Criminal Anatomy

12.11.14 3:33 PM ET

The Mexican Mafia Is the Daddy of All Street Gangs

Mass arrests in Los Angeles highlight the huge gang operation running sections of the city but putting these people in prison could make it even worse.

The indictment of 38 members of Los Angeles street gang Big Hazard once again puts the national spotlight on the Mexican Mafia, a treacherous and violent criminal organization also known as La Eme that has deep roots inside California’s prison system. Federal officials spent Wednesday arresting members of the Boyle Heights-based street gang which has strong ties to La Eme. The 800 law enforcement personnel that conducted the raids considered it a “day of accountability” for the gang that has been active since the early 1940s.

The Hazard gang is a multi-generational gang based in the East Los Angeles area. According to the indictment, it is part of a network of Latino gangs controlled by La Eme. “The Mexican Mafia is an organized group of individuals that control the narcotics trafficking and other criminal activities within California’s penal system and, through that control, controls the activities of Latino gangs, like the Hazard gang, on the streets,” the indictment reads.

The Mexican Mafia is the daddy of all prison gangs. A turbo charged entity that demands respect with Clockwork Orange-like ultraviolence throughout the California Department of Corrections and all of Southern California. The CDC is the biggest prison system in the nation and holds the distinction of birthing the most notorious prison gangs our country knows - the Aryan Brotherhood, La Nuestra Familia, Black Guerrilla Family and the aforementioned Mexican Mafia. They originated in the California prison system in the 1960s and have since grown to rule a vast empire of criminal activities, stretching from Southern California to Arizona to Colorado. Virtually all the southwestern gangs of Mexican heritage (Surenos or Southsiders) are under their control. In prison and on the streets they are one of the most feared gangs in America.

“The Eme is clearly the most powerful organized force in the prisons and on the street. There is no other organization that can compare to its power projection beyond prison walls and the number of soldiers under its command.” Tony Rapheal, author of The Mexican Mafia says. “Their intelligence network is phenomenal. Something can happen in Whittier this morning and by the afternoon the brothers in Pelican Bay know all about it. And by the next morning they’ve already issued instructions to address the problem. The Crips, Bloods, AB, NLR- none of them have that level of command and control.”

The Mexican Mafia run their empire from the penitentiary to the streets of LA. Using gangs like Big Hazard to maintain control of the drug trade, they act as suppliers and wholesalers, with a direct line to the Mexican drug cartels. Much like the TV show Breaking Bad, the Mexican Mafia are real life methamphetamine kingpins. Their world is a secret and shadowy one. What little has been revealed has emerged from trumped up RICO indictments like the one against Big Hazard where the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act is used to target gangs.

Movies like American Me, which starred James Olmos, cast more light but the fallout from that film included the murder of some of those involved who had angered Eme shot-callers with their portrayals in the film. In the Latino community the legacy of the Mexican Mafia spans multiple generations.

“Keep in mind that we’re now going into our fourth and fifth generation of street gangsters. Diamond Street, for instance, was one of the original players in the zoot suit riots in 1942. That neighborhood is still around 60 years later and still producing shot callers and brothers.” Tony Rapheal says. “The gang culture and by extension the Eme culture has permeated deep into the Latino community. Eme friendly or Eme sympathetic individuals can be found in every occupation you can imagine- Sheriff’s deputy, LAPD coppers, DA’s office, LASD, County Clerks office, the FBI field office in downtown- you name it.”

Gang warlords, locked down in Super Maxes like Pelican Bay pass on instructions to thousands of followers. Orders include instructions to kill errant members, directions on how to collect street taxes from free world members who are dealing drugs, and demands for retribution against rival gangs. Pelican Bay is where La Eme’s hold ultimate authority over their people. No one can be stabbed or beaten without their permission. And when they green light an individual, or even a whole neighborhood it’s open season. The whole purpose of the gang is to generate money for its incarcerated leaders. That is where the subordinate gangs like Big Hazard come in.

“The Southsiders (all the Southern California Hispanic gangs united as one) have a tremendous amount of pull or clout with prison walls,” Quake, a 17 year veteran of the CDC says. “Reason being is they are being organized by one brain. A brain that is linked to the Mexican Mafia. Being  organized and working as one unit has many benefits. Surenos are told when to workout, who to associate with and how to distribute any funds they make from illegal activity. Staff tends to reward the Hispanic population for such a system by showing favoritism toward them when it comes to things like job appointments. They put them in key positions within the facility where they can look out for their own. They receive the highest pay numbers. The Southsiders use their organization to manipulate staff.” And from their power structure within the prisons they manipulate and control events on the streets.

Robert Morrill, a former gang detective and author of The Mexican Mafia/The Story, said there is little the authorities can do. “The Mexican Mafia today has been targeted by numerous RICO cases, however as with other prison gangs, this often spread them out as more and more Eme members were moved to Federal Prisons all across the United States. They have been impacted by Law Enforcement and Corrections suppression efforts and lockdowns, but prison gangs are very good at adapting to these efforts and circumventing us through abusing the system, by using dirty lawyers, and having other people such as Camaradas, wives, and girlfriends handle their business on outside of prison or out on General Population Prison Yards,” he said.

“The original Eme like Chy Cadena and “Huero Buff” Flores or relatively early Eme like Joe Morgan were a different breed, it has been said they were the Coke Generation. Later members who joined like Boxer Enriquez have been called the Pepsi Generation. Many of the ones around today are more like the Sprite Generation but there are still some old school left in La Eme. There are still some killers, but as they have grown, many of the old rules about honor and respect have gone away. Many former Eme stated that is why they left after feeling disillusioned. Of course, many also left Eme for their own selfish reasons.”

The indictment against Big Hazard is just the latest in a string of indictments to dismantle the gang but as  their leaders are career prison gangsters serving life sentences inside the belly of the beast all the prosecutions are doing is giving them more foot soldiers to fight their battles. With the mystique of the organization ever present in the Latino community younger men are always willing to take up the cause and emulate their uncles, dads, brothers or big homies. In the neighborhoods they grow up in, prison is a rite of passage and being a street gangster is a viable career choice.

The money that drugs generate is their way to achieve the American Dream in a sort of twisted Scarface-type of fashion. In the barrios of Los Angeles the gangsters get the most props and respect. Those that earned their stripes by going to prison and taking the case are the ones that are admired. The culture is so embedded that it won’t change any time soon, no matter what law enforcement does or how many more people they indict. The Mexican Mafia is here to stay and they can reach out and touch someone if things don’t go their way. That is the ultimate power they hold.