Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘Rocky Delgadillo’

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police Commander Murdered in Mexico City

Police Commander Murdered in Mexico City

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

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

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

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

The difference now, he explained, has several dimensions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce Riordan (Photo by Mandalit del Barco, NPR)

Bruce Riordan (Photo by Mandalit del Barco, NPR)

Rocky Delgadillo (LA City photo)

Rocky Delgadillo (LA City photo)

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

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

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

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

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Half a Million Dollars in Cash Was Hidden in this Box

Half a Million Dollars in Cash Was Hidden in this Box

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

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