Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘Sgt. Richard Valdemar’


In Afghanistan, bad manners, Crime, Gangs, Latino gangs, politics, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime on November 10, 2009 at 12:14 am

Virginia Tech Shooter Cho Seung-Hui, Like Major Nidal Malik Hasan at Ft. Hood, Used a Killing Tool Widely and Easily Available on the U.S. Civilian Market to Decimate Virginia Tech Campus -- The High-Capacity Semi-Automatic Pistol

Fairly Civil‘s last post on the alleged plot by Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) leaders in El Salvador to assassinate an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent (“John Doe”) in Queens, New York, brought a skeptical response from some law enforcement quarters.  Here is the core of the post, which includes excerpts from an affidivait accompanying a request for an arrest warrant:

According to an affidavit filed in support of an arrest warrant, an MS-13 member specifically tasked to kill the ICE agent described the plot to federal agents. The gangsters were looking for an AK-47 or M-16 assault rifle to do the job.

The post also referred to a similar alleged MS-13 plot to kill LAPD gang detective Frank Flores, described in “The Plot to Whack a Cop,” which can be found here.

But retired Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department gang Sergeant Richard Valdemar questions in a private communication to the author whether these two incidents show a pattern, much less a shift, in MS-13’s abilities and intent regarding attacks on law enforcement officers:

Funny how in the many years (1993-2004) working with the FBI Task Force with numerous agents and agencies on the MS they would now fix on one LAPD Officer Flores in Los Angeles and one “John Doe” the ICE man in New York, and they can’t seem to find a AR-15 or AK-47 to do the dastardly deed. I think there have been a lot more effective cases and cops doing serious damage to the gang over the years than these two.

More likely …an informant, or couple of informants, got twisted in Los Angeles and New York, and gave up their own clique homeboys with information that they knew the cops would value (“they plan to kill a cop”). This kind of talk goes on a lot in the gang world, but the gang members don’t always go beyond the talking stage. And you, who has studied the trafficking in weapons associated with gangs (transnational gangs especially), can’t seriously buy the …”we can’t find an assault rifle to use” excuse.

At least one mid-level ICE official active in anti-gang operations in the Southwest agrees that one case does not make a pattern shift for MS-13 (the depredations and history of which are detailed in my book No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement.)

Be that as it may, the cases raise an interesting question.  What kind of gangster or would-be terrorist can’t find the tools to do the job in the United States?

The gangsters in the ICE case allegedly were having problems finding their weapons of choice, i.e. a “fully automatic” M-16 or AK clone.  This echoed the case of would-be terrorists in Boston, posted here, who gave up a plot to shoot up shopping centers because they also could not obtain machine guns:

Fortunately, however, these jihadists thought they need machine guns, i.e., fully automatic weapons — hold the trigger down and the gun will fire until ammo is exhausted – to do the job. They gave up when they found out they could not obtain machine guns. However, knowledgeable experts understand that controlled fire from semiautomatic weapons — pull the trigger for each round — is at least as lethal and often more lethal than machine gun fire.

Thank g-d these extremist would-be terrorists were “weaponry pea brains.”

One might conclude that both of these cases simply reflect fortuitous ignorance on the part of would-be plotters.  Knowledge of firearms is not — as too many voices active in public fora apparently assume — easily received wisdom.  There is a stunning array of gun and ammunition types, with diverse capabilities, pros and cons, easily and widely available on the U.S. civilian gun market — not to mention the widespread criminal traffic in guns.  Any terrorist or gangster who complains about not being able to find the right tool for the job at hand is either a pea-brain or a poseur.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that!  But how long can we count on stupidity?

On the other hand, three successful mass shooters demonstrated that with firearms easily obtainable on the U.S. civilian market, a little bit of knowledge, premeditation, criminal intent, mental imbalance, and/or jihadist inspiration can be easily transformed into mass blood and carnage on … one wants to say “soft targets,” but how does one classify a U.S. Army fort?

Cho Seung-Hui committed suicide after killing 32 and wounding 25 in his infamous “Virginia Tech Massacre.” Washington Beltway sniper John Muhammad is scheduled to meet his maker after execution by lethal injection Tuesday, November 10. 1009, the U.S. Supreme Court having rejected his last-ditch appeal. Major Nidal Malik Hasan is alive at this writing, while government agencies try to figure out whether he was “merely” a jihadist gone nuts or a globally linked-in jihadist.

Major Hasan’s Choice for Killing Soldiers — The FN FiveseveN High Capacity Semiautomatic Pistol


Major Hasan's Pick for Soldier-Killing Machine -- FN's FiveseveN -- is Known in Mexico as the Matapolicia, or "Cop-Killer."

FN Herstal’s FiveseveN (cute name, eh?) semiautomatic pistol fires a small caliber round at very high velocity.  It is plain and simply a “vest-buster.”  The proprietary round-handgun combination is one of the most popular firearms smuggled by firearms traffickers into Mexico, where it is known as the matapolicia, or “cop killer.”

FN originally created the 5.7X28mm cartridge as the ammunition for the P-90 submachine gun.  The P-90 SMG was designed at the invitation of NATO and in response to military needs for a weapon to be used by “troops who needed both hands for other tasks, such as officers, NCOs and technical troops,” and that would be effective against the body armor that has become standard on the battlefield.

In the mid-1990s FNH set out to design a handgun to accompany the P90 SMG. This would not have been an issue if FN had stuck to its original profession that it would restrict the sale of its new armor-piercing ammunition and pistol.

The company clearly recognized the dangerous genie it was releasing. For example, a spokesman for the company told the Sunday Times in 1996 that the pistol was “too potent” for normal police duties and was designed for anti-terrorist and hostage rescue operations. The NRA’s American Rifleman claimed in 1999 that: “Law enforcement and military markets are the target groups of FN’s new FiveseveN pistol,” and told its readers, “Don’t expect to see this cartridge sold over the counter in the United States. In this incarnation, it is strictly a law enforcement or military round.” In 2000, American Handgunner magazine assured the public, “For reasons that will become obvious, neither the gun nor the ammunition will ever be sold to civilians or even to individual officers.”


High Capacity of the Fiveseven Adds to Its Mass Killing Power

In fact, however, the gun is being freely sold to civilians today, along with clearly problematic ammunition, through a variety of channels. What changed was precisely nothing.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan most likely gave some serious thought to his choice of weapons. With its high capacity magazine, extremely high velocity round, and cop-killing notoriety in Mexico, the FN FiveseveN was quite demonstrably an effective choice.

The reasons that American Handgunner referred to in 2000 became “obvious” last Thursday as Hasan efficiently murdered soldiers at Fort Hood in cold blood.

Beltway Snipers Chose Bushmaster AR -15 Clone

John Allen Muhammad was the senior member of the infamous Beltway sniper duo. His minor sidekick, Lee Boyd Malvo, was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the shootings, which took place over three weeks in October 2002 in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Ten people were killed and three others critically injured, as well as three other crime-related deaths attributed to the pair in Louisiana and Alabama.


2002 Washington Beltway Snipers Used a Bushmaster AR-15 Clone Like This Rifle

Muhammad, a veteran of the Persian Gulf war, picked a type of firearm with which he was undoubtedly familiar — a Bushmaster AR-15 type clone of the military’s M-16 assault rifle.  Bushmaster made its mark and fortune by cranking out AR-15 clones that beat the impossibly porous 1994 Semiautomatic Assault Weapons “Ban.”

AR-15 rifles of this type are as common in America as weed-whackers in spring at a suburban hardware store.  Here’s the point for slow-readers in this context:  Any gangster or would-be terrorist who can’t get his hands on one of these guns — whether you call it a “semiautomatic assault rifle” or a “thunder-stick” — or one of the the AK clones that have been dumped in the country latterly by Eastern European manufacturers and U.S. import-whores is simply in the wrong game.

Cho’s Choice — Ex-Lockmaker Gaston Glock’s High Capacity Model 19

Virginia Tech shooter Cho chose as his lead weapon the Glock Model 19, perhaps the archetype of the modern high-capacity semiautomatic pistol.  Easy to shoot, quick to reload, and demanding neither skill nor experience when shooting down unsuspecting innocents, the Glock Model 19 is also a favorite of gangsters and assorted thugs from Vancouver to the Yucatan.


Cho's Choice for Mass Murder -- Glock Model 19

“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


In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, undercover investigations on October 20, 2009 at 4:09 pm
Still in Custody -- Judges denies Bail Request of Alex Sanchez, Accused "Stealth Shot Caller"

Still in Custody -- Judges denies Bail Request of Alex Sanchez, Accused "Stealth Shot Caller"

Details are not only sketchy, they are non-existent, but two close sources confirm that Alex Sanchez was again denied bail at his hearing in federal court yesterday.  Don’t bother searching the Los Angeles Times, to whom this case is apparently not a story in spite of its drama and implications for administration of justice, gangs, and organized crime.

For background on the story of this former gangster, ostensibly turned anti-gang activist, but now accused in a federal RICO indictment of being a secret “shot-caller” or gang boss, go here, here, and here.

Meanwhile, perhaps the most that can be said until the trial and verdict is this.

Whatever the prosecutors served up yesterday, it apparently was sizzling enough to convince federal judge Manuel Real to keep Sanchez locked up.

Experienced gang prosecutors and investigators who are not related to or part of the Sanchez case have told me that this sort of “back and forth” or what is known as the “battle of the transcripts” is fairly typical of the early stages of a big racketeering case — particularly when you have a case that relies on transcripts that require translation — and that it is best at this stage to keep an open mind and not jump to conclusions but rather to follow the evidence until the “back and forth” sorts itself out.

At this stage it appears to these observers that too many people are jumping to conclusions and making personal attacks (on both sides) when the real issues are evidence-based — namely, “First, “what precisely do the transcripts say?”  Then, once that is established, second, “Now that we know what the transcripts say, what exactly does that mean?”

Point taken, but Fairly Civil remains amazed at the virtual news blackout on this case.

Lindsay Lohan grabs more media time? Any media time?


Newsworthy in L.A.

Newsworthy in L.A.

A Gang Cop’s Reply to Latest Post On the Alex Sanchez Case

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on October 18, 2009 at 6:38 am

As Fairly Civil expected, the previous post on Father Greg Boyle’s filing for the defense in the Alex Sanchez MS-13 case (see here) provoked …um… strong reaction from some members of the Southern California law enforcement community.

[Update: Sanchez was again denied bail on October 19, 2009 by Judge Manuel Real.]

One of the more outspoken was the following communication from retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Richard Valdemar:

I worked the Metropolitan FBI Gang Task Force which targeted the Mara Salvatrucha gang (1994-2004). Father Boyle may yet be a Catholic priest, but he has no credibility with this Catholic. His actions in the past have been very anti-police in nature and I believe this comes from his own personal issues and prejudices. I believe his conduct in the past in protecting wanted gang members was immoral and unethical. I believe that he was sanctioned in the past by the Catholic Church. He has a political agenda and his support of Alex Sanchez and Homies Unidos has become an embarrassment, which can be corrected if Alex Sanchez is somehow acquitted.

There could be several valid explanations for the conversation and they do not necessarily mean that Sanchez is not a member of Mara Salvatrucha, or a Shot Caller;

The Los Angeles Mara Salvatrucha gang is made up of sub-groups or cliques. Each of these cliques supposedly operates with some autonomy from the gang in general, while at the same time holding to the identity and goals of the whole gang. These cliques have de-facto charismatic leaders and vote within the clique in matters that do not necessarily involve the whole Mara Salvatrucha. If a MS member, no matter how influential, tried to interfere in the activity of a clique which he was not a member of, he would be rebuked by clique members and leadership that were members of the particular clique who held voting power. Thus you might hear…

CAMARON: Listen man! And-and-and-and I don’t know why you [stutters] come … you know, and you get involved in things, when you are not longer active, man! You see? Better yet, what you should do is to be careful with the “United Homies” and not-not to get involved in our things, you see? [Call breaks] [UI] with us, because you are no longer active, see what I mean?

But I believe the best explanation is that Alex Sanchez (a MS shot caller), by becoming a leader of Homies Unidos, the “respectable” political arm of the Mara Salvatrucha, and associating with the likes of LA Sheriff Leroy Baca, California Senator Tom Hayden and radical political Catholic Priest Greg Boyle, Sanchez insolated himself from the MS cliques and gang street soldiers who now consider him “inactive” in the daily criminal business of the gang. Alex Sanchez was a MS shot caller when I retired in 2004, and I am sure he has not been “jumped out” of the gang or Camaron’s words would have been much more threatening. What Camaron is telling him is, you take care of the Politics and we will handle the dirty business of killing. But they are still part of the same criminal gang.

By the way, did Alex Sanchez (the supposed ex-gang member) upon learning of Camaron’s evil plot, run and inform his mentor, the good Father Boyle, who of course contacted the police so that the crimes could have been prevented? …Never Happened did it?

Sergeant Richard Valdemar

LASD Major Crimes Bureau (retired)

Power serve.


In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime on October 17, 2009 at 9:28 pm
Deported?  No problema!  Federal Indictment Charges Avenues Gang's Drew Street Clique Operated Door to Door Immigration Smuggling Service that Included Illegal Reentry Option

Deported? No problema! Federal Indictment Charges Avenues Gang Operated Door to Door Immigration Smuggling Service that Included Illegal Reentry Option

Calexico is one of California’s best kept secrets. A delightful blend of American and Mexican cultures, Calexico’s small-town lifestyle, combined with its convenient proximity to the metropolitan areas of Mexicali and San Diego, make it a great place to live.

Internet Website, City of Calexico, CA

Kinda “homey,” right?

If Calexico is one of California’s “best kept secrets,” then the arcanum acarnorum, the secret of secrets, was the transnational alien smuggling ring allegedly being run through Calexico’s sister city, Mexicali, Mexico, by members of the notorious Avenues Latino street gang in Los Angeles.

An indictment handed up and sealed on October 1 and made public October 14 is the latest in a hammering series of actions against the Avenues by federal and state law enforcement authorities. [You can read an earlier Fairly Civil post about the Avenues gang here, and connect through links to other posts.]

ICE Press Release

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Press Release describes the scope of the ring’s activities and some context:

According to the search warrant affidavit filed in federal court in connection with the case, the ring allegedly smuggled more than 200 illegal aliens per year into the United States. At one point, investigators say, members of the Drew Street clique contacted the smuggling organization about bringing the infamous matriarch of the gang, Maria Leon, into the United States from Mexico. While the ring did not end up smuggling Leon into the United States, she returned to the country illegally and was subsequently arrested. Leon is now serving a 100-month federal prison sentence for racketeering crimes related to the Avenues street gang.

The indictment in the case of United States v. Eduardo Alvarez-Marquez [U.S. District Court for Central District of California, Docket No. CR-09-01013, filed October 1, 2009] illustrates two general points about trans-border criminal organizations:

  • Transnational criminal organizations are increasingly adapting their cellular structures to a variety of opportunistic crimes.  Structures originally set up for drug trafficking can also be used for smuggling aliens, trafficking human beings, extortion, and trafficking in firearms.
  • Retired Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Richard Valdemar is bang on when he says (as he did to me several months ago) that so-called “street gangs” like the Avenues have jumped in the alien smuggling game as a source of revenues.
  • Background on the Mexicali–Calexico Border Crossing

    The border crossing the Avenues exploited is one of the busiest.  According to the City of Calexico’s website:

    More than 18.9 million vehicles and pedestrians cross into U.S. through Calexico’s two Ports-of-Entry. The East Calexico port of entry provides an improved link to major trucking routes, and has increased the ease with which people and goods move between the two countries.

    The Avenues alien smuggling business exploited the crush.  The following excerpts from the indictment describe in some detail how the gang operated.


    Defendants … would arrange for unidentified co-conspirators to smuggle illegal aliens into the United States by methods that included jumping over the international boundary fence, walking through the Calexico Port of Entry using fake or falsified documents, riding in cars entering the United States through the Calexico Port of Entry using fake or falsified documents, concealing themselves in hidden compartments in vehicles, and wading through the New River in and around Calexico, California.

    Defendants … would negotiate the price and method that would be used to smuggle illegal aliens into the United States from Mexico… [and] would instruct illegal aliens to wait at particular locations in Mexicali, Mexico, in order to be smuggled into the United States.

    The Safe Houses

    The gang kept a “safe house” in Mexicali as a holding tank for aliens waiting to be smuggled.  Once the aliens were safely across the border, the gang then stashed them in safe houses on the U.S. side, one close to the border, and another in Los Angeles.  The aliens were later moved from these safe houses to other locations, some to as far away as New York City.

    Defendants … would meet illegal aliens once they had been smuggled into the United States and take them to a residence in Holtville, California….until transportation from the area could be arranged.

    Defendants … would [also] harbor and conceal recently smuggled illegal aliens at a residence on West Avenue 34 in Los Angeles…[and] would arrange and coordinate transportation for illegal aliens from the Los Angeles area to other locations in the United States.

    Defendant Alvarez-Estrada told defendant Alvarez that unidentified co-conspirators would charge $700 to transport an illegal alien from Los Angeles to New York.

    The Prices

    The smugglers charged different fees, depending on how the illegal aliens came across the border:

    On August 26, 2008, by telephone using coded language, defendant [Rosario Maria] Rodriguez told a confidential informant (the “CI”) that defendant Alvarez [Eduardo Alvarez-Marquez] has different methods for smuggling illegal aliens into the United States; that the price for smuggling illegal aliens ranges from $2,500 to $4,500 depending whether the alien walked through the Port of Entry with false documents, rode as a passenger in a vehicle, or jumped over the international boundary fence in a remote area near Mexicali, Mexico…Rodriguez told the CI that an alien should not sneak into the United States by jumping across the international boundary fence unless the alien previously had been deported.
    On August 26, 2008, by telephone using coded language, defendant Alvarez told the CI that Alvarez only smuggles illegal aliens through Mexicali, Mexico; that he charges $2,800 for aliens who jump the international boundary fence and are picked up by a vehicle in the United States; that he charges $3,500 for aliens who use a guide to walk the alien through the Port of Entry with a lost, stolen, or falsified green card or visa; and that he charges $4,300 for aliens who he arranges to have driven through the Port of Entry as a passenger in a vehicle.

    Rodriguez told an unidentified co-conspirator that previously-deported illegal aliens were smuggled into the United States undetected through the Port of Entry at a price of $3,500 to $4,500.

    Alvarez told an unidentified co-conspirator that Alvarez charged $4,000 to smuggle an illegal alien into the United States from Mexico through the use of a false green card.

    Defendant Alvarez told an unidentified co-conspirator that Alvarez had a $2,800 option for smuggling illegal aliens into the United States from Mexico, which required the aliens to run for six to ten minutes, as well as a $3,800 option, which required the aliens to run for approximately 30 seconds before being hidden inside a truck, and Alvarez would transport the illegally smuggled aliens as far as the Avenue 34 residence near San Fernando Road and Fletcher Drive in Los Angeles, California.

    Special Rate for Chinese

    The smugglers also had a “special” rate for Chinese aliens who wanted to enter the United States through Mexico:

    Defendant J. Carreon told defendant Alvarez that five illegal aliens from China wanted to be smuggled into the United States over the Mexican border while hidden inside a truck … Alvarez told defendant J. Carreon to charge the illegal aliens from China double the normal smuggling fee.

    Gangster Family Values

    Finally, no comment is really needed on this illumination of gangster family values:

    Defendant Rodriguez told a friend that defendant A. [Aquilina] Alvarez was upset because defendant Alvarez-Estrada [her husband] had taught defendant Alvarez [her son] to sell drugs at age 14 and later taught Alvarez to smuggle illegal aliens, and the friend stated that A. Alvarez was also to blame for Alvarez’ illegal activities.

    Interesting, no?

    Bonus Round

    For our Spanish-speaking readers, here is an excerpt from the October 15 report about this case in La Opinion:

    Caen ocho polleros

    Supuestamente tienen nexos con una pandilla en LA

    La Oficina de Control de Inmigración y Aduanas (ICE) informó ayer que sus agentes arrestaron a ocho personas vinculadas con el tráfico de drogas y de personas, que mantenían contactos estrechos con la clica Drew Street, perteneciente a la trístemente célebre pandilla Avenues del Este de Los Ángeles.

    Se trata de un caso especial en el que un grupo dedicado a transportar personas de manera ilegal desde México a Estados Unidos, especialmente a Los Ángeles, desarrollaron una relación con grupos del hampa organizado, dedicados especialmente al narcotráfico, dijo Kevin Kozak, agente especial encargado de las investigaciones de ICE en esta ciudad.


    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

    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)


    In Crime, Transnational crime, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, Drugs, RICO, RICO indictments 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


    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

    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.


    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.


    In Corruption, Crime, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime on February 2, 2009 at 9:54 pm
    Latino Gangs Are Expanding Geographic Reach in U.S. and Some Are Moving Into Wholesale Drug Trade from Traditional Retail Sales.  Both Moves Promise More Violence in Turf Wars.

    Latino Gangs Are Expanding Geographic Reach in U.S. and Some Are Moving Into Wholesale Drug Trade from Traditional Retail Sales. Both Moves Promise More Violence in Turf Wars.

    A flurry of new information and expert opinion issued within the last several weeks indicates that the United States will see increased violence involving Latino street gangs, like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), during 2009.  More violence is also predicted in Mexico, as the Mexican  government continues its war on the powerful Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs), also called “cartels.”

    Fairly Civil has already reported the news from the National Drug Threat Assessment 2009 that some street gangs are moving beyond their role as the nation’s primary retail drug outlets and “increasing their involvement in wholesale-level drug distribution.”

    The National Gang Threat Assessment 2009, released today and available in a PDF file here, confirms that assessment.    “Gang members are the primary retail-level distributors of most illicit drugs. They also are increasingly distributing wholesale-level quantities of marijuana and cocaine in most urban and suburban communities,” according to the new report.

    The National Gang Threat Assessment reports two other elements that — combined with the move into wholesale drug trade — are likely to increase the potential for violence.

    One is the continued territorial expansion of gangs:

    Gang members are migrating from urban areas to suburban and rural communities, expanding the gangs’ influence in most regions; they are doing so for a variety of reasons, including expanding drug distribution territories, increasing illicit revenue, recruiting new members, hiding from law enforcement,and escaping other gangs. Many suburban and rural communities are experiencing increasing gang-related crime and violence because of expanding gang influence.

    Competition Over Retail Customers Usually Means Armed Violence in the Drug Business

    Competition Over Retail Customers Usually Means Armed Violence in the Drug Business

    “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

    Expansion into new territory means friction with existing drug distributors — possibly other, smaller bore gangs — and the resulting necessity to “rationalize” markets.  As a knowledgeable FBI agent told me in the course of my researching my upcoming book —No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (U. of Michigan Press, 2009) — the gangs don’t sit down to negotiate “rationalizing” markets.  They whip out the guns and start shooting.  Last gang standing gets the market. (In this regard, retired Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Gang Sergeant Richard Valdemar has a short piece here, useful for navigating the sometimes-confusing nomenclature (e.g., sureno and norteno) of the California-based  gangs that could be infiltrating your placid  neighborhoods far from the West Coast.)

    Even more troubling is the Gang Threat Assessment report’s carefully understated notice of the  potential for confrontation between U.S.-based gangs and the Mexican DTOs:  “Some gangs traffic illicit drugs at the regional and national levels; several are capable of competing with U.S.-based Mexican DTOs.” (My emphasis.)

    Roll that phrase around in your mind one more time.  Competition in the business of trafficking illegal drugs almost certainly means violence.  But the Mexican DTOs have proven themselves to be capable of unbounded levels of well-armed and bizarrely cruel violence — from attacking police stations with rockets, to rolling severed heads into bars, to boiling bodies in vats of acid.  If a U.S.-based gang or gangs goes up against the Mexican DTOs, a blood bath could result.  In this regard, it is worth remembering that the Mexican DTOs basically did to the Colombian cartels what this pregnant line suggests:  grew up and took over the old Colombian drug distribution system.

    Mexican Drug War Will Continue to Get Worse Before It gets Better(Reuters Photo)

    Mexican Drug War Will Continue to Get Worse Before It gets Better(Reuters Photo)

    Meanwhile, the private global intelligence firm Stratfor, has released the following assessment of the future of tortured Mexico in its (subscription)  Annual Forecast 2009 for Latin America:

    Regional Trend: Mexico’s Cartel Crisis Will Build

    At the time of this writing, there are no reasons to expect the level of violence in Mexico’s cartel wars to lessen. The death toll of drug-related violence in 2008 was about 5,700, more than twice the previous year’s figure. There are no signs that competition among the cartels is diminishing, and the government does not appear to be letting up on its assault on the cartels. The cartels have demonstrated the ability to undermine the effectiveness of law enforcement around the country and have even demonstrated the ability to strike at government targets in Mexico City. An increase in either the frequency of attacks or the severity of intimidation tactics by cartels against Mexican law enforcement is all but certain. Escalation could include the use of devices such as car bombs and other methods of targeted assassination. As the global recession generates more unemployment, the likelihood of more violence, civil unrest, rising crime and a surge of cartel recruits will only increase.

    But although Stratfor sees the situation in Mexico on a continued downward spiral, we do not envision a sharp escalation of violence spilling into the United States in 2009. The cartels must balance the need to move their product across the border with their need to fight law enforcement interference, and it is not in their interest to provoke a substantive response from the United States. For now, Mexican cartels use U.S. street and prison gangs to manage drug distribution and retail inside the United States. That relationship will continue, and potentially increase during 2009, but not to the extent that the cartels’ bases of operations will move north of the border. An increase in cartel-related gang violence in the United States is likely in 2009, but a massive increase in cartel violence that severely impacts U.S. civilians – or a high-profile increase in cartel corruption of U.S. politicians and law enforcement (congruent to the situation on the Mexican side of the border) – would be counterproductive. As long as that is true, the side effects of the cartel war that spill over the border will remain a law enforcement challenge – as opposed to an existential threat – for the United States.


    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

    [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.)

    Gangster “Machismo” Threatens Everyone

    In Crime, Gangs, Transnational crime on November 14, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    If you think violent Latino gangs are a threat only to exotic, ethnic, sepia-toned neighborhoods you are dead flat wrong.  Emphasize the “dead” part of that sentence.  Gang violence can explode anywhere. And you, gentle reader, can be the victim of a fatal encounter with evil.

    FBI SWAT team arresting MS-13 gangsters (FBI Photo)

    FBI SWAT team arresting MS-13 gangsters (FBI Photo)

    The grieving family of 14-year old Tai Lam can attest to that.  Lam was shot dead November 1st while riding on a public bus in Montgomery County, a suburb of Washington, DC.  Two of Lam’s companions were seriously wounded.  Their offense appears to have been being at the wrong place at the wrong time — perhaps compounded by having had the temerity to exchange a few innocent words with a couple of gang punksters.

    The victims’ friends insist that the shooting was unprovoked.  There was no hostile exchange, no warning.  Just a sudden explosion of bullets from a handgun into the bus as the shooter stepped off.

    Police have arrested three alleged members of the Latino gang MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) in connection with the murder.  The “alleged” perpetrators are — but of course, leave us not rush to judgment — “innocent until proven guilty” under law.  But the incident is a depressing echo of story after story of Latino gang violence that I document in my forthcoming book — No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press, Spring 2009).

    The two most violent transnational youth gangs — MS-13 and the 18th Street gang — are present today in almost every state in the union.  Their virulent spread within the United States is a casebook study of “blowback,” the unintended bad consequence of what seems at the time like a good idea.

    Both gangs were born on the boiling streets of Los Angeles in the 1980s.  Several thousand of their members were deported to Central America throughout the 1990s.  Most of these deported gangsters came to the United States as children, refugees from the violent wars that wracked the region during the 1980s.  Many of them knew nothing of the culture of their “home” countries and often had no ties there.  Some of them did not even speak Spanish.  There was only one thing that they knew how to do well — gang bang.  They promptly took over entire neighborhoods in these hapless countries, where law enforcement and civil institutions had been corrupted and gravely weakened by long wars.

    When El Salvador and Honduras “cracked down” with programs like Mano Dura (“strong hand” or “iron fist”) and Super Mano Dura, the gangsters just took over the prisons.  Hooked into major drug trafficking organizations, they have now returned to the United States with a vengeance, controlling routes through which drugs and human beings are trafficked north and money and guns south.  Street gangs — black, Latino, and motorcycle gangs — are the primary retail outlets for illicit drugs in the United States today.  These are not your grandfather’s gangs, ethnic affiliations built around neighborhoods.  These are violent criminal machines.

    Ordinary “normal” people look for a motive in violence like that which took the life of Tai Lam.  The poor kid must have done something, one thinks, to set these guys off.  But the gang world is upside down.  Normal is abnormal.  Abnormal is normal. Good is evil and evil is good to these ruthless gangsters.

    The story of Tai Lam’s shooting reminded me of a similar murder in July 2000.  A 22-year old Latino, Mario Rubio-Martinez, was confronted in the parking lot of Culmore Shopping Center in Fairfax County, another suburb of Washington.  He was stabbed to death by Jose Rodriguez, a 14-year old MS-13 gangster. Rodriguez did not know Rubio-Martinez.  Nor did he exchange fighting words with his victim.  He was just out to kill someone in order to make himself look like a big man among his gangster peers.  The victim that night could have been anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path:

    “It wasn’t robbery.  It wasn’t a grudge.  It wasn’t some sort of confrontation, said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney John R. Murphy, who said the killing has made Rodriguez a celebrity.  “There was only one motive, and that was gaining the defendant status in the world that he made himself a part of.”

    (Maria Glod, “Fairfax Gang Member Gets 23 Years in Death; Teenager Stabbed Stranger to Impress Others, Officials Say,” The Washington Post, July 6, 2001.  I would like to provide a link, but The Washington Post links pop up one of those idiotic forms that force one to sign up before reading their stories.  Grrrrrrr.)

    Rodrodriguez –who was born in Houston — was “jumped in” to MS-13 with a beating that lasted 13 seconds.  The beating in his case included blows from a crow bar. The wounds in his scalp required 14 staples.  His sister was “sexed” in to MS-13 when she was 10 years old.  That is, she was required to have sexual intercourse with 13 gang members.  The gangsters involved in violent depravity like this do not need “normal” motivation to go off on a shooting rampage.  They are deeply, pathologically committed to violence as a way of life.

    To what extent is immigration a factor in the spread of gangs?  Retired Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department Gang Sergeant Richard Valdemar argues that illegal immigration is the very root and branch of the gang problem. I disagree with his ultimate conclusions about immigration.  But I certainly respect his experience and his opinions (unlike the knuckle-dragging emissions of crypto-racist anti-immigrant yahoos like that pasty pharaoh of phoniness, CNN’s Lou Dobbs, and the perpetually poisonous pundit Patrick Buchanan).  Go here to learn about some of Sgt. Valdemar’s opinions, and here to read some contrary (and to me sounder) views on immigration and crime.

    One thing is beyond debate.  Latino street gangs like MS-13 and the 18th Street gang are potentially a much greater threat than the Italian mafia (or La Cosa Nostra) ever was.  Unfortunately, we as a nation are only dribbling out meager resources to deal with the problem at all levels — federal, state, and local.  Gang-fighting, intervention, prevention, and enforcement keeps getting bumped down the scale to make room for “national security,” mortgage fraud, and “offender reentry” schemes.  Our national strategy has been to dump the gang problem into the laps of law enforcement.  We keep our fingers crossed and hope that the cops can keep it out of sight.

    They can’t do it alone.

    The tragic death of Tai Lam is a sad example of why our feeble approach is a mistake.  If we don’t take it to the gangs, they will take it to us.


    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

    Join 437 other followers

    %d bloggers like this: