to get ‘paperwork’ concerning who the rats are.”

    In fact, the murder conspiracy in which Los Angeles anti-gang activist Alex Sanchez is accused of participating as a secret MS-13 shot-caller revolves about the accusation of one gangster — Walter Lacinos —  that another was a rat.  Lacinos provided “paperwork” to document his accusation.  But, according to transcripts of a government wiretap in the case, MS-13 shot-callers submitted the paperwork [apparently some kind of court document] to the Mexican Mafia for the gangster version of forensic analysis.  The decision came down that Lacinos’s “paperwork”  was fake (it included at least one forged page).  This led to considerable intra-gang ill will and Lacinos was eventually whacked in El Salvador.

    A Working Example:  United States v. Cerna

    A current example of how this cat and mouse game of sussing out informants might work is provided in the ongoing RICO case brought against a number of MS-13 gangsters in San Francisco, United States v. Cerna.

    The trial court recently ruled on a number of pre-trial motions.  The following excerpt describes one of the defendant’s attempts to find out the names of certain informants:

    [One of the defendants] argues that defendants have a need for disclosure because the informants were participants in ‘critical events’ at issue in this case.  He lists several ways in which the informants are referenced in discovery or the indictment. Informants 1211 and 1218 provided law enforcement with information about MS-13’s operations, leaders and members. Informants 1211 and 1218 attended MS-13 meetings with defendants which support the RICO conspiracy counts against them. Informant 1211 told the authorities about meetings with [certain] defendants … where various crimes were discussed. Informant 1218 attended meetings with [certain] defendants … [and] also discussed the buying and selling of narcotics with [another] defendant and provided authorities with information about a violent crime allegedly committed by [other] defendants…[etc., etc.]

    “Omnibus Order Re Stage Two Motions,” United States v. Cerna, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Docket No. CR 08-0730 WHA, filed September 16, 2009.

    The court ruled that the defendant had shown enough to require the government to come into a closed conference in the court’s chamber [in camera] — without the defendants or their lawyers — as described in this part of the ruling:

    An in camera hearing is therefore justified. The hearing will be held ex parte, with only judicial staff, prosecutors and witnesses present, in order to protect the identity of the informants. A defendant for whom the threshold showing has been made as to a particular informant … may submit written questions regarding that informant to the Court and opposing counsel three days before the hearing.

    The Court orders an in camera evidentiary hearing to determine whether to allow disclosure of the confidential informants’ identities. The government is ORDERED to produce at the hearing one or more witnesses with knowledge of the relevant informant’s identity and role in the investigations of this action.

    This all sounds tidy, secure, and appropriately solicitous of the informants’ well-being.

    Gangsters and cartels have their own ways of doing things, however.  For example, corrupting law enforcement officials who can provide them with the names of informants by accessing law enforcement databases.

    The Case of Richard Padilla Cramer

    Allegedly Corrupt Law Enforcement Officer -- Not A Mexican, But a Senior U.S. DEA Agent

    Allegedly Corrupt Law Enforcement Officer -- Not A Mexican, But a Senior U.S. DEA Agent

    The affidavit in support of a criminal complaint in the case of United States v. Cramer alleges that a recently retired senior ICE agent stationed in Guadalajara, Mexico was selling lists of informants to Mexican drug traffickers while he was an ICE agent.  It is charged that Cramer also became a major investor in several large shipments of cocaine.  In fact, he was supposedly urged by his DTO pals to retire so as to become an investor in dope.

    According to court documents, erstwhile-Agent Cramer was exposed when a  DTO operative ["CS--2"] “flipped”:

    After being arrested, CS-2 provided the law enforcement officers with copies of printouts of the results of database run in several law enforcement databases, including four DEA database queries, two criminal history queries, one ICE database query, and two State of California law enforcement database queries … CS-2 also stated that these law enforcement inquiries were from a U.S. Federal Agent stationed in Mexico named “Richard.”  CS-2 also stated that the DTO utilizes Richard to make inquiries into members of the DTO to confirm that they (the members of the DTO) are not working as informants for various law enforcement agencies.  Richard was later identified through this investigation as Richard Padilla CRAMER, a former ICE agent stationed in Mexico until his retirement in or about December 2006 or January 2007 … It was later learned that CRAMER utilized his law enforcement position to persuade DEA agents to run DEA database queries under the guise of an active drug investigation.  Further investigation with DEA agents who were stationed in Mexico revealed that CRAMER was stationed in Guadalajara, Mexico and was known to ask to have database checks run on various subjects … CRAMER was responsible for advising the DTO how U.S. Law Enforcement works with warrants and record checks as well as how DEA conducts investigations to include “flipping subjects” and making records checks.

    Affidavit in support of Criminal Complaint in United States v. Cramer, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Docket No: 09-3178-White, filed August 28, 2009.

    This would be a shocking case if it were not for the fact that it is only the latest in a string of cases in which square-jawed minions of law and order on “our side” of the border have been shown to be just as rotten as all those contemptible “corrupt officials” on the other side.

    It reminds one of the lyrics of the old cowboy music song by Jim Ed Brown: “I was looking back to see if you were looking back to see if I was looking back to see if you were looking back at me.”

    The difference, of course, is that an outed informant is a dead man walking.  And not for long.

    THE MEXICAN MAFIA — NATIONAL AND TRANSNATIONAL POWER, PART THREE

    In Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime, Uncategorized on September 16, 2009 at 9:16 pm
    Dennis Gonzalez in Alhambra (CA) Police Department Wanted Poster, January 27, 2003

    Dennis Gonzalez in Alhambra (CA) Police Department Wanted Poster, January 27, 2003

    The story of Dennis Gonzalez, the Mexican Mafia’s man (“associate,” ” camarada,” whatever) in Oklahoma City — like so many gangster tales — could begin in a lot of times and places.

    Let’s start with what is perhaps the most breach-honored tradition of Latino gangs —  never rat out your homies:

    Oklahoma City gang member Jason “Joker” Lujan agreed to cooperate with authorities after his arrest in 2003, volunteering that several members of a Hispanic gang from California, later identified as the Compton Varrio Tortilla Flats, including “Boxer,” “Lalo,” and Mr. Lujan’s sister-in-law, Jennifer Lujan, had moved to Oklahoma City to deal large quantities of methamphetamine. Specifically, Mr. Lujan explained that Boxer, later identified as Dennis Emerson Gonzalez, had already left Oklahoma City but still ran the operation; Lalo, later identified as Eduardo Verduzco, delivered drugs to Oklahoma City at Mr. Gonzalez’s direction; Ms. Lujan distributed the drugs in Oklahoma City; and Mr. Gonzalez’s girlfriend, “Mousey,” stored the drugs in her apartment.

    United States v. Castro, (10th Cir. Court of Appeals) May 30, 2007, 225 Fed. Appx. 755; 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 12543.

    Oops.  I guess Jason “Joker” Lujan did not get the omerta memo.  You know.  The one about never talking to law enforcement, death before dishonor, etc.

    “Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

    —Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

    “Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

    —Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

    Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

    Joker Lujan wasn’t the only homey throwing his fellow gangsters under the prison bus.

    At about the same time, a Compton Varrio Tortilla Flats member was also talking to now-retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Richard Valdemar about the connection between Compton and Oklahoma City — including the long-distance control by the Mexican Mafia of a major part of the drug trade in Oklahoma City.

    Valdemar’s notes of the conversation run to four single-spaced pages.  Among other things, the informant — whose anonymity will be protected here — “said that he would be willing to cooperate with a federal investigation to bring down Dennis Gonzalez and his Mexican Mafia connections…”

    But…wait.  Mexican Mafia?  In Oklahoma?  As the following — admittedly crude — graphic illustrates, Oklahoma City (“where the wind comes sweeping down the plain”) is not in Southern California.

    Oklahoma City is 1,181 Miles From Compton, CA

    Oklahoma City is 1,181 Miles From Compton, CA

    Nothing is so interesting about this sordid little drug-trafficking operation as the fact that it illustrates the powerful reach of EME half-way across the country, by means of its control over a Sureno gang, and that gang’s “muscling in” on what was a purely local Latino street gang, the “South Side Locos.”   Another federal appellate case provides a bit more detail:

    Mr. Lujan told the police that, beginning in early 2002, several members of a Hispanic gang from California, later identified as the Compton Varrio Tortilla Flats, moved to Oklahoma City to set up a methamphetamine-dealing operation. Mr. Lujan explained to the police that the members of the group included “Boxer,” one of his confederates later identified as Mr. Gonzalez, who ran the operation from Florida; “Lalo,” later identified as Eduardo Verduzco, who delivered the drugs to Oklahoma City at Mr. Gonzalez’s direction; and Jennifer Lujan, his sister-in-law, who distributed the methamphetamine.

    United States v. Dennis Emerson Gonzalez, (10th Cir.), 238 Fed. Appx. 350; 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 15102, June 25, 2007.

    Compton Varrio Tortilla Flats Members Gonzalez Managed the Oklahoma City Drug Trafficking Operation, Allegedly as the Mexican Mafia's Associate

    Compton Varrio Tortilla Flats Member Gonzalez Managed the Oklahoma City Drug Trafficking Operation, Allegedly as the Mexican Mafia's Associate

    An indictment in the case — in which most of the participants pleaded guilty, although Gonzalez and Castro went to trial and were convicted — described Gonzalez’s central managerial role:

    During the period of the conspiracy … Gonzalez… exercised an organizing and leadership role in the drug trafficking enterprise by among other things, recruiting distributors, demanding a share of the profits in sales, controlling distributors, identifying persons to whom distributors should wire transfer money and directing the wire transfer of the money.  The drug trafficking enterprise involved at least twenty individuals, in the coordinated smuggling of controlled substances from California to Oklahoma and the transfer of drug proceeds in at least 195 separate transactions.

    Superseding Indictment, United States v. Dennis Emerson Gonzalez (U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma), Docket No. CR-04-179-R, October 20, 2004.

    According to Valdemar’s informant, Gonzalez was acting as the Mexican Mafia’s representative, a function and organization described in the two earlier post in this series (here and here).  There was the requisite whacking to bring recalcitrant locals into line.  (Not that the South Side Locos are any angels.  Two of them went to prison in 2006 for killing a 9-year old with stray bullets from a shooting.)

    The question all of this raises is two fold: where else in “middle America” has the “California prison gang” EME taken control of local street gang operations, and what is the trend?

    Valdemar is still very much active in the anti-gang world.  He believes that the Mexican Mafia is very deliberately extending its reach and expanding its control throughout much of the United States.  In other words, consolidating and integrating.  It makes sense that EME could do that if it chose to, if you consider the number of Latino gangsters who roll in and out of prisons and jails at all levels, the dispersion of EME members throughout the federal prison system, and their presence in many state facilities.

    The same bloody mechanism of control that worked in California can as well apply in any prison in which the Mexican Mafia has a beachhead:  sooner or later a gang’s members are going to end up in a prison where they can be “green-lighted” for murder if the gang does not defer to EME on the streets.

    What worries Valdemar is his belief that these tentacles out of California are invisible to many in law enforcement at all levels.

    So, You Want to "Legalize Recreational Drugs?"  Which One of YOUR Children Do You Wish This On? (Poster From OK Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control Website)

    So, You Want to "Legalize Recreational Drugs?" Which One of YOUR Children Do You Wish This On? (Poster From OK Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control Website)

    THE MEXICAN MAFIA — NATIONAL AND TRANSNATIONAL POWER, PART TWO

    In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Latino gangs, Mexico, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on August 30, 2009 at 9:28 pm
    Cartels and Drug Routes Depicted in 2008 by Stratfor, Private Intelligence Service

    Cartels and Drug Routes Depicted in 2008 by Stratfor, Private Intelligence Service

    This three part series posting excerpts from federal court cases on the Mexican Mafia (“Eme” or “La Eme”) continues with a look at the powerful prison gang’s trans-border connections.  (The first posting, here, provided an overview of Eme’s organization and its operations).

    U.S. government reports about drugs and gangs often discuss the links among U.S. prison and street gangs, drug trafficking, and the Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), or cartels.

    But these reports are more often than not maddening in their generality.  They lack what some call fine detail or “granularity.”  Empty calories come to mind.

    A recent federal RICO case brought against members of the Mexican Mafia in San Diego provides some interesting detail to fill in some of the blanks, at least in one major racketeering case.

    First, the generalities.

    The Mexican Side — The Drug Trafficking Organizations

    Probably every sentient being in the United States gets it by now that the Mexican DTOs are the wholesale source of most illicit drugs trafficked in the United States.  To set the stage, however, here is an excerpt describing the nature and role of the DTOs from the National Drug Threat Assessment 2009, published by National Drug Intelligence Center (December 2008).  The excerpt touches on the relationships between U.S. gangs and the DTOs, but only in the most general way:

    Mexican DTOs are the greatest drug trafficking threat to the United States; they control most of the U.S. drug market and have established varied transportation routes, advanced communications capabilities, and strong affiliations with gangs in the United States. Mexican DTOs control a greater portion of drug production, transportation, and distribution than any other criminal group or DTO. Their extensive drug trafficking activities in the United States generate billions of dollars in illicit proceeds annually. Law enforcement reporting indicates that Mexican DTOs maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors in at least 230 U.S. cities. Mexican drug traffickers transport multiton quantities of drugs from Mexico into the United States annually using overland, maritime, and air conveyances. The use of varied conveyances enables Mexican drug traffickers to consistently deliver illicit drugs from Mexico to warehouse locations in the United States for subsequent distribution.

    Mexico- and U.S.-based Mexican drug traffickers employ advanced communication technology and techniques to coordinate their illicit drug trafficking activities. Law enforcement reporting indicates that several Mexican DTOs maintain cross-border communication centers in Mexico near the U.S.-Mexico border to facilitate coordinated cross-border smuggling operations. These centers are staffed by DTO members who use an array of communication methods, such as Voice over Internet Protocol, satellite technology (broadband satellite instant messaging), encrypted messaging, cell phone technology, two-way radios, scanner devices, and text messaging, to communicate with members. In some cases DTO members use high-frequency radios with encryption and rolling codes to communicate during cross-border operations.

    Mexican DTOs continue to strengthen their relationships with U.S-based street gangs, prison gangs, and OMGs for the purpose of expanding their influence over domestic drug distribution. Although gangs do not appear to be part of any formal Mexican DTO structure, several Mexican DTOs use U.S.-based gangs to smuggle and distribute drugs, collect drug proceeds, and act as enforcers. Mexican DTOs’ use of gang members for these illegal activities insulates DTO cell members from law enforcement detection. Members of most Mexican Cartels–Sinaloa, Gulf, Juárez, and Tijuana –maintain working relationships with many street gangs and OMGs.

    The U.S. Side — The Prison and Street Gangs

    The National Gang Threat Assessment 2009 (National Gang Intelligence Center, January 2009) discusses — again in a general way with a few lame “examples” — the interfaces of U.S.-side gangs with the Mexican DTOs and other criminal organizations:

    Gang Relationships With DTOs and Other Criminal Organizations

    Some larger gangs have developed regular working relationships with DTOs and other criminal organizations in Mexico, Central America, and Canada to develop sources of supply for wholesale quantities of illicit drugs and to facilitate other criminal activities. According to law enforcement information, gang members provide Mexican DTOs with support, such as smuggling, transportation, and security. Specific examples include:

    Some prison gangs are capable of directly controlling or infuencing the smuggling of multihundred kilograms of cocaine and methamphetamine weekly into the United States.

    Cross-Border Gang Activity

    U.S.-based gang members are increasingly involved in cross-border criminal activities, particularly in areas of Texas and California along the U.S.-Mexico border. Much of this activity involves the trafficking of drugs and illegal aliens from Mexico into the United States and considerably adds to gang revenues. Further, gangs are increasingly smuggling weapons from the United States into Mexico as payment for drugs or to sell for a significant profit. Examples of such cross border activities include:

    Street and prison gang members have established networks that work closely with Mexican DTOs in trafficking cocaine and marijuana from Mexico into the United States for distribution.

    Some Mexican DTOs contract with gangs in the Southwest Region to smuggle weapons from the United States to Mexico, according to open source information.

    A Case In Point

    This is where specific facts alleged in an actual case help fill in the picture.

    The following excerpt from an affidavit filed in support of a criminal complaint in the pending case of United States V. Mauricio Mendez (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Docket No. 3:09-mj-00473-RBB, filed Feb. 13, 2009) alleges in some detail how the drug trade is actually working on the ground between at least this Mexican Mafia crew and a Mexican DTO:

    Beginning in early 2008, a drug trafficking group associated with the Arellano-Felix drug trafficking organization began to interact with, and pay “taxes” to, the Mexican Mafia.  The Arellano-Felix group paid its “taxes” to the Mexican Mafia primarily by providing representatives of the Mexican Mafia with drugs.

    In early September 2008, agents recorded a meeting between the leader of the Arellano-Felix group and defendants [Mauricio] Mendez and [Ruben] Gonzalez.  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Arellano-Felix group’s aiding another Mexican drug trafficking group associated with the Mexican Mafia.  One of the leaders of the other drug trafficking group was defendant Jorge Lerma-Duenas.  Lerma-Duenas’ group claimed to have a means of smuggling bulk shipments of marijuana and other drugs through the international ports of entry by using commercial trucking from Mexico.  However, Lerma-Duenas’ group claimed that a switch in the drivers of the commercial trucks had interfered with their smuggling scheme.  Mendez stated that he and other gang members intended to travel to Mexico in order to disable the uncooperative driver so that the other, co-opted driver could retake the route — it was Mendez’s stated intent to break both of the uncooperative driver’s legs.  Mendez sought the Arellano-Felix group’s aid in providing additional security for Mendez for the trip to Mexico.  The leader of the Arellano-Felix group agreed to provide security for Mendez but also sought to form a larger relationship with Lerma-Duenas’ drug trafficking group in order to use Lerma-Duenas’ trucking route to smuggle marijuana for the Arellano-Felix group.  Over the next weeks, agents recorded more meetings in which these topics were discussed between the leader of the Arellano-Felix group, Mendez and Lerma-Duenas.  Mendez also brought members of his crew to these meetings…

    Cross-border relations apparently are not limited to the business of drugs.  The affidavit also describes a 2008 kidnapping and attempted murder in San Diego that was commissioned from Mexico:

    The next series of events arises out of the armed kidnapping and subsequent attempted murder of a male victim by defendant Mendez’s crew.  In a recorded meeting, Mendez admitted that the kidnapping was committed on behalf of individuals in Mexico.  The kidnapping was foiled when the victim succeeded in fleeing his kidnappers.  At the time, one of the kidnappers…attempted to shoot the victim but missed.  Officers recovered a .40 caliber shell casing at the scene of the shooting.

    The affidavit and a subsequent indictment detail many other violent criminal acts committed by this Eme crew.  But these paragraphs speak directly to the relationship of at least this crew and the Mexican side of the violent drug trade.

    “Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

    —Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

    “Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

    —Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

    Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

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