Rene Enriquez warns that La Eme is “spreading like an incurable cancer.” While incarcerated at the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion [Illinois], La Eme’s Ralph “Perico” Rocha in 2001 wrote to Rene Enriquez at Pelican Bay [California] — using code words — that he was “trying to get involved in the NAFTA
to expand negocios [business] overseas y [and] borders…the family [Eme] is looking to open a few more restaurants [legitimate businesses] in Colorado, Texas, Chicago, etc.”
Chris Blatchford, The Black Hand: The Bloody Rise and Redemption of “Boxer” Enriquez, A Mexican Mob Killer (New York: William Morrow, 2008), p. 297.
So, just how scary is the Mexican Mafia?
With a core of only about 200 “made” members — but remorseless command over tens of thousands of Latino street gangster “soldiers” through a network of “associates” and “facilitators” — the Mexican Mafia (“Eme” or “La Eme,” for “M,” the 13th letter of the alphabet) is no longer the “California prison gang” many think. It has gone federal, national, and transnational.
One good place to start studying this phenomenon is Chris Blatchford’s compelling biography of Rene “Boxer” Enriquez, a surrealistically bloody former killer for the Mexican Mafia prison. The book at once attracts and repels.
It attracts not only because its bona fides are well attested by people who know — experts Bruce Riordan and Al Valdez endorsed the book, for example and retired LASD Sgt. Richard “Super Val” Valdemar personally recommended it to me — but because it has what literate critics used to call “verisimilitude” ( a word from the Latin that is as out of fashion as that excellent language’s study in today’s world of tweeting and texting teeny tiny thoughts). There is nothing forced or sparse about the impasto of blood, gore, and paranoid treachery lathered onto Blatchford’s canvas.
Yet the very density of The Black Hand’s crimson carnage casts a sort of claustrophobia over the reader. The matter-of-fact recitation of so many bloody murders and assaults brings to mind the lyric from Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower: “There must be some kind of way out here, said the joker to the thief.” For the reader, the way out is to close the book for a while and breathe free air. For the carnales of Eme, there is no exit — save for the few, like Enriquez, who in a life-changing moment of redemptive perception decide to drop out and cooperate with law enforcement. Such an act, of course, flies directly into the face of the powerful prison gang’s (indeed, all Latino street gang’s) most fervently held rules — “blood in, blood out,” and no cooperating ever with law enforcement. Such drop-outs and cooperators are marked with death for life.
However chaotic the gory and seemingly endless scrum of murders, counter-murders, assaults, and gratuitous whack jobs recounted in The Black Hand may seem, the story of the rise and redemption of Rene Enriquez directly pinches the very sensitive nerve that worries U.S. federal law enforcement officials. After having slept through the years of the American Mafia’s consolidation and growth to power in the early 20th Century, the Department of Justice is determined that no Latino “super mafia” be allowed to rise to power in the United States.
Some observers would argue that the race is a close thing.
“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
In this three part series, Fairly Civil will post material about Eme from federal court documents. The first part, this post, includes a description of the prison gang’s structure and operations. The second part (here) posts information about Eme’s apparently growing links with Mexican cartels The final post will feature a case that illustrates Eme’s reach across the United States to cities geographically far removed from California.
EME’s Structure and Operations
There are, of course, other books and treatises about Eme, but the following material from a criminal complaint filed by an FBI agent in the pending case of United States V. Mauricio Mendez in San Diego is a compact and thorough primer. (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Docket No. 3:09-mj-00473-RBB, filed Feb. 13, 2009):
3. The Mexican Mafia is the largest and most established prison gang in the United States. The Mexican Mafia was initially formed in the California state penal system and has been in existence for over thirty years. As of the present date [February 2009], the Mexican Mafia operates both in the California state prison system (as well as in other states) and in the federal Bureau of Prisons. The Mexican Mafia operates under a hierarchical system with three basic levels – members, associates, and soldiers. The EME is further governed by a basic set of rules and operating procedures which are enforced through internal discipline, including acts of violence.
4. The Mexican Mafia conducts and controls illegal activities not only in penal facilities but also on the street. The Mexican Mafia’s primary illegal activities are drug trafficking, extortion, internal prison discipline, and violent crimes. Although most Mexican Mafia members are incarcerated, members and their associates control large, violent criminal gangs that operate outside of the federal and state penal systems under the general authority of the Mexican Mafia. The Mexican Mafia exerts significant control over most Southern California Hispanic street gangs – also known as “Sureño” gangs.
5. Through a variety of means, incarcerated Mexican Mafia members and their associates communicate with their subordinates out of custody, who carry out various criminal activities on behalf of the respective Mexican Mafia member or associate.
6. A percentage of the profits of these illegal activities outside of the federal and state penal systems is then transferred to the respective Mexican Mafia member or associate, or to other designated individuals, such as family members – these monetary transfers are accomplished in a variety of ways, including the use of money orders. Money generated from illegal activities (primarily extortion and drug trafficking) taking place inside penal facilities is transferred in the same ways.
8. The highest level of authority in the Mexican Mafia is membership (members may also be known as “Brother” or “Carnal” or “Tío”). The Mexican Mafia does not have a single individual who runs the entire organization. Rather, under the rules of the gang, members are considered to have equal authority and power within the organization; there are approximately 200 members of the Mexican Mafia, according to intelligence gathered by state and federal investigators. New members are elected into the gang through a vote of existing members…
9. To carry out the illegal activities of the gang, Mexican Mafia members utilize high-level associates (also known within the gang as “camaradas”). Members invest these high-level associates with authority to oversee Mexican Mafia operations in specific areas, both in penal facilities and on the street.
10. The delegation of authority to control a specific area on behalf of the Mexican Mafia is known within the gang as giving “the keys” to the individual. Thus, a “key-holder,” (also called a “llavero” or “shot-caller”) is an individual who has been placed in charge of a gang, neighborhood, prison, or prison yard for the purpose of overseeing the Mexican Mafia’s illegal operations. As an example, an associate can be given “the keys” to run a specific yard in a prison. These associates are able to order Sureño gang members to carry out illegal activities in the area over which the associates have authority.
11. The associates are responsible for ensuring that Mexican Mafia operations (including extortion and drug trafficking) run smoothly, that Mexican Mafia rules and authorities are enforced, and that the proceeds of illegal activities are properly distributed. For example, a “llavero” would be responsible for ensuring that part of the proceeds from the illegal activities in his area of control are sent to the Mexican Mafia member(s) for whom the associate works.
12. The Mexican Mafia also uses a command system known as the “mesa” – the table. A “mesa” is a group of “camaradas” and soldiers who are responsible for overseeing different areas under Mexican Mafia control – in essence, a governing council. For example, in a prison setting, a “mesa” would consist of individuals responsible for overseeing various neighborhoods in a city.
13. The largest subgroup of the Mexican Mafia are the soldiers – i.e., Sureño gang members. These soldiers are responsible for carrying out the orders of the Mexican Mafia and for enforcing the authority of the Mexican Mafia, both inside penal facilities and on the street. As a result, soldiers are tasked with helping collect “taxes” (extortion payments) with drug trafficking activities or with the commission of violence.