Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Riordan’

IT’S REAL — ALEX SANCHEZ GETS BAIL IN MS-13 RICO TRIAL — JUDGE CALLS IN TEAM OF OUTSIDE REFEREES TO HELP MAKE THE REPLAY CALL

In bad manners, Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Police, politics, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on January 14, 2010 at 2:02 am

Experts Testified Behind Judge Real's Closed Doors in Latest Sanchez Bail Hearing

Federal Judge Manuel L. Real has granted bail to Alex Sanchez, the former gang member turned anti-gang activist who has been accused in a federal racketeering (RICO) indictment of being a “secret shot-caller” for Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).  [To follow the trail of a series of earlier posts on this fascinating case, start here.  You will eventually land in the Land of Oz. ]

Here is how Celeste Fremon’s WitnessLA broke the news today:

Around 11:30, at the end of the closed hearing that began at 10 a.m. Alex Sanchez attorney Kerry Bensinger came out of the federal courtroom to talk to Sanchez family and a very, very small handful of supporters, whom he drew into a side room and broke the news. U.S. District Judge Manuel Real had granted Alex Sanchez bail.

One thing that can be said for the staggeringly quirky Real, he continues to surprise. This time the surprise was a good one for Sanchez and family.

The bail amount is set at $2 million. It is to be divided into $1 million in properties, $1 million in surities.

Since Sanchez supporters and family have already gathered $1.4 million in property, and $1 million in surities, “it’s only a matter of the paperwork,” said Monica Novoa, a Homies Unidos board member who is very close to the family and thus was in the room.

The extraordinary bail hearing was closed to the public.  It followed the filing of a mysterious sealed document by Sanchez’s lawyer, Kerry L. Bensinger.  Contents of that filing are not available on the public record.

Judge Real apparently felt the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals breathing down his back and called in a panel of independent gang experts to help him pin down the facts relevant to Sanchez’s bail request.  These have almost nothing to do with the defendant’s guilt or innocence, but whether he presents (1) a risk of flight, or (2) a threat to others.

According to papers filed in the federal district court, prosecutors made available three expert witnesses.  They were:

  • LAPD Capt. Justin Eisenberg, Commanding Officer of the Gangs and Narcotics Division.
  • Former federal prosecutor Bruce K. Riordan, now Director of Anti-Gang Operations for the L.A. City Attorney’s Office.  Riordan is also Chief of the Gang Division and Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division.
  • FBI Supervisory Special Agent Robert W. Clark, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles Field Office.

“Government’s Notice Re; Available Witnesses at Hearing Re: Detention of Alex Sanchez,” United States v. Alfaro, Central District of California, Docket No. CR-09-466-R, filed January 12, 2010.

NOTE:  This document — which was publicly available yesterday at the time this blog post was first written — has now been sealed.  Oh, well.  Good thing I printed it off!

It is possible that Bensinger’s mysterious sealed document was the defendant’s list of experts, some or all of whom are rumored to be politicians and public officials who may not have wanted to be identified as speaking on Sanchez’s behalf.  Is there such a thing as a spinal implant?  Or integrity transfusion?  Perhaps this is something that the indefatigable activist Tom Hayden — who is given to dark conspiratorial theories when a matter involves the government — can investigate and write about in the public interest.

In any event, Judge Real was demonstrably persuaded that Sanchez was entitled to be released.

At least some observers have speculated that prosecutors made a decision to ease back on the throttle regarding the Sanchez bail question.  The theory of this line of reasoning is that prosecutors realized that they had a big problem with the factual scenario they had relied on to implicate Sanchez in an intra-gang hit — to wit, the government may have incorrectly identified a key participant in a wiretapped phone call.

The call on the table, the reasoning continues, was either to continue pushing hard to keep Sanchez locked up and risk seeing the case taken away from Judge Real by the Ninth Circuit, or to reform the skirmish line and perhaps bring in some fresh troops.  A few new strategic calls may also be made.

Most interesting in the short run will be to see what, if anything, the Los Angeles Times prints tomorrow.  Any way you slice the Sanchez case, it is a world class story that any of the old style newspaper men would have given an arm for:  if Sanchez is truly innocent, he has been the victim of terrible mistreatment.  If he is guilty, he pulled off a scam that makes Ponzi scheme artist Bernie Madoff look like an amateur.

But the Times, one of the few interesting newspapers left in America, has studiously ignored the case to date.

In Happier Times, Sanchez Enjoyed A Saintly Aura Comparable to that of Mother Teresa

UPDATE ON LOS ANGELES TIMES‘ COVERAGE

No surprise here.  No story.  Apparently, LA Times editors couldn’t find their butts in the dark with both hands and a flashlight.

But the on-line edition does have this suh-weet blast from the past:

I wanna take you high-er!

CASE OF ALLEGED MS-13 “SECRET SHOT CALLER” ALEX SANCHEZ GETS REAL — ATTEMPTED “HAIL MARY SHUFFLE PASS” BY DEFENSE FLOPS

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on December 28, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Alex Sanchez's Defense Team Got Nowhere in Appeal to Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and Blew Attempted "Hail Mary" Play Around Judge Manuel L. Real. The Feds' Ball-Control Game Plan Appears to be Working.

Question: Is a dropped shovel pass considered an incomplete pass or a fumble?

Answer: A forward pass, is a forward pass, is a forward pass. It can be thrown overhand, underhand, one-handed, two-handed or between your legs. The direction it travels is the only deciding factor as to whether it’s forward or backward.

So, if a forward shovel pass hits the ground it’s an incomplete pass.

Curt Johnson’s American Football Rules Answers for Coaches

LATER NOTE:  Alex Sanchez was granted pre-trial release on January 13, 2010.  See story here.

Alex Sanchez’s lawyer has played a fan-rousing first-quarter game of razzle-dazzle legal football trying to spring the accused Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) “secret shot caller” from jail while he awaits trial.

Forget the cheers and pom-poms.  The case is right back where it started — in the forbidding courtroom of octogenarian federal district Judge Manuel L. Real.

Underhand, overhand, fumble or incomplete pass, call it what you will.  A desperate maneuver to get the controversial case reassigned to a different judge blew up like a busted shovel pass hit by a play-reading, line-backing locomotive.

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

Full background on the federal racketeering (RICO) indictment, arrest, and incarceration pending trial of Sanchez — an admitted gangster supposedly reformed and turned anti-gang activist, now accused by the feds of being a “secret shot-caller” — can be found in all of its tortured procedural history  here, here, and here.

"Nothing Personal About that Flamethrower, Your Honor."

As Fairly Civil reported in detail here, the appellate brief filed last month on Sanchez’s behalf before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals  torched Judge Real, the government, its witnesses, and the handling of the case.  The brief demanded removal of Judge Real from the case because — paraphrased in layman’s terms — he “just doesn’t get it.”  The defense lawyer’s next appearance before Judge Real should be … um … interesting — a textbook case, perhaps, of “nothing personal about that flamethrower in the Ninth Circuit, your honor.”

Incredibly, while Sanchez’s appeal was still pending, startling “news” broke that the case had been reassigned to another judge.  Sanchez’s many fans popped the corks on the champagne and celebrated an early Christmas.

See how this series of developments unfolded by checking out the excellent (if unabashedly pro-Sanchez) WitnessLA blog here.

This news energized aging California hippy activist and prolific gang fiction writer Tom Hayden like a straight shot of Geritol.  Hayden fired up his rhetorical flying saucer on the tarmac over in Area 51, and beamed an ecstatic account of the thrilling development onto the pages of The Nation magazine.

Premature excitation, it turned out.

The case was promptly — and somewhat curtly — reassigned back to Judge Real!

News of Ephemeral "Reassignmnet" Galvanized Accomplished Intergalactic Saucer Pilot and Gang Fiction Writer Tom Hayden

Never one to let the facts get in the way of a good story, Hayden jumped back into his intergalactic travel machine and fired an email straight from the radical 70s, filled with predictably dark imaginings about the manipulation of the legal system, the sinister hidden hand of LAPD corruption tainting the federal legal system …. yadda-yadda, yadda-yadda.

Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. But try not to inhale.

Here, is WitnessLA’s recitative on Hayden’s petulant emission:

Hayden sent around an email Tuesday night containing details and reactions. It read in part:

“The turn of events will raise new suspicions about alleged manipulation of the proceedings which began six months ago with Sanchez’ arrest on gang conspiracy charges. Sanchez, a well-known gang intervention worker who helped expose the Los Angeles police Rampart scandal a decade ago, asserts his innocence in the case. He is being held without bail at a federal prison in Los Angeles.

As of 4:30 Tuesday afternoon, no order reversing the transfer had been received by defense counsel, and no explanation offered for the unusual chain of events.

The order surprised and pleased the Sanchez defense team. His supporters, organized as http://www.wearealex.org, assert that Sanchez is being railroaded and denied any semblance of a fair trial. Sanchez’ court-appointed counsel, Kerry Bensinger, argued in a recent appeal to the Ninth Circuit that the case should be remanded to another judge.

Why the December 4 transfer order was withdrawn less than a day after it was made public will raise questions about the inner workings of the judiciary itself.”

Uh, huh. Something like that.

Or to put it another way: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot???!!

Or, to put it yet another way, “Beam me up, Scotty.”  In fact, the assignment-reassignment is not puzzling at all.

A complete explanation was then, is now, and will be available in full view, on the public record, in the federal court house in Los Angeles for any journaliste or enfant terrible curious — and energetic — enough to bring actual facts to the question.  Anyone without the means to actually get down to the clerk’s office (take a bus or ride a bike) can go onto an amazing thing called “the internet” ( a series of interconnected tubes) and dial into reality.

More Geritol, Ma … please!

The Case of the Mysterious Premature Reassignment Explained

Where to start?

Oh, wait, I know!

How about with the actual court order reassigning the reassignment?  Brilliant idea!

Here is the complete text of the “Order Returning Case to the Calendar of Judge Manuel Real,” United States v. Jose Alfaro, United States District Court for the Central District of California, Docket No. 09-466-CAS, filed December 8, 2009:

As Chair of the Case Assignment and Management Committee, I have been advised by United States District Judge Christina Snyder that she inadvertently signed a transfer order that contained the representation that the present criminal case purportedly “arise[s] out of the same conspiracy, common scheme, transaction, series of transactions or events” that were the subject of CR 05-00539.  Apparently the order was generated when a defense attorney submitted a belated notice of related case status.  That notice focuses on a case handled by Judge Snyder involving one of the numerous defendants in the present case.  Judge Snyder advises that she was unaware of the status of the above-captioned action, does not believe that the relationship of the cases warrants transfer and has referred the matter to me for a determination as to whether the case should be returned to Judge Real.

Even if there is some connection between these two cases, which I note were filed four years apart, the current case is at such an advanced stage and Judge Real has spent such substantial time and effort on the matter that no judicial economy would be achieved by a transfer at this late date.  Indeed, a transfer at this point would undermine the very objectives that provide the reason for the rule.  Accordingly, the transfer to Judge Snyder is VACATED and the matter is ORDERED to be returned to Judge Real’s calendar for all further proceedings.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

DATED: December 8, 2009

[Signed]

Judge Gary Allen Feess

Chair, Case Assignment and Management Committee

[Judge Snyder's original order is also available.  It is simply a "check the box and sign" order form, CR-59 (12-07), the kind of thing some judges whiz through while pretending to listen from the bench to bloviating counsel.  It states in relevant part:  "I hereby consent to the transfer of the above-entitled case to my calendar, pursuant to General Order 08-05."]

Um, plainly, this was an attempt at “judge shopping” by “a defense attorney,” who is not named and may or may not have been Sanchez’s counsel:

We can define “judge shopping” as an effort by a lawyer or litigant to influence a court’s assignment of a case so that it will be directed to a particular judge or away from a particular judge. The adversary usually does this to gain partisan advantage in a case (e.g., to steer it to a judge who is likely to impose a more lenient sentence in a criminal case…)

Memorandum by David C. Steelman, National Center for State Courts, January 21, 2003.

Nice try, Anonymous Mouthpiece!

But … no gain on the play. Ball stuffed.  First down, government’s ball.

Three questions linger, and their answers clear up the rest of the mystery.

  1. What is “the rule” to which Judge Feess refers in the order?
  2. What prompted Judge Snyder to refer the matter to Judge Feess?
  3. What was the allegedly “related” case the unnamed defense counsel was so anxious to hook the present case to?

No Wizard Behind the Mysterious Green Curtain -- Just a Boring Rule

Well, for anyone who is interested in how things actually operate behind the sinister green curtain, here is the relevant text of the rule, General Order No. 08-05.  It pretty well lays out the boring, non-conspiratorial routine procedure — including safeguards — that goes on in such a case of attempted judge-shopping:

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT, CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA, GENERAL ORDER NO. 08-05, ASSIGNMENT OF CASES AND DUTIES TO JUDGES

11.0 RELATED CRIMINAL CASES

11.1 NOTICE OF RELATED CASES

It shall be the responsibility of counsel to promptly file a Notice of Related Cases whenever a criminal case previously filed and one or more informations or indictments later filed:

a. arise out of the same conspiracy, common scheme, transaction, series of transactions or events; or

b. involve one or more defendants in common, and would entail substantial duplication of labor in pretrial, trial or sentencing proceedings if heard by different judges.

11.2 PROCESSING OF PROPOSED TRANSFER ORDER

Whenever counsel files a Notice of Related Cases indicating that any one or more of the above circumstances set forth in Section 11.1 exist, the Clerk shall prepare a proposed transfer order which shall be presented to the transferee judge and processed in the same manner as are related civil cases under Section 5.0 of this General Order.

5.2 PROCESSING OF PROPOSED TRANSFER ORDER

The Clerk shall also simultaneously provide an informational copy of the proposed transfer order to the judge randomly assigned to the case later filed (the transferor judge).

If the transferee judge approves the transfer, the case shall be transferred to the calendar of the transferee judge. If the transferee judge declines the related case transfer, the case shall proceed as originally assigned on the calendar of the transferor judge.

If the transferor judge disagrees with the decision of the transferee judge, the transferor judge may appeal the decision to the Committee. The Committee shall determine whether the cases are related.

Z-z-z-z. So much for the first two questions.  No proposed transfer was ever going to just slip by Judge Real in the dark of night.  Whether Judge Snyder figured it out on her own, or got a friendly call from Judge Real and/or the U.S. Attorney’s office is immaterial.  Once a question was raised, the matter was bound to go to the Case Assignment and Management Committee.

So, what was the case the enterprising defense lawyer selected?  For that answer, one must go to Docket No. CR 05-00539 in the same federal courthouse (using the inter-tube thing or skate-boarding to get there).

That docket recounts the case of one Juan Miguel Mancilla, aka “Gato,” a gangster who was arrested in one of the first sweeps by the FBI’s MS-13 National Gang Task Force.  Mancilla was charged with trafficking in methamphetamine. His prosecution was handled by then-assistant United States Attorneys Bruce Riordan and Scott Garringer. In April 2006, “Gato” copped a guilty plea and was sentenced to 97 months in prison.  The case has been closed since then.

When the current indictment was handed up in June, Mancilla was also named as a defendant, this time on racketeering charges, and was accordingly arrested while still in federal custody.  Whoever the enterprising defense counsel was who filed the transfer motion with Judge Snyder was trying to pin the elephant of this case onto the tail of the sleeping donkey of the Mancilla case.

End of mystery.

Oh, Yeah, and About the Ninth Circuit

The government filed a determinedly sober brief in response to Sanchez’s flamethrower.  Many observers believe that Sanchez’s argument that one of the participants in a series of calls was misidentified is possibly correct, and has given prosecutors a bit of grief.  But, the government’s answer — so what, the guilty party confessed independent of the wiretap? — has so far trumped the assertion, especially in light of the hundreds upon hundreds of hours of other wiretaps and informant material in the case.

The government’s brief, however, contained these interesting assertions, which go beyond the four wiretapped phone calls on which the case has been focused in the bail hearings:

Sanchez had contacts with gang members in 1999, when he arranged a meeting of the shotcallers of the Normandie clique of MS-13 in Los Angeles to negotiate a division of their narcotics distribution enterprise. Sanchez was able to organize this meeting because he was a senior Normandie shotcaller who had been one of the founders of MS-13 in Los Angeles and the former MS-13 representative to the Mexican Mafia. Sanchez has continued to be active in gang business; among other things he has directed its distribution of narcotics and collected proceeds of its narcotics trafficking. Sanchez was intercepted on wiretap calls in 2000, 2001, and 2006 and on recorded prison calls in 2008, talking about MS-13 business.

“Government’s Opposition To Defendant’s Appeal From Detention Order; Memorandum Of Points And Authorities,” United States Court Of Appeals For The Ninth Circuit, Docket No. C.A. 09-50525, filed December 3, 2009.

On December 22, 2009, three Circuit Judges from the Ninth Circuit sent Sanchez’s case back to the federal district court, meaning to the courtroom of Judge Real.

Sanchez Case Is Back to the Future With Judge Manuel L. Real: "Good Morning, Counsel. Now, Where Were We?"

Likely U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles Wins Wide Support

In Obama, politics on November 2, 2009 at 3:40 pm
AndreBirotte

LAPD Inspector general Andre Birotte Jr. Has Broad Support to be Next U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles

André Birotte, Jr.

LAPD Inspector General

Mr. Birotte joined the Office of the Inspector General in 2001. In 2003, he was appointed Inspector General of the Los Angeles Police Department by the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners. Mr. Birotte and his staff of approximately 32 employees, which include lawyers, professional auditors and former law enforcement executives, are responsible for conducting and overseeing LAPD internal investigations and audits to ensure compliance with both LAPD policies and mandates from the Federal Consent Decree. Mr. Birotte holds an undergraduate degree from Tufts University and a J.D. from Pepperdine University School of Law. Following law school, Mr. Birotte worked as a deputy public defender in Los Angeles where he represented indigent clients charged with felony and misdemeanor offenses in several phases of criminal proceedings including preliminary hearings, pretrial conferences, arraignments and over 30 trials. He then joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where he investigated and prosecuted numerous violent crime, fraud and narcotics trafficking cases. Thereafter, he joined the Quinn Emanuel law firm, where he represented clients in white-collar crime and commercial litigation matters.

LAPD Inspector General’s Internet Website

Los Angeles is buzzing this week, awaiting a new police chief.  But another nomination, perhaps  just as important, is in the wind.

Last week the Los Angeles Times floated a trial balloon for the likely nomination of Andre Birotte, Jr., the Los Angeles Police Department’s Inspector General, to become the next United States Attorney for the Central District of California (Los Angeles and much of Southern California).

LAPD’s inspector general likely choice for U.S. attorney in L.A.  Andre Birotte Jr. emerges after months of speculation as the presumptive nominee to be appointed to the vacant post by Obama.

The news of Birotte’s pending appointment prompted praise from diverse quarters.  Smart, moderate, and soft spoken, Birotte has successfully navigated the shark-filled waters of L.A. politics and come out strong with his integrity intact.

Social justice maven Celeste Fremon headlined her WitnessLA social justic blog:  “Andre Birotte Jr. 4 US Attorney? Please, Let it Be So!”

Here are her thoughts on Birotte:

I’ve got my fingers firmly crossed that Andre is indeed the nominee.  Honestly, I can’t think of a better choice for LA’s U.S. Attorney. He’s respected by a broad spectrum of people in and around law enforcement.

Plus, with basically no real power in his position as  inspector general for the Los Angeles Police Department, he has still managed to have a real influence in helping the LAPD transform itself into a department that the city can once again be proud of.

The LAPD command staff holds him in high regard.  At the same time,  Andre made a point of reaching out liberal-leaning law enforcement watchers like me—not to garner press attention or advance any agenda—but simply to talk about issues.

Andre is one of those rare people with a truly nuanced intelligence who seeks to understand any problem before him at a deeper and more complex level than what the surface presents.

And, hey, the guy also has a good sense of humor—mandatory in this business, in my humble opinion.

Let’s hope he’s our new U.S.  Attorney.

Bruce Riordan, one of Birotte’s former colleagues in the U.S. Attorney’s office and now Chief, Gang Division, Los Angeles City Attorney, likewise knows Birotte well and offered this assessment:

I have known and worked with Andre for more than a decade.  First as an Assistant United States Attorney,  then as a Deputy Inspector General, and finally as the Inspector General for the LAPD.  In every capacity in which he has worked he has served with real distinction.  He has an innate sense of fairness, a strong moral compass and he is also decisive.  If he is indeed nominated and confirmed for the position of United States Attorney, then it is my firm opinion that the District will see not only a very good man, but also a very good leader.  The District will be in good hands.

If Birotte lands the job, he’ll have his hands full from the first minute.  In addition to pending cases handed off from former U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien, he’ll have to lead the way in one of the nation’s most prestigious — and hottest — law enforcement environs.

With the generally positive reviews of all the finalists for chief, and that spectrum of opinion supporting Birotte’s likely nomination, things should be looking up for the City of Angels on the law enforcement front.

THE MEXICAN MAFIA — NATIONAL AND TRANSNATIONAL POWER, PART ONE

In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on August 30, 2009 at 6:50 pm
Aztec Number 13
Aztec Number 13

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

[/code]

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?

Bloody scary.

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.

Rene "Boxer" Enriquez in His Gangster Days:  Black Hand Tattoo Symbolizes Meixan Mafia, "Arta" Was His Local Gang
Rene "Boxer" Enriquez in His Gangster Days: Black Hand Tattoo Symbolizes Mexican Mafia, "Arta" Was His Local Gang

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.

SPEECH ON GANG VIOLENCE TO CALIFORNIA GANG INVESTIGATORS ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE 2009

In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on July 24, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Here is a pdf file of my keynote speech (as written) to the California Gang Investigators Association National Gang Violence Conference  (co-sponsored by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) on July 21, 2009.  The talk focused on Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the 18th Street gang, as does my book, No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press 2009).

You can order the book from the Michigan Press, or from Amazon.com or other internet bookseller.  No Boundaries is also in book stores (e.g., Borders, Barnes & Noble, at least in Washington, DC).

The actual delivery of the speech varied a bit from this text.  CSPAN-Books TV taped the address.  The broadcast is now scheduled for Sunday, August 2 at 5 P.M. Eastern time.

CGIA SPEECH FINAL

Here is an illustration of the pith helmet that I showed during my talk:

White Pith Helmet of Type Worn by British Soldiers in 19th Century

White Pith Helmet of Type Worn by British Soldiers in 19th Century

And here is a print illustrating the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, which I also talked about.

Battle of Rorke's Drift

Battle of Rorke's Drift

RUBBING OUT TURF MARKS — LOS ANGELES GOES AFTER DREW STREET CLIQUE OF THE AVENUES GANG WITH A BIG ERASER PART TWO

In Crime, Gangs, Guns, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime on April 1, 2009 at 11:29 am

“If someone bothers you, you talk to someone in the neighborhood,” said Bobby, illuminating how deeply Drew Street had fallen into gangster hands. “If someone stole from you, it would be handled. It was like a neighborhood watch. We don’t call the cops. We beat up people.”

From, “Drew Street Drug House Demolished; Creepily, some neighbors miss the gang’s terror, a Neighborhood Watch of sorts,” By Christine Pelisek.

Innovative Los Angeles Program Targeted, Took Down Drew Street Gang Fortress Known as "Satellite House"

Innovative Los Angeles Program Targeted, Took Down Drew Street Gang Fortress Known as "Satellite House"

People in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Glassell Park called the house at 3304 Drew Street “The Satellite House.”  The antennae sprouting from the roof were a symbol of drug-trafficking affluence in a graffiti-scarred area hanging on by its fingernails.  Like the  colonial headquarters of an occupying power, it was Government House for the Drew Street clica of the Avenues Gang.

According to Los Angeles law enforcement officials and a federal indictment, the Avenues Gang and its Drew Street clique are affiliated with the powerful Mexican Mafia prison gang, which in turn is plugged into the transnational network of the Mexican drug trafficking organizations.  (See Part One).   Los Angeles-bred Gangs like the Avenues, MS-13, 18th Street, and others around the nation (like the Latin Kings and Barrio Azteca) are today’s organized crime, the “mafia on steroids” someone quipped–a burgeoning force that is richer, more heavily-armed, more wired into global criminal networks than La Cosa Nostra in its best days.  They’re operating in Canada, for crying out loud!  It may not look this way at the level of some baggy-pants mope with bad teeth on a street corner moving little packets of mind-worming dope.  But that pimply-faced gangster is a soldado, a foot soldier, in a vast army of crime.  The new gangsters and their racketeering organizations defy national borders.  They love law enforcement organizations that are trapped in static thinking generated by organization charts and “stove-pipes” of “responsibility” and “mission statements.” (“That’s not in our lane,” I recently heard a senior federal law enforcement official say.  Your lane?  You need to retire–lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way, dude!)

Flexible, adaptive, smarter-than-you-think and often operating in ad hoc networks, transnational criminals operate at will throughout the Western Hemisphere, with growing tentacles to Africa and Europe.

It Was Personal With Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo (Center) -- Avenues Gangsters Harassed Him as a Kid. Delgadillo is Flanked by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William Bratton

It Was Personal With Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo (Center) -- Avenues Gangsters Harassed Him as a Kid. Delgadillo is Flanked by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William Bratton

At every level — from the street corner to the Western Hemisphere — gangs and the bigger criminal enterprises they are wired into raise a fundamental question: who’s in charge here?  Who rules this turf?  The legitimate government or the gangsters?  It is a serious mistake to underestimate the territorial mentality of the new gangsters, their assertion of the artifacts of sovereignty, and their willingness to confront civil government violently.

The Drew Street gang experience has been an almost perfect laboratory in which to see this concept of territorial confrontation at work.  The neighborhood (see map) it which the Avenues clique operated is boxed in, virtually sealed off,  by a cemetery, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, and a freeway.  Like many of the gang-tortured neighborhoods of the New World, Glassell Park was once affluent and quiet, an area of single-family homes.  But change seeped in — including immigration (legal and otherwise) from Mexico — and it went downhill.  Public housing apartment blocs that government planners and social engineers dreamed up turned into gangster strong points, bunkers into which the thugs could fade, invulnerable to police action.

Maria "Chata" Leon, Alleged Gangster, Mother of 13, Immigrated Illegally from Tlachapa, Mexico, Live in Satellite House

Maria "Chata" Leon, Alleged Gangster, Mother of 13, Immigrated Illegally from Tlachapa, Mexico, Lived in Satellite House

Satellite House was the home of a woman named Maria “Chata” Leon, an undocumented immigrant from Tlachapa, Guerrero, Mexico.  According to police, Leon ran the gang’s operations out of the house along with a brood of sons, relatives, and gangsters.  (Leon is said to have given birth to 13 children fathered by various men while she was accumulating a series of felony arrests and convictions dating back to 1992.)  The gang’s writ was so strong that in February 2008, LA Weekly ran an article titled “The Gangsters of Drew Street, Glassell Park — Why neither God nor the police can stop them.”

But while it may have looked like the gangsters had defeated even God (or at least LAPD), Los Angeles officials and law enforcement officers had already mounted a concerted attack on the Drew Street gang and its perverse rule.

In the first place, Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo has been a leader in devising ways to use civil law as a powerful complementary force to law enforcement efforts against gangs.  These ways include injunctions, lawsuits to collect money damages from gangs, and notably in this case a program known as TOUGH (Taking Out Urban Gang Headquarters) program. TOUGH is based on the “nuisance abatement” theory of civil law. The program “files lawsuits seeking aggressive and specifically tailored injunctive relief against property owners and gang members, including stay away orders, closure of properties, hiring of security guards, installation of video camera systems and other remedial improvements to the properties.”
 In 2007, Delgadillo and his team won a lawsuit filed in 2005 that closed Satellite House as a “nuisance” and–after further legal manuevering–led to its ultimately being demolished by a bulldozer.

Danny Leon Was Killed Brandishing an AK-47 in Shootout With LAPD

Danny Leon Was Killed Brandishing an AK-47 in Shootout With LAPD

Before the house was finally taken down, however, an episode of blatant gangster violence in February 2008 generated a maximum law enforcement investigative effort against the gang.  Avenues gangsters shot to death a 36-year old man as he was walking his 2-year old granddaughter near an elementary school. Shortly later, when the gangsters were confronted by LAPD police officers, they opened fire on the cops and a running gun battle ensued. One of Maria’s sons, Danny Leon, opened up with an AK-47 rifle. He was killed by return fire and his cousin, Jose Gomez, 18, was wounded and later charged with murder and attempted murder.

The incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back. “When you shoot at my police officers, all bets are off,” Police Chief William Bratton later said. A joint local and federal  HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) task force zeroed in on the gang.  That eventually resulted in a RICO indictment. Trial in that case is now pending, so all involved are –but, of course– entitled in court to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty.  You can draw your own conclusions.

Meanwhile, the question of who’s-in-charge-here has been answered. Concerted, creative, and cooperative effort by legitimate government has smacked down the Drew Street gang–at least for now. The gang weed is deeply rooted and resilient.

RUBBING OUT TURF MARKS — LOS ANGELES GOES AFTER DREW STREET CLIQUE OF THE AVENUES GANG WITH A BIG ERASER PART ONE

In Corruption, Crime, Gangs, Guns, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime on March 28, 2009 at 7:59 pm

“These days the narcos think nothing of killing us for no reason other than marking their territory,” one police commander said after seeing fellow officers murdered.

Police Commander Murdered in Mexico City

Police Commander Murdered in Mexico City

From, “Firepower and Bloodshed: Houston’s Underworld Connection with Mexican Drug Cartels, ” by Clarence Walker, The New Criminologist.

In the end the war between civilization and gangsters comes down to one question.  Who rules?  Whose “marker” prevails?

I had occasion recently to hear the former governor of a Mexican state describe how the relationships among the drug trafficking criminal enterprises, the legitimate government of the state, and political geography had changed over the last decade or so.  He is a man with painfully earned insight.

In the old days, he explained, criminals only wanted safe passage to do whatever they did.  So corruption was pervasive but ephemeral.  The criminals would bribe as necessity dictated:  a customs officer here, a police chief there, another official elsewhere in order to make possible a specific transaction or set of events.  The corrupted officials would look the other way.  Drugs would move from point A to point B without hassle, and life went on.

The difference now, he explained, has several dimensions:

  • The criminals now want to contest the legitimate government for total control of territory.
  • Within that territory, they want to preempt the traditional roles of government and enterprise.  They want to tax, administer “justice,” take over profitable business enterprises, and control the people as their subjects.
  • Criminal factions — such as DTOs — battle with each other for control of territory, regardless of who or what is technically sovereign.

If the criminals can seize total or effective control of the law enforcement function (public safety, enforcement of the rules of civil society) the battle is over.  They win. There is a spectrum of ways and means in which the security/law enforcement function (if not the bureaucratic structure) can be co-opted to criminality.

One way is to seize physical control by corruption or intimidation — members of the criminal enterprise actually hold office, or they can pay or frighten legitimate office holders into acting as surrogates of the criminals.  The latter process is known as “plata o plomo” (silver or lead) in Mexico.  It is in effect the axis about which revolves President Felipe Calderon’s fight to destroy the power of the Mexican drug trafficking organizations.  Here is a succinct description from a longer pre-Calderon but informative discourse:

The necessary involvement of police officials at the local, state, and national levels, and the Mexican military, complicates the battle over turf. Corruption pollutes well-intentioned policemen and soldiers. The law of “plata o plomo,” a choice between accepting a job on a criminal payroll or accepting a bullet in the head, perennially compromises members of the Mexican security forces at all levels…Millions of dollars a year land in the hands of policemen, intelligence agents, mayors, port masters, pilots, and many other officials who face the infamous “plata o plomo” decision.

Mexican feathers are ruffled when the matter is put so bluntly.  It is what it is.  Some serious law enforcement officials in the U.S. worry that half of the equation — the plata — is already here.  If the plata is here, can the plomo be far behind?  Not yet.  And perhaps never on a significant scale.  Cop-killers in the United States tend to have short life expectancies.  But this germ may be incubating.  If the narcos win in Mexico, count on it — all aspects of their putrescence will ooze north, where they have already established substantial logistical and administrative operations in a number of cities.

"HXCXR" = "Harbor City Rifa (Rules)" According to This Source

"HXCXR" = "Harbor City Rifa (Rules)" According to This Source

Another way is to drive legitimate authority out of certain areas, establishing “no-go” zones where the state theoretically still rules, but the cops can or will enter only with a show of extraordinary force.

The final way is to establish a shadow government — let the pinche cops drive through and make an occasional sweep, but the people know that we’re always here, so we rule anyway.  The graffiti of Latino criminal street gangs often includes the letter “R” or the word “rifa” (“rules”) — a leg-lifting marker aimed at other gangs — and at least implicitly at legitimate sovereign authority.

In the United States, by the way, some gangs and gangsters have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams by NOT fighting the power.  They co-opted legitimate authority by conning government circles.  Chicago is famous for having provided a culture in the late 1960s and early 1970s in which its current “super-gangs” rooted, were nurtured with government cash. More recently, in Los Angeles Hector “Big Weasel” Marroquin represented himself as a “reformed” 18th Street gangster.  He established a group called “No Guns.” Its staff is said to have consisted mostly of his own family members.  Here is how the authoritative blog “In the Hat” sums up the effect of Marroquin‘s post-reformation career:

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.

Hector "Big Weasel" Marroquin Back in the Slam After Conning L.A.'s Kumbaya Krowd

Hector "Big Weasel" Marroquin Back in the Slam After Conning L.A.'s Kumbaya Krowd

But it turns out Marroquin was not so reformed after all! Busted by ATF last year, “Big Weasel” pleaded  “no contest” to three counts of manufacture, distribution and transport for sale of an unlawful assault weapon.  He was sentenced to eight years in prison.  There is simply no telling what violence “No Guns” was responsible for.

An example of a gang shadow government was the area around MacArthur Park in Los Angeles that I write about in my forthcoming book from the University of Michigan Press (June 2009),  No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement. Mexican Mafia gangster Francisco “Puppet” Martinez bossed the Columbia Lil Cycos clique of the 18th Street Gang from his federal prison cell in the 1990s until the FBI and federal prosecutor Bruce Riordan broke up the party.  But, like the poisonous Chinaberry tree, gangs “can form dense thickets that crowd out native vegetation.” They are “poisonous to humans and small mammals… [and] multiple treatments are usually necessary to successfully eradicate” them.  Some eradication is still going on, I am told.

Few gangs in the United States have succeeded in totally controlling territory.  But the Drew Street clica of the Avenues Gang came close.  An excellent NPR radio story linked here describes how bad things had gotten — it’s a little over four minutes long and well worth listening to.

Gangster Tools:  Table-O-Guns Seized in Joint Task Force Raid on Drew Street Clique

Gangster Tools: Table-O-Guns Seized in Joint Task Force Raid on Drew Street Clique

This excerpt from a federal RICO indictment  – in the case of United States v. Francisco (“Pancho”) Real, United States District Court for the Central District of California, docket no. CR08-00688, filed June 12, 2008 — handed down against Drew Street and its members provides basic information about the Avenues Gang and the Drew Street clique.  Note how the gang asserted “sovereign” control over territory and even plotted to violently confront law enforcement:

The Avenues gang is a multi-generational street gang that was formed in the 1940s and claims..[a defined area] as its “territory” in Northeast Los Angeles.  The Avenues Gang is divided into a number of smaller groups, or “cliques,” based on geography and associations in the neighborhood controlled by the gang…

The Avenues gang has been traditionally loyal and committed to “Mexican Mafia,” also known as “La Eme.”  Avenues leaders frequently extort money from local drug traffickers, members of other gangs, prostitutes, residents, and persons who maintain businesses in the area controlled by the gang.  Avenues gang members also frequently intimidate, threaten and assault persons in the area as a means to intimidate and control the people in their neighborhoods, including potential witnesses who would testify about their crimes.  Their crimes typically include acts of violence, ranging from battery to murder, drug-trafficking offenses, witness intimidation, alien smuggling, weapons-trafficking and, very frequently, hate crimes directed against African-American persons who might attempt to reside or be present in the ares controlled by the gang.  Members frequently conduct robberies to generate funds for the larger organization and Avenues hierarchy.

The Drew Street gang is a recently formed clique with the Avenues gang.  The Drew Street gang is part of the Avenues gang, and it authorized by the Avenues and the Mexican Mafia (aka, “La Eme”) to control the area of Northeast Los Angeles in the neighborhood surrounding the intersection of Drew Street and Estara Avenue.
….
Members of the Drew Street gang 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.  The organization also directs attacks against law enforcement officers and witnesses who would be willing to cooperate with law enforcement for the prosecution of the crimes committed by members of the Drew Street gang….The Drew Street gang ordinarily is vigilant to the presence of “outsiders,” or persons not immediately known to the gang, who may intentionally or inadvertently attempt to enter the territory controlled by the gang.  Gang members are likely to identify such persons and physically threaten or kill them.

Los Angeles city and law enforcement authorities finally had enough and moved in on the gangster empire with a “holistic” approaching, mobilizing a range of forces in a pincer movement and frontal assault to erase the gang’s dense thicket of poisonous power. 

Fairly Civil will describe that in the next posting about the Drew Street gang.

.

LA CITY GANGBUSTERS: KICKING “LITTLE GODS” OUT OF GANG HEAVEN

In Corruption, Crime, Gangs, Guns, Transnational crime on December 19, 2008 at 5:28 pm

“They enjoy a huge reverence in the prison system; they’re like little gods.”

Not A God -- Mexican Mafia Gangster Frank "Puppet" Martinez

Not A God -- Mexican Mafia Gangster Frank "Puppet" Martinez

This is how the Mexican Mafia prison gang (“EME”) was described by retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department gang sergeant Richard Valdemar on a recent NPR program.

It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes, from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago upon the taking down of a rat’s nest of Latin Kings a few years ago: “It may seem pretty cool to be a Supreme Inca when you’re the leader on the street of gang until the title ‘Supreme Inca’ becomes ‘lead defendant.’”

Bruce Riordan (Photo by Mandalit del Barco, NPR)

Bruce Riordan (Photo by Mandalit del Barco, NPR)

Rocky Delgadillo (LA City photo)

Rocky Delgadillo (LA City photo)

A couple of gangbusters in Los Angeles — city attorney Rocky Delgadillo and his anti-gang director, former federal prosecutor Bruce Riordan — are taking it to the next level.  The pair are not content to just kick in gang heaven’s gate and jail deified  gangsters.  They’re going after the gangsters’ gold.  An innovative civil law suit the team filed — based on a new California state law — targets two of the worst of LA’s transnational spawn, the Mexican Mafia and the 18th Street gang. The city wants the courts to take the gangs’ assets and distribute them among the neighborhoods ravaged by the criminals’ depredations.  An interesting and useful twist is that the city does not have to prove that the gang assets in question came directly from its criminal operations.  The theory of the state law and the case is based on common law nuisance — the gang has in effect deeply polluted a neighborhood and it must pay for the cleanup with its assets, however gotten.

“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

[Update:  Los Angeles has won its first anti-gang money damages lawsuit, against a different gang, as reported by the Christian Science Monitor:

The city of Los Angeles, plagued by 23,000 violent gang crimes since 2004, including 784 murders and 12,000 felony assaults, announced Tuesday that it had won its first civil judgment, for $5 million, against a criminal gang that had dominated the heroin trade downtown for decades...."By giving prosecutors more tools to fight gang activity at the local level, we are protecting our communities at the same time [that] we’re able to strengthen our statewide anti-gang efforts,” said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a statement released with the announcement of the $5 million verdict against the 5th and Hill gang in L.A.]

EME Gangster's Godfather-like Compound -- Not Your Stereotypical Barrio Dwelling

EME Gangster's Godfather-like Compound -- Not Your Stereotypical Barrio Dwelling

This reverse Robin Hood calls to mind the success of Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center in suing hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan for big bucks.  Dees was a trail-blazer in using textbook tort law on behalf of hate crime victims to both win compensation and consequently shut down some of the most virulent haters in America.  The assets of these gangs are mind-boggling.  FBI agents found almost half-a-million dollars in cash inside a card-board box in one raid.  The EME king-pin in that case lived in a compound straight outta The Godfather.

An early civil law innovation was the use of injunctions against gangs.  The LA gang map is carved up with injunctions that limit the ability of diverse gangsters to operate in specific territories.  But the gangs are so well-entrenched, and so organic in their adaptability, it’s hard to say how successful these injunctions have been.  Proponents say their use has reduced gang violence.  Opponents say the opposite.  Let’s put it this way:  according to latest reports, the gangs are still there.

Civil libertarians have complained about the civil rights of the those affected by injunctions.

“When a person who has not been convicted of any gang-related activity or any criminal activity, for that person to be prohibited from being on a public sidewalk during daylight hours, runs against everything that our Constitution stands for,” says Robin Toma, consultant and attorney at the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission.

They are said to be unfairly “profiled.”   Others claim the injunctions “divide” communities. We might expect similar opposition  in this case.

“If Delgadillo’s lawsuit is a gimmick, filed to get a little media attention and soon forgotten, we don’t need it,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in an on-the-one hand, on-the-other hand editorial — praising the move so long as it works, but leaving room to criticize if it doesn’t.

The person who inked those skeptical words must never have meet Bruce Riordan.  He is a determined man.  It is a serious mistake to misjudge his grit, commitment, and legal acumen.  In fact, the factual foundations of the present case go back more than a decade to the day when FBI Special Agent Carl Sandford walked into Assistant United States Attorney Riordan’s office.  This was shortly after the federal government decided that criminal street gangs were no longer strictly a problem for local law enforcement — a pivotal part of the fallout from the 1992 Rodney King LA Riot. Latino and black gangs were key factors in the riot’s explosion and spread.

I relate the story of the 18th Street gang’s rise, the criminal operations of the Columbia Lil Cycos clique (CLC), the Mexican Mafia’s takeover of the drug “tax” (i.e., extortion) business, and the federal investigation and prosecution in a chapter of my forthcoming book, No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and Federal Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press 2009).

Riordan, an eager young prosecutor, lobbied for and was assigned the task of investigating the 18th Street18th Street "Shot Caller" Lefty Cazales Was Rubbed Out by His Homies When He Crossed Janie ("Mom" Garcia

18th Street “Shot Caller” Lefty Cazales Was Killed by His “Homies” When He Crossed Janie (“Mom”) Garcia

gang.  The complete file handed him consisted of one sheet of paper.  He was breaking new ground in the federal prosecutor’s office.  But he was initially thwarted by a series of indifferent, clock-punching investigators assigned to him by the FBI.  That changed dramatically when Sandford walked in the door.  The two hit it off famously.

Riordan and Sandford both had to wrestle with the skepticism, and sometimes downright hostility, of their respective front office management.  “Bruce was fighting his demons, and I was fighting mine,” Sandford told me in an interview.  “And we were both fighting the bad guys.”  The old bulls in the U.S. Attorney’s organized crime section dismissed gangs as mere “street crime.”  The FBI field office management did not yet understand that the gangs were unlike anything the agency had tangled with before. In a sense, both men were dealing with separate realities — the one they saw on the ground, and the preconceptions of their bosses.

Nevertheless, within a few years Bruce Riordan successfully prosecuted the CLC and EME — first RICO case against a Southern California street gang.  With the help of the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies, led by an enthusiastic FBI team that included agents Jim Wines and Tib Aguilar, among others, Riordan and Sandford proved that the Columbia Lil’ Cycos clique of the 18th Street gang, under the control of the Mexican Mafia prison gang, were running a classic organized crime operation, based largely on extortion of drug dealers and using ruthless armed violence to protect the scheme.

Gangster Underlings Called Frank Martinez and Janie Garcia "Dad" and "Mom" -- Not Leave it to Beaver Type People

Gangster Underlings Called Frank Martinez and Janie Garcia "Dad" and "Mom" -- Not Leave it to Beaver Type People

Mexican Mafia member Frank “Puppet” Martinez ran the racketeering out of a prison cell, relying on his wife, Janie Garcia, as his trusted surrogate and field commander.

This all took place during a pivotal period in the history of  Southern California’s Latino gangs.  The 18th Street clica developed and refined the concept of extorting drug dealers with “renta,” or taxes.  The Mexican Mafia thought it was such a good idea, they moved in, took over the direction and ordered all the Southern California Latino gangs to fall into line with the scheme.  EME commanded gang shot-callers to attend a series of meetings, at which among other things they were told to stop drive-by shootings.  But EME wasn’t trying to stop the killing.  It just wanted to lower the profile while it consolidated the hugely profitable extortion business.

The investigation that Riordan and Sandford started continues to bear fruit.  A series of federal RICO cases were developed on the foundation they laid.  And the civil litigation Delgadillo and Riordan filed is built to a large extent on facts developed in the course of these cases.

Unfortunately, the task is huge and as a nation, we are falling behind.  The continuing integration of Latino prison and street gangs into the operations of the Mexican drug trafficking cartels is making both the cartels and the gangs more dangerous every day. These organizations will not give up their multi-billion dollar cash cow without an all-out fight against them, using every tool we can think of.

It is starting to dawn on U.S. journalists and “opinion leaders” that Mexico is in a real war with the DTOs.

Half a Million Dollars in Cash Was Hidden in this Box

Half a Million Dollars in Cash Was Hidden in this Box

Nothing less than the existence of democratic governance on our southern border is at stake.  However, it is not yet widely understood in the United States that EME, 18th Street, MS-13, and many other Latino gangs are combat soldiers in another front in the Mexican Drug War.  That front is inside the U.S. — our law enforcement is facing heavily armed drug muscle.   Drug trafficking violence and the Mexican Drug War’s battles are lapping over the border.  As yet, the violence on our side of the border is less intense than the horrific butchery going on in Mexico.  But some believe that it is not a question of whether, but when, we will see shocking incidents of urban warfare-type combat between our cops and the narcotraficantes, as well as gruesome civilian “collateral damage.”   (For a sobering overview of the issue, see Gary “Rusty” Fleming’s new book, Drug Wars: Narco Warfare in the Twenty-first Century.  He has also produced a documentary on the subject.)

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