Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘prison gangs’

No Country for Old Men: Why They Are Killing Our Cops and Prosecutors

In bad manners, Bushmaster assault rifle, Corruption, Crime, Cultural assassination, Drugs, Ethics in Washington, Gangs, Guns, Mexico, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION, Police, politics, Running Fire Fight, Semiautomatic assault rifles, The Great Stupid, Tired Old Republicans, Transnational crime on April 4, 2013 at 2:15 pm
"Call it!"

“Call it!”

Sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., about two dozen LAPD officers faced an angry crowd at the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues. The cops were outnumbered to begin with, the crowd was growing into a mob, and the mob was howling mad at the police. An LAPD lieutenant, Michael Maulin, made a tactical decision that would cost him his career in the orgy of retrospective finger-pointing that followed the riots. He ordered the police officers to withdraw. The hard-charging, in-your-face, proactive thin blue line faded like a gaggle of Las Vega showgirls at curtain time. “It was widely believed in South Central that the LAPD did not want to protect the city’s poor, minority neighborhoods,” journalist Lou Cannon observed. “The shocking reality was that the LAPD was unable to provide that protection.”

Tom Diaz, No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement, p. 96.

Thus was the iron-fisted, mirrored-sun glasses, take-no-prisoners, paramilitary  creation of legendary chief Darryl Gates—the proud Los Angeles Police Department—humbled by the infamous “Rodney King riots” of April 1992.

The LAPD would never be the same.

Just the Expert Facts, Please

The lesson for today is quite simply this: uniforms, badges, tough-guy swagger, ballistic vests, and most of all guns do not protect law enforcement. Respect and the healthy fear of consequence do. When a society surrenders those two foundations of “law and order,” there are not enough guns in the world—not enough good guys with guns—to protect police, prosecutors, and judges from men who are willing to kill them.

Now we are seeing the truth of this implacable maxim, revealed in a prophetic spate of ruthless murders of law enforcement officers.  In Colorado, the state’s prison chief is shot to death on his doorstep. In Texas, two county prosecutors are shot to death in separate incidents. In West Virginia, a sheriff is shot dead in his car.These incidents are but the latest and most recent examples of a growing trend of blatant attacks on law enforcement.

Please note that it is not the quantum, the total of law enforcement officers murdered, so much as it is the growing demonstration of willingness to confront law enforcement with armed violence. And that willingness–that willful disregard of fear and respect–is the inevitable consequence of two long-term currents in the United States.

One is the suppurating wound inflicted on America’s public discourse by the reckless gospel of insurrection that has been promoted by the National Rifle Association and the gun industry that it represents since at least the 1980s. This rotting lesion has consequences that go far beyond the kabuki theater of rhetorical exchange in Washington, a place where both sides need each other for the show, and ritual has displaced action.

Emitted Little Thoughts Compiled in . . . ummmm... WTF?

“The guys with the guns make the rules.” Wayne LaPierre, Orifice-in-Chief of the NRA.

The stinking, hateful matter emitted by the NRA has dangerously infected the minds of many of the dullest and worst of our society. Ideas have consequences, and when the idea that “government is our enemy” is combined in the minds of the unbalanced and the psychopath with easy access to increasingly deadly guns…well, to all but the ideologically intoxicated, the inevitable is clear.

The other factor is the utter collapse of not only moral will, but moral discernment itself, in Washington. This infection at the heart of our political discourse has paralyzed a body politic that might with capable discernment and strong will have cured itself of the hateful wound inflicted by the NRA and its ilk.

What we see today—elaborated at length in my latest book, The Last Gun—is the triumph of Third Way politics, micro-politics that seeks only political success for career politicians and their waddling retinue of mere technicians—pollsters, advisers, spin-masters, lobbyists.

These are people—Democratic party leaders and their fawning servants—who describe in great detail the polling, focus with frightening precision on the tiniest “swing” group, and then define a message that will appeal to that micro-fraction of America.

These “leaders” have, in the end, defined themselves as soulless people, willing to accept only “what we can get” and “what is politically feasible” in place of real change. They are either incapable of—or unwilling to—make grand moral judgments, define causes to lead, and stand up for principle. Reelection for its own sake is enough.

Thus has the powerful chorus of national moral outrage that followed the Moloch’s slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School been pared down to a whimper, to “negotiations” about inconsequential legalisms between the likes of the artfully consummate Third Way deal-maker Sen. Charles (“Chuck”) Schumer and the implacably thick-witted Senator Tom Coburn.

Schumer's Bird

Career politicians bond over a dead bird…

While these career politicians—many of whom have never done anything of substance in their lives other than curry elective favor—nitter and natter around the margins of America’s gun problem, the country is sinking to its gunwales in military-style firearms. Disrespect for law enforcement burgeons among radicals and career criminals alike, fueled by an irrational hatred of compromise and fact-based discourse.

Industry Puppet NRA Calls These Romanian Assault Rifles Just Plain Old Sporting Guns--Are They That Stupid Or Are They Just Liars?

…while the mentally ill, criminals, and extremists bond with the gun industry and its handmaiden, the NRA, over military-style guns.

If this sounds like Mexico, it is.

Conventional wisdom has always been—and still is among conventional “expert” thinkers like those of the hapless private spy agency Stratfor which, not incidentally, failed to protect its vast files from hacking some months ago—that organized gangs and transnational criminals will never attack law enforcement in the United States because the consequences would be too great.

Really?

This is the argument of the smug, the proud, and, oh, yes, by the way,  the grand consultants retired from law enforcement selling their “expertise.”  It can’t happen here because we are so good.

Well it is happening.

09122009_229540It is just as reasonable, and I would argue more reasonable, to conclude that the war for control has begun. We already see one federal prosecutor withdrawn from a major gang and drug prosecution. The drug “cartels” are not stupid. The examples recited above—no matter by whom they are ultimately found to have been perpetrated—make it clear that determined, ruthless men can indeed assassinate law enforcement officers pretty much at will in America today. So much for fear. It doesn’t matter, in the overall sense, who was behind the last four murders.  What matters is the brazen impudence with which they were carried out. That’s straight outta No Country for Old Men.

Do not for one minute think that the chill of necrosis is not creeping into hamlets, counties, towns, cities, states, and  even Washington. A member of Congress who received multiple death threats for simply suggesting that gun owners be required to insure themselves decided, for example, to skip a public ceremony, mindful of the recent near-fatal wounding of another member.

Hysteria?

Vamos a ver.  We’ll see.

devil tray 02

Evil this way comes.

INSPECTOR GENERAL: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE GANG INTELLIGENCE ISN’T

In Crime, Gangs, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, politics, Transnational crime, Turf Wars, Washington Bureaucracy on November 19, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Department of Justice Inspector General Report: DOJ's Two Major Anti-Gang Intelligence Units "Are Not Contributing Significantly to the Department's Anti-Gang Initiatives."

If a tree falls in the courtyard of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, DC, would anybody notice in Yakima, Washington?

Not if it involves the two units in the department charged with developing national anti-gang intelligence and coordination systems — at least,  according to the department’s inspector general.  In dispassionate, almost clinical language, a just-issued report by the IG’s staff pretty much trashed both the FBI-based National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) and the DOJ-based Gang Targeting, Enforcement, and Coordination Center (GangTECC).

The IG staff reports that “after almost 3 years of operation, NGIC and GangTECC still have not made a significant impact on the Department’s anti-gang activities. Despite being located in the same office suite, both NGIC and GangTECC are not effectively collaborating and are not sharing gang-related information.”

A key recommendation — that the department consider merging the two rival siblings — is the kind of good government idea that could set off a classic turf war.

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

The following excerpts from the 63-page report — “A Review of the Department’s Anti-Gang Intelligence and Coordination Centers,” U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Evaluation and Inspections Division (November 2009) — cover the major points:

A Review of the Department’s Anti-Gang Intelligence and Coordination Centers

In January 2007, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced that the Department had taken several steps to address gang violence. Among those efforts were the establishment of three new entities: (1) the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC), which was established by statute in January 2006, integrates the gang intelligence assets of all DOJ agencies and other partner agencies; (2) the National Gang Targeting, Enforcement, and Coordination Center (GangTECC), established in June 2006 by the Attorney General, serves as a central coordinating center for multi-jurisdictional gang investigations; and (3) the Gang Unit, another Attorney General initiative created in September 2006, develops and implements strategies to attack the most significant gangs and serves as the prosecutorial arm of the Department’s efforts against violent gangs.

….

Our review found that, after almost 3 years of operation, NGIC and GangTECC still have not made a significant impact on the Department’s anti-gang activities. Despite being located in the same office suite, both NGIC and GangTECC are not effectively collaborating and are not sharing gang-related information.

National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC)

NGIC was established by statute in January 2006 to “collect, analyze, and disseminate gang activity information” from various federal, state, and local law enforcement, prosecutorial, and corrections agencies.5 The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) used existing resources from its Criminal Intelligence Section to establish NGIC. The public law that established NGIC also charged the FBI with administering NGIC as a multi-agency center where intelligence analysts from federal, state, and local law enforcement work together to develop and share gang-related information. NGIC was to provide a centralized intelligence resource for gang information and analytical support to law enforcement agencies. For fiscal year (FY) 2008, NGIC’s budget was $6.6 million and, as of June 2009 there were a total of 27 staff at the NGIC.

Gang Targeting, Enforcement, and Coordinating Center (GangTECC)

On February 15, 2006, Attorney General Gonzales announced plans to create a new national anti-gang task force as part of an initiative to combat gangs and gang violence. On June 26, 2006, GangTECC began operations under the leadership of the Department’s Criminal Division. Its mission is to bring together the Department’s operational law enforcement components and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to identify, prioritize, and target violent street gangs whose activities pose a significant multi-jurisdictional threat. According to its Concept of Operations, GangTECC is intended to coordinate overlapping investigations, ensure that tactical and strategic intelligence is shared between law enforcement agencies, and serve as a central coordinating and deconfliction center. Unlike NGIC, GangTECC is not authorized a separate budget by statute. Instead, costs are borne by the contributing agencies. As of early 2009, there were a total of 17 GangTECC staff members.

Our review found that, after almost 3 years of operation, NGIC and GangTECC still have not made a significant impact on the Department’s anti-gang activities. Despite being located in the same office suite, both NGIC and GangTECC are not effectively collaborating and are not sharing gang-related information.

Most importantly, NGIC has not established a gang information database for collecting and disseminating gang intelligence as directed by statute. NGIC is perceived as predominately an FBI organization, and it has not developed the capability to effectively share gang intelligence and information with other law enforcement organizations.

In contrast, we found that GangTECC has no budget and lacks the resources to carry out its mission. We also found that the Criminal Division has not filled an attorney position at GangTECC that is intended to enable it to provide guidance to law enforcement officials conducting gang investigations and prosecutions. In addition, because GangTECC’s member agencies and the United States Attorneys’ Offices (USAO) are not required to inform GangTECC of their investigations and prosecutions, GangTECC cannot effectively deconflict the Department’s gang-related activities as directed by the Deputy Attorney General. Further, GangTECC’s efforts to publicize its priority gang targets have lagged.

As a result of the above, NGIC and GangTECC are not effectively providing investigators and prosecutors with “one-stop shopping” for gang information and assistance, and they are not contributing significantly to the Department’s anti-gang initiatives.

NGIC has not developed a gang information database as directed by Congress.

NGIC planned to create and maintain a library of gang identification information and make that library available to investigators, prosecutors, and other law enforcement staff. In addition, NGIC planned to establish electronic bridges to federal, state, and local information technology systems to connect disparate federal and state databases containing gang information or intelligence.

However, technological limitations and operational problems have inhibited NGIC from deploying a gang information database. For example, NGIC has not developed the electronic bridges necessary to allow it to access information from states that have technologically disparate databases on gangs. In addition, performance issues with a contractor contributed to the delay in the development of the gang library. As of July 2009, the information management system and electronic bridges have not progressed beyond the development phase. Unless NGIC can obtain a technical solution for bridging these databases, NGIC’s ability to use existing gang information will be very limited.

NGIC is not effectively sharing gang intelligence and information.

To effectively share gang intelligence and information, NGIC must know the needs of the law enforcement personnel who are its customers and ensure they are aware of the NGIC’s capability to support their gang-related investigations and prosecutions.

We found that NGIC has few regular users outside of the FBI, GangTECC, and itself. These three organizations accounted for 64 percent of all requests received by NGIC. The remaining 36 percent of the requests were distributed among 15 other customer groups. With respect to the “state, local, and tribal law enforcement” customer group, our analysis showed that few requests came from these potential customers. This customer group encompasses the majority of law enforcement agencies and personnel in the United States – over 30,000 agencies and 700,000 sworn officers – and has the greatest interactions with criminally active gangs in the United States. Yet, despite its large size, this customer group made an average of only 3 requests per year and submitted only 13 of the 213 total requests for information received by NGIC from its inception in 2006 to February 2009.

In discussions with the NGIC and GangTECC personnel and other law enforcement officials about why NGIC was not used more frequently by law enforcement agencies, we found that NGIC was not perceived as an independent, multi-agency center by many of the law enforcement personnel we interviewed. It was repeatedly referred to as being “FBI-centric” in the products it generates and the intelligence analysis that it provides.

We also found that, in the 38-month period we examined, NGIC responded to only about six requests a month. While this increased to about 17 requests a month in the first 5 months of FY 2009, that number is still small given NGIC’s staffing of 20 intelligence analysts. NGIC management attributed the small number of requests to the law enforcement community’s unfamiliarity with NGIC – despite the Center’s attempts to advertise its presence – and to NGIC personnel not recording all the requests they received.

Although GangTECC’s operational guidance states that it is intended to be a major user of NGIC’s gang intelligence services, its use remains limited.

GangTECC has insufficient resources to carry out its mission of coordinating gang investigations and prosecutions.

GangTECC has a broad, multi-purpose mission, but only 12 members and no operating budget. Participating components are required to contribute staff to GangTECC and pay their salaries out of their own budgets. The lack of an operating budget has prevented GangTECC managers from taking actions essential to its operations, including hosting case coordination meetings and conducting effective outreach to the law enforcement community. Almost all GangTECC members we interviewed, as well as the GangTECC Director and Criminal Division officials, stressed that the lack of an operating budget is the biggest hindrance for GangTECC, particularly when it prevents the GangTECC personnel from fully participating in case coordination meetings.

Coordination efforts. Organizing and participating in case coordination meetings is central to GangTECC’s mission to identify common targets between law enforcement agencies. GangTECC identifies opportunities to coordinate gang investigations with multiple law enforcement agencies and attempts to organize case coordination meetings to bring together federal, state, and local investigators, analysts, and prosecutors to share information. Successfully coordinated cases may enable charges to be brought against large, geographically dispersed gang-related criminal enterprises.

GangTECC has coordinated 12 cases that involved multiple law enforcement agencies and jurisdictions, and these efforts resulted in better, stronger cases for prosecution. GangTECC has also facilitated cooperation and coordination in over 100 other cases in which investigators or agencies would not initially share information on common targets with one another. Law enforcement personnel we interviewed who used the GangTECC’s services reported high levels of satisfaction and told us that case coordination was the most helpful service that GangTECC could provide to the field.

Notwithstanding the demonstrated value, the GangTECC Director told us there have been at least five occasions when GangTECC has been unable to host or even attend out-of-state case coordination meetings because it was unable to fund travel costs. For example, GangTECC could not host case coordination meetings for two cases involving the Latin Kings gang. As a result of the limitations on GangTECC’s ability to execute its mission, opportunities to better coordinate the Department’s efforts to combat gang crime have been lost.

Deconfliction by GangTECC is not occurring as directed by the Deputy Attorney General.

Over its 3-year existence, GangTECC has not established itself as the central coordination and deconfliction center envisioned by its Concept of Operations.9 Although it was intended that GangTECC would “provide a strong, national deconfliction center for gang operations,” neither GangTECC’s own participating components nor USAOs are required to notify GangTECC of newly opened gang cases. Consequently, GangTECC cannot effectively deconflict the Department’s anti-gang activities on a national level.

GangTECC’s efforts to publicize priority gang targets have lagged.

GangTECC is required to use information from NGIC and other sources to identify priority targets and propose strategies to neutralize the most violent and significant gang threats. According to the GangTECC Director, GangTECC and NGIC first identified 13 priority gang targets in 2006. However, we found little evidence during our review that the list was used outside the two Centers.

NGIC and GangTECC are not effective as independent entities.

NGIC and GangTECC’s operational plans required them to co-locate so that they would establish a relationship in which the resources of each Center would be integrated with and fully utilized by the other. An effective NGIC and GangTECC partnership would include deconfliction, identification of priority gang targets, and sharing of gang information. While the Centers are located in the same office suite in the same building, this co-location of NGIC and GangTECC did not lead to the anticipated partnership. Our discussions with NGIC and GangTECC personnel regarding their interactions found that communication between the two Centers remains limited and ad hoc.

In addition, while both NGIC and GangTECC advertise at conferences and in their pamphlets that they provide investigators and prosecutors with a “one-stop shopping” capability for gang information and assistance, this capability has not been achieved due to various impediments. NGIC is administered by the FBI while GangTECC is administered by the Criminal Division. We found that differing leadership and management philosophies, funding sources (dedicated funding versus funding through contributions by member agencies), and investigative priorities have limited the Centers’ ability to work together effectively.

We believe that the Department should consider merging NGIC and GangTECC into a single unit under common leadership.

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 THREE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

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

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

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

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

Oklahoma City is 1,181 Miles From Compton, CA

Oklahoma City is 1,181 Miles From Compton, CA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MEXICAN MAFIA — NATIONAL AND TRANSNATIONAL POWER, PART TWO

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, the generalities.

The Mexican Side — The Drug Trafficking Organizations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gang Relationships With DTOs and Other Criminal Organizations

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

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

Cross-Border Gang Activity

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

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

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

A Case In Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

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.

DEATH AND TREACHERY IN LOS ANGELES: MARA SALVATRUCHA (MS-13) INDICTMENT IS A PORTENT FOR THE FUTURE

In Corruption, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Mexico, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on July 14, 2009 at 3:21 pm

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

Since the early 1980s when they were a fledgling gang, to this very day, MS-13 has been a blight on every street where they exist.  Whether house to house, street to street, or city to city, MS-13 has spread like a cancer.  These indictments, arrests and warrants represent one success in an ongoing effort to rid the community of an element that lacks a single redeeming quality.

Chief William Bratton, Los Angeles Police Department, June 24, 2009

Gangbuster:  LAPD Chief William Bratton

Gangbuster: LAPD Chief William Bratton

A 16-count federal indictment unsealed June 24, 2009 in Los Angeles contained two shocking allegations — a plot to kill a well known cop, and a double life lived by a prominent anti-gang activist.  The pleadings also provided a handy window into the history and unrelenting violence of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.  I wrote at length about the genesis and depredations of this transnational Latino gang in my recently released book, No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement.

As Chief Bratton was careful to note in his statement quoted above, the strike against the gang is “one success” in what will be a long, bitter struggle to excise this cancer.  The case is in fact only the latest in a series of federal RICO (anti-racketeering) cases against street gangs that began with the successful 2002 prosecution of members of the Mexican Mafia and the Columbia Little Cycos, an 18th Street gang clique, detailed in No Boundaries. More cases are certain to unfold, and not just in Los Angeles.  The federal government, working with state and local authorities, has brought enormous resources to bear on these gangs, using “sophisticated techniques” of investigation such as informants, domestic and international wiretaps, and possibly undercover agents. The U.S. Department of Justice is determined that no Latino gang morph into another Mafia.

Gangbuster: U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien, Central District of California

Gangbuster: U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien, Central District of California

That said, the indictment is a portent:  it represents the maturity of an intensive joint federal and local effort, not only in Southern California, but all over the United States.   The U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, Thomas O’Brien, has set his teeth into these gangs, reeling out a string of indictments against several notorious cliques.

The back story of sources, methods, and accumulated evidence here is yet to be revealed.  You can be sure the governments involved did not bring this case lightly, and they will have a truckload of evidence to present, if and when it goes to trial.  But for now, the public is dealing with a skeletal public record:  The 66-page indictment, statements of officials at a press conference, the media’s reports of background interviews, and a number of documents filed by defense counsel. Anyone who has delved into such cases in detail — including defense counsel — knows that this is the tip of an iceberg.  Prosecutors say the case has been open for three years.  Since the  case builds on earlier investigations, that is plenty of time to accumulate a mountain of detail.

Do not be surprised if further indictments spin off from this and related cases, possibly including charges based on federal public corruption statutes.  One aspect only hinted at in public is that the investigation is being aided by a person or persons — i.e., a well-placed “rat,””informant,””cooperating witness,””asset,” etc. — with long-term and intimate knowledge of MS-13 players and activities.

MS-13 and The Mexican Mafia (La Eme)–Joined at the Hip in Southern California

The indictment in this case (U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Docket No. CR09-00466), and a long filing by defense counsel seeking the anti-gang activist’s release on bail are well worth reading.  They each lay out the long, painful history of Mara Salvatrucha’s ascent into the grisly transnational criminal consortium it has become.

Here are selected paragraph’s from the indictment.  They describe a key relationship  between MS-13 and the dominant prison gang in California, the Mexican Mafia (also known as La Eme):

14.  In Los Angeles, each clique contributes a portion of its profits towards a tax paid by MS-13 to the Mexican Mafia.  Like all gangs associated with the Mexican Mafia, MS-13 is required to pay a specified sum of money on a regular basis to a member of the Mexican Mafia.  Members of the Mexican Mafia are commonly referred to as “big homies,” “tios” (Spanish for “uncles”), “carnals” [sic] (Spanish slang for “brothers”), and/or “senors” ( a Spanish title of respect for a man).  In return for the tax payments, the Mexican Mafia provides protection to all MS-13 members incarcerated in county, state, and federal prisons and jails in California.  Failure to pay the tax will result in a “green light” being placed on MS-13, that is, a general order from the Mexican Mafia to assault or kill any incarcerated MS-13 member in any facility controlled by the Mexican Mafia.  Also in return for these tax payments, the Mexican Mafia ensures that no other gang operates in MS-13’s territory or otherwise interferes with the criminal activities of MS-13.

15.  Since the mid-1990s, when MS-13 became associated with the Mexican Mafia, a single powerful MS-13 member in Los Angeles has been appointed to act as MS-13’s representative to the Mexican Mafia (“the EME representative”).  The EME representative works as a “soldier” for the Mexican Mafia and is responsible for, among other things, ensuring that MS-13 pays its tax; setting policies to manage and discipline MS-13 members and associates; organizing and conducting meetings among MS-13 shot callers on a regular basis; resolving disputes between MS-13 cliques and members; organizing MS-13 cliques to generate money through, among other things, narcotics trafficking; and providing support to, and requesting assistance from, MS-13 leaders in El Salvador.

16.  In addition to the tax paid to the Mexican Mafia, MS-13 utilizes the profits obtained through its illegal activities by sending money to MS-13 members in prison in El Salvador, purchasing weapons and narcotics, paying attorney’s fees for gang members who have been charged with committing crimes, contributing to funeral costs for gang members who have been killed, and putting money on [sic] the prison accounts of MS-13 members incarcerated in the United States.

I wrote in No Boundaries about a little known but extraordinarily powerful and complex man, who likely was the first “EME representative,” Nelson Comandari.  The U.S. media completely missed the boat on Comandari, and his full story is yet to be told, but I have a good part of it in the book.

The Plot to Whack a Cop

Los Angeles Police Department Detective Frank Flores is a nationally-recognized expert on MS-13.  No Boundaries tells Flores’s life story as an example of the conundrum of gang recruitment. Why are the gangs irresistible to a minority of Latino youth, while other kids from the same barrio climb out of adversity to become part of the great American dream? Flores grew up in Boyle Heights, a gang-infested neighborhood, the child of a single parent. His uncles belonged to White Fence, one of the oldest gangs in L.A.

Yet all Frank Flores can remember ever wanting to be was to be an LAPD cop, even though as a child he had on occasion felt the LAPD’s famous “muscle.”

I first interviewed Flores in March 2007, and talked to him or communicated by email several times since. I had no idea that just months before I met him he had been the target of an assassination plot by MS-13. I learned of the scheme only when it became public after the indictment was unsealed. The government charges that in December 2006 “shot-callers” (leaders) of the gang’s Hollywood “clique” set in motion a plan to whack Flores, designating a hit-man and even providing a handgun to do the job.

Here, for the record, are the allegations in the indictment, which give the bare outlines of the plot:

(138) On or about December 21, 2006, defendants LOPEZ and MELGAR had a phone conversation with each other and with other MS-13 members during which LOPEZ, MELGAR, and others discussed a plot to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

(139) On or about December 23, 2006, defendants LOPEZ and MELGAR had a phone conversation during which they discussed a plot to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

(140) In or about late December 2006, defendants CUENTAS and MELGAR ordered another MS-13 member to follow through with defendant LOPEZ’S orders to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

(141)  In or about late December 2006, defendants MORALES and SALAZAR showed another MS-13 member a handgun that the MS-13 member was ordered to use to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

The plot to murder Frank Flores was derailed. But the story epitomizes the stakes in the ongoing struggle against Latino gangs like MS-13.

The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Latino Gang World?

Alex Sanchez--Subject of a Grossly Mistake Charge or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Gang World?

Alex Sanchez--Subject of a Grossly Mistaken Charge or the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Gang World?

The indictment contains another shock that has rocked circles concerned with gangs like a 7th magnitude earthquake.

Among 24 defendants is Alexander (Alex) Sanchez, probably the most well-known anti-gang activist in the Latino gang world. Federal officials claim Sanchez, executive director of Homies Unidos – a group dedicated to saving kids from the gang life— led a double life. They allege that he has been a secret shot-caller posing as an anti-gang activist. The indictment charges that Sanchez conspired in May 2006 to murder an MS-13 member (who was executed weeks later in El Salvador). Here are relevant excerpts:

(108) “On or about May 6 and 7, 2006, defendants CENDEJAS, FUENTES, PINEDA, and SANCHEZ had a series of phone conversations with each other and with other members of MS-13, during which they conspired to kill Walter Lacinos, aka “Cameron.”

(109) On or about May 15, 2006, an MS-13 member shot and killed Walter Lacinos, aka “Cameron,” in La Libertad, El Salvador.

Scores of prominent figures have filed letters with the court attesting to Sanchez’s character and good works. All are convinced that Sanchez could not have faked his anti-gang efforts while operating as a shot-caller.

But he is held without bond at this writing.

“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


ROT IN THE BIG HOUSE — PRISON CORRUPTION, PART THREE

In Corruption, Crime on May 6, 2009 at 11:49 am

Luis Molina (William Hurt): The nicest thing about feeling happy is that you think you’ll never be unhappy again.

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)

The worst thing about petty corruption is that you think you’ll never get caught.

So you move up to grand corruption.

And maybe murder.

As Fairly Civil explored in Part One and Two of this series, the illicit drug trade and the prison gangs that control it behind bars drive much of the corruption in prisons.  But drugs are not always the prime mover.  Correctional officers simply yield sometimes to the temptation to exploit the relatively weak and vulnerable position of their inmate charges for sex and money.

A shocking 2006 shootout at the entrance to a federal woman’s prison in Florida pulled back the curtain on a long-running scheme in which six federal corrections officers were exploiting female offenders.  The male guards were trading privileges and contraband for sex and cash, using threats to cover up their corrupt acts.

Federal Agents At Scene After 2006 Shootout at FCI near Tallahassee, Florida

Federal Agents At Scene After 2006 Shootout at FCI near Tallahassee, Florida

After a federal grand jury handed up a secret indictment of the guards, FBI and U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) agents set out to make arrests.  The agents arrived at the Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) near Tallahassee, Florida early on the morning of June 21, 2006.  It appears that the arrest team did not expect resistance because the indictment was supposedly secret — although the fact of the investigation seems to have been known — and guards were not allowed to bring guns into the prison.

U.S. Department of Justice OIG Special Agent William "Buddy" Sentner Was Shot to Death By Indicted Prison Guard

U.S. Department of Justice OIG Special Agent William "Buddy" Sentner Was Shot to Death By Indicted Prison Guard

Guards were not searched, however.  One of the indicted federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officers, Ralph Hill, had smuggled in a personal gun.  Hill must have known something was up, as he had retained counsel.  In any event, he opened fire on the arresting agents.  Hill shot OIG Special Agent William “Buddy” Sentner to death, and was himself killed in the melee.  Another correctional officer assisting in the arrests was wounded.  The DOJ shooting report on the incident has not been publicly released, at least to my knowledge.

Three of the accused officers pleaded guilty and two other were convicted of various charges after trial.

Alfred Barnes was among those who pleaded guilty.  The “Factual Basis For Plea” filed in his case (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Docket # 4:06cr36-RH) lays out the whole scheme in dry, prosecutorial, but nonetheless sordid detail.  Because it is Barnes’ admission, it probably is about as reliable a first-hand description as one can get from this record:

During the period alleged in the indictment, there existed among defendants a tacit agreement to use and help one another to use their positions as correctional officers for personal gratification and financial gain, contrary to the law and the public’s best interest. This agreement included the understanding that certain defendants would have sexual contact with inmates, would introduce contraband into the prison to sell and use as bribes, and would have inmates and others send money via the U.S. Postal Service and other means of payment for contraband.

Barnes’ statement lays out several specific examples of how the scheme operated.  Here is one from among them:

Defendant Barnes…accepted bribes in the form of payments and sexual favors from Inmate #1 in exchange for providing her with contraband. Inmate #1 would have associates outside of FCI Tallahassee mail money or contraband to him using a name different than his own to…[an] address in Thomasville, Georgia, that defendant Barnes provided. Defendant Barnes received money and sexual favors as compensation for bringing the contraband into FCI Tallahassee. The contraband…that defendant Barnes brought into FCI Tallahassee pursuant to this scheme consisted of alcohol, cosmetics, clothing, jewelry, and cigars.

The admission also describes how Barnes and the others sought to cover up their criminal conduct:

It was understood that to facilitate and conceal these unlawful activities, certain defendants would take steps to discourage inmates from reporting defendants’ illegal conduct.  These steps included threatening to plant contraband among the inmates’ belongings, threatening to have inmates shipped to institutions far from their friends and family, monitoring inmates [sic] telephone calls, directing inmates not to cooperate with Department of Justice investigators, and displaying the BOP computer tracking system to inmates to show how defendants could monitor the whereabouts of the inmates even if they were transferred to another institution.  Contrary to their duty as correctional officers, it was also understood that defendants would keep silent and not report the conduct and violations described above.

This sleazy scheme brings the “women in prison” movie genre to life.  But in real — as opposed to “reel” — life, the corruption undermines the whole system.  One former female inmate told the Tallahassee Democrat (June 21, 2007) after the case was concluded that officials “brushed everything under the carpet.”

“It just dies down for a while,” she said.  “All the officers watch their steps, and they watch what they do.  But then when they think it’s cool, they slack, and they start doing it again.”

“We have zero tolerance for any abuse towards an inmate,” said a BOP spokesman.

serpent_apple

ROT IN THE BIG HOUSE — PRISON CORRUPTION, PART TWO

In Corruption, Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs on April 22, 2009 at 8:17 am

I woke up this mornin’,
There were tears in my bed.
They killed a man I really loved
Shot him through the head.
Lord, Lord,
They cut George Jackson down.
Lord, Lord,
They laid him in the ground.

“George Jackson,” Lyrics by Bob Dylan, sung here.

[Metropolitan Transition Center Guard Musheerah] Habeebullah is quoted as saying it used to be that just one officer on a shift might smuggle contraband.

“Now you got, like, seven, eight people,” she said. “Soon it’s the whole [expletive] shift.”

Henri E. Cauvin, “Inmates, Md. Prison Guards Face Drug Smuggling Case,” Washington Post, April 17, 2009

George Jackson Founded the Black Guerrilla Family in a California Prison.  His Book -- "Soledad Brother" -- Was a Cultural Icon for Some During the Racial Turmoil of the 1970s

George Jackson Founded the Black Guerrilla Family in a California Prison. He and His Book -- "Soledad Brother" -- Were Cultural and Political Icons for Some During the Racial Turmoil of the 1970s

A task force of federal, state, and local law enforcement agents fanned out at the crack of dawn one day last week in Maryland and arrested a singular mix of miscreants: Black Guerrilla (also spelled “Guerilla” in some sources) Family prison gang members — and some of the correctional officers charged with guarding them.  The case — led by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein — is a current example of the problem of corruption in prison, often (but not always) driven by the corrosive trade in illicit drugs.  (See Part One here for an introductory overview.)  The Washington Post described the scheme:

Prosecutors said the gang known as Black Guerilla [sic] Family recruited prison employees and used hidden compartments in shoes to smuggle heroin, ecstasy, tobacco, cellphones and other contraband into prisons in Maryland and elsewhere.

The gang members sold the drugs to other inmates, prosecutors said. They allegedly used the cellphones to communicate with associates outside, approving targets for robberies and arranging attacks on cooperating witnesses.

There is no doubt that the enormously profitable drug trade is corrupting some prison staff.  The question is, how widespread is the problem?  According to the reported excerpt from a federal wiretap quoted above, Maryland guard Musheerah Habeebullah apparently thinks it is widespread, at least where she works.  She may be right, or she may have been rationalizing her alleged actions — thinking something like, “Everybody’s doing it, so I’d be crazy not to get my share!”

Gary D. Maynard, the head of the Maryland agency that oversees prisons, said at a press conference that, while the allegations in this case are serious, he does not think they are widespread.  “I strongly believe that the majority of our staff are good,” he said, “but it only takes a few bad seeds to make everyone look bad.”

At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General reported last year that it had 238 open cases of alleged misconduct against federal Bureau of Prisons employees.  This is a mere fraction of the agency’s approximately 36,000 employees (of whom about 26,000 are male, and 10,000 are female), supervising about 167,000 inmates in BOP facilities.

But given that many modern prison gangs control a bigger criminal structure outside of the prison walls — as is apparent in this case — even just a few corrupt corrections officers may be “force multipliers.”  Their cooperation is the fulcrum to a lever of violent gang criminality that affects victims in the “free world” as well as in prison.

Power of Prison Gangs

Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Richard Valdemar explained to me that he only began to understand fully the dimensions of his rookie assignment at the Los Angeles County Jail when an older inmate (a cop-killer, by the way) took him aside to explain the facts of jail life.  The inmate explained that gangs ran the world inside the wall.  From that incident — described in my forthcoming book No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press June 2009) — Valdemar learned that he had to “see” two different worlds inside the walls:  the official world and the gang world.

In the Maryland case, it appears prison authorities would not disagree.  This is from the Washington Post story:

“The BGF runs the prison system when it comes to controlling contraband,” said Capt. Phil Smith, assistant director of the state prison system’s intelligence unit.

This is also confirmed by a tidy description of the power of prison gangs from the web site Into The Abyss: A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs,by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.:

In gang-dominated prisons, gangs rule the roost. Which inmates eat at what times and where they sit in the dining hall, who gets the best or worst job assignments in the prison, who has money and nice clothes, who lives and who dies – all of these things, and others, are determined by gangs in the prison. Their very presence requires special attention from prison authorities.

The Black Guerrilla Family

Corrections officials call prison gangs “security threat groups,” and the Black Guerrilla Family is one of the earliest. Here is a description of BGF from the National Gang Intelligence Center’s National Gang Threat Assessment 2009:

Black Guerrilla Family (BGF), originally called Black Family or Black Vanguard, is a prison gang founded in the San Quentin State Prison, California, in 1966. The gang is highly organized along paramilitary lines, with a supreme leader and central committee. BGF has an established national charter, code of ethics, and oath of allegiance. BGF members operate primarily in California and Maryland. The gang has 100 to 300 members, most of whom are African American males. A primary source of income for gang members comes from cocaine and marijuana distribution. BGF members obtain such drugs primarily from Nuestra Familia/Norteños members or from local Mexican traffickers. BGF members are involved in other criminal activities, including auto theft, burglary, drive-by shootings, and homicide.

Here is another, more historical description from an article by Alfonso J. Valdez, “Prison Gangs 101″ in Corrections Today, February 2009:

The Black Guerilla [sic, throughout] Family is the most politically oriented of all the California prison gangs, following and espousing Marxist Leninist Maoist revolutionary philosophies. The Black Guerilla Family was established around 1966 by a Black Panther leader, George Lester Jackson, in San Quentin prison. Jackson established this group because he believed the Black Panther Party was not responding to the needs of black prison inmates. First called the Black Family, prospective members were solicited by suggesting their crimes were a result of white oppression.

Jackson soon changed the name to the Black Vanguard after a sizable membership was established. This name remained with the gang until 1971, when Jackson was killed during an escape attempt. Since that time the gang’s membership has grown and the its name changed to the Black Guerilla Family.

The Black Guerilla Family has a very close relationship with a splinter group of quasi-criminal revolutionaries, the Black Liberation Army. Some prison gang experts believe the Black Guerilla Family is just an extension of the Black Liberation Army.

There are two tattoos that are commonly associated with the Black Guerilla Family. One is a prison watchtower surrounded by a dragon with a quarter moon depicted in its body. The second shows the silhouette of a rifle with a sword lying over it to form an X, and includes the initials BGF.

BGF Tattoo of Watch Tower and Dragon

BGF Tattoo of Watch Tower and Dragon

It is worth noting that although most large, national prison and street gangs are essentially criminal enterprises fueled by the illegal drug trade, many of them profess or were rooted in aspects of political ideology and mythic history.  The touchstone of these ideologies is the perception that the members of the gang are victims — even “political prisoners” — of the dominant culture’s racial or ethnic exploitation.  This is true even of the white gangs, in which case the dominant culture is not perceived as “white” but as an impure mixture dominated by “lesser” groups.

The following excerpt from a long and detailed affidavit filed with an application for a search warrant in the case contends that BGF has a national presence and is seeking to expand its power outside of prison, at least in Maryland.  The excerpt also describes some of the gang’s leadership structure:

During a series of debriefings in late 2008 and early 2009, a reliable confidential informant (CS1)who is a member of BGF advised investigators that BGF is a nationwide prison gang with a presence in every correctional institution in the country. CS1 related that he/she has been in various prisons throughout the country and at each institution there has been a faction of BGF. CS1 related that BGF is violent both inside and outside prison, but that historically BGF has not been well-organized outside of prison. CS1 stated that currently, BGF is attempting to change this within Baltimore, Maryland by becoming more organized and effective on the streets.

CS1 explained that within the prisons, BGF has a group of individuals who are in leadership roles/positions of authority and that this leadership group is known as the “Supreme Bush.” All members who are not in the Supreme Bush are considered “members” of the Bush or Mansion. The only place Bush members hold rank is within the correctional system; once a Bush member is back out on the streets, he or she is considered a regular BGF member.

Also worth noting is the insight this case gives on modern “sophisticated means” of investigation.  The 100-plus page affidavit is a classic for study of how the DEA uses Title III wiretaps to let traffickers fashion handcuffs out of their own words.  These operations were alluded to in the press release issued by the Md. U.S. Attorney’s office:

Mr. Rosenstein added, “Inmates are cautious about using monitored prison phones to run their criminal enterprises and intimidate witnesses, but they have not been as concerned about their smuggled cell phones. We want the inmates to know that we also can listen in on their cell phone calls.”

“This is the first time that DEA Baltimore provided real time inside intelligence information to the Maryland Department of Corrections,” stated Ava A. Cooper-Davis, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Washington Division. “Our joint effort resulted in the seizure of drugs and various contraband by DOC officials.”

Another interesting point about BGF:  Because of their blood rivalry, the two Latino prison gangs in California — the Mexican Mafia (La Eme) and La Nuestra Familia — made allies inside the walls with strange bedfellows.  Thus, the Black Guerrilla Family became an ally of La Nuestra Familia and the white racist gang Aryan Brotherhood lined up with La Eme, confounding usual racial and ethnic distinctions.

The Maryland prison case is by no means the first, last, or only such case of prison corruption driven by the drug trade.  Fairly Civil will examine several more such cases in the next post in this series.

ROT IN THE BIG HOUSE — PRISON CORRUPTION, PART ONE

In Corruption, Crime, Gangs on April 19, 2009 at 5:48 pm

An "O.G." (Original Gangster"), "Iron" Felix Dzerzhinksy Was the Intelletcual Architect of the Soviet Secret Service That Became the KGB

An "O.G." ("Original Gangster"): "Iron" Felix Dzerzhinksy Was the Intellectual Architect of the Soviet Secret Service That Eventually Morphed Into the KGB

From their prison cells and with the help of corrections staff, authorities say, members of a violent gang were feasting on salmon and shrimp, sipping Grey Goose vodka and puffing fine cigars – all while directing drug deals, extorting protection money from other inmates and arranging attacks on witnesses and rival gang members.

Justin Fenton , “Indictments reveal prison crime world: Officers, inmates charged in drugs, extortion,” The Baltimore Sun, April 17, 2009

Situatsiya verbovochnaya — Recruitment Situation

The main circumstances which give rise to a recruitment situation include: the target’s psychological state is propitious for exerting influence on him in order to induce him to cooperate secretly; external factors which make it possible to achieve the recruitment covertly; circumstances which compromise the target and put him in a position of dependence vis-a-vis the intelligence or counter-intelligence agencies, thus creating an effective basis for recruiting him; or the availability of data offering a real possibility of a recruitment on an ideological and political basis, or on the basis of a desire to secure material or other personal advantages.

Vasil Mitrokhin, KGB Lexicon: The Soviet Intelligence Officers Handbook , p. 373

What distinguishes a corrupt prison guard from a gangster when he (or she) is working with — or for — an incarcerated gangster?

Probably only that the gangster is making a lot more money than the guard.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Median annual earnings of correctional officers and jailers were $35,760 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $28,320 and $46,500. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,600, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $58,580. Median annual earnings in the public sector were $47,750 in the Federal Government, $36,140 in State government, and $34,820 in local government. In the facilities support services industry, where the relatively small number of officers employed by privately operated prisons is classified, median annual earnings were $25,050.

Better than pushing cheeseburgers.  But in a case I write about in my forthcoming book — No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press, June 2009) — a Mexican Mafia boss running a street gang operation from prison had a box containing half-a-million dollars in cash stored in his girl friend’s closet.  He was also receiving thousands of dollars of income monthly from a street gang operation “taxing” local dealers.

Many cases of corruption in prison are just another facet of the enormously corrosive effect of the modern drug traffic.  The most lucrative business in history is a river of acid at flood stage.  It rolls over obstructions in its path, seeks out alternate courses, and above all eats at the foundations of everything it comes in contact with — from families, to prisons, to governments.

This examination of prison corruption is no “dis'” on the many fine public servants working in our prisons.  It’s just a look at stark reality.  As of September 30, 2008, for example, the U.S. Department of Justice’s  Office of the Inspector General reported to Congress that it had 238 open cases of alleged misconduct against federal Bureau of Prisons employees. “The criminal investigations covered a wide range of allegations, including introduction of contraband, bribery, and sexual abuse.”  That is a very low rate,  considering that the BOP has about 36,000 employees (not all of whom, of course, are in contact with offenders).

Working in a "Correctional" Institution Can Be Stressful and Hazardous

Working in a "Correctional" Institution Can Be Stressful and Hazardous

Prison guards are also known as “correctional” or “detention officers.” Here is how the BLS survey describes the work:

Working in a correctional institution can be stressful and hazardous. Every year, correctional officers are injured in confrontations with inmates. Correctional officers may work indoors or outdoors. Some correctional institutions are well lighted, temperature controlled, and ventilated, but others are old, overcrowded, hot, and noisy. Although both jails and prisons can be dangerous places to work, prison populations are more stable than jail populations, and correctional officers in prisons know the security and custodial requirements of the prisoners with whom they are dealing.

Job prospects in the field are “excellent” according to BLS:

Employment of correctional officers is expected to grow 16 percent between 2006 and 2016, faster than the average for all occupations. Increasing demand for correctional officers will stem from population growth and rising rates of incarceration. Mandatory sentencing guidelines calling for longer sentences and reduced parole for inmates are a primary reason for historically increasing incarceration rates. Some States are reconsidering mandatory sentencing guidelines because of budgetary constraints, court decisions, and doubts about their effectiveness.

The problem is that in the wake of the era of law and order  — “longer sentences and reduced parole” ought to teach them a lesson — there is so little correcting and so much warehousing going on in America’s prisons, the staff are little more than widget production line drones.  Many law enforcement officials refer to prison as a place for higher education in crime.  It is certainly true for gangsters, where a spin in prison is regarded as a prestigious life passage.

Warehouse:  Not Exactly A Stimulating Environment

Warehouse: Not Exactly A Stimulating Environment

Imagine a life in which your job is to move a monotonous series of what “the system” views as so many interchangeable product models from Point A to Point B, then to Point C, then to Point D, then back to Point A — then repeat — at more or less the same time in a monotonous cycle every 24 hours.  Now consider that the products are human beings — or, unfortunately in the view of much of today’s society, humanoid — with actual internal lives and external relationships.

Yes, they think, they feel, they bleed.  And they don’t get to go home between shifts, so imagine the boiling pressure inside your average con.  (I have visited one prison and several jails as a lawyer or journalist, and the sense of regulated confinement I felt even as a visitor was suffocating to the point of claustrophobia.  It’s hard to imagine what it must feel like to actually live or work in such a place.)

On occasion, one of these human inventory products may try to kill or maim you or — more often — another product.

Your work environment is supposed to be sterile — a sanitized place where access to life’s easy pleasures is strictly controlled or prohibited.  No drugs.  No sex.  Even rock and roll is rationed.

But some of the product forms you move about inside the concrete and steel box every day are organized into criminal enterprises — mostly prison gangs.  There is big money to be made in contraband, and the gangsters are making it.  They run prostitution, drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, access, whatever you want, they have it — for a price.  On the outside these mobsters would be driving Cadillac Escalades and sporting diamonds in their teeth.  Every now and then one of them makes a pass, figuratively waving a roll of bills in your face.  The temptation to supplement a middling civil service paycheck is seductive.

Recruiting a prison employee into corruption is not overly different than recruiting a spy.  In fact, one might say that the environment is ideal.  All that remains to be found is the person with — in the KGB’s felicitous phrase quoted above — a “propitious” state of mind.

Sean Connery Was An Incorruptible Space Marshal in Outland

Sean Connery Was An Incorruptible Space Marshal in Outland

A bit of dialogue from the 1981 film Outland comes to mind.  Sean Connery stars as federal marshal William T. O’Neil, one lone man fighting pervasive corruption (drug smuggling) in a futuristic but incisively metaphoric outer space prison colony:

Station Manager Sheppard: If you’re looking for money, you’re smarter than you look. If you’re not, you’re a lot dumber.
Marshal William T. O’Neil: Then I’m probably a lot dumber.

Most corrections officer are, as expressed in this film’s equation, “dumber” rather than “smarter.”

But some significant minority succumb to the wiles of Delilah and take the bait.  And, as the KGB and other such organizations know, once you bite for the little bribe — what could it matter? — you’re hooked for the bigger payoff to whomever is holding the other end of the line.  How does one explain that night with Delilah to a grim-faced administrator?

Delilah's Embrace Can Be Deadly in Prison ("Samson and Delilah," School of Rembrandt, c. 1630, Rijksmuseum)

Delilah's Embrace Can Be Deadly in Prison ("Samson and Delilah," School of Rembrandt, c. 1630, Rijksmuseum)

In succeeding parts, Fairly Civil will examine some examples of corruption inside the Big House.  These cases run the gamut from the recent Maryland case involving the Black Guerrilla Family — one of the oldest prison gangs and mortal enemy of the Mexican Mafia — to corruption instigated by correctional officers themselves.  The latter include a spectacular prison lobby shootout in 2006 that took the lives of a federal agent and an indicted federal  prison guard.

Read Part two here.

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