The Chicago Syndicate: How the Mexican Mafia Wields Power beyond Prison #LaEme

Monday, July 31, 2017

How the Mexican Mafia Wields Power beyond Prison #LaEme

Mexican Mafia, God, family — in that order.

That’s how one expert described the power and influence the notorious prison gang, also known as “La Eme,” holds over people in prison or county jail, as well as those on the outside.

In a 2007 article published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, writer Tony Rafael — who spent years researching the Mexican Mafia — explained in an interview how the gang’s leaders give orders to members of Hispanic or Latino street gangs that could include harassing, assaulting or killing others on its behalf.

Failure to follow orders is usually punished, often violently.

“When you click up with a gang that’s loyal to the Mexican Mafia, the Mexican Mafia comes before God, your family, and your friends going all the way back to childhood,” said Rafael, who published a book on the subject in 2009 (The Mexican Mafia). “When they tell you to do something, you gotta do it.”

It will be interesting to see how that notion plays in San Diego Superior Court, where 20 people are facing charges related to their alleged association with the prison gang.

Twelve men and eight women stand accused of various felonies after a three-year investigation, dubbed “Operation Emero,” conducted by a multi-agency gang task force. The investigation was led by the Sheriff’s Department, FBI and a special services unit of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Some of the defendants pleaded not guilty this week in San Diego Superior Court to charges including extortion, kidnapping, assault likely to produce great bodily injury, drug possession for sale and conspiracy to commit assault, arson, robbery and torture.

Others, including defendants now in prison on other convictions, are expected to be arraigned over the next few weeks.

Felix Aguirre, a retired San Diego police detective who conducts training and information sessions on gangs, said the Mexican Mafia is one of several prison gangs that thrive in correctional institutions in California and across the country.

“It basically controls everything from prostitution to drugs — a lot of the criminal activities within the institutions,” he said.

When someone is sent to prison, it’s typical for that person to seek out a group of inmates he can identify with — usually other members of the same race — for protection and safety, Aguirre said. Those who associate with the Mexican Mafia may eventually be told to “put in work” for the gang, either inside a prison or jail, or out on the streets.

The “carnales,” loosely translated from Spanish as “brothers,” are the leaders of the organization, the “shot-callers,” Aguirre said. Below them are the “comrades,” the second-tier leaders, and then the crew members or associates who carry out their orders. They also tend to rely on women — perhaps wives or girlfriends of the carnales — to communicate their directives on the street.

The gang is known to take a “tax” from anyone carrying out other criminal activities in areas claimed by the prison gang. In other words, if dealers are selling drugs in Mexican Mafia territory, they have to pay a percentage to the gang. If they don’t, the gang will still find a way to collect.

“The consequences are assault, violent robberies … They take what they want,” Aguirre said.

Prosecutors in San Diego County haven’t revealed many details about the new case, but have said the defendants operated in two groups, one of which was led by federal prisoner Jose Alberto “Bat” Marquez, the other by California death row inmate Ronaldo Ayala.

Neither is charged in the San Diego case, presumably because both men are expected to spend the rest of their lives locked away from the rest of society. But their names appear multiple times throughout the 40-page complaint in a long list of “overt acts” prosecutors included to support the charges.

Among them, Marquez is accused of directing a female defendant to give an inmate “knuckles” over a drug debt. On another occasion, Marquez told the same defendant to slap a woman and collect the money she owed him, according to prosecutors.

They say Ayala used a contraband cellphone to make calls from death row, including one in which he authorized the stabbing of an inmate at Centinela state prison in Imperial County in April.

Thanks to Dana Littlefield.

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