Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘ATF’

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

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

MORE EXPLAINING TO DO — IS THROWING A GANG SIGN EVER JUST A JOKE?

In Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on August 25, 2009 at 6:24 pm
Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde") Throwing Devils Horns Gang Sign

Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde"), Left, Throwing Devil's Horns Gang Sign in 1999

The two men in the picture above could be fans of the University of Texas Longhorns.

Like the two men in the picture below — former President George W. Bush and University of Texas strength and conditioning coach Jeff “Mad Dog” Madden —  they could be expressing support for the University of Texas Longhorns football team by flashing the famous “hook ‘em horns” sign.

George_W._Bush_and_Jeff_Mad_Dog_Madden

President George W. Bush and University of Texas Coach Jeff "Mad Dog" Madden Flash "Hook 'Em Horns" Sign

Or not.

DR.JEKYLL_AND_MR.HYDE___31_The man on the left in the photo at the top of this post, Alexander (“Alex”) Sanchez, also known as “Rebelde” according to the government, is accused in a federal racketeering (RICO) indictment of  being a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — saintly “anti-gang activist” by day, foul-mouthed, murder-conspiring boss (shot-caller) of the transnational MS-13 gang by night.  (“Rebelde” means “rebellious” when used as an adjective, and “rebel” when used as a noun.)

Here is how a government pleading in the criminal case sums up this aspect of the charges against Sanchez:

Sanchez is alleged to have been an influential leader, known as a shotcaller, of the Normandie clique of Mara Salvatrucha since the mid-1990s. In that role, which he never abandoned despite working at the anti-gang organization Homies Unidos, he profited from the gang’s narcotics trafficking and regular extortion rackets.

But what about the photo of Sanchez at the Golden Gate Bridge?  The following paragraphs come right after the same government pleading’s discussion of the contents of international wiretaps of Sanchez that were described in the last posting of Fairly Civil:

The government has also recovered photographic evidence of Sanchez’s double life during the execution of search warrants in 2001 and 2003.  For example, FBI agents executing a search warrant at the home of Rebecca Quezada, aka “Laughing Girl,” in February 2001 recovered two photographs of Sanchez that provide further physical evidence of Sanchez’s ongoing participation in MS-13 while working at Homies Unidos. (A copy of the two photographs are attached as Exhibit C).

In the first photograph, which was found on a 2000 calendar that featured a poem by Sanchez, Sanchez is depicted in his public role, standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge with two other men at an anti-gang conference in San Francisco in 1999.  In the second photograph agents recovered [the one posted above], however, Sanchez is standing in the same spot in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in the same clothing with one of the same men on what is clearly the same occasion.  In the second photo, however, Sanchez and the other man are displaying the hand sign for MS-13.  This hand gesture, which is frequently encountered by law enforcement in photographs of and drawing and graffiti by MS-13 members, is universally recognized as the gang sign for MS-13 and is never made in peace.  This photograph, along with numerous other photographs showing Sanchez at parties with leaders of MS-13, are physical evidence that Sanchez has never renounced his membership in MS-13.

Government’s Response to Defendant Alex Sanchez’s Motion for Pretrial Release, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Docket No. CR-09-466-MLR.

This photograph of the “anti-gang worker” throwing the MS-13 gang sign long after his supposed “conversion” suggests that Alex Sanchez has more explaining to do.  Is he is is, is was, or is ain’t? (Or, for another version of the same old song, try this link.)

Here, for example, are MS-13 gang members in Central America “throwing” the infamous gang sign, which is known as the devil’s horns:

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

Here are some other instances of the MS-13 gang sign being recorded in public.  (“Fool’s names and dog’s faces often appear in public places.”)

MS-13 Gangsters "Throwing" Devil's Horn Gang Sign

MS-13 Gangsters "Throwing" Devil's Horn Gang Sign

MS-13 Graffiti Incorporates Devil's Horn and "Crossing Out" of Number 18, Showing Disrespect for Rival 18th Street gang

MS-13 Graffiti Incorporates Devil's Horn and "Crossing Out" of Number 18, Showing Disrespect for Rival 18th Street gang

It’s interesting to note that Sanchez and the other man (who appears to be identified as “Laughing Boy” in an inscription that accompanies the second photo) are flashing the gang sign right in the heart of Norteno country, the Northern California territory over which the prison gang Nuestra Familia claims sovereignty.  Most Latino street gangs in Northern California acknowledge fealty to Nuestra Familia, describe themselves as generically “Nortenos,” and affect the number “14” (for “N,” the 14th letter of the alphabet) — or combinations of numbers totaling 14 — in clothing and graffiti.

Southern California gangs like MS-13 are with few exceptions loyal to EME (Spanish for the letter “M”), the Mexican Mafia.  (The 13 in MS-13 signifies the gang’s public expression of fealty to EME, the 13th letter of the alphabet.)

Nuestra Familia and EME have been at war for decades after a failed attempt at union.  Likewise, Sureno gangs loyal to the Mexican Mafia (EME) are at ceaseless war with Nuestra Familia’s Norteno gangs.

“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

Depending on the planet upon which one spends most of one’s time, one might argue that (a) Sanchez and his friend are not throwing a gang sign but are UT fans like George W. Bush,  (b) are just horsing around, mocking the old life, or (c) the FBI created the picture in a laboratory in Area 51.

But “just goofing around” with their hand sign is not something gangsters are likely to tolerate.  FBI analyst Don Lyddane wrote about the following cautionary incident in an edition of the United States Attorneys’ Bulletin devoted to gang prosecutions:

Several years ago, a young lady attended a dance-concert in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She enjoyed the band so much that she leaped onto the stage to dance with the band. While dancing she gestured in sign language, “I love you,” over and over. She did not realize that her gestures were almost identical to the Latin King hand sign. Several Latin King members who were on the dance floor observed her “I love you” gesture and perceived it as a blatant disrespect to the Latin King and Queen Nation. She surely did not realize that they planned to kill her. Her innocent gestures cost this woman her life. Her murder was subsequently solved as part of a gang conspiracy investigation of the Latin Kings by the FBI Safe Streets Task Force in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Donald Lyddane, Intelligence Analyst, Safe Streets and Gang Unit, FBI Headquarters, “Gangs and Gang Mentality: Acquiring Evidence of the Gang Conspiracy,” in United States Attorneys’ Bulletin, May 2006.

HOW COULD THIS BE?

Sanchez’s supporters flatly reject the government’s claim that he has been a secret shot-caller.

Funny, CIA Agent Aldrich Ames Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

Funny, CIA Agent Aldrich Ames Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

This is to be expected.  Revelations of double lives understandably evoke responses from those who have been gulled along the lines of, “There must be a mistake (or a plot) because this just can’t be true.  I’ve known so-and-so for X-number of years, and I never saw any sign of anything like that.  I know his good works and they show he is a good man — he would never do a bad thing.”

And yet recent history offers numerous examples of persons who led truly shocking double lives, including double agent spies, con men in the financial world, and even other boldly duplicitous “anti-gang workers” in Los Angeles.  They demonstrate that it is indeed possible to fool others, even in cases in which exacting mechanisms to detect precisely such duplicity are in place.

Funny, He Doesn't Look Like a Monster

Funny, He Doesn't Look Like a Monster

Ryan Jenkins. If you can stand “reality TV” and pop crime, take the case of “Reality TV Star” Ryan Jenkins, who was suspected of murdering his ex-wife, Jasmine Fiore. After a few days of flight and an international manhunt, Jenkins apparently committed suicide by hanging himself in a motel closet. Unless he was doing a David Carradine, this is not a sign of innocence. Flight in and of itself is generally evidence of a guilty mind.

But these bits from the UK’s Telegraph sum up the understandable resistance of Jenkins’s parents to the awful implications of the totality of facts — i.e., that their son was a murderous monster:

Fiore’s dismembered body was found 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles on August 15. Her teeth had been pulled out and her fingers cut off, apparently to impede her identification. Investigators identified her by the serial numbers on her breast implants.

Jenkins’ mother, who lives in Vancouver, refused to accept he killed Fiore. Nada Jenkins said in a brief telephone interview Monday that she’s sure the evidence will eventually prove his innocence.

“He was good, he’s kind and we need to clear his name,” she said, weeping.

Okay, perhaps citing the credulity of grieving parents is not fair.  How about cold-eyed intelligence professionals who are precisely and regularly warned to be on the alert for double agents?  Can they be fooled?

Mon00 Spy Nat KRT

Funny, She Didn't Look Like a Double Agent

Ana Belen Montes. You may have never heard of Ana Montes, but her career as a double agent for the intelligence service of Fidel Castro’s Cuba was breathtaking.  Montes rose to the top of the ranks of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).  When she was finally taken down, Montes was within hours of receiving a full briefing on the U.S. war plans for the attack on Afghanistan after the 9/11 disaster.  It’s not hard to figure out where that information would have gone if it had got into the hands of the Cubans.  Fairly Civil highly recommends True Believer (Annapolis:  Naval Institute Press, 2007) a slim volume by Scott W. Carmichael, the DIA counter-intelligence officer whose keen suspicions finally brought Montes down.

What is striking is that Carmichael had to work feverishly against the assumptions of Montes’s peers and superiors alike, not to mention the FBI’s Washington Field Office.  They at first refused to believe that a long-term, outstanding career employee like Ana Montes, with no ties to Cuba (her family was Puerto Rican), could be such a treacherous spy.  Sound familiar?

Here are a few salient quotes from the work:

Ana Montes … operated for sixteen years with impunity, becoming the U.S. government’s top intelligence analyst on Cuba at the same time she was reporting to the Cuban government.  She not only passed on U.S. secrets to Cuba but also helped influence what we thought we knew about Cuba. (p. viii.)

Ana’s supervisors at the DOJ [her previous employer] offered glowing recommendations…One called her an absolutely outstanding employee.  Another said she was one of the best employees their office ever had.  She was described as diligent, conscientious, highly productive, creative, and professional in her behavior and attitude. (p. 55)

There was also the matter of her security clearance.  Only 15 percent of Americans prosecuted for espionage during the modern era held the highest level of security clearance when they began spying.  That level is Top Secret clearance with access to sensitive compartmented information…That meant she had been screened, vetted, investigated, and judged by competent federal authorities to be a responsible U.S. citizen worthy of the government’s trust…[she] routinely accessed a great deal of sensitive compartmented information throughout her normal workday. (p. 41)

I do wish that spies would paint great big glowing, gooey globs on their foreheads for easy identification.  Green ones, perhaps.  It would certainly make my job much easier.  But spies do not do that.  Ana Montes certainly didn’t.  She simply slipped through the fog, never calling attention to herself for a moment.  And so she got away with espionage for a long time.  (p. 155)

Gosheroonie, Kids, FBI Agent David Hanssen Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

Gosheroonie, Kids, FBI Agent David Hanssen Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

The shock was so great for Montes’s loyal co-workers and friends that special counselors were brought in to help them work through the emotional trauma, the psychological wounds inflicted by her deep betrayal.  “Their initial reaction to the news was predictable and universal:  shock and disbelief.” (p. 131)

Of course, Ana Montes is not the only such spy eventually winkled out of the country’s most secret enterprises.  For informed summaries of more such stories, go to this link.  But the point here is that cold-blooded double agents — whose work costs the lives of truly loyal and faithful men and women — can evade even the most sophisticated screening and vetting.   The loyal followers of Alex Sanchez, to put it bluntly, have only a rudimentary “vetting” process to rely on.

There is another point worth learning from the Ana Montes case.   She was able not only to steal secrets but to influence the views of the U.S. government about Cuba.  If Alex Sanchez was truly a secret shot-caller, from his perch as saintlike “anti-gang worker” he too was able to influence a vast community’s views about Latino gangs, MS-13 in particular, and gangsters.

Okay, Maybe Hector Marroquin (In  Black) Did Kinda, Sorta Look Like a Double-Dealing Gangster

Okay, Maybe Hector ("Big Weasel") Marroquin (In Black) Did Kinda, Sorta Look Like a Double-Dealing Gangster

Hector Marroquin. Finally, there is the precedent of the case of Hector Marroquin, in outline an analog of the Sanchez case.  “Big Weasel” Marroquin represented himself as a “reformed” 18th Street gangster, successfully milking the city of “gang intervention and prevention funding.”

Here is a summary from The New York Times, a newspaper of record that actually writes from time to time the details of the peculations (as opposed to the adulation) of Los Angeles’s violent Latino gangsters:

The director of an antigang organization here that sought to reduce gun violence and received $1.5 million from the City of Los Angeles pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges that he sold illegal assault weapons to a federal undercover agent.

Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested the director, Hector Marroquin, in May after video surveillance showed him selling weapons and silencers to an agent and an informant. The weapons included a MAK-90 and a Ewbank, both semiautomatic assault rifles, and a M-11, a smaller assault weapon that is like an Uzi, said Eric Harmon, who prosecuted the case.

“Here is a guy who represented himself to the city as being a former gang member helping others to get out of gangs,” said Gary Hearnsberger, head of the Hardcore Gang Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, “and he is convicted of selling illegal weapons as a side business.”

Mr. Marroquin, 51, pleaded guilty to three counts of possessing and selling assault weapons and was sentenced to eight years in prison. His companion, Sylvia Arellano, 26, was named as an accomplice in the sales and also pleaded guilty. She is to be sentenced on Tuesday to four years in prison.

Rebecca Cathcart, “Director of Antigang Group Sold Illegal Assault Weapons,” The New York Times, January 19, 2008.

This is the cue for an acolyte of Sanchez to exclaim to the Los Angeles Times, “Wait a minute!  I knew Hector Marroquin, and Alex Sanchez is no Hector Marroquin.”

Possibly.

That’s why we have criminal trials.

Here is my very favorite observation on Marroquin, from the authoritative blog “In the Hat,” summing up the effect of “Big Weasel” Marroquin’s post-reformation career (go to the link for more detail about the “Big Weasel”):

Marroquin has basically been shoved down the throats of gang cops by their commanders for years as a person they should work with to quell gang violence and divert young people from the life.

Is any of this sounding familiar?

LATINO STREET GANGS — WILL THEY MATCH THE MAFIA?

In Crime, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime on June 10, 2009 at 1:02 am

Here is the top of  a new post I have written on The Crime Report (crimereport.org):

Could Latino Street Gangs Transform Themselves into Transnational Drug Mafias?

By Tom Diaz

Tom Diaz, author of a new book, “No Borders: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement,” looks at the potentially ominous future of criminal street gangs in the U.S.

In the 1980s, few law enforcement officials had heard of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) or the 18th Street gang. Yet within two decades, these gangs metastasized from local urban-based organizations in Los Angeles and other California cities into transnational criminal enterprises operating throughout the Western Hemisphere, including El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, the United States, and Canada. As Mexico’s violent drug-fueled turf wars threaten to spread north of the border, many wonder whether the gangs have become integrated with Mexican drug cartels.

You can read more of this post here, and you can order the book from Amazon.com here.

Here is a description of The Crime Report from its “about” page:

The Crime Report (TCR) is independent and non-partisan, and it advances no single view or approach – except to promote informed discussion and debate. It is a collaborative effort by two national organizations that focus on encouraging quality criminal justice reporting: The Center on Media, Crime and Justice, the nation’s leading practice-oriented think tank on crime and justice reporting and Criminal Justice Journalists, the nation’s only membership organization of crime-beat journalists.

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